Sunday, July 21, 2019

God’s Love And Suffering

Pentecost 6C 2019

Fr. Dale Matson

Today I would like to focus on three things. First, I would like to provide a short overview of Paul and his letter to the Colossians. Then I would like to discuss the love of God and finally, I would like to talk about part of today’s epistle reading from Colossians.
Paul was converted about AD 36. Colossians is considered one of Paul’s later letters written while he was imprisoned in Rome. That includes Philemon possibly written the same year in AD 62, Philippians and Ephesians. Paul was martyred in AD 68.
 Evelyn Underhill, one of the saints of the Anglican Church, wrote the following in her book, The Mystic Way A Psychological Study In Christian Origins, “There is a marked development in the Pauline epistles, which also throws light on their author’s growth in the new life. The series of letters from 1st Thessalonians to Philippians, from A.D. 50 to A.D. 60 clearly reflect the changes taking place in the mind which composed them: its steady process of transcendence, its movement on the Mystic Way.” (1913, p.180).
The late Anglican Bishop of Durham J.B. Lightfoot offered fascinating comments in his book Biblical Essays (1893) “1st and 2nd Thessalonians reveals Christ as Judge and penance. Romans, 1st and 2nd Corinthians and Galatians reveals Christ as “Savior-God”. Philippians, Philemon, Ephesians and Colossians portray Christ as the “Indwelling Word”. “We turn to the third group of Epistles and at once we notice a change of subject-matter. The metaphysical, mystical, contemplative aspects of the Gospel are brought out into special prominence.” (p.232).
The church has traditionally attributed all the epistles mentioned here, to Paul. Modern scholarship has cast doubt on the authorship of many of Paul’s letters but has not always considered the fact that Paul was not the same person thirty years after his conversion.
This Sunday marks the second set of readings from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Where Paul states both doctrinal truth and proper conduct for the church members. As I was listening to the Epistle reading last week, I was struck with how much God the Father participates in our salvation. “9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:9-14)  While Christ is the means of our Salvation, God the Father is the author of our salvation.
One of the first songs children learn is “Jesus Loves Me” but one of the first Bible verses they learn is from John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
We often talk about Christ revealing God the Father but in Matthew we hear “He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16 Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ 17 And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.’”
In First John we hear this, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:7-12)
People tend to think of God the Father as the Creator, God the Son as the Redeemer and God the Holy Spirit as the Sanctifier. But listen to what Paul stated about Christ in Colossians, “All things were created by Him, through Him and for Him.” It is truly the Trinity that is always at work together.
This week, we hear about Paul's Ministry to the Church. Which begins on a mysterious note.
“24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church”. Let me begin with an attempt to offer my understanding of what Paul is saying about suffering.
Over the years many great Bible commentators have struggled, attempting to deal with verse 24. What could possibly be lacking in Christ’s afflictions? Wasn’t His sacrifice sufficient?
Formerly in our rite one service the priest or bishop would say in Eucharistic Prayer I, “All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus
Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption; who made there, by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world…” I don’t think that Christ’s finished work could have been stated more emphatically than this.
       What Paul is saying is that his own sufferings must be completed. It is Paul’s suffering that is lacking and must be filled up. Suffering for the sake of the church is holy suffering and few are called to this level of suffering. St. Teresa of Calcutta once asked Christ to drink to the last drop from His cup of suffering. Following that, her spiritual desolation lasted more than 20 years. Her memoirs owned by the Church were published and describe her terrible sadness and isolation even from God.
       “According to tradition, St. Francis of Assisi prayed the following prayer:
‘O Lord Jesus Christ, may I, as far as it is possible, feel in my soul and in my body the suffering in which you, O gentle Jesus, sustained in your bitter passion.”
In response to his earnest prayer, the Lord appeared in the form of a seraph, or a six-winged angel (They are usually considered the highest order of angelic beings, immediately above the Cherubim, and their special duty is to love God) Then Jesus bestowed on St. Francis the wounds of his suffering. St. Francis had been marked with the love of Christ, the stigmata.”
       I believe we at St. James were blessed to know a saint of the Seraphic Order in Danny Fahrenbacher. After being diagnosed with colon cancer in 2009, he passed into the greater life nine years later in 2018. During that nine-year period, Danny experienced several painful infections and endured X-rays, cat scans, pet scans and several surgeries. His pain management had been ongoing and difficult. Danny was hospitalized 10 times the final year of his life.  In all of this Danny remained upbeat and hopeful. Danny was God’s reminder to all that some are called to a higher level of seraphic suffering, just as some are called to martyrdom. Our suffering helps us identify with the suffering of our Savior.
Each of us is called into union with our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. For all of us there will be suffering to one degree or another and in one form or another The suffering may be psychological, physical or spiritual. I have had struggles with depression and anxiety and my age related chronic physical illnesses have made me more compassionate less self-righteous and less judgmental.  My suffering is really co-suffering with Christ and His body the church. The suffering has driven me closer to Christ. Suffering is the refiner’s fire. Suffering moves us along the road to Sanctification. Christ is the only name we were given. He is the only remedy we seek and He is the only hope we have for eternal life where there will no longer be pain and suffering.
Finally, I want to conclude with Paul’s statement about “…the mystery hidden for the ages but now revealed to his saints.”  27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Now, the Gentiles have access to God. It is in them that Christ dwells. My prayer is that we may be in Him and He in us. Amen

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