Here is the sermon I preached on Sunday 9th June.
1 Kings 17.17-24; Psalm 30; Galatians 1.11-24; Luke 7.11-17
+ In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. Amen.
Last Sunday evening after Evensong, I was speaking with my parents back in the States, as I usually do at the weekend. They were just back from a conference/retreat celebrating the work of Frederick Beuchner, an American Presbyterian minister and writer and were gushing about how wonderful it was. One of the things they mentioned was a sermon Beuchner once gave on the stewardship of pain. The stewardship of pain. Not words you’d naturally put together.
But Beuchner has had a life filled with pain, and out of it has come some of his most beautiful writing; his words shimmer with grace. As soon as my parents and I finished our conversation, I Googled the sermon and listened to it, and it has stuck with me throughout the past week, weaving its way through the readings for today. I’ll tell you more about it in a minute.
June, as you all must be aware of by now, is Stewardship month here at OSP. You’ll be sick of hearing about it by the end of the month and ‘pain’ and ‘stewardship’ may well be two words you’ll readily put together by the time we eventually make it to the Feast of Peter and Paul!
Joking aside though, we have three readings which are infused with pain. In his letter to the Galatians, in order to establish his authority as an apostle, Paul is forced first to acknowledge his past and the part he played in the violence and persecution of the early Christian community. In the readings from Kings and Luke’s gospel, two widows lose their sons, and without a husband or son to support them, they are left on the brink of destitution as well as the abyss of grief. The multiple burdens of loss, displacement, anonymity and facelessness threaten to weigh them down.
And yet, God’s life-renewing love and compassion transform the situations, and all three readings move beyond the pain to end with professions of faith and exclamations of praise to God.
The people who observed these three events responded in similar ways, realising that God was at work in the unlikely context of their own situations. So the churches that heard about Paul glorified God that he was proclaiming the faith that he had tried to destroy; the woman recognised Elijah as a man of God; the people around Jesus recognised that a prophet had risen among them.
In the midst of absolute despair, the heart of God is revealed.
And this has to raise questions about our response. Where do we see signs of God at work in the familiarity of our lives? These stories challenge us to allow space for the possibility that God will act and will breathe new life into circumstances that for us and for others seem hopeless. They remind us that God delights in acting with unprovoked compassion, bringing life into situations locked into death, startling us with unlikely recipients of his mercy.
And so, Beuchner and the stewardship of pain. Beuchner urges us to be stewards of our pain, to not bury the sad times of our lives, but to keep in touch with the them. We are to do so for several reasons:
- Because, he says, that’s when we are most alive; that’s when we are somehow closest to being most vitally human beings.
- Those are the times when we come face to face with who in our depths we have it in us to be, the depths of pain and depths of joy, because both come from the same place.
- That is when we are most open to the pain of other people.
- Our times of pain are when we are aware of our own powerlessness and God’s power to be with us in it.
In this month of stewardship, we are being called to remember God’s overflowing generosity, the exuberance of God’s love, and to respond. What these stories do is remind us to look to the dark times of our lives to see that the greatest abundance is often found in the moments of the greatest despair. We recall that God was and is there beside us, and that we can and should expect to be touched by the God of compassion who is making all things new.
If we ignore or bury our pain, we risk burying the chance of new life. We risk burying the opportunity to respond, to become ourselves agents of God’s compassion. Because it is through our own pain, through being good stewards of it, through knowing suffering ourselves that we are able to share in God’s healing work. Our pain can be come a treasure, if we treasure it to the point that it can become compassion and healing, not just for ourselves but for other people. Through being in touch with our own need, we see and respond to the need of others.
Our readings today witness to the transformation of vulnerability, regret and despair into wonder, praise and thanksgiving. May their message call us not only to declare the glory of the Christ who is present with us in our deepest pain, but also move us to respond to his extravagant grace by sharing in his compassionate response to all who suffer.
If you would like to hear Beuchner’s sermon, here it is: