Life Changing Magic


Marilu Thomas


Faith, Hope


Romans 4:13 - 25

It’s Lent, and do I have a little confession to make. I think I have cabin fever because I want to tip my house on its side and dump out everything inside. There seem to be piles of junk everywhere. I start to ask myself, what could I live without? Just about everything. This includes mountains of books, papers and boxes of mementos that we will probably never look at our touch again in our lives. There’s the pot that we bought at the beach for crabs and don’t use now– but might someday. The shoes that I haven’t worn in a few years but could with some future outfit. The books that line just about every shelf in our house. My mother is also asking what do I want from her house. I can’t even think about it. A few years ago, there was the book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo. She advises, “Discard anything that does not spark joy.” It turns out that it’s pretty easy to decide what does not spark joy for you, but much harder to actually get rid of it. Marie says to ask yourself, “Am I having trouble getting rid of this because of an attachment to the past or a fear of the future?” She calls this your ownership pattern. Marie says “the process of facing and selecting our possessions can be quite painful. It forces us to confront our imperfections and inadequacies and the foolish choices we have made in the past.” Bingo. And the foolish choices our loved ones have made for us, too.

When I ask myself, however, what I could really live without, it’s a pretty long list. Everything, if I had to. Everything but my faith. Everything but hope.

We can live 3 minutes without oxygen, three days without water and three weeks without food—but we can’t live a minute without hope. Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, “To live without hope is to cease to live.” Without hope, life is not worth living.

What makes us lose hope? The definition of hope is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” We set our hope on a certain outcome—a certain thing to happen and then it doesn’t. We want to go out with a certain someone, get a particular job, have a home like one we’ve have seen, make more money, have a child, or get married.

The outcome can also be the healing of an illness, remission of a cancer, solving a problem, healing a relationship, staying sober or relieving depression. We have a vision for our future, but nothing seems to be happening. Hope seems elusive and for other people. What good is it when God seems otherwise occupied?

The apostle Paul uses Abraham as an example of hope. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed.. In the face of evidence to the contrary, he hoped anyway. That is Romans 4:18 and it is the core of our existence as human beings. Abraham was as good as dead and Sarah too, but he was, “convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” God had promised Abraham and Sarah a child, and Abraham figured if God could make the sun, the moon and the earth, he could probably handle a baby. Abraham did not believe in God’s promise as a legal contract—a right of his– but as part of a relationship of trust, his experience of God as faithful and trustworthy. He looked back over his life and saw the times God had made good on his promises in the past, and so trusted him with his future. The second definition of hope is, “a feeling of trust.” I would suggest that we can trust without having a feeling of trust. We can trust in the promises and experience of God in our lives and be anxious and afraid, but trust anyway.

What has Jesus promised us? In Matthew 28:20 he promised, “Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus did not promise to remove all the obstacles in our lives, but he did promise to always be with us in the middle of them.

Billy Graham addressed this issue of trust and God’s presence in his lifetime as a preacher. I have been obsessed with articles, videos and quotes about Billy Graham this week, since his death on Wednesday at the age of 99. His simple pine casket, built by convicts in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, will lie in honor in the rotunda at the U.S. Capitol for two days this week.

I watched a TED talk that Graham made in 1998—20 years ago—where he spoke about how technology—in ancient times or now—has never answered the three basic human questions: 1. Where does human evil come from? 2. Why is there human suffering? And 3. What will happen when I die?

Rev. Graham said that the technology isn’t the problem because the human heart can only be changed by God. We cannot free ourselves from our personal problems or the evil we perpetrate on each other because of fear and self-centeredness. Graham said that Albert Einstein told him, “It would be easier to denature plutonium than to denature the evil spirit of man.” Rev. Graham preached the gospel as hope for these questions, saying “We are more than a body and a mind, we are a soul. And there is something inside of us that is beyond our understanding. That is the part that yearns for God or something bigger than ourselves. In our pain, God is not absent but fully and powerfully present. What unites us in our suffering is God’s commitment to be there in it with us.” Hope is the presence of God.

When I looked up Graham’s birthdate, I realized my father was born on the exact same day. When my dad died, there were about 50 people at his funeral. As I look at the lives of these two men, born on the same day, I understand a bit more of what the apostle Paul is trying to explain in the Romans in our passage today. Billy Graham believed—like Abraham. But so did my father. And so do we. God loves Billy, my dad and all of us the same. We are not made right with God by how much we do or having the approval of men, but by trusting that God can do what he says he will do.

Martin Luther called the book of Romans, ‘the daily bread of the soul.’ He said, “This letter is truly the most important piece of the New Testament. It is purest gospel. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.” Why would he say that? The book of Romans lays out how we operate as humans and why we need God’s redemption and grace in Jesus Christ.

We do good things because we want recognition—from God and from others, and even from ourselves. Law always relates to us on performance. But God knows we are happiest when we are loving God, our neighbor and ourselves unselfconsciously through the power of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ. There is no way for this to happen except through the gift of grace. This is the essence of faith—belief that God can accomplish this in us through his power, not ours. Thomas Cranmer wrote: “We have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.” His definition of “faith” was, “nothing else but assured hope and confidence in Christ’s mercy.” We are saved by God’s promise to save us. It does not depend on us but on God. What a relief. Psalm 46:10 says, “Cease striving and know that I am God.” We cease striving to prove, perform, perfect, and please. And we believe, trust, rely and depend on the promise that our hope is in Christ, not ourselves. And as Billy Graham would have said, that is very good news indeed.