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Published by Paul Sandberg

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Published by: Paul Sandberg on Jun 07, 2011
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May 15, 2011
John 10:1-10 1 Peter 2:19-25 ³Unjust Suffering´Dr. Ted H. Sandberg³David Hartsough, who is white, was sitting in with a small group of civil-rights activists at asegregated lunch counter in Virginia in the early µsixties. They had been sitting there without gettingservice for close to two days, and being harassed almost without letup by an increasingly angry crowd.As neither the sitters nor the proprietors backed down, tension increased. Suddenly Davis was jerked back off his stool and spun around by a man who hissed at him, µYou got one minute to get out of here, nigger lover, or I¶m running this through your heart¶´ David, who had had his eyes closed,repeating the twenty-third Psalm up on his stool, stopped staring at the huge Bowie knife held at hischest and slowly looked back up into the man¶s face, to meet µthe worst look of hate I have ever seenin my life.¶ The thought that came to him was, µWell, at least I¶ve got a minute,¶ and he heard himself saying to the man, µWell, brother, you do what you feel you have to; and I¶m going to try to love youall the same.¶ For a few frozen seconds there seemed to be no reaction; then the hand on the knifestarted shaking. After a few more long seconds it dropped. The man turned and walked out of thelunchroom, surreptitiously wiping a tear from his cheek.´
 We read in 1
Peter, ³For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while sufferingunjustly.´ Most of us don¶t like to think about pain and suffering,
kind of pain and suffering, butcertainly not pain or suffering that we feel is unfair or unjust. We don¶t want to place ourselves ± for whatever reason ± in situations like David Hartsough voluntarily placed himself. We understand that pain is a part of life, something that must be endured when we¶re sick, for example, or when we¶ve been injured, but it¶s not something we seek. Even when the pain is the result of something we¶vedone, we don¶t like it.When we lived in North Dakota, the stairs into the basement weren¶t built properly. There was onlyabout 6' between the basement ceiling and the next to last bottom stair, so I had to duck downwhenever I went into the basement. I don¶t know how many times I forgot that and banged myforehead into the ceiling rafter. And naturally, I forgot when I was in a hurry and going as quicklydown the stairs as I could. A couple of times, I almost knocked myself out hitting the rafter. Needlessto say, I was less than thrilled when that happened. We rail against even our own actions that cause us pain, don¶t we, because we don¶t like to suffer.We complain about pain and suffering, and we¶ll do most anything to avoid it, both individually and asa society. Got a headache? Take this pill. Can¶t sleep? Take this drug. Having trouble at work?Have a drink. Losing weight too painful? Lipo-suction is the thing for you. The future too bleak?Try a little crack to help you forget. The news too dark. There¶s always something else on TV toentertain.I¶m not suggesting all these alternatives are wrong. There¶s no point in suffering needlessly. It¶smedically true, for example, that we heal faster following surgery when we¶re not in pain. Rather thancausing the surgery patient to become addicted to painkillers, when given properly, pain medicationsallow the patient¶s energy to go into healing rather than into dealing with the pain, and that promotes
1. Nagler, Michael N., Is There No Other Way? The Search for a Nonviolent Future, Berkeley HillsBooks, Berkeley, California, 2001, pp. 90-91
faster recovery. Further, pain can be good when it warns us not to walk on the ankle that we¶ve justtwisted because it could be broken. But pain can be a pain, too. I doubt if any of us like pain or suffering, and we¶ll do most anything to get rid of it ± and rightly so.However, sometimes we¶re called to suffer. When I planned this sermon, I borrowed the title from our text from 1 Peter and called it, ³Unjust Suffering.´ As I¶ve worked on the sermon more, I¶ve decidedthat a better title would be something like ³Christian Suffering, or ³Faith-based SufferingThere aretimes, Peter tells us, that we¶re called to suffer as Christ suffered, or at least there are times whenwe¶re to be prepared to suffer as Christ suffered, just as David Hartsough was prepared to suffer sittingat that lunch counter during the civil-rights protest.So often, the church likes to preach the ³Joy of the Lord,´ as we sometimes sing. We like to talk aboutwalking in the garden with Jesus, and being comforted by God¶s love. We like to preach the love of God and the peace that is ours when we know Jesus as our personal savior. And these things are true.Knowing Jesus Christ as Savior does bring us a peace that the world can not give. Following Jesusdoes give meaning to our lives, brings a hope and joy that money or success or worldly power can not bring.But it¶s also true, that because the teachings of Jesus Christ are dramatically different from what theworld teaches, there will be ± not can be, but will be ± there will be conflict between following JesusChrist and living in the world. Again, Peter writes, ³For to this you have been called, because Christalso suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.