1 Peter 4:12-19
There’s An App for That
Many Christians think that the main purpose of being Christian is getting into heaven, but that is simply not true. The purpose of being a Christian is to follow the footsteps of our Savior and loving the world the way he loves us. Being a Christians isn’t about our future nor is it only celebrating our past; it is being active in the present. It is living out the prayer we pray “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” It is our job as Christians to represent, mirror, and be the love of God here and now. It is a huge task and it can get us into trouble at times.
The early apostles knew this. The major leaders in our faith have all known this. But somehow we Christians in this modern world and in our current society are surprised when we suffer because of our faith. Here in 1 Peter we are reminded that it shouldn’t be a surprise. Suffering is part of faith. If we are to follow in the footsteps of our Savior then they will lead us to the cross. We know the story, we understand Good Friday, so why are we surprised when it happens to us? Why is it a shock when the world tries to stop God’s love from spreading and we suffer in the midst of this wrath?
It shocks us because we have a preconceived notion that once we start to follow Christ everything in our life will a 1960’s poster, full of peace and love, man. We have a thought that the Christian way of life is like Jesus and us running towards to each other in slow motion in a meadow full of flowers. There is sweet music being played in the background as we finally embrace and then we twirl and smile until we die and go to heaven. I know I have mentioned this before but when I was in college I worked as a bag boy at the local Food Lion. One of the checkout girls asked me if I was a Christian and I told her yes. She looked at me and said, “then why do you look so unhappy.” I shrugged but I guess I should have reminded her I was working at Food Lion packing up people’s groceries. There is this idea floating out there that once we become Christians we will be walking around with smiles on our constantly on our faces, but this is the wrong impression of who are to be as followers of Christ.
There are a couple of ways the world views suffering. Those of the Hindu faith state that the desire is at the root of all human suffering and in order to remove that they should desire nothing. For Muslims they believe suffering tests their faith and corrects their unbelief. Buddhist’s worldview is that existence is suffering and suffering is at the heart of the world. The Four Noble truths state this. The first one is that All is Suffering. The second, Suffering is caused by desire and attachment. The third noble truth stats that if one can eliminate desire and attachment one can eliminate suffering. The final one states that if a person follows the Noble Eightfold Path, once and eliminate suffering from their lives. These are some different ways to look at the reality of suffering but we Christians see it a little differently.
Our view is that suffering comes into our lives for a couple of reasons. St. Augustine said that since God has given us free will, we humans will sometimes decide to do the wrong thing. Suffering is the price we pay for this freedom. When we become a Christian cause and effect are still present in our lives. If I decide that I’m going to stop a truck with my bear hands on I85 I’m going to get myself killed, no matter how deep my faith is. The truck is going 70 miles per hour and standing in front of the truck will only end in one way, me becoming a road waffle. The decisions we make in life have an effect on us and when we choose to do the wrong thing suffering can happen. If we smoke for 30 years we shouldn’t be surprised when we become sick. If we fool around on our spouse we should not be surprised when that relationship dissolves. Wrong decisions will equal suffering.
But sometimes life sends us suffering without reason. There we are going through life and then all of a sudden an accident, an illness, or death happens. When a natural disaster hits we look for a reason behind it but the truth is we live in a sin soaked world and creation doesn’t act like God would like it too. Bad things happen, suffering happens, sometimes just because. We hate that answer because we would like to place blame somewhere but the truth is sometimes suffering just happen.
A third way we can bring suffering into our lives is making the right decision. When we stand up for God and do what God would like us to do in this world we should not be surprised if suffering follows. Remember this is what Peter is saying in this letter, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” I know this sounds a little weird but Peter is saying that we should praise God that we can suffer in the name of Jesus. This doesn’t make sense because we live in a culture that tells us luxury and comfort are supposed to be sought after. How can serving a loving and grace filled God lead to suffering.
One of the best ways I have heard this explained is look at Golgotha. There on the hill there were three different people being crucified. Two of them were thieves. One was unrepentant and knew that his bad choices lead him to where he was. He talked down to Jesus, and thought he should do things differently. The other thief asked for forgiveness and was forgiven but his sentence was still carried out. Once God had forgiven him the consequences of his actions were still in effect. Then there is the one on the third cross, who was the Son of God, the God Man. He was innocent and was dying our death to forgive us all of our sins. He was following the way of God and it led him to the cross. Each one took a different path but they still ended on the cross where there was great suffering.
The truth is as I started to write this sermon I wondered if we really understood what suffering is. We live in the richest country in the world and really anything we want or desire is just a credit card swipe away, so do we really know suffering? Do we really know suffering like others in the world know it? On all levels, no. We don’t know being hungry really is. We have never experienced genocide. But we do on some level. Every week we call out names of people who are in desperate need of prayer and God’s grace. We pray for children with cancer, deaths in families, people we know and care about who are dealing with horrible situations in life. We know suffering and it does have a face to it but there is something that we get confused about sometimes.
This brings up another myth out there that we need to squash this morning. We have this notion that God causes suffering. Now this might not be the direct way of thinking about it but when we interact with people who are suffering in life we say things that portray this notion. If a person loses a baby we may walk up to them and say, “God needed another little angel.” Or “God has a plan for this, you will be okay.” These are horrible things to say to someone who has just lost a baby. What you are saying is that our God is a baby killer who has to take children away from us so we can do his will. If God has to use the blood of kids to do his will then I don’t want any part of this God. We need to stop suggesting these things to people because we are making our God look bad.
So what do we do with suffering then? How do we make sense of it? The truth is if you ask a person tell you their defining moments in life many times they will bring up moments of suffering. “That was the day he left me and I knew I had to make it on my own.” “I can still see the doctors face when he looked at me and said, ‘it’s cancer.” “To this day I don’t know where the car came from.” “One moment she was there and the next she was gone.” Our lives are marked with suffering and the truth is suffering can inspire and people can grow through their time of trial.
As she grew up and in her adult life Emily Dickinson became a recluse and everyone around her was dying. Only after her own death would the world learn about her poetry. As she suffered in life she was inspired to write words that people connected with centuries after her own life and death. Listen to this poem entitled Hope.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chilliest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
Eric Clapton’s son was only 4 ½ years old when he was playing in his New York apartment. The cleaning person had left the window open to air out the room and the boy ran past him and accidentally fell out of the 53rd story window. He landed on the roof of the 4 story building across the street. Clapton took almost a year off to deal with this tragedy but when he returned to performing he had written a song to help him deal with his son’s death. Tears in Heaven was about this experience and when his Unplugged album hit it went all the way up to number 1. Tears in Heaven was also a number 1 hit and that year he won 6 Grammys for this album and its songs. People said they could see something different in him and his performance and playing reached another level.
In life we have our plan, our own expectations about what will happen but then there is a disruption. A moment when suffering enters and everything is changed. Whatever the reason, suffering comes in and we have to learn to deal with it and survive it. During this process we need to remember that God understands this because God went through it. God witnessed his only Son die innocently on a cross. God was nailed to that cross and hung there for us.
C.S. Lewis was asked once, “Why do the righteous suffer?” He answered, “Why not? They’re the ones who can take it.” We can take suffering because we know God is with us through it all. God doesn’t cause our suffering but God can use it to bring us closer to him and open us up to understand him and ourselves better. Suffering is a part of life and it is part of being a follower of Christ. It is the moments that define our life. Places we can look back to and say “Here is where I met God and was transformed a little more into his likeness.” In these moments we understand hope as it perches on our soul and doesn’t ask us for anything. In these moments we live out what Peter says, “those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”
And all God’s children said…Amen.