It was so nice to see everyone after a long summer with everyone in a million different directions. We started the morning with a pancake breakfast sponsored by our awesome Missions Committee and sang, laughed and all melted together when the baby I baptized waved to the congregation. Here is my sermon! Enjoy …
Rehoboth Congregational Church
September 13, 2015
A Savior That Understands Suffering
Bruce and I took a quick trip to Pennsylvania at the end of this week to visit his family and then run a 5K in Bird in Hand, a small town outside of Lancaster, right in the heart of Amish Country.
When we arrived in Bird in Hand on Friday, we met up with two of my friends from college and their parents, who were all running the race. Right away my friend’s dad asked me if I was preaching on Sunday and if I had written my sermon yet. When I answered, yes, I was, and, no, I had not, he kind of looked off and said, “Well, maybe something will come to you when you’re running through the cornfield.”
This race was one of the coolest races I have ever been a part of. People in the Amish community were active participants in this whole race weekend (which went from Friday to Saturday and also included two hot air balloon launches, a barbecue, a S’more party, a bike race and a half marathon). They staffed the water stations. They cooked food. They spectated along the course. They ran hoses from their yards that we could run through. Many of them also ran the races.
I had never run with an Amish person before, so I was not really sure what to expect. I was not sure if they would interact with the other runners or be annoyed that several hundred loud and obnoxious runners had descended upon their peaceful farms. I did not want to be disrespectful of their religious beliefs and traditions.
I should also mention that I was struggling with a strange dichotomy that day. It was the anniversary of September 11th. And while our nation remembered – and while my friends and my colleagues posted to Facebook using the hashtag, #neverforget, and told stories about where they where when the towers were hit – I was having a wonderful day with my friends. We were laughing, catching up and getting excited about our evening race.
Is this how I am supposed to remember? I kept asking myself. Is this how I am supposed to remember the terrorist attacks, the lives that were lost and the wars that we continue to fight?
So the race started and we took off through farms and cornfields as the sun set and hot air balloons flew above us. “Beautiful” does not even come close to describing it. The crowds started to thin out and I found myself running next to an Amish man. My anxieties about how I was supposed to act were immediately gone as he struck up a conversation with everyone around us about the course we were running and how we should pace.
So picture this: An Amish man – running in long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and suspenders (probably the same clothes that he wore to work on the farm that morning) – having a conversation about running with a group of “modern” Americans with iPhones and expensive running gear.
This man showed such love to outsiders in a simple, yet radical way.
It was in that moment when I realized that I was exactly where I needed to be in order to truly remember and respond to the September 11th terrorist attacks. It was a way that I could tangibly participate in the radical act of tearing down barriers of differences that often threaten to divide us as human beings.
Jesus words in this morning’s reading from the Gospel of Mark are really challenging; they were challenging for the disciples to hear when he spoke them and they are challenging for us, today, to hear within the context of our own lives. Jesus said very openly and matter-of-factly that the Son of Man – the Messiah, their Savior and ours – would have to undergo great suffering, rejection and death.
Then he began to teach that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. (Mark 8:31-32)
Well, this did not sit well with the disciples. After Jesus said these things, Peter took him aside to express his concerns. After all, what kind of Savior is that? Is that really the type of Savior they were supposed to believe in?
What about us? Is this the type of Savior that we should believe in? Are we supposed to have faith in a Savior that experienced suffering and tragedy? Don’t we want to be saved from suffering and tragedy? How does that even work?
It does not make sense, does it?
This is the hard truth about Christianity that we all have to struggle with at some point in our lives. The Gospel is not just baptism with water, healing the sick and feeding thousands of people. It is also suffering; real suffering, endured not only by the people living in the world at the time, but also by Jesus – our Savior living in human form – who experienced suffering and tragedy, just like the rest of us.
And yet despite that suffering and tragedy, Jesus bore witness to God by being a tangible expression of God’s love and light and grace in a world that so desperately needs hope.
And here is the really cool part: Through this witness, Jesus also called to each and every one of us, “Follow me.”
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
It is not easy to live faithfully and trust God in a world where people suffer. It is not easy to live faithfully and trust God in a world where you and the people that you love are hurting. It is not easy to live faithfully and trust God in a world where terrorists fly planes into buildings.
But it was also not easy to live faithfully and trust God in a world where you were denied, betrayed and crucified by the people that you love.
So in answer to my earlier question: Heck yeah! This is the type of Savior I want to believe in and follow. That is the type of trust, faithfulness and perseverance that I want to demonstrate in my own life.
As children in Church School, we learn extremely watered down versions of some of the harder bible stories so we can build that foundation for our faith.
Humanity drowns in a flood? Don’t worry; Noah was faithful! Now let’s paint a rainbow.
Jesus was denied, betrayed and killed by the people that he loved? Don’t worry; he’s back! Let’s see what the Easter Bunny brought!
We have to do this for children; but as adults we cannot water down the radical meaning of what it means to follow Jesus. We cannot ignore what it means to be saved by someone who experienced the same kind of suffering that we all experience – and yet remained faithful through it all.
There will be moments in our lives and in our faith where all hell is breaking loose around us and we feel like we can barely function. But these are the moments when we have to cling desperately to the belief that we are created, redeemed and sustained by a God who understands – really and truly understands – what we are going through as we journey through our lives in this broken world.
Because these are the moments when God’s love, light and grace can be found in the most unexpected of places. It can be found in a phone call or a note from a friend. It can be found in a meal or a care package. It can be found in a community of faith like this one, full of people who will cry with you, laugh with you and sit silently with you when there are just no words that can be spoken. It can be found in worship, service and learning. It can be found in scripture, prayer, music and silence. It can be found when ordinary people find tangible ways to shine a light into the darkness of the world.
It can be found when we surrender to God and allow ourselves to be broken – so that God has room to come into our lives and make us whole.
It was found this weekend when an Amish community welcomed outsiders into their midst. It was found on September 11th, when first responders and Good Samaritans ran into the rubble instead of away from it. And it was found in an empty tomb on that first Easter morning, an empty tomb that forever proves that we will never be defeated by our own brokenness.
The call to follow Christ is a radical one. It is not always easy, but it is always full of God’s love, light and grace.
So walk through the darkness of this world. Step over the brokenness of your lives. Do not let suffering and tragedy define who you are and who God is calling you to be. Find God’s grace. Feel God’s love. And let God’s light shine in your life.
For this is what our Savior did.
Thanks be to God!