The other day I was listening to a preacher close a sermon about pain. The preacher preached about the very real struggle with pain and suffering that we all have to go encounter in this life. In typical African American style, the preacher closed the sermon with a “celebration.” Here the preacher resolved the pain by pointing to being “hooked-up.”
The preacher then looked through the congregation and talked about someone who lost a child, but now had another one. Someone lost a job, but now that one had a better job. There was someone who got diagnosed with a disease, but there was a misdiagnosis. And then the close came with “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”
Too Quick a Jump to the Gravy
This sermon felt like it was jumped to the gravy too quickly. This was a jump that didn’t take into account the necessity of experiencing the pain. The emotional release will be forced or superficial if the fullness of the pain is not experienced.
One of the things that a sermon can do is help to model correct thinking. Correct thinking would not limit the need to experience pain. Sometimes our people think and/or act as if it is a sign of lack of faith to grieve or acknowledge hurt. Whether one has been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease or has experienced the loss of a loved one, grief and pain are necessary and needed. Yes, it is even inevitable. Some of us may even question God at these times of intense sorrow. All of this is expected and needed. We cannot in our preaching make people believe that they will not experience pain in this life.
Joy Tied to Good Outcome
Another problem in this sermon is that the experience of joy was tied to a good outcome in this world. The one who lost a child now has another one. Setting aside the problematic and incorrect thought that one child could replace another, the joy comes from a good outcome down here. The person should be happy because they got a better job down here. They should be happy because they got hooked up down here.
We live in an era where the Christian life is about getting hooked up. But the reality is that we don’t always get hooked up down here. Ask Paul, who never had the thorn in his flesh taken away, even though he greatly desired it to be removed (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). Ask Zechariah, who died between the porch and the altar (Matthew 23:35). Ask John the Baptist, whose head was on the plate in a banquet (Matthew 14:8-11).
The simple fact of the matter is that sometimes Grandma will die. Sometimes we will lose our job. Sometimes bad things will happen. We cannot in our preaching give the impression that good will always win in the end “down here.” Sometimes the wicked prosper and the righteous languish. Sometimes the fornicating pastor gets the big church and the faithful one gets fired from his modest one. Yes it is true, you may not get that house. It is not guaranteed to you.
Importance of Incarnation
These realities make the incarnation even more important. Jesus didn’t sidestep the pains of this life to live in the lap of luxury. Jesus came and lived among us all. He didn’t sidestep the experience of the poor. Then Jesus died and even felt betrayed by God which wrenched from his lips the cry “My God, My God, why…?” (Matthew 27:46)
The good news is that Jesus is there with us in the pain. The good news is that Jesus helps us to endure the pain. And the good news, yes, is that Jesus overcame the worst that life can give and now offers that to us. Yes, we will have pain in this world, but we have someone to walk with us, talk with us and tell us that we are his own. Yes, we will have pain in this world, and Jesus has overcome the world. And yes, it is still true “weeping may endure for a night … but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).