SUFFERING IS EXPECTED
Today’s scripture reading from 1 Peter carries on with what we have been looking at the past few weeks. Remember that 1 Peter was letter written to five churches in Asia Minor that were going through times of persecution and suffering because of their faith in Jesus. These people were forced to leave their homes. They were exiles who moved to other regions in search of safety.
These people were suffering for their faith. Did they like it? Probably not. They didn’t like suffering and neither do we. We have been trained to think that no one should suffer and, as individuals, we prefer not to suffer in any way. We expect that our needs should be looked after. There should be lots of food in the grocery store when we do our weekly shopping. We should be able to live where we want and we should be able to afford a house of our own. We expect to live with safety and security. We expect quality health care and education. We expect an abundance of consumer items. We expect to have working cell phones with adequate phone plans. And, on the whole, we get these things. Suffering, at least in our society, is abnormal, something to be avoided.
And yet listen to what Peter writes to the churches of Asia Minor. Let’s begin with 1 Peter 4:12 (NIV) which says: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
Note what Peter writes. Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you. Peter tells them not to be surprised by their suffering. In fact, he doesn’t call it mere suffering. Peter calls it a fiery ordeal. This potentially is big time suffering. And Peter tells them not to be surprised by it as though it is somehow strange. It isn’t. In fact, he tells the people not to be surprised by it. That’s because suffering for people of faith is not the least bit abnormal. It’s just part of life so we’d better get used to it.
We may not like to think that way but, in our heart of hearts, we know that Peter is right. That’s because all of us have experienced suffering at some point in our lives. We lose our jobs. We get sick. A loved one dies. Relationships break down. We are betrayed by a friend. The dog runs away from home. These things – and dozens more – happen. I doubt that anyone here today has gone through life free from suffering. We may not like suffering but all of us know, at least to some degree, what it is.
But then Peter turns this whole thing around in 1 Peter 4:13-14 (NIV) when he writes: “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”
Peter says that we should not be surprised if we suffer for Jesus. It is simply part of being a Christ follower. No one said that following Jesus would be easy. We do not get to choose whether or not we suffer. But Peter does say that we get to choose something else. We get to choose how we respond.
How do we respond? We are called to rejoice in our suffering because in suffering, we mirror what happened to Jesus. Jesus, God’s son, a righteous and sinless man who did not deserve to suffer, willingly went to the cross where he died an excruciating death for us, to pay the price of our sins and open to us the gates of the kingdom through faith.
If we suffer for following Jesus, know that our suffering is not in vain. Rather rejoice because in our suffering we meet Jesus who suffered for us.
REJOICING IN SUFFERING
Peter tells us that suffering for Christ is to be expected. He also says that we are to rejoice in that suffering. Then in 1 Peter 5:6-11, he provides some sage advice about what that might look like. How do we rejoice in suffering? How do stay faithful when things don’t exactly go our way? How do we rejoice through the tough times? I want to share what Peter says in chapter 5 but before I do that, I want to provide some context as to why this is an important passage for us today.
I was reading these words this week in light of our shared reality. That reality is that eleven days from now, I cease to be your pastor. I retire and for the first time in almost nineteen years, you will be without a called minister here at Cottam United Church. And the reality is that it will probably take at least six months as a minimum to find a new minister to come here. While I think it is too strong to say that this will result in suffering, it will probably lead to some anxiety and concern.
That last time Cottam United Church began a search for a new minister was when Ken Baumann retired in 2002. It’s been over twenty years since this church had a Lead Minister Search Team in place. Think of where you were twenty years ago. Some of you who are now retired were at the height of your professional careers. Some of you were still in high school or even elementary school. And, of course, some of you were in diapers. But here we are twenty years later going through the process again. For some of you, I have been the only pastor you have known at this church. And many of you are wondering what’s going to happen next. How long will it take to find a new minister? What will that person be like? Will you like them? How old will they be? Will they come with a family? Will they be interested in getting involved with the community? How will they change what happens around here because change will inevitably happen? Whoever comes, it won’t be me and that’s a good thing because one of the reasons why I am retiring is because I think my work here is done and that you need someone else to take you to the next level of ministry, whatever that is.
From my personal perspective, I must confess that I have some anxiety about my future. I don’t know what the future holds. While I am retiring from full time ministry, I’m not quite ready to stop working. What I need is a change. I want to do something different. What will that be? Where will that be? What doors will God open up and will I have the courage to walk through them? I don’t know and with that unknown there comes uncertainty and with uncertainty comes some anxiety.
