Worship Service for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship for this 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, landing on June 18, 2023!

The bulletin for this service can be found here. In it you will find the order and words for worship, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon. As always all the words that you need to know will be on your screen, and the sermon is included on this page after the video.

If you would like a fuller worship experience online, you are encouraged to light a candle in your space to represent our connection to God and each other by the light of Christ in our midst. The candle can be extinguished at the end of the service at the same time as the altar candles. If you’d like to participate in communion, you may do so by having something small to eat and drink prepared, and then consume them at the appropriate time in the service. Further instruction will be given then.

May God’s unending love and support bring you comfort and peace, now and forever!

God, by your Spirit may we learn to recognise your presence and be strengthened to heed your voice, that we may bear witness to your good news and love as your holy people, through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Those of you who have excellent memories or read the blog post on our church’s website from last week will know that we just passed the 6th anniversary of my dad’s stroke, the one that ultimately took his life.  I remember that day 6 years ago, and dreading that following Father’s Day as I knew it was going to be a tough one.  And here we are, 6 years later and while I’ve healed up quite a bit, it’s still kind of hard.  And to top it all off this year, my uncle, my dad’s older brother, the father of probably my closest cousins, went into the hospital last week from a fall and needed to get MRI’s and testing and even a biopsy to figure out what’s going on.  I haven’t heard of the results of all the testing yet, but my goodness did this bring back a lot of emotions.

I mean, this was like almost 6 years to the day when my dad went into the hospital and never came out.  This uncle of mine is probably the closest connection I still have with my dad too, as they were closest in age and been through the most together.  They even worked at the same place all the way up until retirement.  So I’m kind of scared of what will happen to him. I feel for my cousins and their families as I know the fear, I understand the stress, I have gone through the suffering as well.

Life just isn’t easy.

Not just around health matters, but in general life can be super hard.  We look around this planet that we live on and see all this horrible news.  We look in our country, cities, and communities and see how awful people can be to each other and the world around us.  We might even look at ourselves and our own lives and think like, “dang, this is what it is now?  This isn’t what I signed up for”.

And so we might grasp for things that promise a better life.  We might reach for objects, substances, or even people that may or may not be good for us, perhaps thinking that this isn’t just the last resort, but like the only resort that we have.  Or we might even think that none of this is worth it and would rather us not be here at all.

Well, this kind of got real bleak real fast.

But I don’t think that we have to feel bad for perhaps thinking this.  We don’t have to feel bad for being hurt and wanting the hurt to stop.  We shouldn’t feel bad for the suffering, because somehow Paul tells us in today’s second reading that we should even boast in this suffering, because suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope doesn’t disappoint.

Although we know this is what our bibles say, it doesn’t really make things better because honestly it doesn’t even make much sense.  Sure, hope might not disappoint, but suffering sure does.  And there is no way that I’ll willingly go into suffering just for the chance that might perhaps maybe produce something that could resemble non-disappointing hope.  So how can we even get to that point?

The thing is it’s not easy.  Of course it isn’t.  If it were we’d all be happy clappy hunky dory all the time.  But Paul’s words here aren’t about the formula for us to receive hope.  Rather, I see Paul explaining to us that suffering will eventually be alleviated and ultimately replaced by hope.  Because as we established, that suffering will happen whether we want it to or not.  So Paul is encouraging us that when it does, we can take heart because hope is on the way.  Essentially, we have hope in the coming hope. 

Still, that might not provide much comfort in the midst of the suffering.  That probably doesn’t take away the hurt of death, the worry of illness in our family and community, or the pain of living in a broken world.  That doesn’t automatically make life better.  But then, that is where that hope comes in.

See Paul doesn’t say that the suffering leads directly to hope, but there is a process.  There is endurance, when we bear the suffering and draw strength from God and our community.  There is character, which develops in us that while life is hard, we can trust that God is bigger than the curveballs and pitfalls and we needn’t lash out and point fingers in blame.  And then from that character and integrity comes hope, knowing that while things aren’t good and might not look like they will improve for a while, that we continue to be loved and cherished and supported by the body of Christ to which we all belong.

But I get it, that still isn’t helpful for the people who are living in the midst of war.  This doesn’t really comfort those who are facing threats that are out of their control.  This doesn’t take away the fear we might have of what we are currently going through or the inevitable suffering that we will see. 

What it does do though, is remind us that our lowest point isn’t our defining point.  Whatever pain or hurt we are going through isn’t indicative of who we are as God’s people.  Our suffering isn’t who we are forever.

Instead, we are called to live in community, to support and be supported by the body of Christ, and together with the whole church on earth proclaim that the kingdom has come near.

The kingdom isn’t near to just those who live easy, carefree lives.  It doesn’t come just for those who are highly disciplined and spiritual.  It doesn’t come to only those who ask for it or believe in it.  But it has come near to all: the sick, the healthy, the rich, the poor, the insiders, and the outsiders.  The kingdom has come near.

And in this truth we are able to endure, we are able to produce character, we are able to hold on to hope.  We can be moved to go out into the world, confident in our identity defined not by suffering but by grace, strengthened by not the bad in life but the good that emerges from it, and empowered to see each other as fellow sinners that are made to be saints, saved by the unending and steadfast love of God through Jesus Christ.

See, six years ago my life changed in ways I didn’t want when my dad died.  Now 6 years later I worry for my cousins that they will have a similar experience.  But at the same time, I see that through it all, through these difficult times in life, through the hurt and pain, through the stress and suffering, we continue to be welcome parts of God’s community, we continue to be loved and cherished by a benevolent God, we continue to be defined as God’s own people, full of meaning, purpose, and love.

Friends, I don’t know where any of us are in life.  I don’t know what might be holding you down and out of if there even is anything going on.   I don’t know who needs to hear these words of grace and hope.  But I do know that we will get to a point where our suffering will feel like it’s too much.  I know there will be questions arising of our lives and our identity.  I know that we will need to be reminded of who we are and whose we are, if not now, then somewhere down the line.  It happens to us all and it is inevitable. 

But in it all, in all that messiness and inevitable suffering, in all the unexpected and unbelievable hardship, in all the difficulties of life, I know that we’ll get to the point of hope, where death and crying will be more, where we will see how through it all we have never been alone, never been abandoned, and never been unloved.  For while we were still weak, while we were in our suffering, while we were still sinners, God’s love for us was proved by the grace and mercy of a crucified Christ, resurrected and eternal, living with us and in us and as one of us, and leading us into relationship and community, granting us all the hope of a love and peace that surpasses all understanding.

It might not be today, my friends.  It might not be tomorrow.  But God’s love for us will be more and more apparent through the blessings of each day, the joys that we can share with those around us, and the peace that can come through our faith, our knowledge, and our hope. 

So as we continue in this season after Pentecost, may we find endurance in pain, character in our faith, and hope even in our suffering.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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