Summary: This sermon is the 4th in a series on Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul explores the Christian response in light of suffering.
Bibliography: Willie Wonka, When God Interrupts - Craig Barnes, All You Really Need To Know About Prayer...-Louise Perrotta, Martin Luther King, William Barclay
The other night as we were channel surfing, we came across one of my favorite movies from my childhood, and the boys and I sat down to watch Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.
It’s the kind of movie, like The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz, that use to make my parent groan when they heard they were going to be on because they knew I would want to watch it, no matter how many times I have seen it, I always want to see it again.
But I just can’t help it. When Gene Wilder opens the door to the chocolate room - a room filled with colorful delights and fanciful “growing candy plants & trees,” and sings to us all... “if you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it...” Why can’t life be like that? Why can’t we all live in a place that’s as delightful and magical as the chocolate room?
Did you ever wish something like that? If only life could just be like living in the chocolate room of Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory, then life would be grand. Life would be fine.
I’d bet there are a lot of ‘if only’s’ we wish for so life would be grand:
If only I didn’t have this credit card debt, everything would be fine.
If only I had a better car that wouldn’t break down all the time.
If only I could get that promotion at work.
If only my children would listen to what I’m saying and try harder.
These are all the kinds of things drive us crazy and take the perfection out of our perfect world. But some of these can seem rather simple compared to other concerns:
If only they could operate and get rid of this cancer.
If only this terrible illness would go away.
If only I could regain the use of my legs.
If only I could fix my child’s problems at school.
If only my teenager would stop using drugs and stay out of trouble.
If only my spouse and I could go back to the way things were when we first fell in love.
If only there was a way out of my financial crisis.
If only I hadn’t been laid off. If only I could find a job.
Paul speaks to our ‘if only’s.’
He writes: “What we suffer at this present time cannot be compared at all with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.”
Its as if he is saying, “Just wait. The chocolate room is in your future.”
He wants us to know that Christ Jesus has prepared a better place for us.
When Paul addresses suffering in these words to the church in Rome, I believe he had a particular kind of suffering in mind. Suffering and struggle comes in many forms but I think we could perhaps place them into two general categories. There is personal suffering we endure. Whether they are situations we create ourselves like drug use or incredible debt, or situations that happen to us beyond our control like illness or tragic accidents,
they are crisis that effect everyone of every walk of life.
But I believe Paul had in mind those whose suffering was faith based. I believe Paul was addressing those who are struggling with what it means to be Christian in a world that is not Christian friendly.
In the second or third century, and unknown author wrote to a gentleman Diognetus to attempt to explain the Christian way of life. For Diognetus Christians must have been allusive creatures.
The author writes:
Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humankind by country, language, or customs...they are not champions of a human-made principle, as some are. While they may live as Greeks or oriental, and follow the customs of the country in dress, food, and general manner of life, they display the remarkable and confessedly surprising status of their citizenship.
They live in countries of their own, but as sojourners. The share all things as citizens; they suffer all things as foreigners...They pass their life on earth; but they are citizens in heaven. They obey the established laws, but the outdo the laws in their own lives. They love all people, and are persecuted by all. They are not understood and condemned. The are put to death, and yet made alive...
Christians were different people. Often their beliefs flew in the face of custom and expected behavior. Rich people associated on an equal basis with poor people. Free people shared a common meal with slaves. Women were accepted as equal members of the faith community. It was radically different from the way in which the majority of the world operated and because of their frequent break from sacred but human-instituted customs, Christians were persecuted and suffered for their faith.