I wanted to preach today about the newest big thing to happen – but I wasn’t able to do it. I wanted to preach because I was frustrated and angry about yesterday’s events – and I wanted my soapbox time. I wanted to preach because Facebook told me that if I didn’t preach about it, then my people should start looking for another church. I wanted to preach about it because this, THIS, was what I was called to do.
But I wasn’t able to say one word about it. It just wasn’t the right time or place.
For over two years I have been working with the Methodist pastor and the Lutheran pastor here in town as we seek to build relationships between our churches and move forward in meaningful ministry – together. It’s working for us. Slowly…it’s working.
And today – today, was our first ecumenical outdoor worship together. Actually it was just the Methodist church and the UCC church, but it was another layer in an already good foundation. We had planned big – well – big for us. And everything was ready to go.
The sermon was all worked out, and the beauty was that we spent maybe two hours on it and it was done. It was a very thoughtful sermon, one that had been carefully culled for landmines, yet also one that addressed a difficult topic. It was heady stuff for a picnic, but it was also a message of real hope.
And then yesterday happened.
That Saturday where a bunch of white supremacist terrorists decided to unhood and unleash.
Saturday happened all day. It was painful to watch, and like everyone else, I couldn’t turn away. I actually turned on my twitter. Trust me, it has to be pretty big in order for me to turn on my twitter. The last time I turned on my twitter was during the election, and we all know how that turned out.
Saturday made me angry, and I don’t think I was the only one but I will confess I was deep within my echo chamber. Plenty of people were angry. Angry and tired. Black people, white people, Jewish people – lots and lots of angry and tired people.
And I really wanted to preach on it. But it just couldn’t be.
The sermon we had worked out was a good one. I like preaching with another person. Our theme was “A Time to Heal.” We read Ecclesiastes first and paired it with Romans 8:18-25. And then we entered into the dialogue about the question of suffering.
Both passages tell us that suffering is built into the fabric of the universe. I like that description better than God setting us up to suffer for some weird, unknowable reason…And both passages tell us that all the suffering in the world doesn’t compare to the glory that is to be revealed in us.
Suffering is real; it’s part of the deal. No one escapes suffering, but some sure do suffer more than others. It’s always been that way. Long before Jesus, and long afterwards too. Heck of a thing to bring up at a church picnic, but isn’t it good to know that suffering is real, that it’s not just you, and that there’s hope?
Actually a church picnic is the perfect place to bring up shared suffering because there are a lot of people there. And moving throughout all those people are sufferers – even at the most delightful of picnics – there are sufferers. Because at one time or another, everyone suffers.
So Paul touches on suffering in his letter to the Romans, because he knows that they are suffering. It wasn’t easy being a follower in those days. Actually it could be quite deadly, and people were probably starting to wonder if it was even worth it. Paul acknowledges this, and he doesn’t sugar coat it either. He tells them suffering is part of the deal – that nothing on this planet escapes it – including the planet.
But, is it worth it? Yes! It is so worth it. Because our sufferings are nothing compared to the glory about to be revealed to us.
Ecclesiastes also tells us that suffering is part of the deal, but alongside suffering walks healing, and there is a time for both.
Anyone who’s suffered knows – when healing happens, the suffering suddenly becomes worth it. When healing happens, we realize that the suffering was the very thing that lead us to that glorious moment. And then we embrace our suffering – in retrospect.
But here’s the question: can we maybe move ourselves along to that place of healing a little faster? Because let’s face it, the world is a mess and we’re digging ourselves deeper and deeper into the hole of despair. Suffering might be part of the equation, but when do we finally throw in the towel and submit to some healing?
If anyone knew suffering, it was Jesus. Jesus dedicated his whole life the ones who were suffering the most. He fed them; he healed them; he comforted them, and he taught them about the kingdom of God by praying “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. He taught them that when we are operating out of God’s will, God’s kingdom manifests itself on earth, same as it does in heaven. In other words, he showed them how to accelerate healing.
And when they asked him what is God will for us, he said love of God and love of neighbor. Kind of like one commandment with two sides, because we show our love of God through love of our neighbor.
So the way to God’s kingdom is through love. The way to our own healing is through love. Nothing more, nothing less, just love.
And all of this is why I didn’t get to preach about Saturday. All of this is why I didn’t get to get up on my soapbox and talk about how this whole lousy country is built on a flimsy foundation of white privilege and how we need to start opening our eyes and acknowledging our truth if we are to ever find our way toward healing.
Instead I had to preach about love – love of God and love of neighbor – and how that is the only real way to healing.
And you know what? That congregation managed to put the pieces together for themselves. They applied our sermon on love to Saturday – in fact, they thought we were preaching about Saturday.
We preached about healing through love, and as it turns out it was the exact message that was needed – for Saturday.