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The Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 25, 2012
The Epistle: Hebrews 5:5-10
Sermon: "What a Pain!"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
"You are my Son,
today I have begotten you";
as he says also in another place,
"You are a priest forever,
according to the order of Melchizedek."
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
What a Pain!
Nothing perplexes the sensitive heart more than the problem of human suffering. The Anglican priest, poet and scholar, Studdert-Kennedy used to say that anyone who was undisturbed by the problem of pain was suffering from one of two things: either from a hardening of the heart, or a softening of the brain.
But, is there any purpose to pain? Our Epistle lesson this morning from Hebrews speaks to this. It speaks of Christ’s pain and suffering: “In the days of his flesh,” we read in verse 7, “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death…” We know that our Lord suffered, but because he suffered, there are some helpful and hopeful conclusions we can draw about life.
The first is that pain is an inevitable part of life. As we learn in verse seven, even Christ could not avoid pain in this life.
Charlie Brown, in a “Peanuts” cartoon, walks past Lucy after a baseball game, head down, totally dejected. “Another ball game lost! Good grief!” he moans. “I get tired of losing. Everything I do, I lose!” Lucy replies, “Look at it this way, Charlie Brown. We learn more from losing than we do from winning.” Charlie shouts at Lucy, as she flips over backwards, “That makes me the smartest person in the world.” Charlie Brown has a lot of company. It’s been estimated that at any given moment one out of every ten people is going through a crisis experience.
The Bible knows about pain, crises, suffering. There is Moses gazing upon a promised land that he will never enter. Hannah, downhearted, unable to eat, because of a child she is not able to bear; Elijah, fearful for his life, fleeing into the desert, alone and miserable; The Widow of Nain, in grief over the loss of her only son; The Gadarene Demoniac, so emotionally wrought he is mutilating himself; The woman with the issue of blood, twelve years of hemorrhaging, seeing doctor after doctor, without relief; Blind Bartimaeus; Mary and Martha at their brother’s tomb; and, of course, Jesus upon the cross.
The Bible knows about suffering. God knows suffering; all kinds of suffering; physical, emotional, spiritual. Many of us know suffering. We’ve known pain, disappointment, failure, grief. We can sympathize with the great former USC football coach John McKay. In the Pro’s, later, he was once in the midst of a long, losing season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A reporter asked McKay what he thought of his team’s execution on the field. He said, “I’m in favor of it.”
If even God’s son and all the saints could not avoid suffering, then pain is an inevitable part of life. That’s the first conclusion we can draw this morning. Here’s the second: Some pain is essential for our emotional and spiritual growth. As we read in verse eight; Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered. The fact is all sunshine makes a desert. Lucy was essentially right in her advice to Charlie Brown. Adversity can build character.
Consider the unique situation of birds in New Zealand. That island nation has more flightless birds than any other county on earth. Among these are the kiwi and the penguin. These birds had flying wings but lost them. They had no use for them. They had no natural predators on that beautiful island, and food was plentiful close to the ground. Since there was no reason to struggle to fly, they didn’t. Through neglect they lost their ability to fly.
A young man was pitched from a horse and temporarily paralyzed. Hospitalized, he slowly began to respond to the therapy. On the day he was to take his first step on his own, the therapists who helped him to stand stood aside. As he stretched out his foot, he crumpled to the floor in pain. They put the young man back on his feet. He tried again; again the agony of the fall, and the pain. Again and again the pattern continued. Every part of the experience was painful, both for the young man and the therapists who worked with him. But, at last, he walked. Then the day came when they let him walk out the hospital doors.
God wants us to walk and run and soar. He is about the business of soul making. He works through this stained, bent-out-of-shape world we live in. His will for us is to make us, as only he knows we can be. Because God wills for us fullness and growth and lasting good, uses both the joys and pains of our lives. He will not give up in bringing us to mature adulthood, to Christ likeness. Some pain is essential to growth in this life. That is the second conclusion we can draw this morning.
Here’s the third. Pain can prove to be beneficial. As we read in verse nine, Jesus was perfected in his suffering and became the pathway of salvation; the pathway of life. There are those who tell us that a painful and heart-wrenching experience turned out to be the most life-changing and perfecting event in their lives.
Julio Iglesias, the singer, was originally a professional soccer player in Madrid when a car crash ended his career and left him paralyzed for three years. A sympathetic nurse gave Iglesias a guitar to help pass the time in the hospital. Though he had no prior musical aspirations, Iglesias went on to become a huge success in the pop-music field. He is still recording today, though he still needs occasional therapy for his never fully recovered back and legs.
One painful event changed forever the fortune of the great Vaudeville performer, Al Jolson. Jolson was starring in a musical, Honeymoon Express, early on in his career, when he came down with a serious ingrown toenail on his left foot. It became badly infected. The pain was so intense that he was on the verge of dropping out of the show. One fateful night, while seeking relief from the excruciating pain, Jolson dropped to one knee halfway through the performance. There, he poured out his sentimental ballads with a great show of genuine emotion, fueled by the pain. It thrilled the house. He later worked the now refined technique into his famous “My Mammy” number. It became his trademark and helped make him a star on the new movie screen as well as the stage. As Jolson’s biographer wrote, “We have two choices when we hit adverse trials. They can break us or we can break them.” Not surprisingly, some of the greatest achievements of men and women in the past have been accomplished by those suffering the fires of personal trial.
The book, Pilgrim’s Progress, is still one of the greatest spiritual classics of the Christian life ever written. It has blessed and strengthened million of lives. It was not written, though, from a pleasant mountain retreat as we might suppose a good spiritual classic should be, but from the dingy English jail cell that had become home for John Bunyan. Florence Nightingale did not reorganize the hospitals of England from a top-flight, lushly decorated health management office. She managed to do it while bed-ridden herself. Louis Pasteur was semi-paralyzed, but still attacked others’ diseases. American historian, Francis Parkman, suffered so terribly that he could work no more than five minutes at a time. Yet he managed to turn out twenty classic volumes of history. These men and women broke their trial too, for the benefit of the world. Pain is inevitable in life. This is not to say that we should want pain, or deliberately seek to suffer. Neither does it mean that we will always know the why of our suffering in this life. Nor should we never seek to escape it, or alleviate it. Remember, even our Lord, in the Garden of Gethsemane, sought another way. It is to say, though, that some pain is essential. Pain can even be beneficial. It can, with faith, perfect us; make us better people; better for ourselves and for the world.
And here is good news this morning; whether our pain is mild or severe, Jesus can help. As we read in Hebrews, since Christ has been made perfect by his sufferings, he is the path of life for all who follow him. He knows what it is to suffer, thus he is equipped to aid us in our times of suffering. He is able to bring us through it.
Trust in his care. He will bear you through the disappointments, the fears, the frustrations, and the grief and pain. Look to him as your pathway to life, and you will find lasting meaning and purpose and joy for all your life.