Sunday, 7 June 2015

Who invites someone to suffer and expects a 'Yes'?

I've heard it repeated twice now in the last few weeks. Both occasions were similar and both were celebrations of several young people publicly accepting Jesus . Each time the wording was unmistakably clear. It was an invitation to join in suffering. And, if I didn't know what the pastor meant, I'd probably make for the nearest exit...because I don't need an extra side dish of suffering...thank you very much. Truthfully and selfishly, suffering usually looks best on other people.

For those unfamiliar with Public Profession of Faith (as practiced in the Christian Reformed Church), this is a highly celebrated event in the lives of Christian believers where a person is asked several questions in front of a church regarding their Christian faith. And, if they agree and believe the statements of faith as presented, they answer in the affirmative: "I do". After which, the professing members are welcomed with these words, spoken by the minister presiding over the ceremony:

"I welcome you to full participation in the life of the church. I welcome you to its responsibilities, its joys, and its sufferings." Christian Reformed Church - Profession of Faith Form

"I welcome you to....its sufferings". I wonder how many people who hear those words think about the meaning of the invitation. What about people hearing those words for the first time? I mean - celebrating marriages, births and anniversaries are easy and natural. But suffering? Really? Why would I want to do that?

Here's why...and I can think of two answers, but there are probably more.

First - as crazy at it sounds, suffering draws people together. It unites. I think it probably draws more people together than a celebration (except maybe a royal wedding!). Recently, several people within my Christian family have either been diagnosed with cancer, lost dear loved ones to death, or have been involved in an accident. And amazingly, we are drawn to one another. In our shared tears, we become the hands and feet of Jesus and become his agents of peace and healing. In our shared humanity, we are called to cry with those who cry and laugh with those who laugh.

Second - this is where I put my theological glasses on, and is most likely what is meant by the pastor's welcome to the new members. When we suffer for the gospel; that is when we are verbally and/or physically attacked for our Christian faith, we suffer for Christ. The Bible says that when we have problems and trials this will help produce in us endurance. I like how The King James Version puts Romans 5:3 - "And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience." Paul wrote: “… indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom 8:17-18).

That's the best part is...if we share in Christ's suffering, we get to share in his glory! How cool is that?

It's easy to write this. I know. I just pray that when I get a side dish of suffering God will give me two things - the strength to 'walk the talk', and people to cry and laugh with. I've never worn a real crown!

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