GRACE TO YOU AND PEACE
FROM GOD OUR FATHER
AND THE LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. AMEN.
One of the great dramas of the twentieth century began with the kidnapping of the baby son of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. “I will write everything as I would like it told to me,” Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote to her mother-in-law.
“At 7:30 Betty, the nurse, and I were putting the baby to bed.
We closed and bolted all the shutters except one
on the window where the shutters are warped and won’t close.
At ten Betty went in to the baby, shut the window first,
then lit the electric stove, then turned to the bed.
It was empty and the sides were still up.
No blankets taken . . .
You know the rest. Then the awful waiting.”
She later wrote in her diary,
“The baby’s body was found in the woods
on the Hopewell-Mount Rose Road.
Killed by a blow to the head.
I feel strange a sense of peace—
not peace but an end to restlessness,
a finality, as though I were sleeping in a grave.”
In recalling the months and years that followed, she writes, “I do not believe that suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable.”
There is suffering in the world. As Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote it can ennoble or it can embitter. Suffering can bring us closer to God and other people or it can block human feeling and sympathy. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik thought,
“Suffering comes to ennoble us,
to purge our thoughts of pride and superficiality,
to expand our horizons.
In sum, the purpose of suffering
is to repair that which is faulty in our lives.”
It is difficult to know but purpose God uses our suffering to reveal to us the great truth in today’s Gospel text: Suffering conforms us to the image of God’s Son:
“A disciple is not above the teacher,
nor a slave above the master;
it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher
and the slave like the master.”
Jesus is warning his disciples— and us—that we follow a Lord who was reviled and rejected, tortured and crucified and that we will also face rejection and disfavor. We will face times of suffering as we follow Christ. And then we are reminded that Christ is with us and we need not be afraid.
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A thousand sparks to spark your imagination!
Jesus uses an image that is truly one of the loveliest in all scripture. It is the image of little sparrows that were sold in the markets of the Middle East of his time. The tiny birds were sold for their meat which accounts say is quite tasty. They were also very inexpensive—two birds were sold for a half-penny. They were pretty insignificant things these little sparrows but God watches over them. And if God cares about the birds which fall from the air, the tiny little birds sold for a morsel of meat in the market, how much more God cares for us. We are of more value than many sparrows.
A few weeks ago when we were in Hong Kong, we walked through the bird market. It was a bit of old China, these birds sometimes quite tiny in bamboo cages. We saw old men feeding their pet birds crickets with chopsticks. God cares about each of these little creatures and God cares about the people feeding the birds.
There is another image which is lovely—the number of hairs on our head. We do not know how many hairs we have but God does. The text says “Even the hairs of your head are all counted.” Again God knows us better than we know ourselves. Jesus said to his followers who faced persecution, “Fear not!” Jesus says to us with our own worries and cares, “Do not be afraid. I care about you. I will acknowledge you my followers to my Father in heaven.” We have the promise of eternal life through Christ. Others can kill our bodies, harm and hurt us, but our final destination of eternal life is certain. We do not need to be overly concerned about what others think of us, about the rejection we may face because we follow Christ, because God is with us, caring for us, loving and saving us.
It is not so easy following Christ in our daily life. To be a Christian Monday through Saturday is pretty hard. I would like to share with you the story of a man from my first parish, Chan. Chan was the superintendent of the Sunday school at Edison Park Lutheran Church in Chicago, well-educated and multi-talented. He served as president of the congregation was a gifted public speaker and able leader. He was also an executive on the move with a large retail chain. Chan had managed stores around the Chicago area and had become manager of a large downtown store. Chan was in his early forties and his future seemed bright. His children were about to enter college and his life seemed fine. Then he quit his job. Chan didn’t have another job to go to and it took him a long time to find another one. When he was asked why he quit he simply said it was because of his Christian faith. His direct superior asked him to harass and hound some employees they wanted fired. The goal was to make life so miserable for these workers that they would quit the organization and then the company would not have to pay unemployment. Chan refused. As a Christian, he refused to do that kind of dirty work. If employees failed in their work, they would be reprimanded or even fired but not hounded into resigning. Chan could not do this as a Christian.
Christians are called to live out their faith in daily life. Our faith is not secret—we are to uncover those things which are covered up and to make known those things which are secret. What you hear in the dark, say in the light; what is whispered, proclaim from the housetops. It is in and through suffering that we grow in love for God and our neighbors. And we as followers of Jesus are called to be with the sick, to comfort the dying, to console those grieving, to understand the troubles, to care about others as God cares for us.
There is no escape from suffering in this life. It can ennoble us or embitter us, help us to grow in faith and trust or cause us to turn away from God. The important thing in the midst of life’s pains is to remember that God is not rejecting us. God is with us leading us through the dark shadowed valleys until we come into the glories of God’s kingdom. Viktor Frankl, the noted psychologist, learned this definition while serving in a Nazi concentration camp: “Despair is suffering without meaning.”
It follows, then that those of us alongside suffering people should somehow find a way to bring meaning or significance to their experience. God tells us the way: We follow Christ to suffering and death. We become like our Master. As we give up our own strength and power and pride, we rely more upon the strength and hope we find in Christ. We look to the cross as something that reflects our own experience as well as that of Jesus. We look forward to glory which is to come not as something apart from the cross but only in and through suffering and shame and death.
Martin Luther explained to his congregation:
“Meanwhile Christians who are baptized in Christ’s Name
must keep still and must put up with being trampled upon,
and must still be patient.
For in this life of believing, it is Christ’s will to appear small;
but in the life of seeing, He will not be small but very great.
Then Christ will show that He saw the suffering of His people
and heard their cries
and that His will was inclined towards them to help them,
and that He had the power to help them.
Now Christ hides His good will, power and strength;
but when He appears He will reveal His will and power and strength.
He could help and save now.
Christ has the power to do it,
nor does He lack the will,
but all this is concealed in the Word so that we cannot see it,
but must take hold of it be faith.”
Jesus tells us that our future victory is assured:
“So everyone who acknowledges me before others,
I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”
Do not be afraid, people of God, disciples of Christ, you are of more value than many sparrows. God will take care of you. Amen.