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                     of Almelund, Minnesota

         

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Joy Amidst Suffering

Pastor Marla Amborn

Immanuel Lutheran Church

May 14, 2017

Romans 5:1-5

 

This sermonette was delivered as part of a service in which the Senior Choir sang a series of songs interspersed with scripture readings. It ties into the children’s sermon in which we sang “I’ve got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy, down in my heart!” We talked about the difference between the fleeting emotion of happiness, and the deep down, heart-felt joy that comes from God’s love in our hearts, sustaining us through the tough times. 

 

Guest musicians included two friends of our music director, Momoh Freeman – Gordon and Willie. The three had gotten to know one another when they were all refugees in Ghana having fled the Liberian Civil War. Willie shared the story of their years in the refugee camp that were made much more joyous by being part of a choir that he sang in which Gordon directed and Momoh played for. They felt God at work in this most difficult of situations.

 

 

As I think about what brought Momoh, Gordon, and Willie together, it is a story of unjust suffering. Yet God was in the midst of it all using a really tough situation for good. And it is the story of the power of music to bring joy and hope. What a tough story! What an inspiring story! What a hope-filled story! It is a story about the human condition. Although most of us have never been to a refugee camp, it is a story we can all relate to. We all know something about suffering, and joy, and hope. And we all know about the power of God in our lives.

 

Our scripture from Romans tells us: “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

 

The apostle Paul (who wrote those words) knew about suffering. He suffered ship wreck, imprisonment, beatings, bites by poisonous snakes, and Paul was ultimately martyred for his faith. Yet he recognized God at work in that suffering. He didn’t lose hope in difficult circumstances because he knew that God was with him, walking with him through it all. And he knew that God did not spare his own Son, Jesus, suffering. Jesus entered into the world’s brokenness and sinfulness and experienced unjust suffering and death so that we could be saved.

 

Suffering is a basic part of the human condition. We all know suffering. We live in human bodies that experience illness, injury, and ultimately death. Suffering is part of that. It is not something we can avoid. We live in a world filled with sin and brokenness. This means that we will experience suffering in many ways.

 

Some face prejudice because of their race, or physical or mental impairment, or sexual orientation, or countless other things people use as excuses to divide people into categories of “us and them.” Some face real economic hardship, difficulty putting food on the table, or keeping a roof over their heads, or making ends meet. Some face broken relationships – marriages that fail, family members who won’t speak with one another. Some struggle with addiction. Others deal with abuse or neglect.

 

As a nation, right now we are suffering through a very divisive period in our politics. Even though we are the richest nation on earth, we are struggling with issues of people being excluded from the prosperity, excluded from health care, excluded from access to good education, excluded from earning a good living, excluded from being fully part of the American Dream. We’re wondering if our leaders can be trusted.

 

In the Buddhist tradition, there is a parable about a woman whose child died. In her anguish, she went to a local healer, begging him to bring her child back to life. He agrees, on one condition. He says: “All you have to do, is bring me a grain of rice from a household that has escaped suffering and grief.” With great hope, she goes through her village, door to door, and through the neighboring village, only to hear story upon story of suffering and loss. Finally, she returns to the healer, still mourning the death of her child, but wiser, more compassionate, and willing to accept her human lot.

 

As Christians, we’d like to think that we should be immune from suffering. We’d like to think that if we live a good life, do the right thing, and faithfully serve God, then God will reward us with a life free of suffering. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. We all face suffering of one kind or another.

 

But as Christians, the promise is that we don’t have to face suffering alone. God walks with us through our suffering. God sends his Holy Spirit to comfort us and care for us. God sent Jesus to pay the price for our sin so that ultimately God bring us home to be with him in a place where there is no more pain or crying, suffering or dying.

 

We sang with the kids “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” Even in the midst of suffering, we do have that joy. Even in the midst of life’s disappointments, God gives us hope. It is that suffering that produces endurance, which produces character, which produces hope. We’ve got the Love of Jesus down in our hearts. We’ve got that Peace that Passes Understanding down in our hearts.

 

Our God has a way of taking even the most difficult situations and using them for good. Our God has a way of giving us peace and joy even amidst the hardships of life.

 

As you hear the rest of our scriptures and songs for today, listen for those messages of peace and hope that only God can give. And be grateful for God at work in your life. Be grateful that even in life’s hardest situations God is there with you, carrying you through it, bringing blessings out of pain, and ultimately bringing you home to be with him. 

 

I’d like to close with a poem/wise words entitled “Be Thankful.”

 

Be Thankful (author unknown)

Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,

If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

 

Be thankful when you don’t know something  

For it gives you the opportunity to learn.

 

Be thankful for the difficult times.

During those times you grow.

 

Be thankful for your limitations

Because they give you opportunities for improvement.

 

Be thankful for each new challenge

Because it will build your strength and character.

 

Be thankful for your mistakes

They will teach you valuable lessons.

 

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary

Because it means you’ve made a difference.

 

It is easy to be thankful for the good things.

A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are

also thankful for the setbacks.

           

Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive.

Find a way to be thankful for your troubles

and they can become your blessings.

 

Amen!