Sermon January 6 companioning each other in compassion and care
For the New Year I want to journey together through the second epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.
Fittingly, it opens with Paul’s classic teaching on God’s comfort in troubles. That teaching dovetails perfectly with the book review I just posted this week – Can You Just Sit With Me? By Natasha Smith. Her book deals with how to cope redemptively with grief in our lives. Grief is one of many “troubles” that afflict us. Here is the 2 Cor. 1:3-5 passage.
3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5 For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.”
In Natasha Smith’s new book Can You Just Sit with me? (IVP, 2023), she says:
“I realized to pretend grief doesn’t exist won’t heal or fix it. So, I learned to let it out in safe places with safe people.” (p.14) She writes to help others “understand grief and those who grieve, love the grieving well, and teach you how to sit with the grieving with practical tips.” (p.15) . . . She speaks of the need for “divine connections” (p.144) with those who can walk with you in your grief process and the healing path when “we are moving toward wholeness” [for] “God can make us whole and desires to do so.” (p.140). …. [But] Grieving is a journey. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. However, we don’t want to be destructive or harmful to ourselves or others on their journey.” Zig Zigler says, “It is how we respond to loss that matters. That response will largely determine the quality, the direction, and the impact of our lives.” (p.139).
Smith’s understanding of a believer’s companionship (with God and with others) is a theme throughout her book and directly related to how people who are “divine connections” become God’s resource of comfort to those who have deep troubles. So, let’s look more deeply at Paul’s teaching in 2 Cor. 1:3-5 to apply the wisdom of Scripture and Smith together.
Comfort in Trouble
God’s promise of presence and comfort is based firmly in God’s character. God is “the God of all comfort, (paraklesis)the Father of mercies and compassion, the One who is present with believers in all their troubles, and the One who brings a redemptive purpose out of their suffering. God does this through believers who minister the comfort they have received from God in their troubles to those who are also experiencing troubles.
Commentator Scott Haffemann says,
“The word translated trouble (thlipsis) in 2 Cor.1:4 can refer to distress or pain brought about either by outward circumstances (cf Rom.2:9, 5:3, 8:35, I Cor.7:28, 2 Cor 4:4,7:4-5, Phil.1:17) . . .or by mental or spiritual states of mind (cf.2 or.2:4, 7:4-5, Phil.1:17) while the ‘suffering’ of v.5 refers to misfortune, physical pain or death. Paul views his troubles of every kind as an expression of the same kind of sufferings Christ experienced under God’s hand. Likewise, the divine comfort Paul experiences also comes through Christ. . .Paul is greatly comforted by his confidence in sharing Christ’s resurrection. . .Paul is confident that the comfort that comes from being convinced of God’s ability and commitment to deliver his people, seen in Christ, and now experienced by Paul himself, can be passed on to others.” (Scott Haffemann, NIV Application Commentary, @nd Corinthians, Zondervan, 2000, p. 62).
So it is that believers, like Paul, as they participate in the dying and rising of Christ, can experience the same kind of comfort and deliverance from God that Christ himself experienced on earth; then they will be able to pass that comfort n to others. A story illustrates.
Tara Edelschick was raised in a home that was loving, loud, and fun, but an undercurrent of anxiety coursed through it all. The world was seen as a scary place. Tara said, “The message of my childhood was clear and insistent: Work, play, and love hard. Always stay in control because something scary is waiting to take you down. I heeded that message into adulthood.” She went to a great college, found the perfect job, and chose a wonderful husband. She thought to herself, “Weaker souls might need a god, but I needed no such crutch. I can orchestrate the perfect life. But that belief was obliterated when my husband, Scott, died from complications during a routine surgery. Ten days later, I delivered our first child, Sarah, stillborn.”
During the next year, Tara began a search for God. She visited psychics, read New Age thinkers, and attended meditation classes. Her forays into faith were attempts to make sense of what had happened to her and to control a world in which she had far less control than she thought she had. Then she started reading the Book of John with a friend. Tony was the only Christian she knew who didn’t try to explain away the loss of her husband and baby. He said that if she would just read the Bible, God would do the convincing. So, they read the Bible together over the phone on Saturday mornings. Tara writes, ‘I especially loved the story of (Jesus and) Lazarus. Unlike the Eastern philosophies that maintain that suffering is the result of our attachments, this story was about a man who was unashamedly attached. A man who behaved as though death was not natural. As though everything was broken, and that the same response was to grieve and weep. I loved that man.’
