LISTEN TO THE AUDIO HERE.
Who speaks to us today, saying,
“They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.”
How dare the disciples be afraid. Jesus has just completed lecturing them on Him going to prepare a place for them in heaven, on Him being the Way, the Truth, and the Life, on Him sending the Comforter, and on Him giving them true Peace.
What is there to be afraid of? Why put themselves through suffering on such a great occasion as Jesus reconciling the entire world to God?
In the same vein, why are you so sad at funerals? There is no cause for sorrow and suffering at the death of a believer. He has been translated to immortality. He has finished running his course and now rests with the Lord. Do not shed tears. There is no reason to suffer.
And yet we do. And yet
Paul says things like, “rejoice in your sufferings”
(Rom. 5:3). Even he would rather be suffering and weak, than to be strong. What
is his secret? Can we really do all things through God who strengthens us?
Well, you can, just not in the way you or anyone else tells you you can. You see, what
is telling us there is not that we can go the distance or do the impossible,
like win the lottery or something. St.
Paul is saying that you can stand firm in saving faith
even if you are suffering. Which of course, for us mere humans, is impossible.
Suffering gives opportunity to trust God in that you get to see God’s Word come to pass in your doing. When you are weak and He is strong, god’s Word comes true right before your eyes. “Blessed are those who mourn…”, Jesus says.
This gives us the chance to pray, “Thy will be done” and mean it. God’s will is not that we suffer, but that when we do suffer, we don’t think it a curse, but gather together against it.
Thus suffering also causes us to gather together. They say misery loves company, but only because there, it finds the antidote. The same is true for the Christian. He gathers, not just to find company, but to find a caring and forgiving God. The difference is, the Christian has the Promise of God behind the command.
And the command is not just to gather, but to gather in Church. Suffering pushes you to see Jesus gathering all people to Himself, in His Church.
Repent. God is Good, even though He sends you suffering. In fact, true faith stands fast for that very reason, because faith believes that God’s Goodness and our suffering are not necessarily mutually exclusive and do not contradict. God being Good has little to do with our happiness or comfortability.
God is high and lifted up, no? There is no parallel relationship we have, or can have, to compare it to. God is both further from us, and nearer to us, than any other being.
It is not simply the difference between being an archangel and a worm. God is wholly other, than us. He makes, we are made. He is original, we are the derivative. But, at the same time and for the same reason, the intimacy between God and even the meanest creature is closer than any that creatures can attain with one another.
We are the sentient canvas that had been rubbed, scraped, and restarted for the 20th time. We are the house dog in training that is beaten and scolded until his master loves him. We are the son that is disciplined until he is obedient and directed to more than just “having a good time”.
We are the Bride that is forgiven for much, but is condoned for very little; who is rarely pleasing, but has everything demanded of her. Herein lies our suffering: the Lord loves us too much. We would rather that He designed us for less or would give up our training. We would rather God love us less, not more.
You asked for and invoked a loving God this morning and you have one. But where love is a trivial thing for you, it is a very serious thing for the Lord. And this love dwells here, not as a senile old man, but the consuming Fire Himself. The love that made the universe: persistent as an artist, despotic as a master of beasts, provident and venerable as a father, and jealous, unstoppable, and exacting as a lover. This is the Love that has its eye on you and you feel suffering.
The Gospel, the Good News, is that God suffers with us. True Love was crucified in order to remove the pain and guilt caused by the love of the Creator to creature. Jesus takes our nature and assumes it into His own, not only taking on our sin and death, but exchanging His Resurrected Body in the process. In the Crucified Christ we have such a high value in our Creator’s eyes.
And under that sin and death, Jesus bears all our burdens to the cross suffering all things for us. He knows the pain of loss and the empty loneliness. Not that He had to come here to learn it, but that He came to show you that He knows it. He came that you might believe that in your body, yes even in your suffering, there is a loving God that does not stop forgiving and saving you.
For you are joined to Him; body and blood. This joining was the only way to rescue you from despair in suffering. A boost of confidence wouldn’t do it. A stream of positivity wasn’t going to get you out of it. The only way of escape was through the forgiveness of sins. Confession and Absolution is the Way.
Now, our suffering reflects His suffering. We don’t just suffer haphazardly or as punishment for something, though there are physical consequences for our actions. We suffer now because we fight against the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.
I chided you earlier for being sad at funerals, but in fact you are right to do so. This suffering is not right; it should not be here. We shouldn’t have to go through such pains to get where we are going. Yet, all things work out for our good, in Christ.
Though we don’t seek it, suffering finds us. Though we don’t love it, suffering is the Way, on earth, because suffering is the Way our Savior trod. His Way went through suffering on to glory. His Way went through death on to life. His Way went through humiliation on to exaltation.
His Way is now our Way, not because it is the best of all possible ways, but because it is the only Way possible. And all things are possible with a crucified and risen Savior, even you making to the end of this path of life, for you have already been brought to the end and yet are still walking.
You have already been baptized into the death and resurrection; the beginning and the end of all things. You have been brought to the finish line, though it seems as if you are not yet at the first marker.
The Promise is that you will be with Him and He with you. His Word speaks above every din of suffering. His baptism washes over all sin and doubt. His true Body and true Blood stand up for you and defy every evil of body and soul. Here your suffering is eased. Here you have comfort given. Here, peace is given to you spiritually and physically.