Why Must We Talk About Suffering??
This afternoon I went and did what I always do before writing (or preaching) a sermon: I read through the text in full. Usually, I get an impression, an idea. Maybe even an image.
Today’s image was not so great. There was a sense of dread in my stomach and–I’ll admit it, I thought, “Christ, this is depressing.” And, you know, at first glance it kind of is. It’s all about suffering. Who wants to suffer?
The entire planet is currently undergoing this massive global sense of suffering.
It’s happening on an international scale, from the highest echelons of world governing bodies, to the guy next door whose dog always barks at the most inopportune moments. While the local bears in Colebrook, CT where I live are definitely having the time of their lives, they really seem to be the only ones around me who are (physically, emotionally, or virtually).
Even the minor things that we would normally brush off, in our current health crisis, seem to be so much WORSE. It’s really quite shocking. I never knew I could be so heartbroken over something like not being able to smile at the local guy at the post office when I pick up a package because I’m wearing a mask. For the record: I don’t even know his name. Although it’s a town of … what? …. less than 1500 people … and he knows me only as “142” or “the new girl in town” and I see him about once a month … it was still a serious low moment in my week.
So, to circle back to this week’s scripture lesson, suffering? Been there and so doing that.
A natural reaction to this during these difficult times full of massive suffering is to quite possibly exit out of this blog or to swear creatively. If you did, I completely understand, God understands, and over half the planet gets it.
But what we’re going through is needless suffering. There’s really no political or spiritual reason for this to happen. It’s nature, it happens, and I am sure there are more people than we can count questioning the nature of the universe. I, for one, have put most of my limited spare energy into wondering how time travel could work to just avert the past six months.
Unfortunately, I haven’t found an answer and I seriously doubt I ever will because theoretical mathematics goes straight to my head.
(I am aware also of the space-time continuum, for fellow lovers of history and science.)
There’s just so much pain and suffering and loneliness … it’s so overwhelming. And then, whoever came up with our lectionary, thought that a passage from 1 Peter on suffering of all things was a good idea. God clearly has a strange sense of humor–or it’s one massive coincidence.
Christian Suffering vs. Whatever-THIS-Is-Globally
So far we have established that today’s reading is about suffering (and, yes, I know I’m sounding like a skipping record by this point). However, this is not useless/needless suffering that Peter is talking about. This is suffering with a purpose.
Philosophically, I’m certain someone has come up with a multitude of reasons why our suffering in the world, right now, under lockdown and self-isolation, has some sort of spiritual purpose. I’d go check, but the very notion would only increase my agitation at our entire situation. I’m never the girl (even if I am a Minister) who likes to hear that “God never puts us through more than we can’t handle.”
The Bible, I believe, says otherwise. God has never been cruel. Jesus specifically came to us in the form of a man to tell us that God is love.
And this? This suffering? This Christian suffering in 1 Peter, Chapter 3? It’s love.
This week’s upcoming youtube sermon is entitled The Love Map and I know I quote the Beatles at least twice in the finished cut. Jesus believed “all you need is love”, he just wasn’t from Liverpool with a guitar and a “mod” haircut. In my opinion, Jesus was way cooler. He was the ultimate rebel. While he worked within the system, he had a progressive message that everyone was worth love.
And that’s just a message that gets recycled again and again throughout the New Testament–including with the Apostle Peter.
Love, as I have often defined it, means recognizing every person’s innate human dignity. In the words of Aretha Franklin: it’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
And today’s Bible reading?
It’s about goodness.
It’s about dignity.
It’s about respect.
And, most importantly, it’s about love.
Let’s Cut to the Chase
The first verse of our lesson poses a question: Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what? This is, of course, more wishful thinking than anything. I think most people by the time they can legally vote have figured out that sometimes others are just mean, and there isn’t always a good reason.
At least, though, the Apostle Peter acknowledges in the next line that even if you are good, you may suffer. However, he tells us, just because we may suffer, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do the right thing. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be good. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t embody the Christian ideal.
In fact, it means the opposite.
When we suffer, we are suffering for Christ. We are suffering as Christ suffered.
We should do it with patience, reverence, respect and love.
So, basically, in a nutshell: we, as Christians, should stand up for our beliefs, and accept the punishment of fellow humanity for doing this. Turn the other cheek, as it were.
Love. It’s the flip-side of my broken record about suffering. To be more specific, it’s “the Love Map” as I call it in this week’s youtube sermon. If we love God, if we love Jesus, if we love our fellow human being, then we can endure anything. We can stand up for Christ. We can stand up for integrity. We can stand up for how things should be. We can stand up for ourselves.
Suffering with a purpose. It almost seems like an oxymoron. But really? It comes down to four little letters: L-O-V-E.