“Living Through The Pain”
Rev. Mark M. Vickers
July 30, 2017
Have you ever been to a sporting event or game involving your favorite team and your favorite team is getting clobbered? Not a lot of fun, needless to say.
But at most sporting events these days, there is a lot of action going on around the game and one of those events is the cheering squad, or what us “old timers” call ‘cheerleaders’. Now, I’m not making a specific reference to the cute girls or the muscular boys, rather the excitement that a great cheering squad can muster. Loud, rhythmic, and excited. They bring you to the next level of anticipation and excitement. A good squad will make YOU want to join them! Run down on the field and be a part of them, even if your team is losing!
This is where we find ourselves with Paul and the church in Rome this morning. Paul is leading the cheering squad in and amongst a church that is, in their eyes, NOT WINNING! They have fallen behind not only in the spiritual realm of things but also in their physical demeanor as a people of Christ. Suffering and pain had come their way!
They found their hope dashed, their mission squandered, and life really was “in the pit,” near sheol.
Their lives were not much different than ones in the grand perspective. They were part of a church that was struggling to find it’s identity in the world, Christians who were continually searching to find their place in society, and a church that was attempting to minister to a society that had people who were very different from them. According to Paul’s reflections, they felt somewhat overwhelmed! So, Paul comes back to them with a “cheer” we all should shout, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.”
The church in Rome was grieving! They were in the midst of pain and suffering. We often take this text and apply it to the individual in time of need, but I think it’s necessary to see the connection to both: the community of faith and our individual lives.
To be human is to have loss and grief. No one will escape the elements of loss and grief. Some will experience more, others less-but all will experience!!
Life is hard!! I have found, both through pastoral experience and real life (T-Shirt wearing experience) that the best pastoral care is to acknowledge how hard life is and help find ways to say it out loud! Paul certainly does! We, as were the Roman Christians, tend to be societies of avoidance. What can I do to avoid the pain? How can I skirt around it so I don’t get hurt? If I don’t talk about it, won't it just go away? Those are things we have been conditioned and taught to say rather than acknowledge that life is hard!
Yet in this text this morning, Paul’s lists tend to tip the scale! They move us in one direction or the another.
But Paul’s proclamation of God’s love, evident through our struggles in life, is larger than life! It is the divine proclamation that through God’s love nothing will be able to overwhelm us in a world that bombards us with every bit of anger and hostility known to humankind. Whether imposed upon ourselves or implemented by those around us, God’s love embedded deep within our lives is the overcoming presence of the Holiness we must proclaim to the world.
Yet, we are feeble human beings! We need help! Paul reminds us in this powerful passage that we are like that, it is no secret “we do not know how to pray,” yet he reminds us that The Spirit intercedes for us with “sighs too deep for words.” We have that Spirit that intercedes for us when we have no action and no hope!
Paul continues with what I call “real life” questions, “If God is for us, who is against us?” Talk about “being in your face,” but Paul’s message and the message of the Gospel is that it does not ultimately matter, for God’s presence and gift of Jesus Christ for us is the final outcome!
Paul continues to lay before us, actually throw before us, these questions that rattle our faith and our purpose. BUT! They are questions we ask all the time, using different words! “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul’s list, like our list, resounds loudly-–hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword, and add to that, racisms, sexism, torture, slavery, human trafficking, war, and terrorism, abuse–the list becomes very frightening! Very real!
But we hear Paul, the ultimate cheerleader at this stage remind us, “No, in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Not that “WE” conquer on our own, but with God’s love and help, “no death, life, angels, rulers, things today, tomorrow, or in the future, not anything in all creation will separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.”!
We are reminded that even in victory, the marathon is still being run and we are encouraged to know the victory line tape, the finish line is in front of us. God has already provided the end.
Too often in our world we equate our pain and our suffering as to the absence of God. Whereas God never leaves us! It is us, doing the things we do, that separates us from God!
One commentator put it this way, “Christ absorbs and transforms our sufferings.” This is the work of the Spirit and Christ together. Through Christ the struggles we face can be transformed into endurance, character, and hope. I believe God uses our struggles to bring us, however painfully slow at times, into spiritual maturity.
We, my friends, are called to tell the world of God’s power over death and all that separates us from a life filled with abundance and joy.
There is no reason to fear and every reason to rejoice and live! AMEN & AMEN!