Readings: Acts 15:12-21; James 1:1-4, 12-18; Matthew 13:54-58
Family and Friends of Salem Lutheran Church,
We have begun another school year. Children, youth, and some adults are back to school. They are studying. What they are studying depends on their courses. One course that should be taken by every Christian is: “Trouble.” That’s why I have named my sermon theme: “Trouble: a Required Course.” The Bible says that in this world we will have troubles and temptations. Our sermon, this morning, is a course, dealing with troubles in our lives.
Our text is James 1: 2-4, 12, where James, the brother of our Lord and the leader of the early church at Jerusalem, writes: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything….Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
After James opens his letter with two verses of introduction, he immediately begins to offer insight and instruction on how we as Christian are to handle trouble, adversity, and temptations. Notice that James does not say, “If trouble comes,” but “whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Whether we are Christian or not, we will face troubles. Victor Frankl, a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, wrote one of my favorite books about his experience; it’s called: Man’s Search for Meaning. Have any of you read it? (Show of hands.) In that book (as some of you know) Frankl shares, “Everything can be taken from a man [person] but one thing; the last of all human freedoms, the freedom to choose. Every person can choose how they will face the troubles of life. We have the power to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
So, the first point that I want to make, this morning, is that in this life we must face the fact of trouble. In our Bibles we see that many of God’s servants – from Noah to Moses, to Amos, to Jeremiah, to Daniel, and even our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ – experienced troubles and temptations in their life times. Zig Ziglar tells the story of a certain general who found himself completely surrounded by enemy troops. He was heard to say to his soldiers: “Men, for the first time in the history of this military campaign, we are in position to attack the enemy in all directions.” In other words they were surrounded by trouble. God’s Word and our Christian faith instructs us how to triumph over our troubles.
My second point is that troubles are part of our growing up and maturing. St. Paul explains that ‘growing up and maturing’ leads to perseverance. Maybe, we are more likely to fly off the handle when we are younger. As we get older, we hopefully develop a bit more patience. It’s like a child acquiring the ability to crawl, then getting up and falling down and getting up again, before learning to walk. God never promises we can avoid all trouble. Instead, we are promised God’s presence and help in becoming stronger, because of facing our troubles.
Thirdly, God promises hope for the journey through troubles. Hope is so important to keep going when we are facing troubles. Victor Frankl says it was the hope of some prisoners that gave them perseverance to survive their concentration camp struggles. Those without hope died. The Christian journey is hope in the midst of the struggles – and perseverance and strength resulting from that hope. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “Muscles never develop and grow unless they push against a great force that will force the muscles to grow and become stronger.” James in our text gives the incentive of hope for our eternal victory: “Blessed is the man (person) who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
Fourth, survival of our troubles is not only due to perseverance and hope, but to Christ’s presence with us. In Genoa, Italy, after World War II, an artist was commissioned to build an eight-ton statue of Jesus Christ. Unlike other statues of Christ throughout the world, this one was not put on a high hill overlooking the city. Instead, it was lowered into the depths of the bay where the battles had taken place. It was lowered into the depths, where many sunken ships laid silent and where men had given their lives in battle. They called the statue, “The Christ of the Deep.” It’s a reminder that Jesus reached down to us with His love on the cross of Calvary and promises to be with us in love during our struggles and death, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Our fifth and final lesson in this message, “Trouble, a Required Course,” is that troubles often lead us to turn to God for strength and guidance. I couldn’t remember where I had placed my folder from the last time that I preached here. I searched and search to no avail. Finally, I prayed for guidance. During my morning prayer, God put into my head a place I had not looked: the box of hymnals for nursing homes in the church office at Centralia. I had put that folder with the hymnals when I left Heritage Woods, and had not removed it from the box when I carried it into the church office after the service. Thanks be to God! What a relief when I found those papers and others, dealing with my work, here.
Another example of prayer being answered with guidance was shared by one of our members at Centralia Manor, last Monday. She shared how God had touched the heart of one of her grandsons, who had started attending worship at an area church, where he felt the love of God through the members. This lady and I along with many others had prayed for this youth who had strayed from the church for many years. God had brought Him home to the church. James understood this when he wrote: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth…” (James 1:17-18). God brings us to the knowledge of the truth in His teachings/Word and through baptism, when He “gives us birth.”
When we face troubles and temptations that exhaust our human strength, it is then that we can call out to God for help as we did at the beginning of our service, today: O Lord, be gracious to us; we long for You. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress.” Let me give you one more example from the life of a great servant in the church, the Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel, whose articles/books I have read on occasion. Dr. Nagel is no longer able to teach at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He is no longer able to preach. Or write. Or walk. He is confined to a room, unless his wife pushes him somewhere in his wheelchair. You see, he suffered a stroke.
And yet, in the Lutheran Magazine, Engage, Nagel comments, “The Lord must intend some blessing in this.” His life like our lives is a gift from the One who is life and light. Our value is established by the One who give us life, more than by what we do in our lifetimes with our abilities and gifts.
The next time that you are going through a particularly difficult lesson in “Trouble 101,” remember those words of Dr. Nagel, “The Lord must intend some blessing in this.” More important than the “Why?” of our suffering is the “Who?” May we know the ‘Who?’ in our Lord and Savior, Jesus, and that “every good and perfect gift [comes from Him, Jesus, and] the father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). That’s why we can endure all suffering, and even like Paul, sometimes, “consider it pure joy” (James 1:2a).