Grace and peace be with you, from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
When are you willing to endure suffering, and when do you avoid or flee from suffering?
Football players, who want to win a game, are willing to endure the pain of training, and the pain of intense physical contact. They will even say, “No pain, no gain.” Most athletes will purposely put themselves through great stress and strain in order to win.
Many parents are willing to suffer the sleepless nights, the constant demands, and the sacrifice of time, in order to care for their children.
But when you are sick, are you willing to suffer the pain and discomfort of your body fighting off disease?
Are you willing to face the suffering of social rejection when you choose worship and religious education over school activities?
Are you willing to suffer loss of money in order to feed a neighbor?
Suffering is a major theme in the Bible. At the center of the biblical message is the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.
After Jesus was raised from the dead, his followers also suffered persecution and death.
It is believed that all but one of the 12 apostles suffered death for preaching Jesus. Most of their deaths are only known about through legend so we don’t know if they are true or not, but even if they were made up, why would people contrive stories about pain, torture, and terrible death?
Perhaps it is because Christians understand what Paul writes: “that to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
So, followers of Jesus have a two sided relationship with suffering. On one hand, they believe that God is the Father of all compassion and comfort, who comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
And on the other hand, they believe that Jesus suffered and died and that no servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted Jesus, they will persecute us too. If Jesus suffered, then we will also suffer.
Like I said two weeks ago, of all people, Christians should be the most honest about pain and suffering.
And so it says in 1 Peter, “For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly…For this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his footsteps.”
Later in chapter three it will say, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will.”
Is it God’s will that we should suffer? It was God’s will that Jesus should suffer.
We certainly have not been called to lives of ease and complacency. Jesus gives us great comfort, but it is comfort in the midst of suffering, not comfort that prevents all suffering.
Now, we must be honest and admit that most of the suffering we face in our modern lives is nothing compared to the suffering of the Christians who first heard these words. Those Christians who first heard these words of 1 Peter some-times faced torture and death under emperors like Nero, and Domitian, and Trajan. Compared to that kind of suffering, our hardships are more like inconveniences.
Nonetheless, we do face hard times. We are called to suffer and sacrifice for the work of God. We are called to live in this world, but to live as outsiders, as resident aliens.
We face the hardships of being the people of God in difficult times.
But to this, we have been called.
So why would we devote ourselves to Jesus, if following him will cause us trouble and difficulty and hardship?
We are devoted to Jesus because as it says, “he is the guardian of our souls.” In other words, he is the guardian of your life. And since Jesus is the guardian of your life, you don’t have to protect it. You don’t have to save it. Those who try to save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life will save it.
Because Jesus suffered, for you. By his wounds, you are healed. Christ made a sacrifice for you when you were straying like lost sheep. None of us deserve the forgiveness that comes through Jesus. None of us deserve God’s grace. None of us deserve to be saved. And yet, Jesus suffers, and God sacrifices, for you.
As his servants, as his devoted followers, now we go out and we make sacrifices for other lost sheep. Lost sheep like the homeless, the hungry, and sinners. And we sacrifice for them, even though they do not deserve it. They do not deserve our help. It is their own fault that they are in the condition they are in. They need to get their own lives straightened out.
In the same way, it is your own fault that you have strayed from God, like sheep straying from the fold. So why should God help you? Why should God suffer for you? Help yourself. Make some effort.
Why should God send his own son, for your sake?
Yet, that is precisely what God does. God sends his one and only son, Jesus, to you, even though you have done nothing to deserve him. God sends his son even though he knows that he will suffer and die.
And he does this for you. God suffers for you. Thanks be to God.
So the least you could do is to suffer the mere inconvenience of giving some of your money to feed some hungry people who do not deserve it. The least you can do is to give some of your food, even to people who are obviously going to waste it.
We will be collecting food and money on May 9 for the Midtown Community Center. During this time of pandemic, there are many people in great need. So give to those organizations that give aid and help people. Give so much that it is inconvenient for you. “For to this you have been called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his footsteps.”
And we do not do this for our own sake, not so that we can look good and have people think, “O look how generous Trinity Lutheran Church is” and be proud of ourselves. Our only pride should be in the Lord. People should think, “Look how generous and gracious Jesus is. He gives so freely.”
Jesus is generous and gracious and he indeed gives freely. Jesus freely and generously suffered for you. He bore your sins in his body on the cross, by his wounds you have been healed.
Jesus is your good shepherd. When you had strayed from God, he went after you, to save you. He suffered to bring you into his fold, to be his flock, to be his people He is the guardian of your souls.