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Your Pain Will Turn to Joy
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
May 22, 2016
Romans 5:1-5 John 16:12-24 Psalm 8
Our readings this morning are about suffering in this material world. They tell us the unhappy news—as if we didn’t know it already—that we will have suffering in this world. But the readings do not leave us with suffering. Paul tells us that God’s love, which has been poured into our hearts, will overcome suffering. And John tells us that our pain will turn into joy.
We feel pain in this world for two reasons: because of the way the world is constructed, and because of the way human beings are constructed. Let’s look at the first cause of pain in this world—the way the world is constructed.
There’s a good rap song by the Black Eyed Peas called “Where Is the Love?” In it there is a line that goes, “Most of us only care about money making.” I suggest that that line is the cause of our pain from the way the world is constructed. The world is constructed to make money. I think that our pain would be less if the world were made to help each other out. I think that our pain would be less if the world were made according to principles of Christian charity and service to our fellows. I have a story from my recent experience that illustrates this idea. It concerns two schools—one a Provincial school and one a Christian school. The way they responded to a need I had is, I think, indicative of their differing orientations. One was founded as a secular school, and, accordingly, money making went into its policies. The other was founded as a Christian school, and, accordingly, charity and service went into its policies.
So I found a journal article that I wanted for an article I am writing for the National Council of Churches. I saw that both schools had the article. The Provincial school was in town, while the Christian school was some distance out of town. So I started with the Provincial school.
I went on line and saw that the article I wanted was in electronic form. I tried to access the article, using my guest library card, but was denied access to the article. So I called the university library. No one answered the phone. I got the librarian’s voice mail. So I left a message saying that I was trying to access the online article and left my phone number. I didn’t really expect to be called back. Then I noticed that the library had a chat service I could use. So I typed in my question and received an answer right away, “No, you can’t access online journal articles with a guest card.” Then I asked, “So there’s no way for me to get the article?” And I received no further responses from the chat line. So I called the other school and they said that they had the article and I could access it. I got dressed and got ready to drive out of town to the other school. As I was getting ready, my phone rang. It was the librarian at the secular university. She said that I could come in to the university itself and use the computers there with my guest card and access the article. So the guy on the chat line was wrong about me having no way to get the article, if he or she even cared. Then I asked the librarian if I could photo-copy the article and take it home, so I could highlight parts I needed. She said that, no, only students who actually pay tuition could use the library photo-copy machines. However, I could save the article to a memory stick, or email it to myself and print it at home. By now I was fed up with this school and all the hoops I had to jump through just to get a journal article, if I even could manage all the technology required for it. I decided to try the other school, the Christian school.
What a difference! I called the main switchboard and got a real human being, not a recorded menu of numbers to push for different departments. I asked for the library, and was immediately connected. At the library, I got a real human being. I asked her if the library had the journal and the date I was looking for. She asked me to hold just a minute while she checked. Would you believe that this librarian walked to the library shelf, found the journal with the date I wanted, and physically held the journal in her hand! I asked her if the article I wanted was there, and she looked through the journal and found it, and told me she had it in her hand. She said she would hold the journal behind the desk for me until I arrived. When I got to the library, they had a photo-copy machine I could use to copy the article, and pay the librarian after I made my copies. I gladly copied my article. It cost $2.50. I gave the librarian a $5.00 bill and told her to keep the change for the cause. Would you believe that she seemed truly appreciative, as I was for all the help they gave me?
How would we account for the difference between these two schools? I think that the Provincial school was more involved with money. The journals they dealt with wanted to sell their magazines to the university and protect their copyrights. The university had to make the deal with the publishers to somewhat limit the way their journals were used. It was all about money, I think. The Christian school genuinely cared about me and my needs. The librarian went over and above, I think, to help me out. I attribute this to her Christian values. She cared, the root of the Latin word, caritas, from which we get charity. Her Christian charity moved her to be as helpful as she could be. One school was driven by money; the other by Christian caring.
What if the whole world were moved by Christian caring instead of money-making? What if everyone tried to help out each other with what we need, instead of seeing other people as dollar signs? What a different world it would be then. That is the way Swedenborg sees heaven. Heaven is populated by angels, that is, good people who have made the transition to the next life. Angels do their tasks out of a love for what they are doing and with an intent of service. It is a joy for angels to fulfil their functions. And it is a joy for them to serve others.
The world could be that way, but it isn’t. When we confront a system that has making money foremost in its motivation, then our needs are secondary. Sure, our needs will be met if the world can make money that way. But in such a world, we are not cared for, personally. We are not loved. Hence, the pain we find in this world.
The other cause of pain in this world derives from who we are as people. There is a saying I hear at AA meetings often, “I want what I want when I want it.” Isn’t that true? We want our own way. And when we can’t get our own way, or get the things we want, or get them when we want them, then we are grieved and feel pain in this world. It sounds kind of childish when I put it that way, but isn’t it true?
Furthermore, often we want things that aren’t good for us. For instance, when we want to be in charge, and make other people do what we want them to do, we will be frustrated if others don’t cooperate. Certainly, if we are in a position of power—maybe at work, or even as a parent—we need to establish order. But we also need to establish harmony. We need to consider the common good and we need to provide for it in a way that honors each person we have authority over. Even the Prime Minister is a servant of the people. Teaching us to serve one another, even Jesus said, “The Son of Man also came not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). And so with other wants that may not be good for us, like craving only luxury goods such as expensive clothes and cars, caring only for sensual gratification, overindulging in harmful things like too much alcohol or tobacco, in short—self-will run riot.
That is the other side to pain we feel from human nature. We have to get along with other people. When I was younger, I was a fierce individualist. I did my own thing, like we were taught to do in the ‘60’s. I remember a friend of mine once asking me if I was content to be alone with myself. I said that, yes, I was content to be alone. She said, “That’s good, then you are at peace with yourself.” She wasn’t ready for my answer. I said, “Yes, I’m at peace with myself. It’s just the rest of the world I have trouble with.” That made her a little nervous. When one human being who wants their own way has to contend with other humans who want their own way, there will be friction, conflict, and pain. That is what makes relationships so difficult. Two individuals must become one and act together in harmony. That can only happen when each person cares about the needs and joys of the other person.
That is what the librarian at the Christian school did. She cared and she served. When we care as much for others as we do for ourselves, and especially when we want what is good out of a love for God, then we will feel joy. That is the ultimate result of spiritual growth. When we want what is good for others, when we are filled with God’s Holy Spirit, we will know the promised joy. Then Jesus will come again—this time into our hearts, not into the material world. Then our pain will turn to joy.
Lord, you have told us that in this world we will have pain, and we will know persecution. You have also said that You have overcome the world. Lord, we ask that You be with us in our pain, and in our difficult moments. We know pain in many ways, through loss, through frustration, through disappointment. The world is not constructed to reward the good. Yes, bad things happen to good people. Yet in all this pain, You are and will be with us. You give us the promise that our pain will turn to joy. For pain and sorrow are not the end of the story. There is the promised joy that comes with patience and with spiritual growth. We trust that in You no truly bad thing can happen to us. Though we must bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, at times, in You everything that happens to us conduces to our spiritual wellbeing. Thanks be to You. In You do we put our trust.
And Lord, we pray that you bring peace to this troubled world. May those who harbor ill will for their neighbors learn to understand and see the fellow humanity that they share. May those who strive against each other see that they are like in their wishes and in what they want for their land and nation. And may warring factions find their way to peace.
Lord, we ask for you to heal those who are sick. As you worked miracles of healing when you were on earth, how much more can you work healing miracles now that you have risen and have all authority in heaven and on earth. Grant all who are in need your healing love and power.