Trinity Sunday — Rev. Brent Gundlah
June 12, 2022

On March 6th (which was the first day of Lent this year) we reengaged in a ritual with roots in the earliest days of the church, one known as the “Passing of the Peace.”

Many of you have told me that this was an important part of worship here at HUCC in pre-pandemic times, and that it’s been meaningful to experience it again. And one of the reasons for this is that you are, by and large, a pretty friendly bunch. 

The consequence of your friendliness, though, is that the passing of the peace here can go on for a while. This is not a bad thing; in fact, it’s a pretty wonderful thing. Besides, if it ever gets completely out of hand, Tom has a piano that he’s not afraid to use —  as if the passing of the peace were an acceptance speech at the Oscars that’s run on a bit too long.

But I get it. We all have a lot to share at the end of a long week. We might simply want to take a few minutes to say “hello” to people we haven’t seen in a while. All of this fosters bonds within our community and that’s great.

But the passing of the peace, as a liturgical ritual, has historically been a bit more formal. Since the very beginning, a call of “Peace be with you,” has typically been met with a response of “And also with you.” The early Christians also used to exchange hugs and/or kisses on the face — I’m sure the COVID Team would absolutely love that.

The downside of this prescribed way of going about the passing of the peace is that it doesn’t enable you to, say, commiserate about the coaching woes of the Jazz or to complain about the weather (which has been really hot the past few days).

The upside, though, is that it captures, in the exchange of a few short words, what being a follower of Christ really means. And this is exactly what Paul is trying to explain in today’s reading from his letter to the Romans.

“Peace be with you,” is a greeting used many times throughout the New Testament. In John’s Gospel, as the disciples are huddled in the Upper Room after Jesus’s death and resurrection, we’re told that, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’”

And Paul uses variants of this phrase to open virtually all of his letters — including this one to the Romans. “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God and the Lord Jesus Christ,” is what he says.

Peace be with you.

When these words are directed your way, how do you hear them?

There’s a good chance that you’d construe them as being a kind of wish — you know, something along the lines of “May peace be with you.” And while this reading makes sense, Jesus doesn’t actually say this and Paul doesn’t either.

What Jesus and Paul do say it is not so much a wish for you as it is a statement about you. Said a bit differently, the meaning of the phrase “Peace be with you” isn’t, “May peace be with you,” but rather, “Peace is with you.” And this changes everything.

Just listen to how Paul begins our passage for today: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.”

We are justified by faith. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.

For Paul the peace of Christ is not merely a future promise; it’s the present reality. And this has some important implications for us.

For starters, because we already have peace with God through Jesus, we can’t and don’t need to earn it. We couldn’t possibly ever do anything to earn such an gift — and besides, a gift, by definition, isn’t something that’s earned.

The idea that we are justified by faith, that we are set in harmony with God through the grace of God, is the cornerstone of Paul’s entire theology; without it everything else just falls apart. So it’s not surprising that he spends so much time talking about that idea both here and in his other letters.

The section of Romans immediately before our text for today conveys Paul’s explanation for our justification by faith, but our text simply takes it as a given — this is why it begins midstream with the word “therefore.”

And this is an important choice of words on Paul’s part; it indicates that his initial and fundamental premise is not really up for discussion; we are justified by faith, we have peace in Christ. Peace is with you. Okay, so what now?

Well, there’s hope — specifically, “hope of sharing the glory of God.” Here and throughout the New Testament (in today’s reading John’s Gospel, for example) the concept of “glory” or “glorification” means being fully in the presence of and in relationship with God. For Paul, the glory of God is what we humans currently lack.

But leaves us in kind of a strange place right here and right now. On the one hand, we have peace in Christ. On the other hand, we have yet to achieve harmony with God. And so here we are, stuck in the meantime with hope to keep us company.

Don’t worry, though, because Paul reminds us that we also have suffering, and that’s certainly appealing. As bad as this might sound to our ears, for Paul hope and suffering are necessarily connected; as he says, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t pay much attention in high school math class, but even I managed to grasp the idea that if A equals B, and B equals C, then A equals C. If I remember correctly, it’s called the Transitive Property.

So if suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,” like Paul says, then suffering produces hope. And maybe this isn’t quite as bad as it sounds.

You see, when Paul speaks of suffering here he means something very specific. He’s not talking about enduring hardship for its own sake; he’s not talking about tolerating injustice to prove your worth. He’s talking about giving of oneself in order to spread the gospel; he’s talking about taking the risk of showing love for God and neighbor — because that is how we draw closer to the glory of God; he’s asking how knowing that we already have the peace of Christ might change the way we live our lives.

When Paul is writing this letter to the Romans, he is most likely sitting in jail, having been arrested yet again for having the audacity to preach and teach the gospel. This is the kind of suffering that Paul is talking about here: sacrifice that is made for a greater purpose — sacrifice that is made for the greatest possible purpose: unity with each other and with God.

Paul isn’t saying that we need to cool our heels in the slammer like he did or endure even worse to show our love for each other and for God.

Paul is calling us to consider what we are willing to give up and what we are willing to take on in order to do that.

How much of our treasure and time and security are we willing to do without so others can share in those blessings too? How many of other people’s burdens are we willing to take on so that they don’t have to bear the load by themselves? Because this is the kind of suffering that produces hope; this is how suffering and hope are connected.

We can’t actually earn our way into heaven — Paul is pretty clear about that. But having been presented with the gift of God’s grace, we are called to go forth and share that grace with others — and Paul is pretty clear about that too. This is how we share in God’s glory, this is how we draw closer to God — and we can do that right here and right now. So what are we waiting for?

So the next time someone happens to look you in the eye and says, “Peace be with you,” and you reply, “And also with you,” take a moment and think about all this means. It is at once a statement of hope for the future, a reminder of the reason for hope in the present, and a challenge to share that hope with others everywhere you go and in everything you do.

Peace be with you.

Great. So now what?