Suffering

Suffering

Text: Revelation 2:8-11; Hebrews 12:1-6

**the sermon audio has me singing, but I’ve embedded Peterson’s versions in youtube videos in the manuscript below

We are looking at a series of letters written to early churches about two generations after the time of Jesus. These were spoken to John in a vision and written down. Today we are looking at the letter to the church in Smyrna. It was a harbor city in the Roman Empire known for its dedication to Rome and to the Roman mother goddess. It is one of only two of the churches in Revelation for which Jesus does not “have anything against them.” But the Christians in Smyrna were struggling with tribulation. They are suffering for their faith. Today I want to focus in on suffering and dig into the hope Jesus offers.

And I want to do that a little differently this morning. I want to sing two different songs for you, each dealing with suffering and with hope. This is not all that can be said about suffering, nor is it all scripture says about suffering. But I think it is a kind of hope that we don’t often rely on and one that I hope we can receive.

Both songs today are by Andrew Peterson, who wrote “Behold the Lamb of God” that we did here for a number of years. The first song I want to share is “Always Good.” It reminds me of our first scripture reading, from Corinthians. The one that says we have this treasure in earthen vessels. We are so finite and weak. There is so much in this world that can crack and chip away at us. In Corinthians, Paul talks about God’s power being shown in our suffering: though afflicted, we are not crushed; though perplexed, we are not despairing; though persecuted, we are not forsaken; though struck down, we are not destroyed. That’s what the Christians in Smyrna were facing and it’s what some of you have or will face to varying degrees. Whether persecution or cancer or physical or emotional losses of all kinds, God doesn’t promise us a pain-free life, but does promise His presence, His hope, His strength, and ultimately that death is not the final word. In the song “Always Good” Peterson reminds us that Jesus sees and knows our grief, that we don’t always understand what is going on, but that in and through it all, God is always good, always good. God does not cause our suffering, but God is at work in all things to bring about His purposes, which are compassionate and holy and good.

ALWAYS GOOD
Andrew Peterson © 2018 Jakedog Music
(Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

Do you remember how Mary was grieving
How you wept and she fell at your feet
If it’s true that you know what I’m feeling
Could it be that you’re weeping with me
Arise O Lord and save me, there’s nowhere else to go

You’re always good, always good
Well somehow this sorrow is shaping my heart like it should
And you’re always good always good

Well it’s so hard to know what you’re doin’
So why won’t you tell it all plain
But you said you’d come back on the 3rd day
And Peter missed it again and again
So maybe the answer surrounds us
But we don’t have eyes to see

That you’re always good, always good
This heartache is moving me closer than joy ever could
And you’re always good

My God my God be near me
There’s nowhere else to go
And Lord if you can hear me
Please help your child to know

That you’re always good, always good
As we try to believe what is not meant to be understood
Will you help us to trust your intentions for us are still good
‘Cause you laid down your life and you suffered like I never could

And you’re always good, always good
You’re always good, always good

I have had that song on repeat in my car for more than a year now. It encourages me when I don’t understand what is going on or even what God is doing. It, like the passage from 2 Corinthians, helps me to look for what God might be teaching me and what God might bring about, though like Peter I may miss it again and again. It is helpful to hear that refrain again and again, that God – the God I love and trust – is always good. God, help us to trust your intentions for us are still good.

That song and the passage in 2 Corinthians help us to look for God’s good purpose and meaning in the midst of suffering. But sometimes we don’t get to experience resolution or see the final result in this lifetime. There is war and sickness and death. And it can be so discouraging and hopeless to think that in the end death has the final word. But that is not the Christian hope. That is what Jesus spoke to the Christians in Smyrna, who were experiencing severe suffering and persecution. They were unlikely to find relief from that even if they did find meaning. And what Jesus held out was after the seeming last word: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10)

We want and need words of hope in the present. For some, hope in eternity is no hope at all. But for those who believe there is a good God holding all things in His hands, there is hope beyond death and it’s one that reaches back into this life. In the song “After the Last Tear Falls” Peterson sings through a litany of some of the hardest things we face in this life, many of which seem like they just have no resolution than death or the end of the world. And in this song’s refrain, he sings of love. I suppose you could hear this as a sappy appeal to “love, love, love” but I’d challenge you that the love that Peterson sings of is the same that Jesus holds out in Revelation, a love that the Song of Solomon says is “stronger than death.” Many waters cannot quench or drown it; it is God’s eternal love. It is love that was present all along, weeping and involved in the suffering of this present life. And in a phrase that is very Peterson-esque, he sings that one day, in the ocean of that love, the sufferings of this life will be “old tales” – distant stories now answered and covered and healed by the power and presence of God’s love. I’ve had this one on repeat for a long time, too. I hope it encourages you as it does me.

AFTER THE LAST TEAR FALLS
Andrew Peterson / Andrew David Osenga
© Universal Music Publishing Group,
Capitol Christian Music Group

After the last tear falls, after the last secret’s told
After the last bullet tears through flesh and bone
After the last child starves and the last girl walks the boulevard
After the last year that’s just too hard
There is love – love, love, love; there is love – love, love, love; there is love

After the last disgrace, after the last lie to save some face
After the last brutal jab from a poison tongue
After the last dirty politician, after the last meal down at the mission
After the last lonely night in prison
There is love – love, love, love; there is love – love, love, love; there is love

And in the end, the end is oceans and oceans of love and love again
We’ll see how the tears that have fallen
Were caught in the palms of the Giver of love and the Lover of all
And we’ll look back on these tears as old tales

‘Cause after the last plan fails, after the last siren wails
After the last young husband sails off to join the war
After the last, this marriage is over
After the last young girl’s innocence is stolen
After the last years of silence that won’t let a heart open
There is love – love, love, love; there is love

And in the end, the end is oceans and oceans of love and love again
We’ll see how the tears that have fallen
Were caught in the palms of the Giver of love and the Lover of all
And we’ll look back on these tears as old tales
‘Cause after the last tear falls there is love

I’ll say to you what I think Jesus was saying to the church at Smyrna: God sees what you are going through; God weeps with those who weep; God is always good and loves you more than you can know. Amen.

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