I’m preaching at Simpson-Hamline United Methodist Church this Sunday while the Pastor is on vacation. Bill preached last Sunday, and he started his sermon by singing “My Tribute” in his wonderfully deep and resonate baritone, then went on to give a powerful testimony about God’s saving grace. So he set the bar pretty high for me to follow up this week!
The text I’ve chosen, John 15: 12-17, is a part of Jesus’ farewell discussion with his disciples. I’m focusing on verse 14-15, where Jesus calls his disciples friends. He no
longer calls them (us) servants, he now calls us his friends. I’ve been fascinated by my deep study of this text. One of the things that happens when you delve deeply into a text to understand it more fully — I call it “deep sea diving”– you come up with many treasures, usually more than you can recount effectively in one sermon (although many preachers are too inclined to try). So don’t worry, if you come to Simpson-Hamline this Sunday (service begins at 10 am) this blog isn’t usurping my sermon. The reason I’m sharing this with you now is that I really haven’t been able to focus on anything else that I want to share here, so I decided to stop trying and just let you know what’s on my mind.
The other thing I’ve been doing this week is reading comments from a LinkedIn group, “Interfaith Professionals,” where comments are being posted by persons from different faiths on the question “Why does God let people suffer?” The responses are interesting, as you might expect. People wrestle with this question a lot, and it has caused many to challenge the goodness and/or the reality of God.
All of this brings me to the question for today: If Jesus — God — is really our friend, why do we still have to suffer? Since we understand that God is all powerful and can do anything, then why would God-our-friend ever allow pain and difficulties into our lives? Why doesn’t God just step in and stop whatever it is–all the time? Why wouldn’t God save the lives of many good and God-believing people from the horrible typhoon that is hitting the Philippines right now? Wouldn’t God stop a Christian woman from being raped or tortured? Wouldn’t our friend Jesus always carry us through the storm, away from harm, as the above picture depicts?
Many of us know from personal experience and testimonies from others that God does intervene, God does save and God still works miracles in this world. But that does not mean that we won’t ever have to suffer, because we will. And we have no way of knowing when or why God will save some and not others or when the storms will come into our lives and we will find ourselves suffering.
What kind of friend is someone who has the power to save us from pain and sorrow and doesn’t do it?
I believe the best kind of friend. Not because God wants to us to suffer–I believe that God cries right along with us–but because God wants us to be better people than we would be without suffering. We could never understand what it means to have love and compassion if we weren’t required, from time to time, to open our hearts to others who are living in or going through difficulties. We’d never know how important it is to have friends unless we had a need to lean on someone else every once in awhile–and that includes our friend God!
Humanity grows intellectually, deepens spiritually and gains wisdom from searching for the causes of suffering and figuring out how to relieve them. So that’s the job that we’re given by the challenge of human suffering–to wrestle with the things that cause suffering and fix them. That’s what people are called to do, and it involves everything from helping people to experience the God of love to researching the causes of diseases, from offering a meal to a homeless person to enacting legislation to create affordable housing and living wages, from being a friend to an at-risk child to working to overcome poverty and to dismantle for-profit prison systems. The added benefit is that these are the kind of works that make life truly meaningful for us.
That’s the call of God on all of us, all of humanity, to use all that we are to help each other– hearts that care, minds that study, hands that help, strength that endures and souls that understand the importance of rejoicing through it all. When we do these things, we’re helping to accomplish God’s purposes in this world, and that’s when we become friends of God. You see, friendship is a two-way street. You can’t really have a friend unless you are a friend. Sooo….you want Jesus to be your friend???