Summary: Trials and testings are standard fare for growing, mature Christians. This sermon exhorts to perseverance and rejoicing in trials and tests.
First Sunday in Lent 2005
2 Cor. 6:1-10,
Those of us who are old enough will remember a character created by the late Gilda Radner when she was a regular comedienne on the television show Saturday Night Live. Among her many comic personalities was one named Roseanne Rosannadanna, a totally freaked out, zany, brash, and goofy character who somehow shows up in a television newsroom set, giving the daily news.
As her newsreports get more and more surreal, they usually ended with Roseanne’s recounting some improbable disaster which befalls the subject of the newsreport. And, then she would wrap it all up by quoting her old nanny. “That just goes to show you! It’s always something! If its not one thing, it’s another thing!”
If you were paying attention to the common thread in the readings for today, including the Psalms, you might be tempted to think of Roseanne Rosannadanna’s explanation for everything: It’s always something!
Consider, for example, the opening words of the first Psalm we sang a moment ago: LORD, how they have increased who trouble me!
Or how about the opening words of Jesus ben Sirach in the second chapter of Ecclesiasticus: My son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thy soul for temptation.
Or how about the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 6, as he describes the way in which his career as a minister of the Lord was playing itself out: “But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, 5in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings;
Or, how about the gospel appointed for today: 1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. 3Now when the tempter came to Him, …” It appears that when he was at his most tested and distressed, after 40 days of fasting, THEN comes the tempter. Not at the beginning when Jesus was fresh, but only at the end of the fast when he was weak.
Sufferings, tests, trials, difficulties, tumults, tribulations, distresses, labors – these are the kinds of things that can make a Christian throw up his hands and exclaim, “It’s always something!” What are we to think of these things?
Before we answer that question, let’s first set aside what we are NOT to think of these kinds of things. Christians make two mistakes about the trails, tests, problems, labors, and tumults they face more or less routinely in their Christian walks:
The first thing we must NOT think is what that caricature of Puritan Christianity is purported to think: that suffering and trials and hardships are the essence of Christian living. Holiness is, according to this caricature, all work and no play; and if anything is fun it must be sinful.
Whether this is a fair representation of Puritan spirituality is another question; I do think many times those who have championed the name “Puritan” have sometimes validated this caricature. It is, I think, not only a caricature, it is false to the gospel. Yes, the Christian life is characterized by trials and tests. No, the Christian life does not reduce to trials and tests, as if that were the beginning and end of the matter.
A second thing we must NOT think is that this kind of Christian life is actually false, a mistake, and a sign of poor or derelict faith. This view is touted today by those who promote what is commonly referred to as “the gospel of prosperity.” God wants you to be rich, they proclaim. God heals all your diseases! If you have faith, you will be healthy, wealthy, and wise! Those who suffer deprivation, trials, and tests are either very, very weak in faith, or not even Christian at all!
I do not know what Bible these people are reading, but surely it does not contain what we are going to see in a moment. Even now, those of you who have only a passing familiarity with the NT know that the prosperity gospel folks are ignoring huge hunks of the Apostolic teaching in Paul, Peter, James, Hebrews, and John.
So much for what we are NOT to think about the things that make us say, “It’s always something!” What, then, ARE we to think?
First of all, we are to understand that for Christians these difficulties, tests, trials, and hardships are completely ordinary.
Consider what James says in the first chapter of his letter: 2My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,…
Or the Apostle Peter: 12Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13but rejoice… (1 Pet. 4:12).