Sunday, February 10, 2008

Suffering produces Endurance (Sermon 2/10)

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Romans 5:1-11; Matthew 4:1-11

Some of you may know of the British humor series Monty Python and might have heard of their sketch “The Four Yorkshiremen.” The four men sit around reminiscing about the “good old days,” as people are wont to do, and their listeners wonder just how good those days really were. One man would say, “In those days, we were glad to have the price of a cup of tea.” And another will respond, “A cup of cold tea.” “Without milk or sugar.” “Or tea.” “In a cracked cup, and all.” “Oh, we never had a cup. We used to drink out of a rolled up newspaper.” “The best we could manage was to suck on a piece of damp cloth.” “But you know, we were happy in those days, with what we had…”

We all know people like that, who throw out their story of struggles as a flag to their neighbors. So when I was thinking this week about how to preaching about suffering producing endurance, I tried to think about a story from my own life to share with you. But my mind kept returning to the stories that I know are in this congregation. There are stories here among us with which we are all familiar because we experienced them together and stories that are unfamiliar, because we haven’t had the chance or the energy to share them.

The fact is suffering is one of those two certain experiences in life. (I would say taxes can be classified as suffering.) When we experience true suffering, the kind that results in the dark nights of the soul, our most burning question is almost always: “Why?” “Why is this happening to me? To someone I love? Why is this happening right now? Why did this have to happen this way?”

Regrettably, the answer to all the ways is almost always silence. When the clear causations are stripped away, the deep chasm echoes nothing back, but the rush of wind. And it is at the edge of that darkness that suffering produces its most rotten fruit- temptation. In our struggles, we are often presented with what seems like an easier answer, opportunity or result. We can take the shortcut and fix the problems for ourselves.
Yet, just like in traveling and household repairs, shortcuts do not always diminish the difficulties. Eve ended her annoying twinge of curiosity by listening to the tempting words of the serpent. As she learned and as we know, knowing the difference between good and evil is not all it’s cracked up to be. It does not make many decisions any easier for both good and evil seem so often to come with consequences- known and unknown. That small taste of fruit, that in our tradition points to the entrance of suffering in the world, opened our eyes to the reality that we are not God.

Yet all the advertising to which we’re exposed, the information offered to us, the things the world flashes before our eyes tell us that we can be like God, not only knowing good and evil, but also by being immortal. What we are offered will make us more powerful, more alert, able to communicate in an even greater variety of ways, our packages won’t be late, our meetings entertaining, our coffee always hot and our legacy… everlasting. We are inevitably let down- left standing outside the garden once again with snake oil on our hands and wondering how it happened so quickly.

So where is the good news in all this? What’s the message of hope? There’s a famous book by the Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen, called The Wounded Healer. Nouwen writes about how out of our brokenness, we are able to bring a message of healing to the world. When I was discussing this book once with a friend of mine in the context of some struggles we were both having, he said, “You know, this wounded healer stuff is good. But I wish it could be different. For once I’d like to be the healed wounder… cause a little trouble myself.”

The truth is it is not our brokenness that brings a message of healing to the world. That idea seeks to find something good in the actual nature of suffering that is not there. Just like we don’t need to sin extra hard so that God’s grace may abound, we don’t have to seek out additional suffering to increase our endurance. Plenty will come our way because that is the nature of life.

It is important to remember, though, that the causation of suffering is not the extent of the nature of God. We do not need to seek to redeem our suffering because a greater redemption has already happened. Our redemption from the effects of sin happened through Christ; it is Christ’s brokenness that is the healing message for the world. Suffering itself gets no redemption because it is not the end goal. Neither is pure endurance, just waiting out the suffering, but both are markers of this life and markers on the road to hope.

When we look at Christ’s struggle in the wilderness, we see that the Tempter offered him power, knowledge and the promise that he would not die. This same voice came again at the cross, saying if Jesus was truly the Son of God, he would save himself. But this is how we know he was and is the Son of God… he did not save himself, he saved us.

What Christ endured gives us hope that we have been made right with God. Whatever suffering is part of the life in this world will not only not be a part of life in the world to come, but also we will not encounter additional suffering for what we cannot do for ourselves.

The joyful sharing of this knowledge is the boasting to which Paul refers. It’s not the “I can top that” sharing of struggles, but a gentle mutual ministry of hope- reminding one another and the world that God’s power is the greatest and nothing can separate from the love of God, who has suffered so much on our behalf. God’s word gives us the tools to resist the deepest temptations, that we might achieve patient resistance in difficulty. So then we look for ways to be the angels, to minister to those who are hurting, to wait with them in the darkness, and to rejoice with them in the light.

All of our hearts bear scars, the marks of the sufferings we’ve endured, and we look to the cross to make sense of our wounds. There we find One whose scarred hands and feet tell us we do not hope in vain. Those hands reach out to us, guide us and hold us in our darkest hours. Our eyes also behold the empty cross, which is the symbol this freeing truth: our suffering is not permanent, but God, who heals and saves us, endures forever.

