Sermon by Pastor Ben Cieslik
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ, Amen.
This morning we are wrapping up a sermon series on what life after Easter looks like. We’ve been talking about what it might look like to follow Jesus in light of the tremendous promises of the resurrection. We’ve been thinking about what does ordinary life look like in light of the extraordinary promise of sharing in God’s eternal life.
If you haven’t had an opportunity to be here with us each Sunday, I’d encourage you to go back and read or listen to some of the sermons from previous weeks on the website. We have ones from here in Minneapolis as well as the Minnetonka campus posted and I can heartily recommend those to you, at least the ones I didn’t preach.
This week we’re talking about encouragement, and I have to say this is the one I’ve had the most ambivalence about. Giving, Inviting, Serving, Learning, Praying, Worshipping, these are all kind of obvious – straightforward aspects of the Christian life – they’re difficult and important but pretty straightforward.
But encouragement, man this is where a lot of damage gets done. In the hopes of trying to help people or sometimes because we are at loss for what to say, things come out of mouths that are the opposite of encouraging, they’re often downright discouraging and hurtful. Too often our attempts at encouragement take us into the dark realms of banal Christian platitudes. You’ve probably heard many of them before…
God only gives you what he thinks you can handle.
Everything happens for a reason.
God’s trying to teach you something with this.
This is all part of God’s plan.
God must have needed another angel up in heaven.
God doesn’t close a door without opening a window.
It’s quite possible that someone, somewhere, once upon a time found these phrases helpful during a difficult time, but I think for most people who have been the recipients of this kind of encouragement these words sound empty at best and more than likely hurtful.
And yet we have to say something. We’re called to do something. And while I’m inclined to say that saying nothing at all is better than tossing down a cheap platitude to someone who’s living in a dark hole, it’s not better by much.
Over the course of the past year and a half I’ve been doing CrossFit. It’s been a wonderful thing for me. It’s the first exercise routine that I’ve stuck with in my adult life. CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity. Of course people have all kinds of preconceived notions of what CrossFit is like. Probably because people who do CrossFit, can’t stop talking about it. So be slightly impressed that in a year and change this is the first time it’s shown up in a sermon.
While I appreciate a number of the different aspects of CrossFit, I like that it’s different every day. I like doing the olympic lifts. I like that there are ways to keep score and to measure growth. I like that it’s competitive. The thing that gets my butt out of bed at 4:45 in the morning, four times a week, is the community, it’s the people. At my box, what CrossFitters call a gym, I’ve found a group of people that encourage me each and every day to change, to work harder, to be better. I have people, three in particular that get down on the ground with me, and enable me to do the work I need to keep going.
Last year on December 22nd, my birthday, the scheduled workout of the day was the filthy fifty. It’s an awful workout. It was the worst birthday present I’ve ever been given. It’s 50 times jumping onto and stepping off again a two-foot tall box. It’s 50 jumping pull-ups. 50 kettle bell swings. 50 walking lunges. 50 times of bringing your knees to your elbows while hanging from the pull-up bar. 50 shoulder presses with a 45 lb bar. 50 back extensions. 50 times throwing a 20 lb medicine ball 10 feet in the air. 50 burpees. Then 50 double under jump roping.
Miserable. I knew it was going to be awful going in, but by the time I got to the burpees, I was done. I was physically spent, emotionally drained, by brain and my body were saying just stop it already. I made it through the first 30 burpees at an arduous pace, falling to the ground, gradually stumbling back to me feet. Most of the class was done with the workout and I was ready to quit.
Then standing in front of me were three people that I was just beginning to know. They said, “Do five more…get ready…3…2…1…go.” And I fell to the floor again, but this time I had three other people doing it with me. Jenny, Brian and Jenna had already done their 50 burpees, they’d finished their work, but here they were on the floor with me, not just encouraging me with their words but doing the work with me. Together we did 20 more, I finished my jumping rope and collapsed in a heap.
But as I lay on the ground in a puddle of sweat and struggling to take each breath, I was so grateful. I had come through something difficult, not because people shouted words of encouragement to me from the perimeter but because three people joined me, entered into my pain and stayed with me through it.
There’s a parable that I love, that gets used in one of my favorite TV shows. It goes like this.
“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. “A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. “Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’
The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on “Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.'”
Jesus said to his disciples,
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Love, true love, Godly love is getting down into the holes of life with people. Even if you’ve never been in that particular place, or experienced the particular pain someone is going through you can sit with them, be with them, or find someone who knows what they’re going through.
The Jesus event, his life, his ministry, his death is God’s great act of solidarity with humanity. God jumps in the hole with us.
And then Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, is God’s great victory over all the holes in this life that threaten to hold us captive. Easter is God’s way out.
So we love like God loves, we share in the fullness of life – the good and the bad with those God has put in our lives – until the day when there are no more holes, no more pain and we all live in the fullness of God’s grace and mercy.
How’s that for a word of encouragement. Amen.