“and we boast in hope of the glory of God.
Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions,
knowing that affliction produces endurance,
and endurance, proven character,
and proven character, hope,
and hope does not disappoint…”
St. Paul gives us today four levels of living. Sometimes Paul’s gotten it wrong as history and theology has proven on but this “Trinity Sunday” he’s hit it on the mark. Afflictions leads to endurance which then lead to character (not only character but proven character) which then leads to hope, and hopes does not disappoint.
But it’s not quite the American dream, is it? That last step should surely be success complete with a swimming pool and illegal aliens cleaning it. After all those afflictions surely there should be a reward, a happy ending, a success. What good is affliction unless there’s a lollypop or at least a quarter under your pillow when you wake up in the morning. Isn’t that how most movies end up? Isn’t that how our lives are supposed to end up?
Rather, St. Paul wisely alerts us that our afflictions leads to tougher skins or the strength preparing us for affliction’s next possible onslaught. Endurance – I love that word. The word means, “keep going,” “go the distance,” whatever that may be. The word means that your last mistake now becomes a newly learned lesson. Endurance means that your yesterdays do not determine and can never repeat again in your tomorrows. Endurance means I never have to hear that awful phrase from friends, “it is what it is.” Two pronouns that represent nothing but a losing attitude. Endurance is the accumulation of afflictions along with collected successes that propel all of us to continue on. ”Go Forward,” is Wisconsin’s proud motto. “He picked himself up and dusted himself off.” “She got back on that bicycle. “She got back on the horse.” “He swallowed his pride and continued his work.”
You may not know this but I am only as good as my last sermon. That’s right. Sixteen years of earned worth at this wonderful parish is only as good as what I say to you today.
“Did you hear what he said to us today?” “What a loser.” “I always thought he was a bit off, for my tastes.” Endurance can also mean that I hear what you’re thinking but I will be here again in two weeks. If not to inspire then to haunt.
And do you know why? Again, it’s because of St. Paul’s list. He tells us that the next step after endurance is character. And I’d love to land and talk about character but it’s the final step that takes the “faithful” cake and that’s hope. St. Paul assures us that hope is not only not the end but that hope doesn’t disappoint.
(We’ll have more on St. Paul’s final step of “hope” but first we interrupt this boring sermon for an important announcement.)
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Seriously, a footnote about character. The author James Hillman (two “l’s) has a wonderful book called “The Force of Character.” If you bring a receipt I’ll reimburse you for all the copies that you buy. Just go to Amazon.com. It’s three chapters with three “L’” titles: “Lasting,” “Leaving” and “Left.” If you’re over 50, please buy the book and bring your receipt. You will read all about the power that the gift of character brings to your life especially adding St. Paul’s adjective “proven” character.
All reimbursements are dependent upon local, state, federal and FDIC regulations. Proof of citizenship, photo ID and proof that you’ve never had a Ted Cruz bumber sticker on your car is required. Please contact an attorney near you for details.
(And now we return you to Sunday’s solemn sermon.)
It’s because hope originates both within and outside of us. Hope began with our first breath and became a Christian hope at our baptisms. Hope also prompts something or someone greater with ourselves. Hope is what makes character possible.
I’m a “character” as you all are. The altar servers here today have no idea what I’m talking about because they shouldn’t. “Character” hasn’t yet evolved for them but it will soon enough. And then they’ll become “characters” in this drama that is always full of life.
It’s intriguing that St. Paul ends his list of four with “hope.” Because hope cannot be the end. An unnamed hope. An unknown hope. Hope is an out-of-our-control type of virtue that Christians cheerfully call the “Holy Spirit.” Unbelievers would have a field day with St. Paul’s last step of hope. They’d tell us that it is now time for fairy tales full of – wishing, wishing and more wishing. But hope is not wishing. Hope is based in a faith committed to justice, peace and mercy. Inspiring words rooted in our Creator and given flesh by our words and actions. That’s what “Trinity Sunday” is all about.
God, Creator, gave us this gift of life. Jesus Christ, Uncreated yet created, showed us what to do with this gift. The Holy Spirit is that fluid hope that fills us each time we pray in the Trinity’s name, each time we act in the Trinity’s name, each time we witness the Trinity’s name to someone in need, hurting, confused or angry.
In the U.S. this last step ought to end up with that swimming pool, in true Donald Trump style. Audacious, capacious, extravagant, narcissistic and outright selfish. But it’s not the last step. Faith wisely tells us and sometimes abruptly tells us that the last step is not financial success or power over others but it’s – powerfully the virtue of “hope,” nourished within us and then lived in everyday situation in our lives.
Hope that your son makes it through college in his grades and without breaking the family bank, hope that you get your deserved raise, hope that the diagnosis was incorrect, hope that your marriage is a simple pothole and not a “road closed” sign, hope that you get that promotion, hope that retirement means something to you…it’s a list only labeled by those attending here today.
My absolute favorite of St. Paul’s list is “character.” You can only be a character if you’ve experienced affliction and learned endurance. That’s what defines and what character means. Character is that time in life when you have something to work with, you’ve earned your stuff and can now do something with that stuff; your lamplight has plenty of oil as you await the bridegroom. All towards that final step called the mysterious and glorious virtue of hope. Because “hope does not disappoint,” so says wise St. Paul on this “Trinity Sunday.”