After months of reading the Bible, Tara had to admit what she had fought so long to resist: She was hungry for Jesus. For the Jesus who hung out with whores, who wept when his friend died, and who claimed to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life. She said, “All of my searching for something in which to place my faith … led me to God who offered me himself in the form of Jesus. I didn’t have to find him or explain him; I just had to say yes.” After that, Tara returned to school to study childhood bereavement. She married a wonderful man, and they had two beautiful sons. After getting married, she facilitated a support group for surviving parents whose spouse had died and taught a class at Harvard on bereavement. She often found herself the repository for stories of loss, told in lowered voices at parties and grocery stores. She says, I try to listen deeply as people share those stories, nodding in agreement with how awful it is. I bear their story and, in so doing, remind them that they are not alone. These days when I sit with the broken and mourning, I pray for God’s love to do what I cannot: to bind up the wounded places, leaving their scars to bear witness of the power of both loss and love. Tara Edelschick, “A Grief Transformed,” CT magazine (July/August 2014), pp. 95-96
New Hope Global Fellowship Reunion
Last Christmas week 2023 several members of New Hope Global Fellowship met for our first reunion since the church had to close in 2020 when Keith and I felt we should sell our house in Illinois and move to Florida to better care for Keith as his Alzheimer’s worsened. The dissolution of the church as a physical body of believers was a source of great grief and sorrow to all of us. God had made us “divine connections”, and we were like family to one another. It turns out in our reunion many of us who met together have had many “troubles” since we separated. But God had not left any of us and we were able to minister hope and comfort and encouragement to one another in ways that were greatly healing to our hearts. It was a direct application of 2 Cor.1:3-5 in our own community.
I believe this kind of support in community builds God’s comfort and sustaining presence in our lives. We see this in the Apostle Paul’s final stay in Rome. He approached Rome after a shipwreck and tumultuous few weeks. He knew that would be his final destination and place of his soon martyrdom for Christ. But word preceded his arrival and Acts 28:15 tells us that Christians from Rome came out to meet him. Ajith Fernando, Bible Commentator for the Acts NIV Application Commentary, notes:
Paul must have been drained as he was coming to the end of his trip. Luke points out that when Paul saw the Romans who had come to meet him on the way, “he thanked God and was encouraged.” (Acts 28:15). “Some Christians met him at the famous Forum of Appa, some 43 miles from Rome, others at the Three Taverns settlement, 33 miles from Rome. He finally met Christians in Rome, people whom he longed with such eagerness to see. Though they could have welcomed him when he arrived in Rome, they made that considerably long walk to meet him on the way. That kind gesture lifted his spirits.” (A. Fernando, NIV Application Commentary, Zondervan, 1998, pp.614,622.)
These kinds of communication efforts are part of how we give comfort to one another in the midst of their trouble. In fact, the role of encouragement means to give courage and strength and that is a key factor in providing comfort. Similarly, a text message greeted me on January 2nd when I awoke: “Happy New Year! Praying God heals and sustains you! You’re a gift and blessing to me (and the Wellspring Community)!” Dawn. We had discovered that each of us have had significant “troubles” this past year - I have been struggling with grief in losing Keith and my role as pastor due to my health issues for the past few months - so I appreciated her companioning me with compassion and care.
One final example – as a check on our own attitudes when we are companioning others in Jesus’s name:
Garret Keizer was asked by his minister to visit an elderly parishioner, Pete, in a nursing home. Garret finds out that Pete loves bananas, so he starts bringing some on each week’s visit. Garrett said:
‘I was standing with my Chiquita’s in line at the supermarket behind one of those people who seem to think they're at a bank instead of a store. She must have had three checkbooks. I shifted from one foot to the other, sighing, glancing at the clock. I wanted to catch Pete before supper. No doubt I was feeling the tiniest bit righteous because I was about the Lord's business on behalf of my old man, who needed his bananas and was looking forward to my company. And here was this loser buying an armful of trivial odds and ends and taking my precious time to screw around with her appallingly disorganized finances.
When I finally got through the line, I watched her walk to her vehicle feeling that same uncharitable impulse that makes us glance at the driver of a car we're passing just to “get a look at the jerk.” She got into the driver's seat of a van marked with the name of a local nursing home and filled to capacity with elderly men and women who had no doubt handed her their wish lists and checkbooks as soon as she'd cut the ignition.” (Garret Keizer, A Dresser of Sycamore Trees, (Viking, 1991), p. 155).
Ah me. May the Lord keep our minds and hearts pure as we bring His comfort to others! And may people encounter God’s comfort through us as we reach out to them in Jesus’ name.
For Christ’s sake. Amen.
Dr. Mary Lou Codman. Pastor New Hope Global Fellowship, 1/6/24