Summary: PENTECOST 1, YEAR C - Rejoice in your sufferings, says the apostle Paul. A tall order by any stretch of the word. How does one develop the hope filled character that can endure suffering with a spirit of rejoicing?
So, how’s your week been? Hectic? I bet that just about says it all. We run here, we run there run run run, with hardly a moment to be still. And who has time to sit down and eat anymore, It’s a donut here, a fast food burger there, and probably all eaten while on the run. But when it’s all said and done. At the end of the day, after you’ve run here and run there, after you’ve done this and done that. What do you do to calm down from your day? I don’t know about you but I plop right down in front of the boob tube. That’s right I become the preverbal couch potato. I just lay back and from that moment on the only labor I perform is with my clicker finger. And you know the moment I do that the only thing showing on TV is commercials for exercise equipment. Just what I need - more sweating. The commercial I like the most is for the bow flex. I know it by heart. When the 42 year old man says “I’m in better shape now then when I was 22,” I know what’s coming next. “So, are you going to get that body in shape or are you going to let is slide?” Every time I hear that part of the commercial I like to say, “let it slide. I mean, lets be real. Who in their right mind wants to put their bodies under more stress? he question I want answered, is when do things get easier? Have you ever read the Peanut’s cartoon where Charlie Brown is telling his woes to Schroder. T comfort Charlie Brown Schroder says, "Don’t be discouraged, Charlie Brown. These early defeats help to build character for later on in life." Charlie Brown replies, "For what later on in life?" Schroeder answers, "For more defeats!" Here in Romans chapter five the apostle Paul declares,
“we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,"
I read this and I’ve got to ask, is this man crazy? I don’t want to learn how to endure my sufferings. Ijust want to know how to avoid them all together. And what do you mean rejoice in our sufferings. How can Paul expect me to say this to people I see suffering. What is this Paul the Polly Anna approach to pastoral care, “Don’t worry, be happy.” What do you know Paul that I don’t know, that in the face of suffering you would dare to say “rejoice”? In his second letter to the Corinthian church Paul records what he had endured up to that point as a minister of Jesus Christ.
“Five times I have received the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; I have faced constant danger while on my frequent journeys. Not to mention the sleepless night or the times I’ve experience hunger and thirst, cold and exposure. Apart from all these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.”
Wow Paul, I’ve never faced anything like that and maybe that’s the point. When I served as a hospital chaplain in PA I can’t name the number of times I would go in to comfort a family who were experiencing great suffering when someone from that group would say, “You know, I used to think that what we were going through was really bad until I met the guy in other bed.” Perspective, it makes a world of difference. There was another time in my ministry as a hospital chaplain that I will never forget. I was making my rounds visiting those patients that were going into surgery the next day. The first individual I visited was an elderly gentleman who was going in for minor surgery. When I asked him how he was doing he began telling me the story of how as a young man he had served in the army in WW II. He told me how he had seen the dead bodies stack up along the side of the roads in German like so many cords of wood. He spoke of how he had passed mass grave after mass grave without blinking an eye. He told me all of this just to ask, “If I’ve seen all this without it affecting me then why am I so upset over this minor surgery I’m having tomorrow?” I gave him words of comfort and I prayed for him but as I went my way I thought, “hhhmmm, if he only had more faith in God this wouldn’t bother him so much.”