I am a Lutheran Pastor offering reflections on what it means to be faithful in a changing world.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Discipleship, Suffering and the Good News

Following Christ does not remove us from the world. “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” (Mark 8:34) In this description, discipleship is not a picnic, sacrifice and suffering is involved. Picking up your cross does not save you, the Good News is that Jesus picked up His cross and saved us! In response to the grace and victory won for us on the cross, Christians are called to pick up their cross and follow so we may point others to the Cross of Christ. “...Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Why do Christians, good people, even children suffer? Jesus never said we would be removed from the world, in fact as the church, the body of Christ he gives us to the world and we are the earthly means through which the forgiving presence of Christ is present in the world. Followers of Jesus Christ, no matter the age are not immune to tragedy whether it is a tornado, cancer or violence. It is due to sin that we miss the mark and turn from God and seek to put our faith and trust in ourselves. We turn our backs often from the promises we have in Christ through the Holy Cross and are seduced by the finite and often false promises of our broken world. Many tragedies happen as a result of us putting ourselves first, but certainly not all. For example, whenever the market crashes and people suffer due to their own greed or directly and indirectly from the greed of others. That is a result of someone(s) putting themselves before God. Unfortunately innocent people suffer as a result and that is an injustice that the Scriptures speak much about and God seeks to make things right (read Mary’s Song of Praise in Luke 1:46-55). To say that all tragedies happen as a result of humanity’s absence from God is too simple. Generally speaking humanity’s absence from God (sin) is the reason for many tragedies in the world. We break the first commandment, we essentially break them all. So much of the heartache and tragedy in the world is due to our inability to be faithful to our God. If we don’t keep God at the center then it is easy to put our neighbor in harm’s way or literally kill him, or screw over our neighbor (steal) or literally screw our neighbor’s spouse (adultery) etc... However, many disciples have been martyred not because they were absent from God, but because they proclaimed who God in Jesus Christ is, and a broken humanity killed them, not God. A faithful person that dies from cancer didn’t die due to a lack of faith. God is ever present with that person and their family. God didn’t kill them, cancer did. A tornado takes the lives of many which included children in Oklahoma. God didn’t kill them, a tornado did. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) We are all sinners, we all deserve to die and will die (some sooner than others), but as Christians we believe that death does not have the final say over us. I don’t know why absurd tragedies happen in life, but I do know that Christ is with those who suffer. I know this because we worship a God who chose to suffer by taking up the cross. The church, the body of Christ is at the ground zero of every tragedy we see in this broken world. Whether it is 9/11, a tornado, hurricane, school shooting, tsunami, a hospital room, prison, shut in, food pantry, soup kitchen or homeless shelter Christ is present through His church. In the wake of tragic events I ask myself “why” as well and declare the tragedy to be absurd, mourning the loss of human life. Then God calls us as his church to remind the world that he is there in the midst of this darkness. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) The Good News is that ultimately tragedy doesn’t win Jesus Christ does! As people who are marked with the cross of Christ forever, we are a people of hope in a world in which suffering is a part of life.

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