Suffering and God’s Rest

Scripture: 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen. 

Reflection: Peter sees the whole global Christian community suffering through unjust mistreatment, violence, lack of access to food, health care, housing, and the basic human freedoms and necessities of life. He sees his community restless, on the verge of despair and hopelessness, tempted to abandon their faith. 

Peter tells the Christian community that they, like all other Christians throughout the world, are all simultaneously experiencing suffering of one sort or another. Their experience of suffering is not unique to their particular community, although they may believe that it is. He says, “for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering (1 Peter 5:9).” 

Peter does not minimize or romanticize suffering or the pathema (Gk) that the community is experiencing. Peter understands that suffering is real, brutal, and deadly because he has seen his Lord Jesus Christ suffer from rejection and ridicule and he has seen his Lord suffer and die on a torturous cross. Suffering for Peter is not an abstraction or a topic of detached conversation. Suffering is visceral. It takes a toll on the body, mind, and soul. Peter knows suffering firsthand (Acts 5:17-42). 

He encourages his community by reminding them that in their suffering, they are blessed because the Spirit of God rests on them. It is the spirit of God that leads them to seek the grace of God with humility so they can be strong in God’s strength to endure. The Spirit generates their trust in God with their troubles and cares. The Spirit sustains them through the discipline of prayer, fasting, study, worship and gathering as a community of faith. The Spirit keeps them alert to new possibilities God opens. And, the Spirit uses the pain of shared suffering to unite the community, producing the collective resolve to resist the pressures to abandon their hope. Finally, the Spirit and power of God restores, supports, strengthens, and establishes them in their nowness and temporality of their suffering and forever. 

Peter’s words of encouragement to his suffering community are timely for us now, not only as a Christian community experiencing the devastating impacts of the coronavirus at local levels, but for all of the suffering and quarantined human community throughout the world. As a global community, we are all in this together as we collectively face this coronavirus pandemic that has caused human suffering of various kinds. The whole human race is all in need of God’s Spirit of rest and blessings for strength to endure, care for our anxious souls, nearness, unity, resolve to resist despair, and confidence in a future with hope and faith.

Prayer: Shelter Me by Michael Joncas 

1. Shepherd and sheep, my God and I:
          to fresh green fields you led my steps in days gone by.
          You gave me rest by quiet springs
          And filled my soul with peace your loving presence brings.
Refrain:  O shelter me, O shelter me: the way ahead is dark and difficult to see.
               O shelter me, O shelter me: all will be well if only you will shelter me.
     2. Yet now I tread a different way:
         Death dogs my path with stealthy steps from day to day.
         I cannot find your peaceful place,
         but dwell in dreary darkness longing for your face.  (Refrain)
    3.  I will look back in days to come,
         and realize your faithfulness has led me home.
         Within your house I’ll find my peace,
         trusting that in your mercy you have sheltered me.  (Refrain)

Stay on the Way

ScriptureJohn 14:1-6 (NRSV) “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may also be. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Reflection: With our belongings tightly packed into a 17′ U-Haul and our car hitched to the back of the truck, I followed dad, mom, and Maye as they drove ahead of me in the lead car. We were heading from Nacogdoches in northeast Texas southward toward the Rio Grande Valley after my graduation from college. The plan was simple. I was to keep dad’s car within my sight for ten long hours until we arrived at our destination. Nine of the ten hours would be relatively easy following. It was the hour following dad through Houston that caused the most concern. 

I knew that driving a slow 17′ moving truck with a car hitched to the back of it would not be easy to maneuver in fast-moving five-lane Houston traffic filled with anxious and impatient drivers. Just as I had anticipated, I quickly began to lose sight of dad’s car when we reached the north side of Houston as faster and more nimble vehicles merged into my lane. Within a few minutes, I had completely lost sight of dad’s car. Cell phones were nonexistent, so communication was not possible. Although I lost sight of the lead car, I was not lost. I stayed and kept following south Highway 59 until I drove past the south side of Houston and, seven hours later, to my destination. 