Amen.



Some of you may know of the British humor series Monty Python and might have heard of their sketch “The Four Yorkshiremen.” The four men sit around reminiscing about the “good old days,” as people are wont to do, and their listeners wonder just how good those days really were. One man would say, “In those days, we were glad to have the price of a cup of tea.” And another will respond, “A cup of cold tea.” “Without milk or sugar.” “Or tea.” “In a cracked cup, and all.” “Oh, we never had a cup. We used to drink out of a rolled up newspaper.” “The best we could manage was to suck on a piece of damp cloth.” “But you know, we were happy in those days, with what we had…”

We all know people like that, who throw out their story of struggles as a flag to their neighbors. So when I was thinking this week about how to preaching about suffering producing endurance, I tried to think about a story from my own life to share with you. But my mind kept returning to the stories that I know are in this congregation. There are stories here among us with which we are all familiar because we experienced them together and stories that are unfamiliar, because we haven’t had the chance or the energy to share them.

The fact is suffering is one of those two certain experiences in life. (I would say taxes can be classified as suffering.) When we experience true suffering, the kind that results in the dark nights of the soul, our most burning question is almost always: “Why?” “Why is this happening to me? To someone I love? Why is this happening right now? Why did this have to happen this way?”

Regrettably, the answer to all the ways is almost always silence. When the clear causations are stripped away, the deep chasm echoes nothing back, but the rush of wind. And it is at the edge of that darkness that suffering produces its most rotten fruit- temptation. In our struggles, we are often presented with what seems like an easier answer, opportunity or result. We can take the shortcut and fix the problems for ourselves.
Yet, just like in traveling and household repairs, shortcuts do not always diminish the difficulties. Eve ended her annoying twinge of curiosity by listening to the tempting words of the serpent. As she learned and as we know, knowing the difference between good and evil is not all it’s cracked up to be. It does not make many decisions any easier for both good and evil seem so often to come with consequences- known and unknown. That small taste of fruit, that in our tradition points to the entrance of suffering in the world, opened our eyes to the reality that we are not God.

Yet all the advertising to which we’re exposed, the information offered to us, the things the world flashes before our eyes tell us that we can be like God, not only knowing good and evil, but also by being immortal. What we are offered will make us more powerful, more alert, able to communicate in an even greater variety of ways, our packages won’t be late, our meetings entertaining, our coffee always hot and our legacy… everlasting. We are inevitably let down- left standing outside the garden once again with snake oil on our hands and wondering how it happened so quickly.

So where is the good news in all this? What’s the message of hope? There’s a famous book by the Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen, called The Wounded Healer. Nouwen writes about how out of our brokenness, we are able to bring a message of healing to the world. When I was discussing this book once with a friend of mine in the context of some struggles we were both having, he said, “You know, this wounded healer stuff is good. But I wish it could be different. For once I’d like to be the healed wounder… cause a little trouble myself.”

The truth is it is not our brokenness that brings a message of healing to the world. That idea seeks to find something good in the actual nature of suffering that is not there. Just like we don’t need to sin extra hard so that God’s grace may abound, we don’t have to seek out additional suffering to increase our endurance. Plenty will come our way because that is the nature of life.

It is important to remember, though, that the causation of suffering is not the extent of the nature of God. We do not need to seek to redeem our suffering because a greater redemption has already happened. Our redemption from the effects of sin happened through Christ; it is Christ’s brokenness that is the healing message for the world. Suffering itself gets no redemption because it is not the end goal. Neither is pure endurance, just waiting out the suffering, but both are markers of this life and markers on the road to hope.

When we look at Christ’s struggle in the wilderness, we see that the Tempter offered him power, knowledge and the promise that he would not die. This same voice came again at the cross, saying if Jesus was truly the Son of God, he would save himself. But this is how we know he was and is the Son of God… he did not save himself, he saved us.

What Christ endured gives us hope that we have been made right with God. Whatever suffering is part of the life in this world will not only not be a part of life in the world to come, but also we will not encounter additional suffering for what we cannot do for ourselves.

The joyful sharing of this knowledge is the boasting to which Paul refers. It’s not the “I can top that” sharing of struggles, but a gentle mutual ministry of hope- reminding one another and the world that God’s power is the greatest and nothing can separate from the love of God, who has suffered so much on our behalf. God’s word gives us the tools to resist the deepest temptations, that we might achieve patient resistance in difficulty. So then we look for ways to be the angels, to minister to those who are hurting, to wait with them in the darkness, and to rejoice with them in the light.

All of our hearts bear scars, the marks of the sufferings we’ve endured, and we look to the cross to make sense of our wounds. There we find One whose scarred hands and feet tell us we do not hope in vain. Those hands reach out to us, guide us and hold us in our darkest hours. Our eyes also behold the empty cross, which is the symbol this freeing truth: our suffering is not permanent, but God, who heals and saves us, endures forever.

Amen.

No comments: