13 Aug Grace Changes Everything!
This Sunday’s sermon is on a fairly obscure story in the Old Testament. The Arameans have been a thorn in Israel’s side, but now they’ve “upped the ante”, laying a full-scale siege on the Israelites’ city. Israel is surrounded, trapped: nothing and no one is getting out and nothing and no one is getting in. After this drags on for awhile, the Israelites are in dire straits, and when I say “dire,” I mean things are about as bad as they can possibly be. Food shortages are so severe that people are paying exorbitant prices for dove dung or a donkey’s head. How’s that for a reply to, “Hey, honey, what’s for dinner?”
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about suffering. Suffering is nothing new, of course, as this ancient biblical story attests. To be human is to experience loss, disappointment, and grief. It is also to face the stark reality of death, to acknowledge our mortality and know that our time on this Earth, in this body will come to an end at some point. No one escapes these experiences. But, we certainly do have some interesting ways of dealing with the suffering that is a natural part of our lives.
As a former hospice chaplain, I’ve walked with many, many families through the stages of death and dying. As a pastor, I’ve been part of people’s lives through the ups and downs of illness, job loss, parenting challenges, addictions, and crises of many descriptions. I have been struck on a number of occasions by how poorly prepared many people are to deal with suffering or loss. There is, of course, the “head in the sand” approach, whereby we deal with loss by simply denying or ignoring it. Some people fight it tooth and nail, as if by a sheer act of will they can rise above and defeat suffering. Then there is the “medicated” approach that anesthetizes pain by filling life with shopping, alcohol or drugs, TV and the Internet, work, relentless activity, unhealthy relationships and the like.
The hardest choice is the choice to receive the pain, walk into the loss or embrace the grief. It is the most difficult choice because in the short run it asks us to sit with pain, to feel it, listen to it and learn from it. It’s a process that hurts, it’s lonely, and it’s not quick. It takes time and patience. But, in the long run it is also the choice that offers us the most wellness, peace, and comfort. It enables us to grow, to live with more intentionality and focus, and to approach future difficulties with greater skill and confidence.
In the end, grace was the answer to the Israelites’ difficulties. God intervened and provided a solution that no one could have imagined. God is always with us and God is always at work, even when we can’t see it. Faith asks us to trust in God’s ever-present grace and mercy, no matter the circumstances. Faith is not blind: it doesn’t ask us to stick our heads in the sand. Rather, it helps us see that there is more going on than meets the eye, and it reminds us to trust in God who loves us completely.
Yours for the Kingdom,