God has opened some interesting doors for me starting in June but I have no idea what God has in mind long term for me. But then again, God is not in the habit of sharing his long term plans for my life. I’d love to see far into the future but God usually just shows me about two steps ahead of where I am at any moment in time. But I’ve learned over the years that that is enough. God shows me what I need to know when I need to know it and I have learned to trust God for the rest.
That’s our shared reality. We are entering an anxious time in our lives. While I don’t think that really falls within the realm of suffering, I do think that what Peter has to say about how to rejoice in suffering, can provide some important guidance for us today. So let’s listen to Peter’s advice. 1 Peter 5:6-9 (NIV) says this:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
Peter begins by saying that, when faced with difficult times, times of suffering or anxiety, that the first thing we need to do is humble ourselves under God’s almighty hand that he may lift us up. Times of suffering and persecution, times of anxiety and concern are potential low points in our lives. But God can lift us out of those low places and set our feet upon higher ground. Understand that while we may not have the answers, there is someone who does. That someone loves us and only wants the very best for us. And so we can trust that God’s got this. God’s purpose will be fulfilled even if we can’t see it at the time. So cast your anxieties on him because he cares deeply about you and what happens to you. Humble yourself. You are not alone and you don’t have to figure this stuff out all by yourself. God is there for you and God will always be there.
Second, Peter says to be alert and of sober mind. That means to be aware of your surroundings and what is going on around you. Look for clues and be prepared to feel the hand of God through the Holy Spirit guiding you along your way and keeping you on God’s path. Why? Because the enemy, the devil, prowls around roaring like a lion. His plan is to disrupt the church, to cause division and dissension, to divide the people of God and interfere with the work of the church.
I want to point out one place where this often happens when a new minister comes to a church and the previous one is still in the area because I think that we need to be very clear about a few things after I retire. It has to do with weddings, funerals and other rites of passage in the lives of the people of the congregation.
I am retiring at because I no longer feel called to be your minister. God is calling me somewhere else to do something else even if I’m not completely sure what or where that is yet. And as long as you are between ministers and I am around, I am willing to help out with things like weddings and funerals. But when a new minister finally arrives, whenever that might be, I will stop doing those things. That’s because it is no longer my ministry. The church has called a new minister to that work and it is my ethical and moral responsibility to step aside and let them do it.
But here’s where the devil pokes around and uses these situations to divide the church. People will say, and rightly so, that they want Pastor Kim to do the funeral because Pastor Kim knows the person who has died and the new minister does not know them. To which my response will always be, “You may not know them yet but that is how you get to know your new minister.” The new minister establishes themselves into the life of the congregation by taking part in those important rituals and rites of passage. If I keep coming back and doing those sorts of things, then I am intentionally interfering with the ministry and the well-being of this congregation and I won’t do that. I will not play that devil’s game.
I cannot tell you how many church conflicts I have seen happen because previous ministers kept coming back and interfering in the life of their previous congregation. The bottom line is that, if they still felt called to minister within that church, then they should never have left in the first place. Their leaving was the clear signal that their ministry was over and both the previous minister and the congregation need to honour that and move on.
So please understand that when a new minister comes I would ask that you not even ask me to do weddings and funerals because my answer will be no. Can I do a reading? Yes. Can I offer a prayer? Absolutely. But be very clear that it is the new minister who must officiate. That doesn’t mean that I won’t ever do any funerals in the area. If the funeral home is looking for someone to do a funeral and calls me, I will help but I won’t do it for anyone associated with this congregation because that is no longer my calling. The only exception will be if the new minister is away and has asked to cover for them. That is an entirely different situation where I am assisting in the ministry of the church and not interfering with it.
So be alert and of sober mind and don’t get caught in the devil’s schemes when he attempts to divide the church and cause conflict. Don’t play that game. Resist and stand firm in your faith.
Finally, Peter ends with these words in 1 Peter 5:10-11 (NIV): “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
Peter reminds us that God is full of grace and God is holy. God has called us to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus our Lord. We may suffer for a while but, in the end, God will restore us and make us strong, firm and steadfast. In that too we can rejoice. It’s yet one more reminder that we can trust God in all things. No matter what kind of suffering we face. No matter what anxieties we may hold about the future. No matter what worries may darken our hearts, we can trust God.
I have a lot of confidence that things will work out just as God has planned if we have the courage, the strength and the patience to let things unfold according to God’s good timing.
I believe that the future is bright for Cottam United Church because God’s grace is upon you. You have good lay leadership. You are financially sound. You have a diverse congregation with good representation from various age groups. You have an excellent reputation in the community as a forward thinking church that is interested in making this village a better place to live. You have good connections with other service groups in town and with the business community. Unlike many churches, you are not stuck in rut. You are dynamic and not afraid to try new things and you have a willingness to do whatever needs to be done to fulfill God’s calling on you. These are all signs of God’s grace.
