Archive for the ‘Suffering’ Category

The Power of God’s Love!

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Sixteenth Sunday in Pentecost, August 31st, 2008

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
” [Romans 12:12]

 

INTRODUCTION: Why would anyone set out to suffer and die?  Why would anyone choose humiliation over triumph?  To the world this is a ridiculous concept!  That’s why in our gospel reading, when Jesus said that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed Peter answered, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”  The other disciples must have been thinking, “Good for you Peter!  This can’t happen to the one we love.  How can a suffering, humiliated, or worse yet, a dead Mesiah save us!”  But to this, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Poor Peter, just days before this our Lord had praised him as being the model confessor of the church, because he confessed Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  How could someone who seemed to have everything so right, now be so terribly wrong?  Our Lord answers that question so that we can see the error: “You aren’t looking at things from God’s plan, but from the plans of men!”  Well what’s the difference?  Both ways of thinking identify Jesus as the Savior, right?  Well yes, but the difference is in the kind of Savior!  Peter and the others wanted to glory in victory now!  They wanted a majestic conqueror—one that would by the power and might of man make all things right in the world.  They were appalled when Jesus said it was necessary for him to suffer and die.  They were so appalled that they missed the part that came next—the gospel!  “On the third day I will be raised from the dead!” 

 

The truth is friends, God’s love is always demonstrated as sacrificial love, and that is why Jesus said that “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Without the self-sacrifice of Jesus, there would be no victory over sin death and the devil; without self sacrifice there can be no power in love.  And for us, if we want to truly live a life transformed by the “Power of God’s love” we must pick up our cross, and follow Jesus in the way of sacrificial love.  This is the truth that we will explore this morning in our Epistle lesson.  Please take out your Bibles and turn with me to Romans Chapter 12.

 

(Vs. 9) “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”    Right from the beginning of our Epistle lesson this morning, Paul is making it clear to us that everything that follows is centered in love.  But this kind of love is not your run of the mill, here today gone tomorrow kind of love; you know the kind I mean don’t you?  The kind of love that is ablaze with passion on the wedding day, but cold as ice on the 5th anniversary of that wedding night.  No this is the kind of love that is the ultimate fruit of God’s love for us.  It is the kind of love that gives you faith to believe that Jesus is your Lord and Savior because “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son on the cross so that you would be saved!”  This isn’t the fake kind of Hollywood love, no this is the giving kind of love.  It gives everything it has so that the person receiving it knows they are loved.  With this kind of love, God chose to love you a sinner, and with this kind of love, as we will see latter, we are enabled to choose to love our enemies.  This is real love.  This love isn’t just words, but its action and truth! [1 Jn. 3:18]  So how do we demonstrate this genuine kind of love? “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”  Hate everything evil and sinful and be permanently stuck to everything that’s good!

 

ILLUS: Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this truth is to illustrate its opposite.  Within our own community, just a couple miles down Imperial Avenue, you will be in neighborhoods that are plagued by drugs of all kinds, including the worst drug of all, Crystal Methamphetamine.  Hundreds of our neighbors are addicted to a drug that contains, phosphorus, methylamine, acetone, chloroform, iodine, ammonia, hydrogen chloride, lithium, ether, and muriatic acid.   When all of this is mixed together and cooked, it creates a crude version of Methamphetamine, and when smoked or snorted it produces an intoxicating euphoria that causes one to feel that everything is good and right in the world.  Friends, the truth is for these poor souls, nothing is right!  Any one of those ingredients alone can cause death.  These poor people have learned to love the very thing that is killing them, and they hate anyone that comes between them and their drug.  How many families have been destroyed because of this drug?  How many lives have been lost?  Yet these poor souls have become addicted to it!  They are living out the opposite mindset that Paul is asking us to live out.  When Paul says that we should hold fast to what is good, he means that we should be permanently stuck to it!  We should be addicted to what is good, and we know that there is no one or nothing good but God Himself!  Friends, we hate illegal drugs because they are evil and because we love God!  Now because we love God, we find ourselves hating anything and everything that separates anyone from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus!  Now Paul will show us how this type of love will work in our church.

