Sermon: Undisappointed

June 12, 2022

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Romans 5:1-5

by Eric Anderson

According to my word processor’s spelling checker, “undisappointed” isn’t a word, which means I’ve got a lot of red squigglies in the document file of this sermon.

Incidentally, it doesn’t like “squigglies,” either, recommending “squiggles,” but I’m feeling rebellious against the tyranny of spelling and “squigglies” it is. As well as “undisappointed.”

In Romans 5, the Apostle Paul was making a transition in what was a quite lengthy account of himself to the leaders of the church in Rome. The well-traveled apostle had another long journey in mind. He’d visited many of the Greek-speaking areas of the Anatolian Peninsula – modern Turkey – and of Greece itself. About the only major populated area he’d skipped in the eastern Mediterranean was Egypt, and I can only think it was because other Christian leaders had been assigned there.

He wrote this letter as a way to ask hospitality from the Christians in Rome. It would be a stop – possibly a long one – on the way to his further goal: Spain.

So in the letter to the Romans Paul put on his best behavior. Unlike the Corinthians or the Philippians or the Galatians, these were not people he already knew. The gospel of Jesus had already come to Rome via other messengers, and they’d established a worshiping and supportive community. He was hoping to join their worship and receive their support – a bed and some meals, I imagine – before he continued his journey.

Even such a cantankerous soul as Paul of Tarsus knew that you explain yourself clearly and politely when you’re planning to ask favors. He also knew that the Christians in Rome would have heard about him from others, and while some of those reports would be good, other reports would be bad. In this letter he worked to explain his interpretation of the gospel: his commitment to full inclusion of all people, his conviction of God’s grace through the gift of Jesus, his dedication to reforming his life and supporting the reform of others.

As Mary Hinkle Shore observes at Working Preacher, “In chapters 5 through 8 of Romans, Paul turns to answering the ‘Now what?’ question. As he does so, we see that in the world Christ has redeemed, Sin continues to exercise influence (cf. Romans 7) and suffering remains so acute that Paul is at pains to say it cannot separate us from God’s love (cf. Romans 8). According to Romans 5:1-5, the life of the justified is a mix of peace, hope, suffering, and love.”

A mix of peace, hope, suffering… suffering? And love.


There was – and is – a strand of theological thought that says suffering is the result of sin. Misbehavior. Doing bad. If we’re honest, it’s what we assume. Affect should follow cause. It usually does in our lives. If you drop an egg, it breaks. If you don’t leave your car’s transmission in Park, it rolls away. If you irritate your mother long enough, she sends you to bed without dessert.

The problem is that human dynamics do not follow Newtonian physics. Irritated mother may send you to bed without dessert, but she may not. She might snap at you. She might ignore you. She might sit you down and ask, “What’s going on with you and how can I help?”

For that matter, the reasons mother sent you to bed without dessert may have nothing to do with anything you did. She might be angry about something else. She might have forgotten to set out dessert. There might not be any dessert in the house.

Do bad things happen to bad people? Yes, sometimes. Do bad things happen because they were bad people? Absent careful and earnest legal investigative and deliberative procedures: No. They don’t.

Paul, after all, by his own account, had been lashed with a whip, beaten with rods, stoned, and shipwrecked. He’d been hungry, thirsty, wearing threadbare clothing, and sleepless at night. He’d even been lowered down a city wall by a rope attached to a basket.

So no, Paul would not have linked suffering to sin. Instead, he linked suffering to hope. “…Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”

I will admit that I don’t think much of his logic here. Does suffering produce endurance? It can. But suffering can also break us, can’t it? A suffering body can only endure so much before it can take no more. And a suffering mind and spirit the same. Endurance can and does run out. When we suffer, we endure as long and as much as we can, but for every human being on the planet, I suspect, there’s a limit.

But if we’re enduring, are we building character? Well, we might. Some of the most inspirational works of our literature are stories of endurance, about how those people grew amidst trial and blossomed into people of deep faith and great accomplishment. We think of Prince Kuhio whose life of public service emerged from the overthrow of his family’s monarchy, or of Franklin Delano Roosevelt undeterred by the effects of polio. Both of those people spoke of their character being transformed by what they endured – but didn’t they both have plenty of character before? Didn’t endurance clarify or refine their character rather than producing it?

Does character lead to hope? It looks promising, doesn’t it? Aren’t people of great character given to optimism, to a vision for the future, to a feeling of hope?

Not necessarily. John Calvin, the root of our theological tradition in the Reformed branch of the Christian church, was a person of great character – who had also endured and suffered a fair amount. I cannot describe him, however, as a hopeful person. His theology is laden with cold judgement and rigid pessimism. On days when I feel like the human race is, indeed, totally depraved – his phrase – I feel very close to John Calvin.

Honestly, I don’t know why Paul even went through the doubtful steps of this dubious logical progression, because he wrote the most important thing in verse five and all that precedes it falls away as irrelevant: “Hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

That’s why we can be undisappointed. The Christian hope isn’t hope at all. Hope is an exercise of imagination, of faith that this thing that does not currently exist will exist at some time in the future. Hope isn’t necessarily a feeling – we can feel hope-ful, but we can choose hope whether we feel hopeful or not. Hope is a decision that tomorrow can be better than today. Exercising hope is to do the work so that tomorrow will be better than today.

But that’s not how Christian hope works. Hope is undisappointed because it’s already fulfilled. God’s love has been poured into our hearts. Not will be. Not even is being. It has been poured. God is already with us. We’re not hoping for God to come. God is already here.

In a way, Paul’s logic is backward. What builds character more than the appreciation of the gift of God’s love? Isn’t that more powerful than endurance of suffering? The risk of knowing God’s love so deeply is narcissism or overwhelming pride – and you can see plenty of that in the history of Christianity – but Paul went on in Romans to insist that the proper response to God’s grace was not hubris but humility, not selfishness but sharing, not isolation but inclusion. In other words, character: character for the individual Christian, character for the Christian community.

Character is a great asset in endurance, at least endurance of the mind and the spirit. Once again, it is no guarantee, but as I think about the saintly examples of Christian history, people I have known and people of whom I’ve heard, it certainly sounds more like they brought their character to their endurance, not endurance to their character.

But it all starts with this basic undisappointment. Our hope cannot be broken because our hope is already fulfilled. God’s grace and love and blessing and strength and joy and wonder are already with us, around us, in us, streaming through us to those around us. We are the undisappointed.

When you chase hope as a Christian, you’ve no need to go very far.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

As is frequent, Pastor Eric has improvised during the sermon. We hope it makes it better. That’s the hope.

The photo shows The Apostle Paul Preaching in Beroia, a contemporary mosaic in Veria. Photo by Edal Anton Lefterov – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on June 12, 2022

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