Monday, December 19, 2011

Thanksgiving in the Midst of Suffering

A Meditation on 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 preached in Cagayan de Oro.

Today we are gathered here as family and friends to celebrate Christmas, the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and also to offer our thanksgiving and praise for the goodness of the Lord in our lives especially in the lives of Tita Phoebe and Tito Rod. Our scripture text this morning is a letter from Paul to the Corinthians and it begins with words of thanksgiving and praise. In the New International Version, it says in verse 3 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We often see the opening letters of Paul with words of thanks and praise to God. But in this letter, we see after the words of thanks are words like suffering and affliction. It is often very difficult to see praise and thanksgiving with suffering and pain put in the same sentence. But such is the letter of Paul to the Corinthians. Paul was at that time was suffering, not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually like most of us today. We are troubled with physical illnesses, some of us may be having problems – in work, in our relationships, some emotionally – we are depressed, sad and even angry.

I. There is suffering because of brokenness

The first thing that we should consider in this letter is the recognition of Paul about the reality of suffering and affliction in our lives. When I was a student Pastor in the US, I was tasked to reply to a letter from a youth church member. She had bone cancer in the age of 17. And her letter basically asked the question why? I would like to read an excerpt and the message of my reply to her.

Letter: Dear Rachel,

… God loves you. And all of us do. You have every right to ask questions about your illness. Why you? And why at such a young age? But I am afraid I don’t have all the answers. All I know is that we live in a broken world, where accidents, problems and diseases exist. But all these do not prevent God from loving you…

The letter reminds us about the reality that we live in a broken world. In a world where accidents happen, tragedies occur and suffering is present. The flash flood that killed several hundred people and destroyed millions in properties is the result of our sinful stewardship and brokenness.

II. God comforts us in our suffering

Paul reminds us that God is the father of all mercies and the God of all comfort. The Greek word for comfort is “paraclesis.” This is the root word of the word “paraclete.” Remember in John 14:16, Jesus said that I will pray to the Father that he will send you a Paraclete, that will be with you forever.” That is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is with us forever, to bring us comfort especially when we need it.

But aside from the Holy Spirit, God also embraces us with his comfort and love in our times of suffering through other people. In verse 4, Paul tells us that God comforst us in all our afflictions that we may comfort others who are also afflicted. God uses other people to comfort us.

Example: one of the ministry of the church is the ministry of presence. There is a Stephen ministry – whose ministry is to be present whenever people are in need. Mother Teresa once said when asked, why do you do what you do? She replied, “we are the body of Christ – we must be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in this world.” We must be the hands and feet of Jesus to provide care and comfort especially those who are abandoned

What kind of comfort do we receive?

III. Comfort that gives us hope/endure suffering

Too often, when we are experiencing difficulties in our lives, we want comfort. But the comfort that we want is to be spared from the pain we might experience. That is almost human nature. Even Jesus, in his humanness prayed when he knew that he was going to suffer and die that his cup be taken from him. But that is looking at the cup half-empty. That is being pessimistic. Too often, our pain blinds us to see the brighter side. But the bright side is too difficult to see especially in troubled times. But that is where we see hope. My professor once said that hope is hope when there is nothing left. It’s like being locked and trapped inside a room with no chance to go out. When it becomes impossible to get out of the room, when nothing is possible… there is hope. Such is the comfort we receive from God. Comforts that help us endure the challenges and gives us hope to continue fighting.

This comfort gives us hope, hope that helps us endure suffering. Endurance is very important as it allows us to withstand any challenge regardless if it

Example is a runner of marathon and sprint. A sprinter can run the 100m dash but may never complete a marathon. The difference is that the sprinter can run fast and finish the race in a few seconds but may never cross the finish line in a marathon. Only the marathon runner has the endurance to finish several kilometres of running in the shortest time possible. That is our comfort from God, a comfort that gives us endurance to face suffering.

IV. God’s comfort to us makes us a blessing to others

Even in the challenges that we face, even in our sufferings and pain we are still called to be a blessing to others. We are not to be self-centered.

Sometimes, our difficulties narrow our vision to look only into ourselves. This self-centeredness even leads us to the point of self-pity. But self-pity leads us to. In fact, the situation we are in gives us the opportunity to receive the comfort of God. The comfort of God in the midst of our suffering calls for us to be a blessing to others. In verse 6, Paul reminds us that “if we are comforted, it is for your comfort.”

The good news my dear brothers and sisters, is that even in our suffering God is our paraclete, God is our comfort. That is reason enough to give thanks and praise to God.

As Christians, we are not exempted from suffering and pain. But in our suffering we receive God’s comfort and become channels of blessing and comfort. The challenge for us this morning, have we become blessings to others because of the comfort we received in our sufferings and pain? In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.


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