(Vs.10-13)Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, and serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Be devoted to one another with warm family affection and brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.  These words sound good; everyone wants that kind of love in our lives and in our church.  To Paul, this family-type devotion to one another is much more than friendship. It’s the type of love that involves commitment like that experienced in a good family.  When one person in a family is hurting, sick, or in trouble, all of the other family members rally around that person and help in any way possible.  This type of sacrificial, self giving love then is the fulfillment of “Honoring one another above ourselves”. When one of us is in trouble all of us respond.  But the truth is, this type of love can be a real inconvenient; it can even intrude into our personal lives at the worst moment, but this is God’s way, the way of sacrificial love.  It is God’s will that if one of us is in a time of testing, due to financial crisis, sickness, sorrow, or pain, rather than try to hide our tribulation, we should rather embrace the love and support of our church family,  and pray, waiting on God to supply our needs.  It is precisely during these moments when Christ’s church becomes the model of true love to the whole world.  This kind of love is a radical concept to the unbelieving world, but it is the only kind of love that matters to the church.  Paul says that the only way we can demonstrate this kind of love is if we are “fervent in spirit”. 

 

The actual Greek word that is translated fervent means “seething—be seething in spirit.”  Just as water and steam  violently bubbles and seeths out of a covered pot of boiling water, so too we are to be seething in the Spirit.  If you find yourself lacking that fervent, seething spirit,  Paul has just the way to obtain it—“Be constant in prayer!”  Through God’s Word we are given faith and empowered by a relationship of love that allows us to call our God and Creator, Father!  And because of this loving relationship, we are not only encouraged to bring to Him all of our own needs but the needs of others as well!    When we pray for a Christian brother or sister, God’s Spirit is active in our own hearts causing us to be seething in the spirit, so that He may love and care for that person through us, and when God is working through us it is not a chore to love someone, instead it becomes a blessing. 

 

ILLUS: Some years ago a Lutheran church in Oklahoma, divided. The split was so bad that one faction began a lawsuit to dispossess the other and claim the property for itself. The local newspapers picked up the story, and the locals followed what was happening with a lot of interest. The judge decided that it wouldn’t be a matter for the civil courts until the church authorities had made a ruling. After much discussion, the church authorities awarded the property to one of the two factions, and the losers withdrew and formed another church in the area.  Think about how different things would have been had those in that church followed Paul’s call to mutual commitment: Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.   Be seething in the spirit!”  Now that we have an idea of what our love should look like inside of the Church, Paul brings everything together into one picture.  Here now comes the type of love we are to have everywhere.

 

(Vs. 14-16) “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”  Do these words sound familiar?  They should, because they are a paraphrase of Jesus’ own Words: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and “bless those who curse you” )Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27-28).  Think of Jesus last words upon the cross before he died, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  “Well He was the Son of God, of course He could bless and forgive.  No man could do that could they?”  Well what about Stephen, who opened his mouth in a blessing upon those who were stoning him to death?  Do you remember the last words that he uttered? “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)

 

Friends, the way of the world says that we should curse those who are unjustly persecuting us, but the Christian prays for bullies and tormentors.  Why?  So that they might repent, so that God might forgive them.  Bless, Paul says, and do not curse them, don’t speak evil against them behind their back, because it is never right to both bless and to curse at the same time.  No, instead, we Christians must model the same love that Jesus has loved us with.  When we follow the way of our Lord, we learn to “live in harmony with one another”. Oh yes, and Paul adds something else, “Do not be haughty, (that is prideful and stuck-up), but associate with the lowly.  Never be wise in your own sight.”  Just as you don’t like to be bullied or persecuted, be sure that you aren’t doing the same thing to others—by way of neglect or preferential treatment.

 

ILLUS: Have you ever heard of Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes. When he was appointed the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President Herbert Hoover in 1930 he moved to Washington, and transferred his church membership to a church there. It was the custom in that church to have all new members come forward during the morning service and be introduced to the congregation. On this particular day the first to be called was a Chinese laundryman named Ah Sing, who had moved to Washington from San Francisco and kept a laundry near the church. He stood at the far side of the pulpit. As others were called, they took positions at the extreme opposite side. When a dozen people had gathered, Ah Sing stood painfully alone. Then Chief Justice Hughes was called, and he significantly stood right next to the laundryman.  Friends, we are Christians, and we are to associate with everyone—the ordinary people, the unimportant, even the outcasts of society; even those who are being persecuted. If we can’t get along with one another, if we can’t be the champions for the oppressed in our own church, how can we ever face our enemies?  And that is precisely where Paul is taking us next…

 

(Vs. 17-20) “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  There is no question that the man who does us evil ought to be paid back with the exact proportion. This is God’s own principle, and Paul isn’t ignoring that. But if God applied only that principle to us, where would we be?  And that is the point, without God’s grace through Jesus Christ we would be damned along with our worst enemy.  Friends, it is God’s work alone that saved us, and we should do everything to glorify Him and bring honor to His presence in our lives by living a life that demonstrates same grace.  Nothing that we do or say, should ever bring shame to our Lord and His gospel, and that is why Paul says, “give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all”. To that same end, Paul tells us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” That would include peace with believers and nonbelievers, those in the church and outside of the church. You know friends, it takes two to fight, and if you as a believer aren’t seeking revenge, then there should be no long-lasting disruption of peace that involves you.

