Jeremiah 15: 15-21(page 643 in our pew Bibles) An intense and personal dialogue between God and Jeremiah. Following God has brought Joy but also intense pain and anguish and led to isolation and suffering. Being caught up in the mystery of human redemption involves pain.
Romans 12: 9 - 21 (page 948 in our pew Bibles) Short pithy sayings concerning how Christians should deal with each other even in times of suffering and how best to respond to persecution.
Matthew 16:21 - 28 (page 822 in our pew Bibles) Jesus rebukes Peter for trying to shield Jesus from suffering and death, saying that he has set his mind on the things of man and not the things of God.The mystery of divine suffering spoken of by Jeremiah reaches its climax on the cross.
In John 16:33 Jesus says “In this world you will have trouble but take heart I have overcome the world”
Pain and suffering and opposition and trouble incurred in the process of following God are revealed to be a certainty.
And this is certainly the case for Jeremiah who we heard complaining in our first reading this morning.
For Jeremiah the joy of following and prophesying the will of God was offset by great pain and suffering and lead to his social isolation. He berates God for misleading him and leading him down a blind alley, though caught up in the mystery of God he has no option but to carry on.
The knowledge that he has to go on preaching imminent judgement to a largely deaf audience is like a pain that cannot be dulled.
And in Jesus, the redemption of the whole world was achieved through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. So central is this to our belief system that we forget how scandalous this sounds.
To Muslims for example, part of their rejection of Jesus on the cross is their refusal to countenance the fact that God could suffer in any kind of way.
In modern society, pain and suffering and of course death are seen as entirely negative things to be stopped by any means and in a general sense that is true. The only place where attitude is modified is in sport where the adage “No pain no gain” has general consent.
We are speaking here of the pain directly incurred as a result of doing God’s will of course and probably the most emotive liturgical service in the Christian calendar is Good Friday – the clue is in the title – that we elevate the personal suffering of Jesus to the level of
Good in the sense that without the suffering the salvation and forgiveness that was
wouldn’t have been achieved without it because He was involved in the eternal spiritual war between good and evil.
We might not like it, but it is the fact of the matter.
But then Jesus says something much more challenging than that.
He speaks to us all directly through his conversation with Peter in the Bible;
For merely supposing that Jesus could or should be shielded from pain and death, Jesus calls Peter Satan. Can you imagine how hurt and confused Peter would have been to be told that?
The Christian way is a hard way, not free from opposition or far from trouble or being isolated or shunned because of what you believe and proclaim. This is normal and while we have been blessed in this country for a long time, those days perhaps may be returning.
And the killer blow comes when Jesus says that if anyone wants to follow Jesus he must take up his cross and follow him.
And it is Important to realise here that the cross was not a shorthand for generalised suffering as in “we all have our cross to bear” in 1st century Palestine. It had a very specific meaning. The cross was a punishment reserved for sedition, for opposition to the state, opposition to the worldly power structures of the day.
If we are to take up our cross it means not being afraid to confront injustice, ungodliness and corruption which undermines dehumanises and controls whether it is wielded by the state or non-governmental bodies, like the church for example…..
We are called to join in that spiritual struggle for right against wrong wherever that may take us. It may lead us to be ridiculed or sidelined, made fun of perhaps or worse, but Jesus commands us to go on regardless
Our loyalty, my loyalty, is first to God and his gospel as recorded in the Bible. His will and truth come first.
For anyone who does and preaches God’s will and runs up against sanction and retribution we are only feeling a fraction of what Jesus did and we are blessed in the doing.
The Christ event is primarily a clash of kingdoms – the kingdoms of this world versus the kingdom of God which met on a cross on a hillside outside Jerusalem.
On Good Friday it appeared that the worldly powers had won – but that supposed victory was turned around on Easter Sunday
Jesus commands us to embody and pursue the kingdom of God against all worldly systems.
When you do that, Jesus promises that you will provoke opposition often leading to pain, sorrow and death. It is natural that this will happen when we directly oppose the powers of our enemies, because as Paul reminded us in a many chapters on this subject we are in a spiritual war. And we need to be armed.
The Spiritual armour that comforts me most from Paul’s words this morning… is that we don’t go looking for trouble. As long as it has anything to do with you,(he says) live peaceably with all but we should at the same time be zealous, be fervent in spirit, rejoice in hope and be patient when trouble comes and most of all be constant in prayer.
In prayer we are joined to the Source, the Spirit that promised through Jesus that yes, you will have trouble in this world, but take heart and be strengthened by the fact that I have overcome the world.