Other Watch Night Services have looked at Discipleship, Unity and Faith. Tonight for our Watch Night Service, let us consider how we can grow through the problems of Pain and Suffering. We will use the example of Jesus, who certainly endured the problems of Pain and Suffering, and we might say that he grew through those problems.
I am grateful to have Marilyn Knetzger participating as an author, an editor and a reader. It has been an easier journey with her substantial help, and I welcome her voice.
Maybe you didn't have time tonight to prepare for this worship service. Perhaps you were interrupted by others, delayed by traffic, or dealing with personal problems that have been weighing you down.
If you haven't already, please prepare at least your mind for worship.
Perhaps you can adjust your equipment so you don't have to hold it. Maybe you can
find a candle to light; if not for the fragrance, it might be lit in remembrance of
someone who was special in your life.
Please adopt a spirit of meditation as we enter our virtual sanctuary. God accepts and welcomes you, regardless of how you choose to respond to this Service of Worship. You may feel the need to just close your eyes and listen some of the time; at other times, you may choose to read the words and testimonies of other Christians; you may even want to sing along with some of your favorite music.
As Michelangelo depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, God's outstretched hand is always there for you; God is desperate for a connection with you, however you choose to connect.
Our theme for tonight is how we choose to respond to the inevitable challenges of pain and suffering, whether it is our own or the pain and suffering of others. There are many ways in which one can suffer and we may never know the source or reason why pain and suffering exists. But we can be certain it will happen sometime in our own life or we will be a witness to it happening to people we know or love. The blessing of faith is that it leads us toward God's truth and his promise of ever present help and comfort. It is this assurance that helps us to endure with the greatest hope and to persevere through what seems undeniably impossible. Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, shows us how with his life, his teachings, and his ultimate sacrifice as the purest examples.
A hero in dealing with Pain is Rabbi Harold Kushner. His son Aaron died of progeria at 14. That tragedy led Kushner to write a book about his pain: "When Bad Things Happen to Good People". As Kushner wrote in the preamble of that book: "His life made [this book] possible ... and his death made it necessary." It is surprising and sad that Rabbi Kushner died in April of this year at age 88. Note that he intentionally did NOT title the book "Why Bad Things...", but rather "When Bad Things...." His emphasis was always on what we can do to help others, not to academically debate the cause of their suffering.
Other outstanding contributors on this subject include Natalie Sleeth (1930-92), a hymn writer from Highland Park UMC in Dallas. Natalie certainly knew a lot about pain. She wrote this hymn for her husband who was diagnosed with cancer and died a few weeks after the hymn's premiere. This poignant and inspirational hymn is often played at funerals due to its comforting and uplifting words and melody that point to the promises our God of hope provides.
Another hero in dealing with Pain is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As one of the few Christians who sought to overthrow Adolph Hitler, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and killed in a concentration camp. In late 1944, even his guards believed that the war would soon be over. Bonhoeffer wrote this poem to his fiance, asking her to pass it on to his family as his hope for the New Year. You can see in this English translation that his poem was a New Year's Eve greeting card: "Thus will I spend with You these final hours and then together enter a new year". We are fortunate to spend these final hours of 2023 and together enter 2024.
Here is "Von Guten Maechten" or "By Gentle Powers" as sung in English by the songwriter Siegfried Fietz.
Here is a quote from Bonhoeffer that is especially appropriate tonight:
Perhaps you can try his suggestion the next time you are thinking about someone close to you, and then respond to their suffering rather than what they do or don't do.
We have only to consider the vast majority of people on our planet at this moment who are suffering death, tragic injury, drug addiction, extreme poverty or homelessness. All of us suffer: it is only the degree of suffering that is different. We need to be reminded to pay attention to our suffering AND the suffering of others, just as Jesus was careful to acknowledge both his suffering and the suffering of others.
Dr. Brian Wren, a leading hymn writer of our time and one who has contributed
more hymns to the UM Hymnal than any other living hymn writer, points to the
promises our faith provides during difficult times of profound pain and suffering.
With the gentle and ever present guide of the Holy Spirit and the unfailing abundant
love of God, one can move forward one step at a time leading toward lasting hope and
a renewal of spirit. Listen now or sing along to his words of encouragement.
Always remember that the love of God carries us forward. Through the strength and power of that love, our lives or the lives of others, those whom we know and love and who may be suffering without relief, all can be made new again regardless of current circumstances.
If you haven't already done so, please "Mute" your mic. Even though we won't hear you, please read this Covenant Prayer out loud. It is a challenging prayer. If you are not ready for such a commitment, you can still read this Wesleyan Covenant Prayer as another small step in your spiritual journey.
Paul Simon originally wrote "Bridge Over Troubled Water" with only 2 verses, and he asked Art Garfunkel to sing it as a solo, because "we" are not "bridges"; "I" am a bridge. There are photos that might seem to fit better with "Bookends", but they seem appropriate for people our age. Perhaps this abridged song can be encouragement for you to be a bridge for someone else "when pain is all around".
Anne Lamott offers these words in "Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers":
"There are no words for the broken hearts of people losing people, so I ask God, with me in tow, to respond to them with graciousness and encouragement enough for the day."
What then can we do? How can we help those in pain?
Here are some things to avoid and some things to think of as goals.
Try to remember that you are also one who suffers.
Please spend a few moments to wander through this gallery of words.
Remember that you can always come back to this page any time.
Many of us grew up going to MYF: Methodist Youth Fellowship. After any MYF gathering, we would always join hands and say the MYF Benediction from Numbers 6:24-26. This scripture is a fitting benediction for our worship tonight. Peter Christian Lutkin composed this setting of the Aaronic blessing, and he closes it with a 7-fold Amen that has become a Christian standard.
Here is a spirited wish of Joy from me to you in the New Year.