 

But what about justice?  To this Paul answers, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  Here is Paul’s answer. A juster hand than yours and mine is in control, and He will hand out the most perfect justice that is due to every unrepentant sinner. Friends, by choosing to not avenge ourselves, we aren’t abandoning justice, but rather we have chosen to trust God with the whole matter.  Remember friends, God saved you, and he doesn’t want anyone else to perish either.  So God is restraining his punishment with hope that your enemy will become you brother. So we wait; but while we wait, we aren’t just patiently endure mistreatment, no instead God wants us to seek to change our enemy, if possible, to bring him to repentance.  How?  By feeding him when he is hungry and giving him drink when he is thirsty!  These are only two of many possible examples, but they are good ones.  But why must we be nice to our enemy?  Paul answers that this way, “for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Or we could say that by being nice to him, we allow God’s Law to work within his heart, causing him shame, which will then hopefully cause him to repent of his sin and turn to the same source of love that saved us, Jesus Christ!

 

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, the summary of all of this can be found in Paul’s won words: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” God demonstrated this principle for us long ago, when He sent His only Son to die for you upon the cross.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!  Just as Jesus prayed for us long ago upon the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” so too, we must pray for those who hurt us.  We need to pray and ask God for love as we try to show kindness to our enemies. Will they take advantage of us? Will they hate us even more? Only the Lord knows. Our task is not to protect ourselves but to obey the Lord and leave the results with Him.  Friends, even if our enemy refuses God’s love, we will still have experienced the love of God in our own hearts and we will grow in His grace.

Take Up Your Cross and Follow Jesus!

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

Seventh Sunday in Pentecost, June 29, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” [Matthew 10:38]

INTRODUCTION: The prophet Jeremiah was a man familiar with sorrows and woes.  In fact, he is often called the “weeping” prophet, because so many of the messages that the Lord gave him to declare caused him to weep for his fellow Jews.  Because most of his messages from God were unpopular, he was not well liked by his own people.  In fact, on several occasions he was thrown into prison and threatened with death if he returned.  What was the message that Jeremiah brought from the Lord?  Repent!  Turn away from a worldly way of thinking and trust in the Lord.  Turn away from a mindset that says happiness can be found in the comfort of wealth and the security of earthly friends, and instead trust in the Lord’s plan.  What was God’s plan?  Simply this: Don’t resist the invasion of your enemies from Babylon; in fact open the city gates of Jerusalem wide, and let them come in and conquer you.  But fear not, the Lord will go with you into captivity and you will be saved, just trust in God that all things will work out for you good.  Oh this did not sound good to the leaders, prophets and priests of Judah; this wasn’t what they wanted to hear.  They wanted to Jeremiah to sit down and shut up!  So Jeremiah spent most of his time away from his people, and he only returned when he had another message from God.  We might say that Jeremiah would be completely at home singing that old African American spiritual, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long, long ways from home.”  What Jeremiah discovered is what we will learn this morning, we all must…

I. Take up our cross and follow Jesus.  In our Old Testament reading, we join Jeremiah who was told to go back into Jerusalem once again and declare the Lord’s will that Jerusalem would be conquered and if they resisted, they it would only make things worse.  But this time, God was sending him to the leaders of Judah as a living sermon.  God told Jeremiah to build a yoke (a harness for oxen), made out of wood and leather and walk into the city wearing it.  He was to go to the leaders and declare, “If any nation will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar and put his neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the Lord”. [Jer. 27:8]  The people of Judah must have roared in disbelief, “What kind of a message is this?  All of the other prophets are declaring victory over Babylon.  In fact, they say that our land will not only be free of the oppressor, but we will even be prosperous beyond our dreams!”  Jeremiah’s message was so opposite of all of the false prophets, that one of them named Hananiah ran up to Jeremiah, snatched the yoke off of his neck and broke it into pieces and declared the words they all wanted to hear: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.”  And to this, Jeremiah, the true prophet of God responded, “Amen!  May the Lord do so.”  Once again, Jeremiah was run out of town, rejected by his own people; scorned for being faithful to God’s will; hated by the very people God sent him to save.  Now at this point, we might think that old Jeremiah would have learn the lesson of the world, “If through persistence you still fail and everyone else disagrees with you, you must be wrong!”  But, Jeremiah wasn’t like everyone else.  Jeremiah had faith in God’s Word, so he wouldn’t back down.  Sometime later, the Lord sent Jeremiah back to Jerusalem with another message: “You have broken the wooden (yoke), but you have made in (it’s) place (a yoke) of iron.  Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have (now) put upon the neck of all these nations in an iron yoke to serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.”

