11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
Reflection March 4, 2018
Why Are We a Church in the First Place? by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Our church received a brutal blow this past week with the death by suicide of our 19 year old Matthew Brownlee, son of Randall and Diane Brownlee, grandson of Annette Adams.
There are many “what if’s” and “why’s” that come rushing into our minds. But none of that matters in light of this tragedy. I’ll speak to this tragedy this coming Saturday, March 3, when we have a funeral service for Matthew at 11 am in our sanctuary.
What I wish to ponder in this Advance is a further reflection on what I preached this past Sunday, February 25. The truth is that life beats us up. Every one of us will be beaten up by the trajectory of our lives.
Some get beat up more than others. Not many of us are born to billionaire parents who can pave our way with privilege and monetary power. Most of us struggle to make our way through a life with more than its share of ups and downs imbedded in it.
Many of us Christians don’t fully understand what happened on the cross of Jesus Christ. We rightly believe that our sins were all nailed to the cross of Christ. But this is but a part of what really happened on the cross of Christ.
What happened on the cross, what happened through the cross, is that Jesus Christ took to himself the suffering of all creation. This suffering, naturally, includes all human sins since sins are part and parcel of human suffering. But what happened was much broader and more important than sins alone. We miss this piece of Calvary.
The suffering of all creatures throughout time was taken by Christ to his cross. The suffering of all creation, including the earth itself, was taken by Christ to his cross.
We know that everything in our vast cosmos came into existence through the Word of Christ (“All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” John 1:3). Clearly then, everything in the vast universe came to be in and through the Word of Christ.
Since such is the case, it stands to reason that everything existing, everything that has existed, and everything that will exist is tied to Christ as its Divine Source. Christ is the Word holding all creation together since all creation came from him.
So, for me, what Christ did on the cross is so much BIGGER than the amelioration of sins. On the cross of Christ, all suffering, past, present and future, was transformed and fully redeemed through that cross. What was a heinous instrument of Roman oppression became transformed into a symbol of the redemption that is on the way for our Christ-filled cosmos.
When Jesus tells his disciples to “take up the cross” - it means we’re called by Christ to share in the redemption of every form of suffering experienced by every creature.
To “take up our cross” means to become a person of “compassion” - a word that means to “suffer with.” Jesus calls us to become “compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” (Luke 6:36)
To be a disciple of Jesus Christ necessitates helping carry the suffering of our world until that glorious day when the complete healing of all creation occurs in and through the return of Jesus Christ. If we don’t want to help carry suffering, then we should reconsider being Christian. There is no other way for a Christian to make his or her way through this wounded world than by helping carry the suffering that was nailed to the cross of Christ.
We’re also called to carry this suffering without passing it on to others. Many of us experience suffering, much of it unjust, and we then pass it on to anyone handy. This is what scapegoating is all about. We blame that person or we blame those people for our share of human pain and misery. For me to carry my cross means the suffering stops with me just as it did on the cross of Christ. Christ forgave those who placed him on that horrible instrument of degradation. The suffering stopped with him.
When I work with younger ministers, I always speak to them about the need to carry suffering without passing it on. Ministry is not an easy road because ministers must be able to carry a great deal of pain, a tremendous amount of human suffering. This may be why many young ministers opt out of ministry after a few years. It’s hard seeing so much pain and not be deeply affected and discouraged by it. But this is why we have church.
If I had to carry by myself all the pain and suffering I’ve seen and experienced in my 44 years of full-time ministry, I’d be a completely broken human wreck. I’m able to survive the pains of ministry and able to keep moving forward because of my fellow sisters and brothers in the church.
As church, we carry pain together. As church, we walk with each other through whatever dark valleys we must traverse. As church, we “have each other’s backs.”
Our beloved church is now called by Christ to help carry the suffering of Diane and Randall Brownlee, the suffering of Annette Adams, the suffering of Matthew’s brother, Randy, the suffering of his entire family, the suffering of Matthew’s friends, far and wide. This is what we’re called to do as church. We walk with one another.
It pains me that so many of our young do not understand the real reason for church. It has very little to do with beliefs. It has very little to do with what happens in the afterlife. It has very little to do with all the fights over which denomination or which church “has it right.” It has very little to do with the plethora of social issues that keep flooding our pulpits and our politics.
The REAL reason for church is to help one another carry the burdens that come with life. Without a church, alone and unsheltered in a community, one is more easily crushed under the weight of living on a broken and very harsh world. Without church, we live on a “dog-eat-dog” landscape which is truly hell on earth. We need each other. We need church. We are all, as I’ve preached more than once, just walking each other home.