(for part 1 click here, for part 2 click here, for part 3 click here)
Psalm 95:6-7 Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, and kneel before God our Creator. For God is our God, and we are the people of God’s pasture and the sheep of God’s hand. Oh, that today you would hearken to God’s voice!
Have you gotten out of the habit of communing with other people? I think I have. Well, to be honest, being social is very low on my list of things I regularly think about. When we first lived in Grand Junction in 2014, it took about ten months before I realized that the looming feeling I had was something called “loneliness.” Have you heard of it? I don’t get lonely; I can go for a very long time without any social interaction. A. Very. Long. Time. So, when I had this weird sensation and finally realized that there’s a term for it and that it there’s no drug to take to eliminate it, I struck out to make a friend. Just one. And I did! Lyuda and I have been friends since late 2015.
But this story feels like a distant memory of eras long gone. I’m reminded it’s been awhile since I’ve done something like that: gone out and made a new friend. I think it’s something to do with what we’ve suffered over the past few years. Now, as I said, it takes me a long to get “lonely”, but three years in? It feels especially tangible right now, right on the surface. Do you feel lonely? If you do, you are not alone. We’re all lonely. We’re just now starting to pull together and peek heads out of our shells…three years later. For three years, we’ve been bombarded with the fear of a virus that is very contagious, making it impossible to share place and space with others. Not to mention the caustic socio-political environment, tearing friendships apart, families asunder, and drawing thick lines in the sand. So, we’ve became pros at shutting down and closing off because our lives depended on it; we’ve become experts at speaking vapidly to stave off emotional outbursts, or worse? So, the coming back is hard… at times, too hard; isn’t it just easier to stay in, stay closed, stay distant, stay safe? I’m fine on my own, …right?
I fear we’re losing our relationality and nothing seems to satisfy.
For if while being hostile to God we were reconciled to God by means of the death of God’s son, much more since being reconciled we will be saved by his life. But not only [that] but even boasting in God through our Lord Jesus Christ by whom we now received reconciliation. (Rom. 5:10-11)
At the core of what Paul is saying here in Romans, is that by virtue of the believer’s relationship with God through Christ, they are given space and time with God and with each other. Paul begins by explaining that in being justified we have peace with God and not only with God but with the world even in the midst of not having peace with other people. During Advent I mentioned, “Peace exists because God is and God is within us.” Herein is the foundation of that peace, according to Paul: God reconciles us to God through God’s son, Jesus. If this peace is done by works, we do not have a guarantee that peace with God exists. However, if it is by God’s doing, it’s secured and constant because it’s promised and God fulfills God’s promises. Every day we are justified and made right with God, every day we have union with God by faith because it’s by God’s mercy and not our own actions and even in spite of them.
By faith in Christ we have peace with God because by clinging to the promises of God we declare God to be truthful and true, rendering to God the things belonging to God: honor, delight, and trustworthiness (this is what it means that we “boast on the basis of hope of the glory of God”). In this way our relationship with God is aligned by our union with God; and if the relationship with God is aligned so, too, is our relationship with the world. In this new alignment with the world born from being children of God by faith, we have peace with the world, because reconciliation with God allows us to interact with the world and with other people in a liberated way unencumbered from the burden of using the world and other people as means to an end (i.e. to secure a good relationship with God).
Paul anchors suffering and endurance in this union with God that we have by faith in Christ. Because we stand (“we are established”) in the grace of God, we have hope because we receive the love of God having been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit having been given to us. According to Paul, our union with God is the means by which we endure tribulations, for where we are God is, so, too is God’s love for us and the world. Therefore, our hope does not disgrace or shame because God promises to be present in our afflictions and sufferings and God is trustworthy and honest, because by Christ we have seen God suffer on our behalf.
Paul reminds his audience that if they received all of this while they were hostile (ἐχθρὰ ὄντες) to God and still missing the mark (ἔτι ἁμαρτωλῶν ὄντων ἡμῶν), then how much more will they receive in their reconciliation and union with God. Now God establishes God’s love for us, yet while we still missing the mark, Christ died on behalf of us. It is our missing the mark that brings Christ to the cross, for our ability to determine good from evil runs askew, as promised back in Genesis 3. Yet, even though we put Christ to death, God resurrects him meeting our demand for death with God’s gift of life. This is love, this is grace: not giving someone what they deserve but giving them that which they do not deserve. Where we had the right to be judged and condemned for Christ’s death, we are given life, love and liberation.
Now, receiving this divine grace and love while we were still hostile to God, how much more do we receive as those reconciled? We receive God, we receive the whole world, we receive ourselves in right relation with God and the World, thus with others.
