September 11, 2019
Psalm 2, Jeremiah 20:1-18, Luke 18:18-30
by Sam Ward
Clergy of St. Mark UMC (Knoxville, TN)
Smoky Mountain District
I remember reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship for the first time. I was in college, and up till that point, life has been pretty easy. Growing up in the church, and being actively involved in youth group and the newly formed praise team; being excited that our church had an active college-age group; I did all the things that are supposed to help us “stay Christian” while we enter adulthood.
In all that time, knowing the forgiveness, the mercy, the love of God, I never had come face-to-face with suffering for God. Being Christian was easy, it was normal (at least for me), but what do we do with faith when it becomes challenging?
I remember Bonhoeffer’s words:
The Psalmist was lamenting that he was despised and rejected of men, and that is an essential quality of the suffering of the cross. But this notion has ceased to be intelligible to a Christianity which can no longer see any difference between an ordinary human life and a life committed to Christ. The cross means sharing the suffering of Christ to the last and to the fullest. Only a man thus totally committed in discipleship can experience the meaning of the cross.
In today’s assigned Scripture readings we see just a few of the difficulties in truly being a committed disciple, beyond just being “Christian.” In the Luke passage, Jesus is confronted by a rich ruler, who has followed all the commandments, but can’t fathom Jesus command to “sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…” (Luke 18:22).
Jeremiah is conflicted in his calling, not wanting to preach, but compelled to, because if he keeps it in, “His message becomes a fire burning in my heart, shut up in my bones. I become tired of holding it in, and I cannot prevail” (Jeremiah 20:9). Jeremiah also lament’s that he was ever born, and had to carry such a burden, “why did I come out of the womb to see only struggle and sorrow, to end my life in shame?” (Jeremiah 20:18).
Even the psalmist begins with a lament over the response of people to the Lord, “why do the nations rebel and the peoples plot in vain?” (Psalm 2:1).
Rarely, do we want to talk about the difficulties in faith, especially when we are in positions of leadership, but from my experience, it was in sharing the difficult moments, that I have found the most growth.
During that time in college, I struggled with forgiving myself for things I had done, I struggled with reconciling a “Christian life” with a life of truly following Christ. I struggled understanding, perhaps for the first time, seeing pain and suffering in our world and the promises of the kingdom of heaven.
I found that as I leaned into my struggles rather than trying to avoid them, my faith in a God who can overcome all difficulties, grew stronger. It wasn’t always easy to lean into such struggles of faith. Even now as a Pastor, facing new and sometimes more challenging struggles, it would be easier to try to avoid them, but in doing so, I might miss an opportunity to grow deeper in what it means to “experience the meaning of the cross.”
It may seem counterintuitive, but where we struggle the most, we find the greatest impact in our ministry with others. Because, it is then, we know ministry doesn’t come from us, but from a God who loves us through it all. Let the love of God enfold us today, helping us through our struggles, and teaching us the meaning of the cross. Let the words of the psalmist be our prayer, may we: “serve the Lord with reverential awe and rejoice with trembling.” Amen.