Text: Romans 5:1-5
It has been said that we get to God either through great love or great suffering. It has also been said that there are three grand essentials to happiness in this life: something to do, something to love and something to hope for. Our lectionary text today speaks of all three of these elements of life: love, suffering and hope. This morning, I want to speak of hope and its relationship to love and to suffering.
I want to begin by telling you two stories. The first story is an experience I had in 2007 while in the Republic of Georgia. The other one comes out of my experience in Cuba with our sister church in Matanzas in March of this year. The first story is captured in the picture to the left of the communion table. The second story is embedded in the picture to the right of the communion table.
The first story…While visiting our sister church, Peace Cathedral, in the Republic of Georgia, Malkhaz, the Bishop of the Baptist Churches, wanted me to visit one of their house churches that was located about a five hour drive outside the city of Tbilisi. As I have shared with you before, this particular house church is located in the region of Abkhazia near the Black Sea where portions of the region are still Russian occupied. What happens in these communities in the rural parts of Georgia is that Russian military forces come into the area and force Georgians out of their homes and then occupy them indefinitely. The Georgians who are forced from their homes become refugees, struggling in every way to simply survive. They have nothing more than the clothes they are wearing. All but one of the people in the picture are refugees – displaced by Russian military from the homes they once owned and lived in. Having fled for their personal safety, they now live in ruined military barracks that have no electricity, no running water and in some instances no windows to keep the Georgian cold out in the winter or to let the sun in during the summer. The conditions are abysmal; food is scarce. On our return trip from Abkhazia back to Tbilisi we stopped at one of these refugee camps to visit another small house church.
When we arrived, the pastor of the house church quickly gathered some people together in a small room to visit with us. In true Malkhaz fashion, he had given them no notice that we were coming. As we gathered in this small room, I could hear the women rustling in the kitchen to find something, anything, they could offer their guests to eat. It is a grand tradition in Georgia to always offer food to guests as a sign of generosity and hospitality. It wasn’t long until a plate of bread and some fruit appeared. As I took a small piece of bread and fruit, I knew that I was probably eating what would have been someone’s dinner that evening. But to refuse would have been to reject their generosity and hospitality. [Read more…]