I was telling the Board at our last meeting on Wednesday night that I feel pretty good about retiring from Cottam United Church at this time. It’s always been my goal to leave a church better than we found it when we arrived. I thought we were doing well but then the pandemic hit us hard just like it did everyone else. A year and a half ago I didn’t know if the church was in better shape or not. There were struggles. There were different ideas of where the church was heading with its ministry. Attendance did not seem to be rebounding to pre-pandemic levels. Junior Church was struggling to find volunteers to lead the programme.
But in the last six months especially much of that has turned around. Are we completely out of the woods? No, we aren’t. But attendance is finally starting to come back even if it still isn’t what it could be. And we still need more volunteers for Junior Church. There is still work to be done but I have felt a peace settle over this congregation and a sense of unity and cooperation in terms of what we are about as the people of God. I am not worried about you because I believe in God’s promise that he will restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
And the amazing thing about God’s restoration is that, when God restores, God doesn’t just take you back to where you used to be. Restoration for God means making things better. God has a plan and a purpose for you as the people of God. And in his restoration, you will find new opportunities to be the people of God in this place.
Remember the words of Peter in 1 Peter 4:13 (NIV): “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” Don’t be anxious? Don’t be concerned about the unknown. Know that God’s got this so trust in him to lead you forward with hope into a new and bright future.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Your love, O God, shines through the heavens and touches the earth with beauty and grace. It warms the rich earth causing flowers to bloom and trees to bud. It warms the waters of he lakes and rivers. It reaches us in our deepest and darkest places calling us to be the people whom you created us to be. Come to us, Lord Jesus. Fill us with your immense and uplifting grace. Be our God, our Father, our Brother, Saviour and Friend.
On this day, as we remember those of your church who are persecuted for their faith. We also put before you the anxiety that comes with changing times and new situations. Remind us that Jesus will someday return in glroy at just the right time to bring peace and justice to the world, to shatter the chains of the Evil One and to lead the righteous into light. Jesus is our King. He is our God. He is the one who came to save us. It is he who sits at the right hand of the Father. We await his glorious return.
Speak to us God and convict us about our mission. Tell us what you would have us do and give us a holy purpose in life. Bless all those who seek to build your Kingdom on earth. Bless, especially, our Canadian soldiers who are serving overseas in various places. They put their lives on the line daily in order to bring peace to war torn lives. We are honoured to call them sons and daughters of this land.
Be with those who are sick at home or in hospital. We remember, especially, Mark, Carol and Brian. May your Healing Spirit abound and bring a refreshing breeze into her lives.
We lift up in prayer those who are in the midst of broken relationship and difficult family situations. In all things, enable us to give thanks and to carry on the midst of trying times to experience your loving and healing power. You are a great God to whom we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
May 21, 2023 / Easter 7
Psalm 68:1–10, 32–35; John 17:1–11; Acts 16:6–14; 1 Peter 4:12–14; 5:6–11
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: Arise, O God, and bless us;
ALL: You are our Protector.
ONE: Arise, O God, and bless us;
ALL: You are our Saviour.
ONE: Sing praises to God’s Holy Name.
ALL: Our joy exceeds the heavens.
We come to you, O God of Life, with thoughts and songs of praise. We come in praise of Jesus who was raised to heaven and sits at the your right hand. We come in awe of judgment, the judgment that we will all one day receive. We come in thanks that, in Jesus, we are judged innocent of all of our sins. We come, knowing that we are welcomed into your loving arms by the blood of the cross and power of the resurrection. Hear our prayers as we worship. Hear our songs as we praise. Hear our voices as we whisper you name.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We claim to be followers of Jesus, crucified and risen, our Judge and our Hope. We acknowledge his majesty and grace but still we turn aside from your word and way. Remind us of our neighbours. Remind us of those who are less fortunate than we are. Remind us of refugees who have nowhere to go. Remind us that we often focus too much upon our own needs and neglect to seek ways in which we can help our neighbour. Convict us and convince us of our part in your holy purpose.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
As many times as we stray from God’s way, there is a voice behind us calling us to return to the path of Christ. In our humanness we sin. In our faithfulness, we are redeemed by the blood of Jesus, cleansed and purified by his sacrifice. Thanks be to God for this great gift.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
When we consider all that you have done for us, when we look at the glory of your Creation, we realize that nothing that we could give would ever match your genero sity and grace. Accept our gifts, we pray and use our lives for you Holy Purpose.
Go into the world as followers of Jesus Christ to share his love and his way with all whom you meet. Hear the Good News. Share to Good News. Live the Gospel.