Summary: God calls us as disciples and uses us just as we are to bring God's kingdom to a world in need.
June 14, 2020
Hope Lutheran Church
Pastor Mary Erickson
From Suffering to Hope
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
While they still weak, at the right time, Christ sent his apostles to them. His ministry had taken him all about. He’d visited the dense cities and the remote, sleepy villages. He’d preached in their synagogues; he’d spoken with their people in the streets.
What became evidently clear was how very fragile the people were. They suffered. They felt adrift, like their lives were unavoidably unravelling. They were like sheep, like sheep without a shepherd.
From times of old, God has sent out God’s people into the world. We’ve been sent out as a royal priesthood.
God commissioned Israel. To the 12 tribes, God said, “you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” Even while they were still in the wilderness, God appointed them! They were still on their journey and would be for 40 more years!
I know what my response would be: “Really, God, now is not the time! Please wait until I’m settled in! I can take on your appointment much more effectively after I’ve got my own life in order. For right now, I don’t know which end is up! I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow, let alone next week. I’ve got my own sufferings to deal with. Lord, I’ve got to get my own act together before I can go out to help others. Thank you for your invitation, but can I take a rain check on that until a more opportune time?”
But that was not Israel’s answer. They answered as one voice: “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.” They walked by faith, not by sight. They followed God’s pillar of fire as it coursed into unknown territory. They acknowledged this is about God’s time, not our time. Now is the time to answer the call! Now is the time to be a priestly kingdom!
That’s what Jesus sensed. The fullness of time had come. The crop was ready to be harvested. It was time to send out laborers into the harvest. There was a whole lot of suffering out there, and help was needed right now! Who will bring in the sheaves? Who will go into the fields to find and comfort the anxious sheep?
In every generation, God uses God’s people to be a royal priesthood unto the world. God used Israel. Jesus used the disciples. And now we are vehicles to announce the kingdom of God. The kingdom is ever drawing near! It’s coming into our world, into our cities, into our homes, into our lives!
For a time such as this, God sends us. God sends us just as we are. Jesus picked a very unlikely 12-man crew for his team. Fishermen. A tax collector. And even Judas Iscariot, the man who would betray him. Jesus sent and used them all! He utilized their unique talents and personalities. He relied on their individual ways of connecting in the world. He endowed each of them with authority to bring healing and to cast out that which is unclean.
God sends us just as Jesus sent his disciples. We are being sent for today’s harvest. We are every bit as diverse and as unlikely as that original band of 12. There are among us some whose presence might raise an eyebrow or two!
But each one of us runs in unique circles. We’ve walked different paths; our eyes have witnessed stories and events – and sufferings – known only to us. And all of this history has equipped us with wisdom and understanding. It’s brought us into who we are right now. And perhaps, perhaps we owe more to our sufferings than to our triumphs. Maybe our trials have done more than our glories to shape us into who we are and the gifts we offer to the work of God’s kingdom.
We all have sustained suffering. Our bodies bear the scars and the limps and the aches from past trauma. And on the inside, our souls are indelibly imprinted by memories of painful encounters and emotional wounds. We’re wearied by regrets, weighed down by worries.
But it’s precisely these sufferings that have opened up a space for compassion. If we had not known pain and trial, had we not known what it is to be brought low, we could not recognize it in our neighbor. It’s only through enduring our own suffering that we grow in character.
We could not gain the characters of compassion and patience and kindness and empathy if we had not first known and endured our own suffering. Jesus calls people who are themselves in the throes of sorrow. He calls us in our unlikeliness, in our brokenness. He calls those who are scorned and sidelined because he himself came as a wounded healer.