Tuesday, June 16, 2020


Sunday, June 14, 2020
Sermon by The Rev. Dr. John A. Dalles
Shadyside Presbyterian Church
Psalm 100; Romans 5:1-8

Paul is speaking from his own life’s story.  Especially as he has learned and grown in the faith.  And from the careful observations and conclusions he made over a lifetime. In which he was no stranger to suffering.  As he says in his second letter to the Corinthians:
         “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches…”
(2 Corinthians 11:23-28)
         When Paul speaks of suffering – he knows where of he speaks.  Robert W. Barbour, a great theologian of the 19th century, says this: “Perhaps there are comforts and compensations that one who has not suffered knows nothing of – like the lamps that nobody sees till the tunnel comes.”  As we consider what Paul says in Romans, we will be highlighting those various “comforts and compensations”.
In this letter to the Romans, Paul relates that there are things to be gained through suffering.  Not that anyone longs for suffering, but as anyone who has come through many dangers, toils and snares will tell you, they have learned something in the process.  Like my friend Linda Hambleton, who was a juvenile onset diabetic.  And whose struggle with that led to a book called IF TODAY IS ALL I HAVE.  It is a way she made positive meaning out of suffering.  I am sure the writing of it was therapeutic for her.  And I am also sure that it has helped others dealing with those same challenges, and other challenges.  We learn through suffering.  We find that our entire society is learning through the suffering of George Floyd.  Lessons that we may not have known we need to learn.  Anyone who has come through many dangers, toils and snares will tell you, they have learned something in the process. They are older and wiser, more in touch with the realities of the human condition, and more alert to the wonders and beauty of creation, than they were before.  They have a keen sense that time itself is precious, and the people who share life’s journey, are dearer still.
Paul was not the first, nor the last, to say there can be value in suffering.  Viktor Frankl has said: “If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering.  Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as (is) death. Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.” (Viktor E. Frankl).  The Bible shows us that suffering – hard times – come to everyone.  Songwriters sing of it.  Amy Grant sings:
“Hard times come to everyone
Hard times come
Hard times come
And they'll come till we're done.”
And there’s the lament of the song by Pittsburgh’s own Stephen Collins Foster:
“'Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more.
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh! Hard times come again no more.”
Paul indicates that… It is how we deal with suffering that sets us apart.  Suffering quite possibly helps us to become wiser, and more compassionate.  It may also produce in us a desire to help others, to change society, and to bring about a better world.  As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Observes: “human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” 
Are you dealing with a season of suffering now?  Do you have unhappy residual memories of a season of suffering from your past?  Are you wondering the whys and wherefores of that season of suffering? Consider this:  A season of suffering may produce a lifetime of service.  A season of suffering, like a bleak winter, may bring about a season of new growth, and a bountiful harvest.  Suffering should not make us bitter people, it should make us better people: Better listeners.  Better advocates. Better comforters.
Paul says that suffering produces endurance –inner strength that is proven or shown over time. It is a factor of time.  It is also a factor of distance.  If you go in search of endurance records…they have to do with both.  For instance, the flight endurance record is the longest amount of time an aircraft of a particular category spent in flight, without landing.  That is a perfect way to think of endurance, even when our feet are on the ground.  We travel a great distance over a long period, without relief, or resolution.  We bear up against the odds. The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to do that. Even when things are at their worst.
Suffering produces endurance.  Endurance produces character –Integrity.  Solid and steady. It is like a patina on a fine old piece of furniture.  Character shows.  It is hard to create something brand new that has immediate character.  It takes time.  “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved,” says Helen Keller
Character produces hope.  Hope is one of Paul’s big three.  Remember he says:  Faith, hope, and love endure.  The hope that you have within you surpasses any trouble, trial, or tragedy. Sometimes, in ways that surprises others. Sometimes in ways that surprise even us.  In spite of the bald facts of the matter.  We hope, because god has set within our hearts, a vision of what will be.  Like a lighthouse sending forth its light in the storms and darkness, we steer our lives toward it. 
Someone will say, “That is all very well and good for us, here today.  But what about the people we have lost?  People who have gone from us?”  I have an answer from a friend in the faith.  Not someone I know, but someone whose thoughts are with us when we ask this question.  It is Benjamin Jowett, (1817-1893); Master of Baliol College, Oxford.  Here is what he says:
“We acknowledge that there are broken lives, piece of lives which began in this world, to be completed, as we believe, in another state of being.  And some of them have been like fragments of ancient art, which we prize not for their completeness, but for their quality which we can hardly see anywhere upon earth.  Of such lives, we must judge, no by what the person said, or wrote, or did in the short span of human existence, but what they were.  If they exercised some peculiar influence on society, and on friends, if they had some rare grace of humility, or simplicity, or resignation, or love of truth, or devotion, which was not to be met within other. God does not measure lives only by the amount of work which is accomplished in them.    There have been persons confined to a bed of sickness, blind, tormented with pain and want, who yet may be said to have led an almost perfect life.  Such persons afford examples to us of a work, whether finished or unwished, which at any moment is acceptable to God.   And we desire to learn of them, and to have an end like theirs, when the active work of life is over, and we sit patiently waiting for the will of God.”   (Quoted in A Diary of Readings, compiled by John Baillie, day 358)
Hope does not disappoint us.  God brings to fulfillment everything that God begins.  “Suffering is part of the divine idea,” says the noted preacher, Henry Ward Beecher. The centerpiece of the message of Jesus has to do with suffering. Without suffering, there would be no cross.  Without suffering there would be no tomb. Without suffering there would be no resurrection.   The entire journey from mortality to immortally is through suffering. You cannot make some sort of pious pole-vault over pain, trouble, illness, and death.  You have to walk the lonesome valley Jesus walked, before you can walk beside the still waters and in the green pastures.  It is by suffering that we become heirs of the grace of life.  Or as Victor Hugo says, “It is by suffering that human beings become angels.”
In Christ may it be so.  Amen.

This is an original sermon by The Rev. D. John A. Dalles, Interim Senior Minister and Head of Staff of Shadyside Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, PA .  It was delivered on the date indicated in the text. You are encouraged to read it and reflect upon it.  Please keep in mind that the sermon is Copyright © 2020 John A. Dalles.  Permission from the author is required to reproduce it in any fashion.

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