Summary: A Christmas sermon of longsuffering and trust in God, through good times and in bad. A look at Christian suffering and how our walk with Christ changes our perspective, especially in light of Jesus’ suffering for us.
Joy In Suffering
“Only the redeemed will walk there”
Stephen H. Becker, M.Div.
St. Peter’s Lutheran Church—Elk Grove, CA
3rd Sunday in Advent
December 16, 2007—Evening Contemporary Worship
In my secular job—my job outside of the church—I train people how to use some very industry-specific software, showing them how the program works and what it can do in various situations. Other times, I work on our help desk, where people call when they have questions or problems about the software. I’ve had irate people call and scream at me that the system isn’t working right. I’ve had new people to the job call in thinking that I can train them in five or ten minutes over the phone, what I spent a week on-site training their predecessor. But never once when I work the help desk do I get a call from somebody saying, “Hi I’m just calling to say things are running great with my system and I’m really thankful to you for showing me how to work it. Things are super!” I think I’d be dumbfounded if I get a call like that. Yet, I can tell you there are times when I’ve just dealt with ten major database corruptions or other major software problems where I could sincerely use a call like that.
Now, in our walk with the Lord Jesus, how often do we call up God’s Help Desk through prayer with our problems? We pray, “Heavenly Father help me with this problem.” Now friends, that’s exactly what we’re supported to do. We are to ask God for His help. One of my favorite spiritual disciplines is prayer, especially striving towards continuous prayer, because of the blessings it brings to our lives. But how often have you looked over your own life, and said to yourself, “wow, I am really blessed! God has been so good to me!” Our reading from Isaiah 35 today is just that—the prophet is describing the joy of being part of God’s family of redeemed people. Isaiah knows that faith in God isn’t going make our problems miraculously go away, but the prophet shows us how all of our challenges and problems in life with ultimately be a “highway…the Way of Holiness.” Let’s open with prayer…
How is your life going my friends? I mean, really going? This past week, I’ve made it a point to ask that of every person I could. Not “how are you,” but “how is your life going?” Some looked at me, and you could tell they were thinking, “what an oddddddd question…” Others started to unload their life stories on me. Others, it was just a quick “ok.” And yet others still explained how great their lives were going. Many times, as Christians, we don’t stop to look at how our lives are going until something goes wrong. And then the temptation is to wonder why these “bad” events have happened. And then we wonder why as Christians this can happen to us. We may even ask, “why doesn’t God do something about this?” Or “why doesn’t God stop this?” Or maybe even, “why is God allowing this to happen?...why is God doing this to me?” I don’t ever want to discount a person’s suffering, either physical or emotional or situational, because suffering is real, but one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned as a minister is how suffering can be viewed as a terrible, open-ended question, such as “why did this have to happen?” Or, as a positive opportunity that ultimately can be used by God for His glory and for our spiritual growth. I have a dear friend, a member here of our congregation, who has recently been diagnosed with cancer. In fact, she has had two cancer surgeries now and yet this child of God is growing closer to the Lord each day, despite her physical suffering; despite the very real, possible threat to her life, she sees her current condition in a way similar to what Isaiah is talking here, that we are in a desert, in parched land that is seemingly devoid of life, full of dryness and difficulty, with no beauty in sight, yet when touched by the Lord God, it can burst forward in beautiful life, “like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.” Here in this passage of Isaiah, we can form a clearer understanding of suffering’s effect upon our lives, and allow God to make it a positive, creative experience in our lives.
Life was difficult for the people of Israel. Wars were a constant reality in their lives. Wars bring with them not only bloodshed, but also destruction—uprooted crops and slaughtered livestock. Hunger, poverty, and disease were common themes of life. The prophet Isaiah speaks to the people of Israel in the middle of these struggles and suffering. His purpose is to help them see God and have hope. Moreover, Isaiah does not prophesize a quick end to Israel’s suffering. I think as Christians, most of us have come to the realization that God does not remove all of our problems that moment we enter into God’s presence and announce, “Hey, God, I’m hurting down here.” Isaiah seeks to assure Israel that God is present in their suffering; God has not deserted them. And it is no different for us Christians when our lives encounter a bump in the road or a grand canyon is our progress. It seems like when our world is crashing in around us, everything is out of control and we fear for our survival, and it is then that we sometimes doubt God’s presence in our lives. But this passage speaks the same message to us as it did to the people of Israel—God has not deserted us. God is present in the middle of our situations and suffering.