The readings on which this sermon is based are found at: http://www.users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r048.htm
s049e02 Sunday 16
"I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us." Rom 8.18
I often think that this is very easy to say. St Paul was never married - so he could never have lost a child. No promise of future happiness will ever assuage such a suffering.
St Paul was in the upper classes, educated by the best of teachers and a Roman citizen by birth. He had all the universally recognised privileges. He never left the Roman Empire, so he was never a refugee in a foreign land. Even though he was a tent maker, he obviously had the time and the wherewithal to travel, and what exciting adventures befell him! Perhaps he also had "the gift of the gab" that he could inspire others to contribute to his living expenses to enable him to journey and preach as he did. He was well aware of the privileges of his heritage and upbringing and had no hesitation using them to extricate himself from sticky situations in which he got himself. Indeed of course, at the end of his ministry, he used his heritage to get him to Rome to be able to preach the good news in the centre of the then known world.
Oh! to have the resources like Steve Fossett to be able to attempt to circumnavigate the world in a balloon. Certainly St Paul had trials to endure, but Steve Fossett shows us just "living on the edges" has it's thrill, and in the end one can only survive or not. St Paul lists all the things that he endured to the Corinthians (II ch11.23-27) but people do take on things like this and quite willingly for things they believe in. Look at some of the "Green Peace" or "G8" activists. I am not suggesting we have to agree with what they do, but they certainly don't count the cost of the hardships they endure - and for the prospect of a better society. We may consider them to be idealistic and misguided, but they are certainly not doing it for themselves.
I wonder if St Paul would be able to say the same about suffering if the suffering he endured was because he worked in some mundane repetitive occupation, or was unemployed, scratching for a living to try to provide for himself and his family? St Paul travelled wherever he liked because he was able and knew he could obtain the protection of the State wherever he went. The refugees who come to our shores are fleeing a life with no prospects, no freedom and no guarantee that they will not be returned to the existence they fled. Do we say to them that they should go back where they were from and await a future blessedness?
I would counsel against using this verse of scripture when speaking to anyone in the depths of despair, for it surely will tell the person you are speaking to that you have no comprehension whatsoever of the pain they are enduring.
How often children are encouraged to have patience, when the reality is that when one is in pain, patience is cold comfort at best?
I confess, with considerable sadness, I have no panacea for pain. If I had a reliable remedy I would be a millionaire, a million times over.
Some suffering is self inflicted and I guess most of us accept that - and grin and bear it. The suffering which I guess most of us feel most keenly, is when we've inadvertently hurt someone else and we cannot take it back or reverse the hurt we have caused. Certainly I find these incidents are the ones which come back to me again and again. Other suffering comes when we loose someone we love and however this happens - through death, through separation, divorce or increasing estrangement - inevitably pain is caused. Some pain is a gift. It tells us something is wrong. It may alert us to the fact that our relationships are impaired.
St Paul writes about the bondage to decay that afflicts creation, and it is not difficult to see decay around us. There are wars and rumours of terrorists. There are clearly people who are prepared to go to any lengths to get their way. If mediation means giving an inch, they do not want it. It is difficult to determine how justified any of this is, but for me, I really don't want to know. So much of life is a competition, the survival of the fittest. Yet the survival of the fittest is derived from Darwin's theory of evolution. It is that the strongest survive and the weaker are vanquished. Yet while this is true of the animal kingdom, the reality for humanity is that any current conflict is highly unlikely to be confined to a particular region. The Cold War only produced the MAD doctrine - mutually assured destruction. No one ever pretended that it would not just be the combatants who were destroyed. The conflict in the Middle East affects the citizens from the United States to Afghanistan. If actual war broke out where would it end? The past conflicts in the former Yugoslavia were so worrying because the "superpowers" seemed to back different sides. World War one was precipitated by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in Yugoslavia in 1914.
We humans have been given intelligence and we know that mutually assured destruction is insane. There is no survival of the fittest, for there will be no survival of anything or for anyone. Indeed the difficulty with war as it has evolved is that the weapons are so powerful and instantaneous, no one would actually be able to control what was happening, it would occur so quickly.
So we cannot use St Paul to suggest that any future blessed state will be achieved by taking up arms.
But of course this is on the world stage. We as individuals are only little cogs - some may reason it does not matter if we retain our petty animosities. It is often a lot easier to love and support the starving people in a less developed country, than it is to love those with whom we differ within our community - I know this in my own life. Yet if we cannot get on with our neighbours we really can't point the finger at any other area of the world.
I was interested to hear a lay diocesan official say recently that she found working in a team very hard, yet exhilarating, and she wondered about clergy who preach about loving their neighbours to their congregations - yet would never consider working in a team ministry - and I suspect that this has more than an element of truth in it.
I suspect that we will not achieve peace hiding behind the four walls of our houses, hoping no nasty persons will come our way. We may end up continuously making our fences higher, the walls of our houses thicker - and this doesn't sound like peace to me.
No, peace will only come as a result of a just and equitable distribution of resources - even though this means, in all likelihood, some of our own comfortable adequacy might be diminished.
Such a peace requires effort on all our parts for there are still inequities which need to be redressed. We are made for each other. Couples want to share the love they have for each other with society and I find it nothing less than miraculous that they continue to look to the Church to bless their relationship. Parents want to share the joy of the birth of a child with society and again it is a miracle that they still come to Church for God's blessing for their child.
I don't know if the glory of peace is too much to hope for, but I wonder if anything less is actually worth hoping for. Certainly nothing less than peace for all is worth dying for.
St Paul tells us that we do not need to fear. Would it not be wonderful if this were actually true? It is said that Australians have feared every wave of immigration that has ever come to this country. Yet the reality is that the only ones who had real cause for fear were the original inhabitants of this land, 200 years ago. By and large those who have come since have worked and prospered. Indeed as that classic story by Nino Culotta (1957) lampooning Australian society: "They're a Weird Mob" delightfully caricatured, the immigrant often put the Australian to shame through their willingness to work hard. No "She'll be right, mate" for them.
The reality is that we have precious little to fear. There are, of course, streets I wouldn't walk down after dark. We still enjoy a measure of security and affluence, the envy of many people. Even those from the eastern states come to appreciate the lifestyle of sleepy old Adelaide in time.
The only panacea for suffering is to be with someone, and this means for us a preparedness to be with others. Much can be overcome with another, little can be overcome alone.
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