We are rightly timid to derive our relationality from our own strength, trying desperately to reduplicate past experiences. We are right to be nervous to venture outside and commune with others, putting ourselves in physically vulnerable situations beyond our control. We are far from being out of the woods of the pandemic, and there are new bugs around, putting precious lives at risk. It is right to be cautious with whom you share your dreams and wishes for the world; the caustic socio-political climate that started back in 2016 is still percolating—for many people things are continuing to go backwards, away from what they had, or thought they had. Relationality right now is intimidating: with neighbors, with friends, with family, maybe even with ourselves.
So, if nothing seems to satisfy, how do we reverse this trend of losing relationality, this threat of loneliness? We must look beyond ourselves and our deeds. We must be awakened to our deep-seated need and hunger for relationality.
As those who have been encountered by God in the event of faith in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are those who have been given life, love, and liberation. We are given union with God, we are given solid ground to endure the hardest tribulations with the most amount of hope. We are not given hope founded on false expectations for the future; rather, we are given hope that is present tense, that calls to mind what God has done, thus remembering what God said God will do. This type of hope is here, it is now, it is in spite of the world, transcends the world, and is for the world. In our union with God we do not need to run away from chaos of multiple relational fractures or cling to what is behind denying the disordered relationality at hand. Rather, we can stand here, where we are, in the chaos and tumult, in the trial and tribulation, and know we are not alone for God resides with those whom God loves, with those who suffer, with those who have the audacity to experience their awakened hunger for God.
In this way, beloved, we are not alone; through God’s love for us we are not alone for we are with God. And if we are with God then we are with each other. It’s here where we’re brought further out of ourselves and our desperate attempts to keep ourselves from the difficulties of this life, from the anxiety of what lies outside the security of our homes, and from fear of the other. It is here, in the midst of the divine hope and love where I find relationality with you, because you are the beloved of God and God is where you are; God is where we are in the hunger.
 Translation mine.
 Martin Luther Lectures on Romans: Glosses and Scholia (1515/1516) LW 25 Ed. Hilton C. Oswald. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 1972. 43. “Since we are justified through God’s imputation, therefore by faith, not by works, we have peace the world and with God, although not yet with men and the flesh ….”
 LW 25, 43-44. “Through whom , as our Mediator, we have obtained access, to God by loving and knowing and delighting in Him, by faith, because there will be no salvation through Christ without faith, to this grace, of peace, remission of sins, and justification, in which we stand, through the firm confession of faith, and we rejoice, not in a present thing before men but in our hope of sharing the glory, the exaltation, that is, the glorification in the future life of the sons of God, those who are of God.”
 LW 25, 44. “And endurance produces trial that we might be proved by God and found without deceit and guile and hypocrisy, and trial hope, that is, of ‘the glory of God,’ as has been said (v. 2). 5. And hope does not disappoint us, because it neither deserts nor fails us. All these things, I say, happen because the love, etc.,’ because the love, which creates an insuperable attachment, of God, that is, from God, has been poured, freely poured out, not received by merit, into our hearts, because love performs its works voluntarily; for works done unwillingly and by force do not endure, by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us, through Christ from God the Father”
 LW 25, 44-45. “For hardly, it is extraordinary, I say, to die for the ungodly, for what is righteous, that is, for the sake of righteousness and truth, will one die—though perhaps, it is customary to die, for what is good, for its usefulness and desired features, one will dare even to die. 8. But God, the Father, shows, He makes it more commendable and worthy of love than all these things, His love, with which He loves us, for us, that is, the love which has been given to us, because on His part, in that while we were yet sinners, which he earlier (v. 6) expressed with ‘while we were still weak,’ at the right time (an expression which is not in the Greek at this point but only above) Christ died for us, the ungodly, so that we might not die in all eternity.”
 LW 25, 45. “For if, while were enemies, because of our sins, we were reconciled, so that we were not deserving of perdition, to God, not by our own merits or those of anyone else, except by the death of His Son; much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we, as His own, be saved by His life, in his resurrection to eternal life. 11. And not only so, do we rejoice in tribulations, but we also rejoice in God, that is, because we have a God and He is our own God, because He has given Himself to us, through our Lord Jesus Christ, our Mediator, through whom we have now received our reconciliation, the remission of sins, so that we may receive God Himself, through One. I say. Christ.”
 I’m reminded here of similar tones in this post by J. Scott Jackson, http://derevth.blogspot.com/2023/03/a-peace-that-disturbs-berrigans.html