And so the days roll on…doesn’t it seem like months since this all started? As I interact with people I am sensing that it is beginning to wear on us. Our routines are out of wack, we are doing lots of things in new ways, and we just don’t see an end in sight.
In the midst of that reality, know that you are in God’s embrace. And that makes all the difference! More on that in a moment.
A quick update – don’t forget about the Wednesday evening devotions and conversation, using “Zoom.” We’ll start at 7 PM, and run about 30 minutes. To join us, go to https://zoom.us/j/520801254 . On a mobile device you might need to download the Zoom app. You will need a camera and microphone, though you can also phone in and join as if it’s a conference call. The phone number is on the web site; the meeting ID 520801254. Give it a try!
And watch later in the week for an update as we approach Holy Week. We’re working on it…
Now, on to some reflections. A number of years ago a professor at Luther Seminary, David Lose, began to share commentary and observations on the scripture readings each week. He used a web site – www.workingpreacher.org – which continues. It’s a good place for preachers, but also for, well, anyone, to explore the lessons in greater depth. Check it out!
David Lose went on to become president of one of our seminaries, leaving workingpreacher behind. Now, he is pastor of a large congregation in Minneapolis (actually, he is my brother’s pastor!) He still occasionally writes on the texts, and today shared the reflection below.
I share it because it’s timely…and good stuff. I’ve always really liked his insights. He has a knack for seeing how the Biblical words from 2000 years ago speak to us today.
I’ve reproduced his reflection as he shared it, other than I replaced the name of his congregation with ours. I invite you to read, reflect, ponder, and pray. Worth the few minutes it will take!
And now, from David Lose…
We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that 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
I’ll be honest, the idea of “boasting in our sufferings” does not come easily to me. Like most of us, I tend not simply to avoid suffering but, when I am suffering or even struggling, for that matter, I prefer to hide it. I’m suspect there are a number of reasons for that – not wanting to burden others (a good Midwestern value!), not wanting to admit even to myself that I’m struggling, not wanting to appear weak in a culture that defines strength in terms of power rather than vulnerability or suffering. Yes, lots of reasons.
But the Apostle Paul doesn’t seem to share any of them! Rather, he believes that suffering is part and parcel of our life in this world and that, when approached from the point of view of faith, can actually lead to growth in faith and confidence.
But – and this is super-important to notice – that does not mean Paul is advocating suffering for suffering’s sake or that he believes God intends for us to suffer. Far from it! Rather, Paul asserts that we worship a God who surprises us by showing up to meet us right in the midst of our vulnerability, pain, and suffering. This was a surprise to his first-century audience – and is likely surprising to his twenty-first century audience as well – because we tend to think about God in terms of strength and power and might, and so we assume that’s what God looks for in return.
Truth be told, that’s likely what Paul believed for much of his life also. That the best way to meet God was through spiritual discipline, or strict obedience to God’s laws, or by displaying the kind of faith that can move mountains. But when Paul – who began his career by persecuting the early Church! – is confronted by the crucified and risen Christ, all of his ideas about who God is and where we can expect to meet God are turned on their head. God’s messiah showing up as a convicted criminal? Put to death in the most awful of ways? Surrounded by two-thieves? Suffering as weak and pitiful a death as one can imagine? That thought simply astounded Paul and forced him to think about God differently.
God, it turns out, is not waiting until we become good enough, or strong enough, or righteous enough, to come to us. Rather, God comes to meet us in our weakness, struggles, and vulnerability in order to comfort us, strengthen us, and equip us to comfort and strengthen others.
Two brief “take-aways” related to Paul’s conviction in light of our circumstances.
First, if you are feeling anxious or stressed or frightened, not only are you not alone – this is a pretty normal set of responses to a pandemic! – but you are also not somehow falling short or failing others. Rather, you are being honest, facing what is difficult and being truthful about the dramatic and challenging nature of our circumstances. Brené Brown, one of my favorite researchers and authors, regularly confronts us with the fact that courage is not the absence of fear or vulnerability, but rather is the ability to persevere in the midst of fear and vulnerability. She has challenged more than 10,000 people in the various presentations she’s given to come up with a single example of courage that did not entail vulnerability… and to date, no one has been able to offer one. Similarly, Admiral James Stockdale, a Medal of Honor winner for valor during the Vietnam War – during which he as tortured more than 20 twenty times while being held prisoner for seven years – once said, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever that may be.” So, dear people of Our Savior’s (and beyond), we will confront the challenges and hardships of this pandemic together, welcoming the fears, concerns, tears, and more as honest expressions of both the vulnerability and solidarity we share.
Second, we’ll remind each other that God chooses to meet us precisely in our weakness and vulnerability so that we know that God always loves and accepts every part of us– even the parts we have a hard time accepting and loving. This, I think, is what Paul means by saying that suffering can lead to endurance, and endurance to character, and character to hope. Because when you realize God is with you and for you – that God is always on your side – then you find a way not simply to survive challenges but even persevere and flourish. Sometimes, in fact, it’s only when things are most difficult that we recognize God’s presence most powerfully. And so we will continue to gather digitally in worship, continue to reach out to each other in the variety of ways possible, and continue to support each other in the confidence that, indeed, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
We will get through this. And we will get through it together. And when we do, we may be surprised that we have grown in our faith, confidence, and awareness of God’s abiding grace!