God Ran With Us

banksey hope

God ran with us.

In South Sudan there is a 63-year-old woman named Bruna. She is a catechist, or a teacher, in her church. Bruna was forced to leave her town because the government of Sudan supports terrorists who go through towns pillaging and plundering and burning down anything that didn’t fit. First on the basis of religion, then on the basis of skin color.

Since the South gained independence from the north, she has returned home from where she lived under a tarp for a year as a refugee and she tells what led her there. She had been at home in her mud-walled hut, gathering with other Catholics to pray. Then armed men came in. And they had to run or die. In her own words:

“We prayed the rosary as we ran from here. We prayed for bullets to miss. God ran with us…” [1]

God ran with us.

God works through the suffering we endure. [2]

There is a question that resides deep within each person, one that was abruptly dislodged and moved to the surface this week. What is our hope? Or better yet, what moves us forward when stuck in a time of trial?

This week a tornado ravaged the city of Moore, Oklahoma, killing 24, 9 of them children. A 4th grade class from St. Louis Park went on a field trip where two of their children, Mohamed and Haysem, were caught in a mudslide and died. Two others were seriously injured.

And yet this week was no exception. In this last year alone we have lived through the shootings in Aurora, Colorado. And in Newtown. And the Boston Marathon Bombing. And a Plant explosion in West, Texas. Over 300 soldiers died in Afghanistan last year, and more than that died from suicide.

But maybe the time of trial, the heartache, is closer to the chest. A miscarriage in your family. The terminal diagnosis of cancer for your friend. The struggles of your child. Or the death of someone that just keeps hitting you like a ton of bricks landing on your chest.

For me this week, it is the death of a friend of mine. Her name was Irene. She was in her early 40s. She leaves behind a husband and 4 teenage boys. Her heart just failed. Our hearts just break.

What is our hope? What moves us forward when stuck in a time of trial?

This year at the Northwestern MN Synod Youth Gatherings, which my very talented colleague Kristina Johnson organized, was a speaker and pastor named Mike Carlson. He told this parable.

There was a man who was walking along one day and he fell into a hole, a deep hole. And he couldn’t get himself out of it. And one friend came by, looked into the hole and said, “what did you do that for; you’re in a hole? That was dumb” And the man in the hole said, “yeah, I see that, that’s not really helpful.”

Then a second friend came by and looked in the hole and said “you’re in a hole!” And the man in the hole said, yeah, I see that.” And his friend said, “well, I’m sure you’ll get out of it someday.” And kept walking by.

And finally a third friend came by and looked in the hole and said, “you’re in a hole!” And the man in the hole said, “yeah, I see that.” But the third friend jumped into the hole with him and said, “I’m in the hole now too!”

One friend looks back, one looks forward, and one jumps in the hole. I think this is a parable of hope.

The first hope is that such times never happen in the first place.

This hope is based on our actions, and so we do our best to wear our seat belts and brush our teeth and “make good choices.” Our actions do have consequences. Because we live in world where suffering is possible, we live in a way, as far as we are able, to avoid times of trial.

But when times of trial actually happen, this hope doesn’t help. It’s a hope that lives in the past, in nostalgia, in the “good ol’ days.” So when times of trial come, this hope becomes a word of blame.

But we forget that times of trial are part and parcel of our lives and often beyond our control. Jesus taught us to pray that we be saved from times of trial, and delivered from evil. If Jesus teaches us to pray in such a way, it’s because times of trial are real, and they exist for us.

In times of trial, we cannot look backwards for our hope.

I’m not convinced that we can look completely forward either.

The second hope is to focus on a time after the trial is over, to ignore or gloss over what is happening at present for a future that does not yet exist. It is the hope that something better is out there. This hope seeks to be taken up out of the mess, rescued, and delivered.

Now, to be fair, sometimes all we can do is look forward. To life on the other side of death. Or freedom on the other side of an abusive relationship. Or health on the other side surgery.

But we cannot and should not ignore our present reality, or the present realities of others. This hope becomes a false encouragement.

Let’s remember that Jesus does not promise we will avoid times of trial; Jesus does not promise that life will be easy. We look to Jesus and see that he did not avoid times of trial, he did not avoid suffering, but Jesus went the way of suffering, he went the way of the cross. And I’m convinced he went the way of the cross to find us there.

So we are lead to our last or lasting hope: that God in Jesus, by the Spirit is with us in our times of trial.

I keep returning to Bruna’s words: “God ran with us.” That is our hope, that God works through the suffering we endure.

We know the first and second hope all too well. The Apostle Paul brings us through them in his letter to the Romans.

He writes, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We know that the cross is God’s “no” to our ability to save ourselves with our good choices and good behaviors. No one can boast.

While we were still sinners, Christ and Christ alone made us right with God, and nothing…nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

We are forgiven. We stand in forgiveness. We can find peace in knowing that our past and our future are grounded in God. God has made us right, forgiven our sins, we have grace, and we will share in God’s glory. Heaven awaits us.

But Paul doesn’t end there.

Paul doesn’t let us stay in the past or look to the future. That’s not what hope is for. And while the knowledge that Jesus forgives us and makes us new is good news, it isn’t just some fairy-tale ending. [3]

Paul points us to hope for today. Paul insists that we boast, gloat, have swagger, in our sufferings.

And that

is not

what we expect.

The way of our culture is to abandon suffering.

We are want to avoid suffering.

We certainly look forward to the end of suffering. [4]

Yet Paul insists that because of faith we boast in our suffering?

Now, it’s not because suffering is some twisted sense of pleasure, or some strange badge of honor. It’s because suffering can lead us to hope.

Suffering leads to endurance.

And endurance to character.

And character to hope.

And hope does not disappoint.

Our hope is here and now, that God in Jesus is with us. Our hope is here and now, that we have a God, in Jesus, who has jumped into our lives, into the good, the bad, and the ugly, to work through us. Our hope is here and now, that God, in Jesus, acts even in our suffering to make good out of evil, creation out of destruction, life out of death.

God does not cause suffering, but God shows up in it. And suffering does not have the last word. In Jesus, God took on suffering, first to find us in our own suffering, and then to bring us through it. God is faithful.

And God

runs

with us.

Amen.

1 Paul Jeffrey, God Ran with Us, Christian Century, May 29, 2013, page 13.

2 David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, for May 26, 2013.

3 Mary Hinkle Shore, Workingpreacher.org, Commentary on Romans 5 for May 26, 2013.

4 “The suffering verbs put to sleep in the night” — Josh Ritter, Thin Blue Flame.

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