Dear Parish Family,
I am looking forward to being back in the pulpit this Sunday. What an insane last weekend! I must confess that I have become slightly immune to all the news about gun violence in this country. Sadly, when I come across these stories, I often find myself shaking my head and scrolling on to the next thing. However, one of my best friends in the whole world is the Reverend Ben Phillips, who is the amazing and able rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Dayton, OH. So this week’s shooting hit close to home. Ben and his family are fine but when I spoke with him, he said, “This has been a tough year for Dayton.” Prior to the shooting, Dayton had been hit by some of the most extreme weather patterns this country has ever seen, which included destructive tornadoes and floods. So to add a violent and senseless shooting, one must ask:
Who hasn’t posed this question to God? Suffering and grief are part of life and I have never found them comforting when someone pithily responds, “This is not God’s fault.” I would argue that suffering is profoundly at the center of the Christian faith, it is known as the cross. While I have no answer as to why God allows such things, I know that as we, with Jesus, enter into that profound question, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” we begin to see that God who is at the center of our suffering profoundly uses it for our good.
First, God uses suffering to pull us up, out of our despair, and point us to God’s own words and promises that he has overcome the world and the devil.
For in that word and those promises, all speculation and hearsay come to an end. For those means reveal to us the cross, where we hear God definitively say that God loves and cares for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Second, through those words and promises, God uses suffering to conform us into his image.
Remember, in this age, God hides his glory in the image of Jesus and as St. Paul reminded us last week, as Christians, our glory is also hidden and therefore like our Lord, often revealed in the midst of suffering. However, the promise is, since we are like Jesus, here we can rest in the fact that we will be resurrected and redeemed and gloriously like him in the age that is to come.
Finally, God uses suffering so that we might know to place all of our trust in him.
When one reads the manifesto of the El Paso shooter and the Twitter feed of the Dayton shooter, and all the other manifestos and social media feeds, we understand that these were disturbed men who had trusted in themselves to change the world. The history of suffering in this world is often caused by well-meaning men and women taking things into their own hands and, “getting sh%# done!” So suffering reminds us that when we trust in ourselves and play God, even with the best of intentions, humans always totally screw things up.
The fact is, contra to the American prophets of this media and celebrity age, we are not inclined to the good first, but to ourselves. So suffering thrusts us back to Jesus our savior and his promise from this Sunday’s Gospel:
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”
This promise, in turn, creates hope that, in the midst of our suffering, if God who is only good has suffered and died for us, will He not certainly in His love do what is best for us in all things?
And with our trust in Christ and his cross alone, the answer is always YES! Most certainly yes! So let us pray for El Paso, let us pray for Dayton, let us pray for our hurting nation and trust that it is our Father’s good pleasure to give us his kingdom.
The Reverend Jacob Smith