Saturday, October 22, 2016

Year C, Proper 25, Jeremiah 14.7-10,19-22, Luke 18.9-14, Suffering Savior

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen

Richard Rohr, in his book “Falling Upward” talks about the two halves of life.
Let me share a quote or two from a book review by Lauren Winner, published in the “Christian Century"
The spiritual life has two stages. In the first half of life, you are devoted to establishing yourself; you focus on making a career and on finding friends and a partner; you are crafting your identity. Spiritually, people in the first half of life are often drawn to order, to religious routine. We are developing habits and letting ourselves be shaped by the norms and practices of our family and community.”

“Then—a crisis. "Some kind of falling," Rohr says, is necessary for continued spiritual development. "Normally a job, fortune, or reputation has to be lost," writes Rohr, "a death has to be suffered, a house has to be flooded, or a disease has to be endured." The crisis can be devastating. The crisis undoes you. The flood doesn't just flood your house—it washes out your spiritual life. What you thought you knew about living the spiritual life no longer suffices for the life you are living.”

“If you welcome the second half of life, this is what you will find: you learn to hear "a deeper voice of God" than you heard before. "It will sound an awful lot like the voices of risk, of trust, of surrender, of soul, of 'common sense,' of destiny, of love, of an intimate stranger, of your deepest self." You can hear this voice in the second half of life precisely because of all the work you did in the first half; your very self is now a container strong enough to hold the call of the intimate stranger. You find that you can let go of things—pain, judgments, even the need to make judgments.”

In short, what Rohr is saying is that through suffering we move from a spirituality based almost entirely on what we do, our false selves, to a more mature spirituality in which we find our true selves in relationship with God.
But to make that transition, we often have to be shaken to the core.
And that is hard to accept.

We don’t want to accept it because during that time of crisis it feels as though we have been utterly abandoned by God, not as though we are being guided into a more mature relationship with God. Only the perspective of time allows us to see what was really happening.

Jeremiah writes at a time in Israel’s history when Israel was under threat. Eventually, the nation would be destroyed, and the people would be led into captivity and an exile in Babylon.
In our lesson for today, it would appear that the people were genuinely penitent, that they had great remorse for their sins, and that they were putting their hope in God as their savior to help them during this crisis.
But it isn’t sufficient.
Thus says the Lord concerning this people:
Truly they have loved to wander,
they have not restrained their feet;
therefore the Lord does not accept them,
now he will remember their iniquity 
and punish their sins.

They hadn’t suffered enough.
At least not yet.
But they would.
And eventually God would say:
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord 's hand
double for all her sins.

Grace eventually happened.
Israel was redeemed.
But first, there was suffering.

Those who have been in Alcoholics Anonymous will watch as people come in and out of the rooms.
Perhaps, they came to AA because of a DUI,
Or perhaps they have come because their spouse threatened to leave them,
Or they have lost a job because of their drinking.
But after a while they go back out.
Running after them and
                Trying to convince them to come back
                Is not effective.
Instead, the old timers in AA will simply sit back and say “They haven’t suffered enough yet, but when they do, they’ll be back.”

Sometimes suffering comes into our lives in a way that has no relationship to our own moral integrity.  We don’t deserve it, but we experience it nevertheless.
I was preaching about this a couple of years ago, and following the service we had an adult class.  One of the participants in the adult class had lost her husband after a long, difficult struggle with cancer.  He was “too young to die”, but he did.
These are hard situations.
Does God bring about such suffering so that we might be better people as a result?
What about the one who died?
Would God take one person’s life, so that another person might experience the growth that come with moving into the second half of life, to use Rohr’s language?
The woman was quite blunt in her response:
If the choice is between suffering the loss of my husband and becoming a more spiritually mature person because of it –
Or continuing in my spiritually immature state, but having my husband—
                I’ll take life with my husband.

It is simply unfathomable that the innocent must suffer in order to receive, through their suffering a greater good.
And yet the truth is that suffering,
                Whether it is deserved or not,
                More than anything else will shape our very identities.
Paul put it this way in Romans 5:
“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.  .  .”

Likewise in Chapter 8 Paul writes:
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.  .  . “
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

And then we have the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to the temple to pray.
The Pharisee prayed:
“God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”
And the tax collector prayed:
“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
One was justified, one was not.
We will cling to the mercy of God,
But only if we recognize our need for God’s mercy.

And this is the thing.
                Whether we’ve brought it upon ourselves,
                Or experienced it for no apparent reason,
More than anything else exposes our need for a savior.
The is sort of a Good News, Bad News, thing.

The Good News is that you will be raised with Christ.
The Bad News is that first you will die with Christ.

We’d prefer it was different.
Would that the Gospel message was that if you just accept Jesus into your life as your Lord and Savior, all good things will happen to you.  That you will live a life beyond your wildest dreams.
But far too often, that simply is not true.
And if someone tries to tell you that, don’t believe them.
Suffering will not just go away.
But that we suffer is not an indication that God has abandoned us.
Quite to the contrary, Jesus suffers with us.
And in the end, it is Jesus suffering that will redeem our own suffering.  This is the mystery of the cross.  That somehow, through dying on the cross, Jesus has brought life to the world. 
Someday, we may understand.
Or perhaps we will simply recognize that it is not for us to understand.
But this much I know is true:
That our only hope in the face of suffering is to look to the crucified One and know that there, God is with us.


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