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3-20-16 Sermon: “Listening in Suffering” Lk 22, Mk 14

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“LISTENING IN THE SUFFERING”- LMPC Dr. J. Ben Sloan
Lk. 22:42,43; 48; 60-61; 63-65; Mk. 14:43-44; 15:3-5  3-20-16 Palm Sun.

People Suffer.  As the insurance commercial would say, “That’s what we do.”  If you average it out- in this hour 875 children will die of hunger or hunger related causes in the world.  Five children will have died from abuse and violence in this hour.  867 people will die of cancer in this hour.  134 will die of traffic accidents.  There are 6,312 deaths each hour in the world.  There are 100 divorces every hour.  There are 2,283 new Sexually transmitted diseases every hour. 333 declare for bankruptcy in the US alone every hour.  Look that’s a lot of pain.  For every person in pain, hundreds suffer.
However, the other side is this- while there are 6,312 deaths every hour, there are 15,000 new babies born each hour.  While there are health problems- the average person is living longer and longer-the average person lived til they were 27 in biblical times, 45 in 1900 in the US, and today about 76.   We are almost living three lifetimes compared to biblical times. And twice the lifetimes of our great-grandparents.  Ironically, sociologists who read the diaries of people who suffered in the 1700s talk about a real contrast in courage and endurance of pain more than we appear to have courage and endurance today.  Tim Keller (for whom I rely on much material here- and has an excellent book on Suffering) said that in the West we handle suffering like an interruption to what we deserve.  Or like bad weather- try to avoid it all costs- and if you can’t then just hunker down and try to make a better shelter for next time.  But suffering is a part of life. It is not just an interruption of life- it IS life. Suffering comes to us all.  We cannot hide our heads in the sand and pretend it doesn’t come.  We all sin- and make mistakes that add to our own suffering- war is a primary evidence of suffering caused by someone’s sin; then also our bodies break down and they suffer; catastrophes/accidents happen that make us suffer.  The question really is- how do we handle suffering?  In the Bible it speaks a lot- a whole lot about this.  Our creeds do to- Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate” or as our Brief Statement of Faith puts it, “unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition he suffered the depths of human pain.”  From Christ we learn how to handle our own suffering.
I. ONE STEP AT A TIME- Hundreds of thousands go to Jerusalem this time of year to walk The Via de lorossa- the way of pain- or the way of suffering.  Jesus listened.  He listened as the crowds mocked him.  He did not resist but in a sense took it all in.  Suffering was not his friend, but neither was suffering his ultimate enemy.  He listened and told the women- do not weep for me but weep for yourselves (because Jerusalem would be destroyed).
People talk about handling things one step at a time.  But this is a biblical concept.  It speaks so much about walking through suffering.  Yes though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death;  When you walk through the fire you will not be burned.  Suffering is something that should be walked through one step at a time.  That means you look toward the goal of your path- heaven- knowing that in heaven all suffering will end- no more disease, no more chance to mess things up, no more tears, no more sorrow, no more pain.  Do not expect the pain of suffering to go away quickly.  Some of you are undergoing chronic pain that you know will not dissipate.  In chronic pain it is especially important to go slowly but surely.  Pain is not to be run through, but walked through.  As we walk, we can hear better- seeing our weakness, and knowing where our strength lies.  C.S. Lewis says God whispers in our prosperity, speaks in our conscience but shouts in our pain.”  Pain is God’s alarm clock to wake us up to Him and to what truly is important.
II. LISTENING IN SUFFERING BY TRUST AND PRAYER- Handles Messiah- reminds us that those who mocked Jesus were actually reminding him of his hope.  “He trusted in God, let him delver him if he delights in him.”  Jesus turned those mocking words into trust.  Jesus indeed trusted in God the Father to deliver him- not from suffering- but from the ultimate results of suffering- death.  The reason martyrs can face death with courage is they know this life- these moments are not all there is.  Faith enables us to live freely- free of being chained to our comfort or feeling eternally imprisoned by our suffering.
I remember Sue Madden who had the worst kind of breast cancer twice tell me, “I win either way- I win if I am cured, and I win if I go to heaven.”  You know, when I am walking through the valley of suffering, I want that kind of faith.  What I don’t want to hear is someone to tell me- that the only way out of suffering is if I get well here- because none of us will do that.  Jesus came to suffer redemptively for us, to teach us with his life and death, but also to teach us in His suffering.  Listen this Passion-Holy week especially to the suffering of Christ, and learn from Him.
I remember talking to a man who went to a different church.  He was a very, very busy man- with his fingers in a lot of pies- always going 100 mph.  He worked hard and he played hard- always intense.  One day he had a heart attack- which is why I was talking to him.  He had been lying in a bed for a week- and they took away his phone and told him he needed to be still.  He said, I’ve had time to finally be still- and I think I’ve been going the wrong way.  I don’t need to stop and smell the roses, I need to stop and start living.  If God gives me another chance I hope to do that.  After his heart surgery he slowed down- from 100 mph to about 70- still fast for most of us- but that slowing down helped him with his family and with his relationship to God.  He found anew the importance of listening.
III. SUFFERING CAN BE REDEMPTIVE- The cross of Christ is a lesson in redemptive suffering. Let me ask you- when you are suffering to keep your eyes on this cross.  If you think no suffering can be redemptive then you need to look again.  Redemption comes in often unseen ways- maybe not redemption for you but for those who are watching you go through this and seeing how your faith shows in the crucible.  Do not lose faith that there is more than the comforts this life can afford.  Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot remove.
The Bible often speaks of suffering as a forge.  “When I am tested I will come forth as gold” Job said (23:10).  There is a sense in which all the other things that we have seen as so important lose their appeal.  If you love clothes and the finest of foods- if you ever go through chemo you lose some things: you lose your modesty, your fashion, and your appetite as you go through that fire.  Most who find out that they are terminally ill are not swayed by the siren calls to buy a new car or buy a bigger house.  Most who are moving into a retirement home are not moved by the new furniture commercials- they are trying to get rid of furniture.   When you suffer- you begin to see what is really important- the people you love, and the God who gives you strength in suffering and hope to an end of suffering.
I remember meeting a retired CEO in the club at Debordieu Beach Colony.  This is a very wealthy spot.  He told me he graduated from Princeton and Yale, that he always had everything he could possibly want, so, he said, “I don’t need God.”  I told him, you will not always be comfortable in this life.  God does not exist just to make people feel comfortable here.  God exists because He exists.  God does not exist for us- we exist because of Him.  No amount of savings, investments, the number of degrees or number of friends will keep us from suffering in this life.  Let us not live under the illusion that we do not or should never suffer.  Do not trade 70 years of comfort here for an eternity of hope, meaning and truth that begins in this life.
They song says, “They crucified my Lord- and He never said a mumblin’ word.”  Jesus went through 6 trials: He was brought before Annas, Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod, and then Pilate again.  They couldn’t find anything to accuse him of- except his claim to be the Son of God and spiritual King of the Jews.
The predominant theory is that Jesus didn’t defend himself- because they wouldn’t listen if he did.  The people knew they were not acting with justice but out of pride and fear.  He didn’t answer- because the prophecies said the Messiah would suffer in silence.
But there is another idea.  Jesus didn’t say much- in answer to his accusers, or in complaining or whining.  Jesus was listening in His suffering.  In doing so, He teaches us how to suffer and listening for God’s voice.