A Sermon about Suffering
Text: 2 Timothy 1:1-14
Join with me in suffering for the Gospel.
Well, this is not one of our uplifting texts, is it?
Join me in suffering for the Gospel.
Most of us would really rather not spend our time suffering,
at least not voluntarily.
We know there is suffering, of course,
and we know that suffering
is something we all will probably have to endure
at some point in our lives,
but we don’t wish to choose it.
We may even come to church in order to alleviate our suffering -
to be uplifted in song and prayer
and to be held ourselves in the company of friends
and fellow pilgrims on the Christian journey.
We would rather pray for the suffering to end.
Because of course we know that suffering
goes on in the world every day.
There seems to be no end of suffering, in fact.
And so we pray that God will heal
the suffering of others
and heal our own suffering and grief
over our physical pains, our psychological pains,
our social pains.
We wish that God would take them on
and take them away.
We would rather not choose to suffer.
I believe, however, that when we suffer,
God suffers with us.
We are never alone in our pain, our grief,
our confusion, our shame.
God is with us when we suffer;
we do not suffer alone.
And Jesus knows our suffering,
having suffered himself.
Jesus chose to suffer.
Do we have to choose to suffer as well?
If we’re about doing God’s work in the world,
then yes, I think we are to choose to suffer.
And here are a couple of stories
to explain what I mean by that.
This week at the Clergy Conference at Camp Mikell
we heard reports from several people.
One of them was from a woman who heads up
a nonprofit organization called Street Grace
that works with churches
and other community partners
to stop human trafficking in the Atlanta area.
She told us that more than 300 young girls
are sold every month
several times a day,
not only in Atlanta
but in the surrounding counties,
including right here in Rockdale.
She told us that some of these girls
are only ten or eleven years old.
She told us how a few years ago
she had been the facilitator
of a group for women drug addicts
and how gradually she had learned
that most of those women
had been the victims of child
trafficking when they were young.
She told us how she saw their suffering
and how she joined in their suffering
for their lost childhoods, for their lost selves,
for their lost lives.
She told us how she suffered grief
and then anger
and finally took action
to stand up for these young girls
and find ways of identifying and eradicating
this scourge from our midst.
For the Gospel, she joined in their suffering.....
Another report we heard was from an Episcopal priest
Army chaplain who serves at the Pentagon.
His job is to work with the small group of chaplains
who visit and counsel
and otherwise make themselves available
to the families who travel to Dover, Delaware,
to meet the remains of their loved ones
who were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan
when their bodies arrive in this country
in flag-draped coffins.
He told us about how the suicide rate
for soldiers and veterans continues to rise;
he told us about how the divorce rate
among soldiers and their husbands
keeps going up as military personnel
are called up again and again for multiple tours
and relationships become harder and harder
he told us about the soldiers being treated
psychologically for post-traumatic stress syndrome
and physically for brain trauma
caused by repeated concussions
from being near explosions.
He asked us to pray for him, to pray for his chaplains,
to pray for the families of the dying and the dead,
and especially to pray for the men and women
in service to our country who are suffering.
He told us about the multi-faith prayer chapel
that was built at the Pentagon in the space where the plane hit
and about how so many people use that chapel
for prayer every week and sometimes daily -
Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Protestants,
Hindus, Jews and Muslims -
and pointed out that praying for peace
was something every group felt called to do.
He asked us to join in those prayers.
And as he told us about these stories,
about these facts and figures,
about these people who suffer,
I saw the suffering on his face.
For the Gospel, he has joined those soldiers
and their families in their suffering.
And he was calling us to join him in his
and to join them in theirs as well.
Because the Gospel, the good news,
is that God loves us and wants us to be saved
and also God loves others and wants them to be saved.
God loves the outcast and the beaten down
and the grieving and the traumatized
and the addicts
and the ones who are abused and thrown away
and God wants them to be saved.
But right now they are suffering in this world
and we are called to join in their suffering
so that we might be moved by it
and will rise up and do something
besides watch and shake our heads.
We are called to stand with God
as God stands with those who suffer.
A couple of weeks ago, I quoted William Temple,
who served as Archbishop of Canterbury back in the early 1940‘s,
who said that the Church is the only society
that exists for the benefit
of those who are not its members.
The church exists to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world,
to uphold the needy not only through prayer
but through physical support.
By actually feeding the hungry and clothing the naked
and giving cups of cold water to the parched
and visiting those in prison
even as we ask God to remember the hungry
and thirsty and the naked and the imprisoned
and not let them be forgotten by God, either,
as they have not been forgotten by us.
But we cannot hear these and other stories of grief
and pain and suffering and simply shake our heads.
If we say we love God then we must love God’s people.
Perhaps only by suffering with them
will we be moved to respond to their suffering.
This is the work we do for the Gospel -
this is the mission of the church,
to bring good news,
to respond to the suffering of others.
We don’t have to look very far to find suffering.
Some of us here are suffering from grief,
from loss, from lack, from anxiety,
from sicknesses of all kinds.
And I am impressed
with how the folks in this parish
respond to one another’s suffering. You all visit one another,
send cards to one another,
pray for one another,
care for one another to an extent that amazes me.
This is how we uphold one another
and manifest Christ’s love for us by loving others.
But there are those beyond these walls who need care as well.
If the Church is not to be just a social club
then it is both the Church’s obligation and joy
to reach out to the suffering outside these walls -
to join, because of the Gospel,
into their suffering
and allow ourselves to be moved
to work to bring wholeness to them,
to ease their suffering,
and thus bring wholeness to the entire flock,
the entire Body.
This is how we show unity in Christ,
how we are the body of Christ -
by suffering with those who suffer
and being moved to alleviate that suffering
in whatever ways we can,
to bring peace and whatever restoration we can.
God gives us strength and courage to serve God
by serving others,
to do that work to alleviate suffering.
This is the work of the Church.
And so as Paul invites Timothy,
so I invite you to join with me in suffering for the Gospel.
To look outside these walls
and really see the suffering in our community,
and to really suffer for them ourselves -
to feel pain for those who are poor, lonely,
and to act in response to that suffering
as the Body of Christ,
being Christ’s hands and feet in this world.