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Suffering and Hope

5/22/2016 Holy Trinity The text is Romans 5:1-5.

 

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

 

A few weeks ago, I was flipping through channels on my TV when all of a sudden I stumbled on a movie musical I hadn’t seen in years.  With a little smile on my lips, I began to watch the rather sadistic comedy, “Little Shop of Horrors”. Although there are many scenes in the movie which are downright funny, there is one in particular which is my biggest nightmare. No, I don’t dream of being eaten alive by a huge alien plant. But sitting in a dental chair with a sadistic dentist operating a dull drill? Well, that’s another thing. Just thinking about it makes me want to run and hide. But in the movie, Bill Murray plays a patient who loves pain and boasts in his sufferings. He will go to any extreme to feel the rush of intense pain.

 

I dare say that almost all of us boast about something, like how strong we are, or how much we have, or how wonderful our children are. But even though our aches and pains are a major topic of discussion, we seldom boast about how much and how well we suffer. Complain? Well, that’s another story…we do that quite well. Swap stories about illnesses and troubles and doubts? Well, of course we do that. Search for answers from someone who has suffered as we are suffering? Yes, we even do that.

 

Of course, I have heard games of one-upmanship played on all sorts of human suffering. One person complaining about a cold, the other chiming in about the bronchitis he just recovered from, only to have the first extend the severity of suffering to pneumonia, as though there were some intrinsic value to having been sick. But for the most part, suffering and boasting just don’t go together, not in our lives anyway. So when Paul says, “We also boast in our sufferings,” I want to ask him what planet he is on? The people I know boast about all sorts of things, but suffering isn’t one of them.

 

Through experience and history, I can agree with Paul when he says suffering produces endurance. A survivor of the concentration camps during WWII certainly suffered and endured. Anyone who has had a knee replacement has had to endure the pain of physical therapy in order to have the new joint function properly. But Paul would have us believe that suffering brings more than endurance. He would have us believe that it is possible to begin with suffering and to end with hope.

 

Yet, for most of us, the opposite is usually true. We start out with great hope, wind up suffering pain or disappointment, and end with despair. Yet, hope is a strange thing, it doesn’t always come in the way we expect. I know of a person who had cancer. When she learned she had this disease, “suffering” became the appropriate word to describe what she went through. One day she felt in control of her own life; the next day she had entered a world of surgeons and oncologists, of painful surgery and even more painful chemotherapy. The cancer was bad, and it had spread, yet day-to-day a fierce and powerful endurance grew in her. A conviction grew in her that she would beat this thing and in the end she would win. From this conviction, hope blossomed and grew, hope blossomed and grew from her endurance and from her faith that God would see her through this troubling time.

 

Hers was not a self-deceiving hope, born of desperation, but a hope grounded in the knowledge that even as she suffered the dis-ease of her illness, she had been given the ease of the presence of God’s spirit. With the help of her friends, the support of her church, the love of her family, the presence of her God, her suffering had turned to endurance, and then turned to hope. And in that hope she was not disappointed.

 

The hope that God gives us is a hope which will enable us to endure, and a hope in which we boast in spite of the sufferings of this world. It is more than wishful thinking. This hope springs forth from the cross of suffering and is found in our eternal triune God – the Father, who gives us peace through his Son; the Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have access to the grace in which we stand; and the Holy Spirit through whom God pours his love into our hearts. This is the hope of God, which will not disappoint for it is from our God who will fulfill his promises and bless us in every need.

 

Yet, even those of us with the positive outlook on life can find ourselves pulled down by circumstances which seem out of control, by people who let us down, and by the sin within us, which causes us to lose sight of the hope which God gives us. Instead of placing our faith and confidence in the Lord who works continually for our salvation (even if he doesn’t always work in the way we want him to work), we often depend upon our own strength and pride to pull us through, or on others to save us. We try and try to pull ourselves up and make ourselves think we can fix things. But in the end, if we are honest, we have to admit that there are some things we cannot fix. There are some things beyond our control, for you and I are not God. And thank God for that! We have a God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who will not have us fall prey to self-pity or fall into hopelessness. We have a God who will have us turn to him and find our hope in a secure future beyond the troubles of this lifetime.

 

Faith assures us that our future is more than just rosy: it is secure. Our hope and confidence is not based on wishful, positive thinking or some expert’s predictions. Our hope is based on the promises of God – the promise of his presence, the promise of his kingdom, the promise of freedom and an eternal inheritance with the saints in a place without pain and suffering. In these promises, we can rejoice. And through these promises we can boast in our pain and troubles for we have hope, which cannot be taken from us. We have a gracious and loving God who invites and encourages us to abide more deeply in him during difficult and troubling times. He calls us to come and find our safety in his outstretched arms.

 

So don’t lose hope, my friends, in spite of the suffering you may endure in this life. God has poured out his love for you and you are his. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, our Lord, gives everlasting hope and peace. May you wallow in his grace and have your fear and despair wiped away and may you find the courage and endurance to meet life head on. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen.

 

And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen. 

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