Though a rare and uncomfortable topic in the affluent church, we spoke a little of suffering on Sunday morning. This is in the comfort of a climate controlled building, the possibility of violence or torment against us nil and complimentary coffee and donuts as an added blessing. But at least we talked about it. It was referenced in the following text:
St. Paul, by Divine election, the ambassador-proclaimer-preacher-teacher-servant-slave of the Good News. Imagine – exciting travel of the known world, an audience with the hoi-polloi of the day, and international fame for a couple of millenia! The cost – prison, severe floggings, exposure to death, 5 times the recipient of 40 lashes minus 1 (because 39 is way better than 40), beaten with rods, stoned (not in that way!), shipwrecked, some time free-floating in the open sea, on the move, danger from rivers, bandits, from his own family, from those he was trying to help, labor-toil-no sleep, hunger, thirst, cold, and naked. And just because he tried to tell people they had Divine favor…
Others stories from the canon and history indicate this is the rule and not the exception.
Within in the next hour, we were gathered in the beautiful room of our ritual. The uncomfortable topic a distant memory. One of our first offerings was our rendition of this:
The Divine as a Shield, a protector, the lifter of my head. This creates a certain amount of tension with the Divine that calls people to follow in a way that historically leads to suffering and death. If you have doubts about this read Foxes Book of Martyrs, or stories of the Saints, or of the modern church in the 3rd or Developing world.
We prefer the idea of Divine-as-a-Shield over the idea of the Divine-that-calls us to suffer for the sake of the world. So how do you deal with the tension that exists between suffering and shield?
I met a man this summer who has been chronically homeless for the last decade – the flood-swollen Brazos River wiped out what little home he had…his words for me outside of a Shelter in Angleton, Texas: “He causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust, yet I will trust in Him. He will provide.”
I met another man a few miles north, he was the Preacher and Caretaker of a little church that had occupied the grounds since the days of emancipation, 1865. His prayers and his faith could not stop the roiling Oyster Creek as it spilled over its banks, inundating everything in its path, including this little church. Two feet of water running throughout – the sanctuary, the fellowship hall, the Bible classrooms, the office, the restrooms, the closets – not one square inch of the floor of this building was not underwater. To make matters worse, the mold line started at 2 feet above the floor and had grown to 5 feet above the floor on every wall in the building. The Pastor/Caretaker, my brother, wasn’t cursing God, wasn’t in despair in his office, not throwing in the towel BUT scraping the ruined asbestos tiles from the floor, sweeping the remaining silt, and singing songs of praise. He said they would be delivered!
For these men, there was no tension…