Your Hard Time Are Our Hard Times

May 22, 2016 2 Corinthians 1:1-11

Listen to the sermon below.

During the sermon we watched this 2-minute video. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

Mary knew what it meant to suffer. Her childhood had been one of abuse and neglect and her adult life was filled with drug use and constant borderline homelessness. Coming from that kind of chaos creates a sort of natural phenomena of constantly occurring instability. She knew what it meant to suffer. Mary attended the congregation where I did my year-long internship and I got to know her pretty well.  She was a faithful attender of our Wednesday night program where there was dinner, worship and Bible study. One night, the Bible study was about blessing and I asked the room of adults what they thought it meant to bless God. And without missing a beat, Mary blurted out, “I bless God every morning when I wake up alive!” And she wasn’t kidding. The room, filled with folks who had similar chaotic lives, concurred. And one after another, they chimed in their blessing of God for having food, family, a place to live. I was bowled over by their immediate and passionate responses filled with thanks to God because the little I knew about their lives was enough to tell me that their suffering is very real.

Today’s scripture reading is another letter from Paul to the church in Corinth and begins with words of blessing in the name of God: May all the gifts and benefits that come from God our Father and the Master, Jesus Christ, be yours!  And then, the rest of this part of 2nd Corinthians, is basically, “and all of life is suffering – but Jesus is with you in it.” Who-hoo! Right?

Which is a nutshell of the Gospel of Jesus.  Jesus died on the cross not so that he would ascend to heaven and look down on you from above, no. Jesus died on the cross and so then joins you in the darkness of your suffering so that you are not alone. So that you will discover hope and promise. And our faith in Jesus does not create distance between us and those who suffer, but actually calls and sends us directly into that suffering with them.

Now, as Christians, we can get caught up in thinking that then we are called to save or fix someone who is suffering. Or, worse yet, that we are to judge first if we are meant to help someone, if they are deserving of our help. When, actually, what Christ does for us on the cross takes all of that away. It takes away all of the things that might separate us from being with another in their suffering.

Brene Brown is an author and someone who studies the impact of shame and guilt on our lives. Watch this 2 minute video where she explains the difference between empathy and sympathy.

[Brene Brown: empathy v. sympathy] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

Brene says what makes something better is connection. What Paul says is that suffering in the name of Jesus connects us to other people, just as Brene explains about empathy.  Empathy is feeling with people – it connects us to others, it doesn’t isolate us. And that place of suffering is sacred space.

Mary’s suffering in her life was caused by human sin: neglect, drug use, abuse. She suffered at the hands of others and by her own actions. Yet I couldn’t help but think of her as I read this scripture this week because she was so clearly able to name the presence of Jesus in her life amidst her past and current suffering. And her participation in a faith community was connection that she was in dire need of week after week. And for a while, I figured my place in her life was to somehow fix her or silver line her existence. When in reality, she needed me to sit and eat with her and visit her in the hospital and listen to her stories and acknowledge her life.

Christian activist Shane Claiborne says, “We have a pattern in our culture that teaches us to insulate ourselves from suffering, to build up gates and walls and border fences that separate us from those who are suffering right outside of our comfort. But we come to find out that not only are we locking the suffering out, but we’re locking ourselves in—to a life that’s incredibly lonely. Those patterns rob us of life and community.” Suffering calls us out to be with others in it.

When in your life has your suffering or the suffering of someone else connected you to others instead of separating you from them? Has it been through a break up of a friendship or marriage? Or a bad work place environment? Has it been through problems in your family or through sickness? Things you imagined would fracture relationships?

Suffering in the name of Jesus just might look like a family reach out to the Intensive Care staff at the hospital with meals because of their experience in that same unit when their loved one was dying just a few years ago.

I’ve seen another one of you who clearly has gifts for hospice care, and learned that through caring for your own spouse as they died.

My own niece, who has been excluded by a friend at school, was sure to pull her mom, my sister, aside as we were headed out to hear music one night, wondering if my younger sister, who was staying back to babysit, had been excluded by us.

My friend, Brooke, in the face of the overwhelming refugee crisis, started an organization called Nurture International to help mothers and newborns. She organizes teams on the ground and spent 10 days there herself in Greece, getting the lay of the land, listening to the coughing, connecting with babies and mamas. Right now, her organization is supporting an 18 month old baby girl.  The daughter was hearing until a bomb blasted near her damaging her ear drums and making her very hard of hearing.  She has hearing aids but refuses to wear them.  Until now the mother has had no support and the child was beginning to show signs of anxiety and distress. Their team found an Arab sign language expert to help the mother and baby through a Skype call.

And, most recently, they connected a Syrian refugee son and daughter with their mother – all separated by the crisis. They worried for her health. My friend’s organization found the mother, got her to a doctor, and messaged her kids so they knew she was not alone. She’d even become very good friends with another lady and they are together day and night.

[Seriously. Check this organization out and give them some of your money.]  http://nurtureprojectinternational.org

Today, we, like Paul, pray God’s blessing upon a bunch of folks: graduating seniors, baby Delilah in the waters of baptism, and Brandi Johnson as she moves away from this community. And you all have the same things in common, from baby to graduate to adult: Jesus is with you in your suffering and command you to love others in their suffering. Life is hard. And in all of these things, we are not alone.

 

Paul says, Your hard times are our hard times. My friend Brooke is living this out. My niece is living this out. You are living this out. It is a blessing from God.

 

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