God for us, we call you “Father.”
God alongside us, we call you “Jesus.”
God within us, we call you “Holy Spirit.”
-- Fr. Richard Rohr
A couple of weeks ago, I was counseling with a woman and she asked if she could tour our church. She went on to say that she had been raised in Grace Church as a child and she always…felt…safe…here.
She made the same remark so many make when they enter our church- “This is such a beautiful church.” Of course, I couldn’t argue with that...alas, I might be a we bit prejudiced.
Because she had never seen the Christian Education Center we made our way to the gift shop…and then the classrooms…and finally, we found ourselves sitting in the library. For some reason, our library lends itself to thoughtful and important conversations.
We sat for while, mostly silent…and then she began speaking about her personal crisis of faith, or more accurately, her loss of faith. You see, she has been struggling with depression since she lost her mother to Cancer.
How many of you have dealt with cancer or have a family member or friend who has, please raise your hand.
This question was asked to an audience of about a thousand people by Rob Bell, a motivational speaker, former mega-church pastor and bestselling author. However, he asked for persons to stand up rather than merely raise their hands.
And the result…was striking, it appeared that the majority persons present stood to their feet. He asked the persons standing to look around the room and even up in the balcony…and almost immediately, without saying a word, a bond was formed between…complete…strangers.
Why is that?
Because there is solidarity in suffering. Even though the persons who were standing did not know each other’s specific stories, they knew of their suffering, therefore, they extended compassion to one another.
You see, suffering brings a solidarity unlike anything else. Suffering unites us in profound ways that success and good fortune…cannot.
It is an amazing phenomenon that such a devastating diagnosis of Cancer …has the power to unite people…is such a positive and caring way.
Rob Bell then went on to hold up a cross necklace, not unlike this one. He said this symbol of brutal Roman torture and execution has become a universal symbol of hope and faith.
In this symbol…and as most graphically portrayed in that symbol,
(point to Rood beam)…we have God’s son hanging on a cross…suffering in solidarity with all of humanity.
This cross is God’s way of saying, “You are not alone in your suffering…
I know how you feel…for I have suffered too.”
The cross symbolizes the ultimate act of solidarity with the suffering of humanity. And when we cross ourselves…and when we bow as the processional cross passes…we join with our Lord and each other in…this…solidarity…and we extend compassion…to one another.
As we look around our world today…what we see is a lot of suffering…from COVID numbers going off the charts…to a country tearing itself apart with division, anger and violence…so much suffering…so many obituaries in our newspapers.
And yet we have the Cross…as our constant reminder…that God suffers right along with us…and we are not alone.
Everywhere he went…Jesus found people who were suffering…crying out to be healed…or delivered…or to be forgiven…and set free.
Holy Scripture tells us again and again…that when confronted with the multitudes who were suffering…Jesus was “moved with compassion,”…and he reached out his hand…to minister to them.
The Franciscan Priest, Contemplative and bestselling author, Fr. Richard Rohr…says this about suffering:
“If we have never loved deeply…or suffered deeply…we are unable to understand spiritual things…at any depth.
Even God has to use love and suffering to teach us all the lessons (in life) that really matter.
Loving deeply and suffering deeply are God’s primary tools for…human …transformation.”
Regarding the difference between religion…and spirituality…it has been said …that “religion is for people…who are trying to stay out of hell…while spirituality is for people…who have been…there.”
As we sat in the church library, this woman confided that even though she had been raised in our church and felt safe there…like so many…as she became older, …was married, and had children…she became so busy with life, …and drifted away.
And now that she is so depressed and in despair over losing her mother…she is considering returning to the church…You see…the church is many things to many people…but certainly it is a haven and a safe place…for those who are suffering.
I had no great words of wisdom to offer her…no quick fixes…no pious platitudes…no Bible verses that would make her suffering disappear.
No, all I could offer her…was the compassion of one who has also lost parents…I could assure her that she was not alone in her suffering…and I would sit with her and just listen…as she told me about her mother.
Sometimes that is all you can do…sometimes that’s is all you need to do.
My friends…when it comes to suffering in life…it is not if…but when…and when we suffer, God suffers with us…our parish family suffers with us…and we are not alone.
Now, Fr. Caleb and I know of the suffering of some of you here today and those who are watching via live-stream…but rest assured…God knows the suffering of all of you…and you are not alone.
Finally…In the gospel of St. Matthew…Jesus shows his compassion and solidarity…with those who are suffering…when he says this:
“COME UNTO ME!...all ye that labour…and are heavy laden…and I will give you rest…Take my yoke upon you and learn of me;…for I am meek and lowly in heart:…and ye shall find rest unto your souls…For my yoke is easy…and my burden is light."