Jesus promises his disciples that he is going ahead of them to prepare a place for them so they can be with him where he is. Thomas quickly reacts with concern. He wonders how he can continue to follow Jesus and get to the place Jesus promises if he does not know where Jesus is going. He says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus promises Thomas that those who acknowledge his claim upon their lives as Lord, stay on and walk in his ways will find their way to God, their ultimate destination. He reminds Thomas that to know him is to know and see God. 

It’s easy to lose sight of God and where we are ultimately headed when life gets chaotic and crowded with concerns, when it slows down to a crawl, and when we’re pulling heavy loads that weigh us down. We tend to get so focused on all that is going on around us that we lose vison of where we are ultimately going. It is in times of disorientation and distraction that the promises of Christ are like signposts along our journey, keeping us stayed on the road of faith, continuously leading us to know and see God, our ultimate destination.   

This Mother’s Day, we remember and are grateful for all the ways our mothers and mother figures in our lives cared for, guided, and encouraged us to stay on the good way and keep moving forward in life when we lost sight of where we were heading. We realize when we get to our destination and look back, that our mothers and mother figures have accompanied us along life’s journey through their teachings, prayers for us, and love. 

Take some time today and give thanks to God for all the mothers and mother figures that have helped you stay on the way, and that have guided and blessed your life with their teachings, their prayers, and their love. 

Prayer: Christ our way, our truth, our life, and our faithful keeper of ultimate promises, we thank you that you never lose sight of us, even when we lose sight of you. Amen.

The Voice of Life

Scripture: John 10:3-4The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

Reflection: I saw young Beaudoin shepherds tending their flocks on the hillsides of the Judean wilderness during my two trips to Israel. The shepherds were present with the sheep, sometimes walking with the sheep, and sometimes riding a donkey alongside the sheep as the sheep grazed on the stumps of hillside grass. The shepherd and the sheep were together in tranquility, each aware of and comfortable in the other’s presence. A relationship of trust and care between the two was evident. 

Sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd.  The shepherd uses his voice to call the sheep out of their holding pen in the morning, direct them throughout the day to pasture, and to call them back into a safe place for the evening. Whenever a shepherd calls out to his sheep, the sheep that belong to the shepherd know their shepherd’s unique sound and follow wherever the shepherd leads them throughout the day.

The sound of a shepherd’s voice to the sheep is like the sound of a mother’s voice to her child. A Stanford University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences research study found that a variety of brain circuits are engaged when children hear their mother’s voice. Whenever a child hears a mother’s voice, brain regions involving emotion and reward processing, social functions, detection of what is personally relevant, and face recognition are powerfully activated.  Researches verified that the echo of a mother’s voice has quick access to a child’s many brain systems that bring them emotional comfort.

Jesus says in today’s passage that he is in a life-giving relationship with us and knows us by name.  We are able, through spiritual birth, to hear his unique voice and follow him out to wherever he leads. The voice of Jesus has quick access to our thinking, our sensing, and our will. His voice calls us from chaos to order, from darkness to light, from death to life, from fear to faith, for ourselves and whosoever comes to him. His voice calls us to abundant joy and abundant hope.

It takes a mindful intentionality and spiritual sensitivity to hear our Good Shepherd’s voice amid so many competing voices in our world. God has provided us with the means to hear Christ’s voice through worship, prayer, acts of compassionate generosity, mercy, justice, and witness.

We do not always know where Christ our good shepherd will lead us through the promptings and proddings of his life-giving voice, but we know we can trust him, and so we follow with assurance in the comfort of his love and care for us and all.

Prayer – Christ our good shepherd, we pray for a discerning spirit to hear your voice and a will to do what we listen to you say to us amid so many competing voices that seek to have access to our minds, hearts, and will. Enable us with your Spirit to hear your voice and do your will in whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, and in whatever is excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). Amen.