June 12, 2022 ……….Trinity Sunday ………. Rev. Patrick Mecham
Romans 5: 1-5; John 16: 12-15
A philosopher named Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote a phrase that has been quoted since the 1880’s: “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” In the 1990’s, Disney produced an animated film called “Aladdin,” and the parrot (Iago) put his own spin on the saying, “You’d be surprised what you can live through!”
Just recently, I heard a “Seasoned-Citizen” saying something similar: “Getting old is not for sissies!”
I see a common thread weaving through all these sayings. The idea is that life has a way of throwing difficulties at you, and those very difficulties have a way of teaching you how to live life! It’s no secret that, as we work our brains, we become better thinkers; as we work our bodies, our muscles harden and our coordination sharpens.
In the same way, as we exercise our faith, we grow into the truth that God is guiding us into.
Today’s texts are all about growth, about developing a capacity to live large even when life is tough—or perhaps because life is tough! Let’s take a look.
From Suffering to Hope
In three days, I will celebrate the 42nd anniversary of my ordination. (Whoopee!) That means that, for 42 years, I have had the privilege of sharing people’s lives and listening to their questions. The toughest two questions I am asked are, “Why?” and “Why me?”
The first question (Why?) reflects our human desire to understand the meaning of difficult events. I don’t have many answers to that question.
The second question (Why me?) is not so much a question as it is an expression of frustration and weariness and hopelessness. Why me? Why am I suffering these things? Why would a good God allow me to suffer? What have I done to deserve this?!
I suspect the Apostle Paul had been asked the same thing many times, and he had struggled to find the meaning in our suffering. His answer has a logical progression:
- Suffering produces endurance;
- Endurance produces character;
- Character produces hope;
- Hope does not disappoint us because God’s love is poured into us through the Holy Spirit!
Suffering has meaning when you and I endure it. It “builds character” in us, and that character then makes us people of hope!
The Truth You Can Bear
In our Gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples that he still has a lot of things to teach them—but they are just not ready yet. He promises them that the Holy Spirit will guide them into all the truth—a gradual revealing of what they need to know. (And remember, the Holy Spirit is the Presence of the resurrected Christ right with us.)
Imagine that you have a small flowerbed. You know that these flowers need water—gallons of water. But you wouldn’t dump a whole season’s water on them all at once, would you? No, a gentle sprinkling over a period of months would be best. Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will gradually “pour out” the truth on you and me, rather than wash us away with more than we could bear. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” We are learners being gently guided into all that God would have us understand!
Growing into the Truth
I want to make it clear that I am NOT saying that your suffering isn’t real, or that it doesn’t matter. Nothing is less helpful than downplaying your suffering, and quoting a bunch of scriptures at you, and telling you to “get over it”! Instead, I want to remember a moment in time when Jesus saw the pain the family of Lazarus was experiencing when he had died and had been laid in a tomb. The text in John’s gospel tells us that “Jesus wept.” He continued to weep as he approached the tomb. Then he prayed. Then he commanded Lazarus to come out of the tomb—and he did!
Instead of discounting our suffering, the scriptures tell us that God cares about our suffering. God suffers along with us! Living a life of faith doesn’t mean being free of suffering. It’s just the realization that God is our present help in times of suffering—and that something really good can result from our endurance of difficult times. When we are bold, we also pray, “Lord, break my heart with the things that break Yours.” Following Christ means caring about the suffering of others. And we pair that with this encouragement from Paul: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
One excellent example of someone who has suffered, and has also known the victory of life in Christ, is Joni Eareckson-Tada. She was just 17 when she broke her neck in a diving accident, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down, confined to a wheelchair. But something amazing happened during her suffering: she discovered the love of God! Her life’s trajectory had taken a drastic turn, but she would later write, “I’d rather be in this chair and know Christ than be free of this chair and not know Christ.” Today, Joni does everything she can to help others as they grow closer to God.
I’ll finish today with a question: Where are you in the process of Growing into the Faith? Do you sense God drawing you closer, opening doors of insight, answering old questions, surprising you with new ones? I would say that this is the Holy Spirit, doing exactly what Jesus promised: guiding you into all the truth! Not all the truth at once—that would be too much. But guiding you, gradually, into the truth you need each day.
Hear his words: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and LEARN from me—and you will find rest for your souls.”