´ Peter isteaching us that as followers of Jesus Christ we¶re called to obey Christ¶s teachings, even if obeyingthose teachings means that we¶ll suffer.Those of you who opened the pew Bible and read along with me as I read the sermon passage, mayhave seen that this passage is specifically directed to slaves, to Christian slaves. ³Slaves, accept theauthority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those whoare harsh,´ verse 18 reads.Before we go on to see what this passage means for us today, it¶s worthwhile to make a comment uponslavery itself, and the New Testament¶s acceptance of slavery. The NT church wasn¶t concerned withchanging its society. It accepted the way things were at the time rather than fighting to change thingslike slavery. Just because institutions like slavery were accepted, however, shouldn¶t suggest to usthat slavery was right, or acceptable, or that Jesus himself didn¶t think that slavery was against God¶swill. The fact that slavery was accepted in the NT was used by slave owners in the South to justify theinstitution of slavery before the Civil War, and from a strict interpretation of the Bible, that may have been correct. Jesus accepted slavery. The NT church accepted slavery. There was no specificteaching against slavery. Therefore, primarily the southern church before the Civil War argued thatslavery was acceptable.Christians wouldn¶t make that same argument today about slavery. Most people today recognize theimmorality of slavery, and uphold the dignity and freedom of each individual. In fact, the NT churchalso recognized that all people are created equal by God. ³The church never addressed the institutionof slavery in society, for it was outside its province ± society in that day did not claim to berepresentative, and certainly not representative of Christians, concepts that arrived with theEnlightenment ± but it did address the situation in the church, where no social distinctions were to be
allowed, for all were brothers and sisters . . . however shocking that was to society at large.´
Whilethe NT does not speak against the institution of slavery, it does teach
are brothers and sisters inChrist. That¶s worth remembering when we move beyond slavery to address other social issues thatconfront society today.Coming back to our text, Peter specifically addresses slaves, but we don¶t have to go very far tounderstand that
Christians are slaves in and to Christ. Paul wrote to the Romans, ³Do you notknow that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom youobey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks beto God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slavesof righteousness.´
Therefore, as slaves of Christ, this teaching of 1 Peter is as much for us today as itwas for the house slaves to whom the letter was first written.What is it that Peter teaches again? That as followers of Christ, as slaves of Christ, we will suffer unjustly, suffer because we obey God¶s teachings. We¶ll suffer for following Christ¶s teachings. ³For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endurewhen you are beaten for doing wrong,´ Peter writes, ³what credit is that? But if you endure when youdo right and suffer for it, you have God¶s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christalso suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.´³Our culture gives us values that we absorb before we¶re old enough to think. Our culture teaches usto believe in power and control. It teaches us the value of being self-made and creating our owndestiny. It teaches us the importance of education and learning. It rewards people who can create newmarkets or new innovations with large amounts of money. Our culture teaches us that money can buyus a sexy lifestyle or conspicuous consumption. It lures us with the promise that enough money cansatisfy any conceivable lust and that we can have all of this if we would.´
 Peter reminds us that Jesus calls us in a whole other direction from the world. We shouldn¶t besurprised therefore that, first, following the ways of the world are unsatisfying in the long run, andsecond, the world doesn¶t appreciate it when we follow Jesus and not what it teaches us. When wefollow Jesus, our encounters with the world are likely to be painful or frustrating. When we practiceactive non-violence, when we turn the other check, the world may very well not know how to react tous, and may strike out at us. When we return good for evil, when we seek to love our enemy, theworld may think we¶re crazy, and may think it can simply overwhelm us, or ignore us, or by makingus suffer, make us go away.It¶s difficult to endure this suffering. It¶s difficult to stand out from the crowd, to speak out for peacein a time of war, to proclaim love in a time of hate. When all the country still cries out for revengeeven 10 years following the WTC destruction, it¶s frightening to work for peace, or nonviolence, to
2. Davids, Peter H, The First Epistle of Peter, The New International Commentary on the New Testament,William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Mich, 1990, pp. 105-106.3. Romans 6:16-18 (New Revised Standard Version)4. Rush, Charles, ³The Integrity of Enduring Character,´ The Clergy Journal, January 2002, VolumeLXXVIII, Number 3, p. 43.

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