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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).

Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds the M.Div with an emphasis in Homiletics and a M.S. in Computer Science.

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Tom Voigt

commented on Nov 7, 2014

This is a great article Sherman. As usual, your insights are spot on...and helpful for sermons yet to be preached. Thank you

Wayne Lawson

commented on Nov 7, 2014

Sherman, thank you for the candor and thought provoking subject matter. I believe we have too much shallow preaching that does more harm than good if the point of preaching is to get to the shout. The celebration must connect with the message of hope. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning must be properly connected to earth has no sorrows that heaven cannot heal. Blessings

Ricky Dean Mauldin

commented on Nov 7, 2014

May I encourage you, sir? You've said important truth that goes well beyond light preaching. May God keep His word as fire in your mouth and hearts as wood before you. My only cautionary note is, agreeing we should look up, not to let the meantime be the "mean" time, either.

Kim Dixon

commented on Nov 7, 2014

Thank you for your insight. It is better to listen and ask God for understanding. Your point is extremely well thought out.

Lawrence Webb

commented on Nov 7, 2014

Well said, Brother. The darkest time of my adult life came on our first pregnancy. One of our premature twin sons lived only 13 days because of brain damage. I received well-meaning words from some fellow workers in the Christian organization where I worked. One said, bluntly, "You're better off. Be glad he didn't live." A softer, kinder, but still hard comment: "We still have Romans 8:28." Yes, we still have that verse, but I think it is more a testimony than a spiritual prescription pill. After such statements, I welcomed our pastor's message at the funeral service. When he saw our determination to go on in the face of deep grief, he focused on David's actions when his son died in 2 Samuel 12:23. People were surprised that David did not enter a long period of mourning but was determined to go on with life. "But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me." I appreciated that our pastor did not try to paper over our loss but pointed to a biblical precedent of the grieving father in a similar situation.

Errol Paulus

commented on Nov 7, 2014

There has no temptation taken us but that which is common to man. Nobody is immune to trial, persecution etc. life is a reality and therefore we all suffer some degree of pain,some more than others whether we know the Lord Jesus or not. However the good thing about being a Christian is that even though we have these experiences in this life, we know that Jesus is with us even as David in Psalm 23 said "ye though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for thou art with me... Having experienced some deep trials in my walk with God, I have found great joy in Jesus in the midst of these trials and even at the end of each experience of course taking into account that I have received the gift of the Holy Ghost. We have just been through a major trial but the outcome was not as we believed and expected it to be. We still feel the pain of this loss and our hope is not in this life only but in the eternal with Jesus. In conclusion, suffering grief and pain and questioning God doesn't show a lack of or no faith, but it is rather a trying of our faith that strengthens us in our faith. Faith in endurance whether the outcome seems favourable to us or not. Paul said if we have hope in this life only, then we are of all men most miserable. GB.

Stephen Lowery

commented on Nov 8, 2014

Greetings my Brother. I thought your article was well written and mirrors many of the thought I have had concerning being "jerked" around by the pulpit. I am the senior pastor of a mid-sized church (about 2000) which is multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-economic and multi-, multi :-) on the outskirts of Washington, DC. I do not like the instant fix that many ministers use because I think it makes the struggles of the membership seem insignificant, and their own fault. It is like telling the family and friends at a funeral, "wipe those eyes, dry those tears... this is not a funeral, this is a celebration." They are then reprimanded again and again about feeling sorrow that their loved one has passed. And, Jesus said we would morn, but just not in the same way as the world morns.... without hope. For, he is our blessed hope. Thank you again.. I thought the premise was good and the presentation was done very well.

Pastor C. D. Jennings

commented on Nov 10, 2014

Thank you for giving a broader voice to a matter I struggle with from the pastoral care perspective. Itching ears doesn't always point to heresy in the gospel. It may also point to those who wait for the happily ever after down here "gravy" from the preacher. While we may create an absolution for a preacher rendering such a "it'll be alright in the morning" closure, the work of pastoral care is to cultivate and nurture the faith walk when trouble does linger, when death is imminent, when the runaway child might not come back home and when the answer to the dilemma tarries for a lifetime. Both the role of the evangelizing preacher and the shepherding pastor are relevant. I think your article speaks to the shepherd. And, I think the better shepherd speaks such a message to his flock. "But if the storms DON'T cease. And if the winds keep on blowing in my life....."

Rev. A. David Griffin

commented on Dec 4, 2014

Very insightful and beneficial article. A pastoral sermon is more than a 'feel-good' message, it is also a healing message, that ushers in 'process' for us as we journey on. Thank you.

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