Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Everything You Know is Incorrect

For the Wednesday Healing Eucharist, the 28th Sunday after Pentecost.

2 Corinthians 1:3-11
John 6:47-51

When great pain comes, we feel things about God that our heads know to be wrong. Despite the counsel of Holy Scripture and the fact of the Incarnation telling us that God really deeply loves us, in times of emotional or physical agony we often conclude that God is somewhere up above and far away, implicitly approving the pain of his people. We don’t usually announce clearly, “God is punishing me,” but we might hear or say something like, “I’m sure God let this happen for a reason,” or “Maybe God is trying to get your attention.” Have we heard this before?

The idea that God might crush our bodies or twist our emotions to wring faithfulness out of us stands in stark contradistinction to the theology of suffering presented to us by the Christ of Calvary, who died alone and afraid, his asphyxiating body torn by whips and covered with the spit of Roman soldiers.

The Crucified God turns our notions of suffering upside down by suffering with us. Because the only truly morally upright human ever to live suffered and died, alone and betrayed by his people, we know that those who suffer and die alone and betrayed do not do so by the will of God. Parents who love do indeed chasten and correct their children, but they do not bring about their destruction.

Jesus the God-Man shows us how God suffers with us and suffers for us. He also shows us how to offer ourselves up to God in the midst of our pain. In Christ, God has reached out to us in our fallenness and broken humanity, and bids us offer our fear and pain to Him as gifts in themselves. When we confess to God that we are angry, that we are hurting, and most important of all, that we are deeply afraid, we are offering back to the Father of Compassion a wonderful gift: reckless, daring trust. Confession to God and other believers of our own destitution demonstrates to Him that we know He and the Community He is continually creating and redeeming will not reject us and cast us into outer darkness.

In so doing, we join with the rhythms of Christ’s redemptive suffering. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before his execution, Jesus poured out his fear, pain and confusion to God. To do that very thing is to offer radical trust to God as our gift back to the Giver. It is in this way that the presence of Christ moves into our own suffering, and remakes us as sufferers into the likeness of Jesus Himself.

“Just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives,” says Paul, “so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” When we as God’s new community choose to bear with one another in our fear and desolation, we offer hospitality to Christ as well. It is into that lifestyle that Jesus pours his resurrection life. When this happens, we don’t see his resurrection any longer as a promise of life in the future, after death, but a reversal of the death in our lives now.

Therefore when we also feel in our own hearts the sentence of death and despair even of life, let us rely not on ourselves, but on God who, raises the dead.

As we offer ourselves up to God in the Eucharist, let us be cognizant that it is not just our strength we offer up to him, but our fear and weakness as well. It is into that desolation that he pours out his Spirit when we partake of the bread and wine. This is a God we can trust with our broken hearts. His wholeness will make us whole.


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Anonymous said...


From the tone of your sermon I suspect that you know a lot about the unredemptive brand of suffering first hand. If not, then you're still to be commnded for being sensitive to the needs of others out there.

This sermon reminds me of Paul's almost offhanded comment in Colossians 1:24 about filling up what is lacking in Christ's suffering. That great self-giving is the depository out of which all the world is saved. We count it a special privilege to be allowed the right to deposit our lives there, co-mingling our own small woes with those of the God who died and rose for us.

Kyle said...

Thanks, Phil. I appreciate your kind words. Yes, sometimes I do get a little emo and angsty, but I think that it's made me a better preacher.

And yes, I think of that passage in Colossians often.

Thanks for reading!