Comfort and Affliction

This one is from January 2012. 


It’s such an old tradition, maybe the oldest tradition in the church.  It’s celebrated so many different ways around the world, and really even in Bates county we’d find a variety of ways of doing communion.

In the same way that one of the things I liked about the Eucharist in the Episcopal church was the comfort of the same words each Sunday, those words that were so familiar that they embraced and centered me when I needed it, I like that here we get to hear from someone different each Sunday.  We get to share someone else’s walk and struggle for a bit.  And the one’s I like best are the ones that challenge us.

And then I got to thinking, do we go to church to be comforted or challenged.  And of course it’s both.  And then I got to thinking about how Jesus treated those he came into contact with.  And he did challenge them.  And when I got to thinking about the some of these people he challenged, I was reminded of a statement about the press that I tracked back to journalist Finley Peter Dunne, who said 100 years ago, that the purpose of the press is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.  That’s what Jesus did.

Lepers, and prostitutes, and Samaritans, and all kinds of “unclean,” he spent time with and ate with and left them comforted.

When the woman caught in adultery was about to be stoned, Jesus challenged those with rocks in their hands to stop, a comfort to her I’m sure, and then he challenged the woman to stop sinning.

When the gentile woman begged for crumbs from the table, he challenged her, and she accepted the challenge, and then he offered her comfort.

When Jesus spotted Zachius up in the tree, he challenged him to invite him for dinner, actually it seems like he sort of invited himself.  But Zachius accepted the challenge, and by dinner’s end, Zachius was a changed man.

The unclean woman who touched the hem of Jesus garment, was healed, then challenged, then sent home in peace.

Obviously I could go on.

On the other hand, Religious and political leaders that he spent time with were left feeling insulted, disrespected, afflicted.

The Pharisees he called white washed tombs, clean on the outside, filled with rot and stink on the inside.  He mocked their idea that they were sons of Abraham, something God could make out of rocks if he wanted to.  The challenge was too great.  They responded to Jesus’ challenges with anger and pride.

He challenged the money lenders outside the temple by trashing their stuff.

Even when the rich young man, who seemed earnest, came and told Jesus he followed all the commandments, Jesus challenged him to sell all he had and give the money to the poor.  He left sad, afflicted.  The challenge was too great.

Near the end, he challenged Peter’s idea that violence is how God wants us to solve problems.  A challenge that we continue to wrestle with.

Peter faced the challenge of standing up as a follower of Christ in the face of real danger.  The challenge was too great.

As Jesus hung on the cross he forgave the soldiers driving the nails and throwing dice for his clothes; this continues to be a challenge to me.  He welcomed, I suspect, both the criminals being crucified with him into kingdom of God, but for one of them, the challenge was too great.

And as he died, he challenged our idea of what it means to be king, to have power, to use that power to serve, not to rule.

I’m sure you can find yourself in one or more of those encounters with Jesus, or maybe another springs to mind, one that makes you feel good, or one that afflicts you.

So why are you here today?  To be challenged or to be comforted?

Jesus gives us both, I think, at the same time, one not canceling out the other.

As you take communion in a minute, remember what Jesus did, how he responded to the hurt in others, how he responded to the sin, how he responds to us.  And while there are times that we truly need comforting, I suspect we’re mostly where God wants us to be when we’re uncomfortable, when we’re struggling to understand God, when we’re struggling to do the difficult things we know we should do.  I believe we serve a God of challenge.  So as you take the bread and the cup, I hope you find there both comfort and affliction, and do with them what God would have you do.


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