Dear friends, for Jeremiah, the cross that he was to take up was simply to declare God’s Word and place all of his faith in that Word, and that is the cross that we must take up as well.  Like Jeremiah, we too live in dangerous times.  There is terror all around.  In a time of extreme tolerance, where all life styles and philosophies are said to be equal, we Christians are the only ones being told to sit down and shut up!  But like Jeremiah, God says we can’t do that!  “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”  No dear friends, you cannot ignore God’s Word!  He makes it clear, that there is no other way to please God accept through Christ Jesus!  There is a way that seems right to a society but in the end it only leads to death.  Thus says the Lord, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6]  “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”” [Matt. 10:37] 

Dear friends, in a society that continuously teaches personal gain and material riches, we are to proclaim another message, “Jesus is the only way.  He is the only truth…He is true life!”  In a society that advances the message, “If it makes you feel good, just do it!” we proclaim instead, “Seek the Lord while He may be found!”  Even in many churches today, this message of extreme tolerance and acceptance like in the day of Jeremiah has replaced the Law and Gospel message of God.  Itchy ears long to hear that their walk with God will be an easy and happy road; they don’t want to hear about sacrifice and pain.  When things go wrong they blame God, and then quickly begin shopping for a new message that will satisfy their greedy hearts.  All around us, there is a limitless supply of glory preachers that will tell them just what they want to hear.  “God wants to bless you with riches”, they say!  “God wants you to be victorious in all your dealings in this world” they say.  “If you’re not happy then follow these Biblical steps and God will bless you with good health and wealth!”  But to this our Lord warns that the broad and easy way is a lie and it will not lead to the blessings you are seeking, but instead it leads to an iron yoke of pain and disappointment.  Jesus said, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!'”

The narrow door that our Savior speaks of is the cross.  It is the way of faith; the kind of faith that clings to God’s Word and trust is his loving kindness, even if the circumstances in our lives are telling us to do the opposite.  The cross has always been an offense to men and women of this world, because it minimizes our own personal achievement and places faith in God’s grace through Jesus Christ above all other things.  Sadly, even some of our own family members and closest friends may be numbered among those who are seeking the broad and easy way of the world. Do you have a loved one who has left the faith of their youth?  Maybe you’ve tried everything you can think of to persuade them to return to the Lord?  Perhaps you’ve given up on them; when before you were always speaking about Jesus and His love, and now you don’t even bring it up because it only causes hurt feelings or even an argument.  Maybe they’ve even told you that if you don’t quit talking about the Church and Jesus they will no longer be a part of your life?  And so…you’ve quit.  Instead, you quietly listen to their get rich quick schemes, their plans of glory and pleasure and you just sort of nod.  And to this, Jesus quietly speaks to us this morning and says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”  These are hard Words.  For some they may strike like a sword, swift and deep into your very heart.  And to this we may respond, “But Lord, I only want peace in my family.  Peace with my friends.”

II. What is peace?  What kind of peace are we seeking?  Are we seeking worldly peace or heavenly peace?  Concerning peace here, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” [Matt. 10:34-36]  “But Lord” we respond, “you are the prince of peace.  You promised your perfect peace that surpasses all understanding!”  And to this Jesus responds, yes but I also taught you to live by faith, and to trust in me.  Haven’t I taught you to pray to the Father like this, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  And “when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  For “which one of you, if (your child) asks for bread, will give a stone (instead)? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”  Dear children, even “if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” 

Dear friends, these Words are Words of peace.  Jesus gives them to us so that we will have peace, but to hear them we must receive them by faith.  We must believe that every one of God’s promises are true and sure, even when it seems the very opposite is true.  In regards to our children, we must learn to rest our hope and faith in the work God did for them in their baptism.  When worry and fear creeps in, we must surrender these things to our loving father who promises that “He who began the good work” (in our children) “will complete it in the day of Jesus Christ.” [Philipp. 1:6]  God desires that you go back to the confidence, which you once had many years ago, when you obediently by faith brought your child to the font to receive God’s gift of salvation through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  Cling to the promises that he made through the Water and the Word.  Don’t be afraid to remind your children, no matter how old they are, that each and every promise God has given them is still true!  Lay your fears there at the font and don’t be afraid to tell your children that you are still praying for them to come back to Jesus. 

