*Due to technical difficulties, there are two parts to this sermon
Suffering Unjustly ~CRE Caleb Jones
This Sunday, the 4th Sunday after Easter is traditionally known as “Good Shepherd Sunday” in the church. It comes from John 10 verse 11 where Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd….”
But, our text we read today stops at verse 10. Today, Jesus says, “I am the gate.” An Interesting detail, that we will get to later.
What I want to talk about first is our text from 1 Peter. It’s a letter that was written to a community that was trying to understand what it meant to be obedient in following Christ in their lives; it was meant to encourage and comfort Christians undergoing suffering, especially those suffering unjustly for their faith. That’s a relevant topic today in our lives….unjust suffering, although not for our Christian faith so much perhaps but considering what we have gone through in the last few months and will continue to go through as it changes the way we live, there are certainly those who suffer unjustly, for instance:
During this coronavirus and the stay at home order, there has been a rise in domestic violence. Job loss and homelessness has increased. Scammers are looking for ways to take the little money we do have left.
And one thing that I don’t think we have talked about is that before COVID-19, our society was already facing an epidemic called loneliness. Doctors have shown that there are health implications between heart disease, dementia, depression and loneliness. And now, as Americans use social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19, there is the threat of a “social recession”.
The text of 1 Peter has been used as a way to offer a response of comfort and encouragement to those who endure suffering unlustly.
“It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly…..you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.”
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. “When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness.”
Let me translate this for you a bit, how it sometimes get mis-interpreted to those that suffer unjustly:
“Enduring suffering is a good thing – it proves you love God and want to be obedient to God.” “This is your calling perhaps – Jesus suffered beating and pain and deformity and lived uncomfortably – you’re living like Jesus.” “I know it’s hard to understand why you’re suffering….but everything happens for a reason. Jesus just endured it on the cross, he just took it….and so should you.”
I’m hoping your stomach just turned a bit as you heard that – or you at least felt something. Here’s the question before you right now: How do you feel about the idea that God makes people suffer unjustly as some sort of test, to prove obedience? How do you feel about the idea that Christ was given as nothing more than an example of how to endure unjust suffering, specifically, that you should just lie down, accept it and take it? Now maybe you don’t believe Christians say such things, but I’ve heard sermons, devotionals, and “helpful advice” that says as much. And it takes this text completely out of the context, to the audience it was written to.
The Christians in 1 Peter were people who were being persecuted specifically for their faith, in a world that was hostile to it. Emperor worship was required, and to say you worshipped something else – like Jesus – you were persecuted for that. For the Christians in 1 Peter, the message wasn’t that suffering was somehow favorable and desired as a “Christian” trait, a test of faith. But that’s often how people interpret this text today – in a totally different time and context.
They omit the last part of the text, the part that makes this passage a word of encouragement and comfort that renews and strengthens faith. “By his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”
It is easy to lose faith in the midst of suffering….it’s easy to go astray. But Christ’s death is more than just a blueprint to endure suffering. Christ’s death is to proclaim to us that we are healed through Christ suffering…because of what He suffered on Friday, we are able to celebrate what God did on Sunday. Jesus died that we might live and He rose from the dead that we might have eternal life.
In the midst of unjust suffering that might cause us to lose faith, we are reminded that Christ suffered so that we might be healed, that resurrection and new life will happen in our lives. And the church – we are the community that not only confesses this good news to the world…..we are the community where people who suffer unjustly come to experience Christ’s healing in the midst of their unjust suffering, and we are the community that voices their unjust suffering to an unjust world – in the name of God’s desire for justice for all.
Which brings me back to Jesus’ saying in the gospel, “I am the gate.” When I was growing up on my grandmother’s farm in Belleville, she used to put a small battery operated electric wire around her garden – about six inches off the ground. What that did is allow us to go in and out of the garden to tend to it, to get produce from it. But what it did was keep out certain critters that would try to come in and steal vegetables from the garden.
I think a church that embodies Jesus as the gate works in much the same way – it doesn’t try to protect people from every type of danger imaginable, nor does it close itself from the outside world. However, the gate does protect people from particular types of harm – like injustice. And the church as a gate allows people to come into such a place of safety so that they can heal from suffering, and then go out into the world as God calls them, as God intends them to.
We live in a society that speaks to us in many ways. Everyone wants our attention. The only way to know what voices are sincere is to discern the motive. Like Jesus said, “to enter any other door is to be taken advantage of.” Those who love us don’t abuse us. Those who want us to succeed give us the freedom to be ourselves. Those who care about us are those who listen to us.
During World War II, Franklin Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear its’ self.” Roosevelt was attempting to change the paradigm of the people from despair to hope. Winston Churchill once said, “We can make a living by what we get, but we can make a life by what we give.” He too was trying to change the paradigm of society. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared a dream with thousands gathered on the mall in Washington. He tossed aside his printed text and spoke as though he saw a vision of things no one else could see — a day when his children would live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. He gave his life to build a world of unconditional love and harmony. To follow Jesus, as sheep follow a shepherd, means to be a people who give. It is an old paradigm which when followed results in a new kind of world.
A world where reborn people humbly value others above themselves, are quick to forgive, patient, kind, gentle, faithful and self-controlled, have a peace that passes all understanding, and a joy and desire to share the good news of salvation.
God is both shepherd and host, pasture and valley, mansion and fortress, still water and open gate. Whatever the circumstances of our lives, God is with us-in peace, in war, in pandemics, in hope, in fear, in life, in death, in joy, and in suffering. When we are at home with God, even the most difficult days are infused with abundant life.
The church that embodies Jesus’ gate is more important in this world now more than ever. Perhaps Christian obedience in our time looks like faith – trusting that God doesn’t cause suffering, but heals suffering. It is through the gate of Christ that people enter, and are healed, so that they might go out and live life abundantly again. And in the ways we talk about God and Jesus and the Bible; in the ways we are a community of safety and belonging; in the ways we care for those who suffer in any form; and in the ways we welcome people who need to hear and experience the message of God’s healing through Christ’s death and resurrection – this, this is the church we are called to be.
I am so glad this morning that Jesus looked not on His own things but our things. Every day, Jesus’ illustration of meekness should fill your mind and your heart. As Paul proclaims in Philippians, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” He is our illustration, he is our inspiration, and he must be our strength.
We can begin each day full of joy, hope and expectation, because we begin it with confession and we begin it hearing the good news of absolution, your sins are forgiven in Jesus name. And as we know, where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
Every redeemed saint of God is a walking testimony to the power of God to save souls and change lives. If you are saved, you are a billboard upon which Jesus writes His love for the lost. Your life is a testimony to His saving power. Let us live like Him. Let us love like Him. Let us labor for Him. Let us do these things so that others might be drawn to Him and that they might be saved.
It is our task to continue the story. To go out into the world to teach and heal and tell stories and commune and love. To widen the circle of grace until all are drawn in. To hope. To share. What good is a mind and heart opened to understand if we won’t share our understanding? What good is a gift of peace if we don’t make peace wherever we can? What good is a gift of love so great it can conquer death if all we do is hide in an upper room? The story needs witnesses, people to continue walking through the pages, passing on the message, seeing where the plot goes, looking for the Spirit’s leading. And those witnesses are you and you and you; the body of Christ.
Forgiven by God and renewed by Jesus we are Jesus’ open gate sharing the Good News of the Gospel. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Saviour.
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And may the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord be kind and gracious unto you, may the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and grant you His peace; today and forevermore. Amen