One of the things that Paul mentions is “boasting in our suffering.” Today, I want to speak about hope…and Hope in the context of suffering.
In Buddhism, some of you may know, that the concept of suffering and a path to non-suffering is a main aspect of their teaching. They believe that recognizing suffering and working to alleviate it in ourselves will ultimately alleviate it for others.
In Christianity we really have the same belief. However, over the centuries, our message has become distorted. Somehow a notion grew - and teachings somehow instilled that if you are “good” you will not suffer. This is a very self-denying and life denying idea of fundamental reality… and the reality of our faith.
When Paul mentions “boasting in our suffering.”
I think it’s pretty important to point out that we are not advocating suffering. This passage has been misinterpreted that way. Paul is speaking in solidarity with others who are suffering along with him. It is a pep talk to get them through their ordeal.
As we spoke about this last week: tremendous suffering can change us, transform us, make us more compassionate.
However, we are not saying, go suffer now - it will make you a better person. We very much hope we can protect ourselves and our children from suffering.
One of the reasons we come to church, to seek out God and community, is because we are trying to learn and teach our children how to become more compassionate without the need for suffering.
Jesus did enough of that for us. And that’s the very point!
Ridding ourselves, and our community, our nation and our world of suffering is the actual goal.
Jesus came to teach that the nature of God is love and that God enfleshed will walk in the World healing and “curing every disease and every sickness.” The God that we believe in is a God of mercy.
We say, God in his mercy sent his only son Jesus Christ to live as one of us. Mercy is that condition of God that undergirds everything. While we may struggle and suffer, it is our recognition that the biggest love called mercy came to be with us in solidarity, and will save us by giving us strength; giving us hope. We hope into that big space of love.
According to Cynthia Bourgeault:
“Mystical hope [is] what happens when we touch this innermost ground [within our own selves through prayer, meditation or awareness] and it floods forth into our being as strength and joy. Hope would be the Mercy—divine love itself—coursing through our being like lightning finding a clear path to the ground. . . .”
Similarly, St. Paul reminds us: God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the gift of the Spirit.
One definition of Hope from John of the Cross “is the dynamic of being able to yield unconditionally to God’s future. It is…a hope independent of us and our accomplishments…a hope that can even embrace and work for a future without us.” - Constance FitzGerald
This definition is sometimes hard to touch when we are struggling. But it is an important aspect of hope that reminds us that it springs eternal in a larger field than we are singularly playing in. Love is bigger than us.
There is a certain self-less-ness to be had in this hoping. This is what Jesus brought us; demonstrated for us.
But this also doesn’t mean that we don’t set goals for out labor in the world. Even Jesus sets goals:
He commissions the apostles to go out and heal with very specific instructions. The twelve disciples are to go out two by two. I don’t know about you but that sounds terrifying.
They were instructed to go out into the World with nothing. No things, other than the commission to heal.
This is where we find ourselves too. We are commissioned to heal the world as we move along our life’s journey.
The divisions that seem to erode hope in our culture, in our governance, in our way of life, are immense right now. We are being faced with issues that are conflicting and make us feel uncertain and angry.
But let us not say “hopeless.”
The commission “to heal” is a way to lean into the discontent and the division.
The phrase is: “every disease and every sickness.” That is all encompassing. There is a lot of dis - ease right now.
In his very apt and poignant statement, Bishop Tutu described us Christians as being “prisoners of Hope.”
Because in the face of all of this contention and confusion, the commission is: to heal.
The commission to heal when the apostles were charged to go out into the world, is the same as it is today.
No matter what side of an issue we may find ourselves on, navigating it with friends and acquaintances through a healing approach is Jesus’ way. Try to integrate that: Growing into the stature of Christ is not about being right. It is about being loving.
It is a bit frightening, yes, uncertain…and when we feel out of control we are frightened and defensive.
Can we imagine a future that is larger than ourselves and requires loving responses regardless, to unfold in ways that our not of our making? Hope is knowing that we are carrying love into whatever future God is making.
I don’t mean agreeing with everyone, but carrying that loving response that opens up the field of mercy for all.
Jesus sends the apostles telling them to bring their peace to others. If their peace is not accepted -to let it return to them. He doesn’t say be angry and resentful with those who don’t listen. He says your peace is a gift -and let it return to you. It is yours. Your Peace.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless,
like sheep without a shepherd. Sounds like today.
Then he said to his disciples,
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
therefore ask the Lord of the harvest
to send out laborers into his harvest.”
God, we ask that your make us compassionate laborers in your harvest of hope, mercy, and love.