Friends, Jesus does still give peace, but the peace He gives is always centered in His faithfulness, therefore it is a spiritual peace.  The peace He gives is completely opposite of the kind of peace the world wants from Him and you.  Listen to His voice speaking to your heart: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

CONCLUSION:  Friends let’s not walk in worry and fear.  Let’s not worry about lost relationships if we don’t endorse someone’s behavior.  Let’s not worry about carrying our cross and following Jesus.  Instead let’s simply   follow our Lord wherever He leads.  Sometimes the road will be easy and sometimes it will be hard, but always Jesus will be walking right beside us.  Instead, let’s learn to be a living version of the song, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”: “Sometimes I’m up.  Sometimes I’m down.  Sometimes I’m level to the ground, but still I say glory hallelujah!” 

And now, may that true peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and may His peace enable you to bear the cross joyfully, following Him where ever He leads you… In Jesus name… AMEN!

Let’s Trust In The Invisible Things of God!

Friday, June 27th, 2008

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”  (Romans 1:20-21)

This verse is often used to describe the “Hidden God”.  What is meant by the hidden God can be described in a question: “Why is God letting this happen to me?  Where is God in my suffering?”  These are fair questions and they can be answered in two different ways; one is the correct way and the other is, well…wrong!  One is scriptural and the other is not.  One answer comes from God and the other comes from man.

The wrong, unscriptural, human centered answer says that God does not want you to suffer, but because you have not followed His will, you are suffering.  God does not want you to be poor or sick, but because you lack faith and wisdom He cannot bless you.  God does not want you to have family problems, but because you have not allowed His Word to lead you, you are reaping what you have sowed.  You see, the wrong, unscriptural, human centered mind always starts with what is seen and looks to discover the unseen.  It starts from what is on earth and then looks to heaven.  It looks at the here and now and sees a future.  It is a cause and effect way of looking at life.  But the correct, scriptural, God centered answer always starts with the hidden God and it gives all questions over to Him.  Notice I did not say the unknown God.  While God may be hidden he is very much known, and we know Him through His Word, and His Word tells us these three things of particular interest:

1.  Through faith we know that God is blessing us through Christ Jesus even if we can’t see how: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” [Jn. 14:2]  “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. [Jer. 29:11]  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. [Prov. 3:5]  “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. [Prov. 29:25]

2.  Through Christ’s suffering we have been shown God’s love for us: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” [Jn. 3:16]  “And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” [Matt. 8:20]  “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [Matt. 20:28]  “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” [Luke 9:22]

3.  Through our own suffering we move closer to God and begin to see his love for us clearer: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” [Jn. 16:33] “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” [Re. 2:10] ” For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  [2 Cor. 12:10]

Friends, the correct scriptural answer to our “whys” must always starts at the cross; it always trusts in God’s love for us because of Christ’s suffering and death for us at the cross.  The cross tests everything!  And the way of the cross is love, not power; suffering, not achievement; humility, not glory; shame, not honor; foolishness and not wisdom.  Nothing is “worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed.” [Rom. 8:18]  For we know, that “we are God’s children now; it does not appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see his as he is.” [1 Jn. 3:2]  The best we can hope for in the here in now is the presence and comfort of Jesus, our dear Savior, who suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried for us!  He reveals to us the Father and His love, not great wealth and health, prosperous times and happy days.  No friends, the glory that we seek in the here in now is the faith that trusts in God’s glory, which will be made known to us in the future when we will see him “as he is.”  This glory will not be revealed through cause and effect but it will be revealed when the hidden God becomes the visible God.  But until that day, God is revealing Himself to us in the here and now through His living Word and Sacraments, and yes, even within our own suffering and weakness, because His cross assures us that we are fully understood and loved. 

Where is God in our suffering?  He is right at our side leading and guiding us through our darkest times so that we might testify to our neighbors, along with St. Paul, that even then in that darkest hour, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” [Rom. 8:26]  And because of this truth, we know that we have a Savior who says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” [Heb. 13:5]

In Jesus name…AMEN!

Pastor Brian