“Affliction” by guest preacher the Rev. Wilford (Bill) Johnson

                                                    AFFLICTION

Have you heard the story of the guest  vicar who had been invited to dinner,

following the morning service.  After the meal the vicar asked the hostess

what she thought of his message…  She raved on and on how he had filled

her soul….her plate was overflowing.  The vicar then turned to the six year

old son and asked him his opinion, and he said, “Yea, I got a belly full of it too.”

 

The words we use have many meanings.  It is important how we use those

words.   Let me remind you today that the Christian faith is built on one

WORD.  That is how John the Gospel writer introduced us to Christ.

 

What really is the task of our Christian Faith?

 

There is a passage in Pilgrim’s Progress where Christian and Hopeful,

two of John Bunyan’s characters, meet up with a third character: By-ends. 

As they walk and talk By-Ends describes the people of his village.  He says,

‘It is true that we somewhat differ in our religion from those of a stricter

sort, but only on two little points.  First we never strive against wind and

Tide…and secondly we are always most zealous when Religion goes in

Silver Slippers.  We love to walk with him when the sun is shining and

the People applaud him.’

 

Is our faith meant to be easy going and un-disturbing, wearing Silver Slippers?

and being applauded and cheered?  Or is there more to it than that?

I think there is!

Today I want to share some thoughts about one of the most profound words

in the Christian faith.

AFFLICTLION

I need to warn you….what I am going to say may sound Paradoxical.   But

It seems to me that our Christian faith has two tasks

1)      Comforting the afflicted

2)     Afflicting the comfortable.

 

Let me begin.  The first thing that is to be said is that the Christian faith

has  the purpose of comforting the afflicted.

That is what James said when he wrote:

“Pure religion, and undefiled before God is this…..to visit the fatherless

and the widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from

the world.”

We live in a world where men and women are starved for love and warmth and

understanding.  Jesus spent himself in comforting and in being with the suffering.

We live in a world where we desperately need the comforting ministry of the

Christian faith.

 

There is a lovely tiny Chapel just outside of Sultan, here is Washington.  I don’t

 know if it is still there.  Over the years our family has stopped there.  It is the

kind of place that is open day and night. I remember opening the Guest book

and looking at the entries.  Someone had entered the date but there was no

name.  Just this line: “Thanks for a place to cry.”  No one will ever know the

 story behind that entry except that someone recorded a great religious

experience. 

Maybe you have never gone to a church to cry but I would guess that there are

few here who haven’t known the need for that kind of comfort.  There are,

I suppose, a number of people in the world who have never known what it is to

shoulder real burdens.  There is one experience that is universal to all, and

it can drive a person to their knees.  It is the death of someone we know or love.

At that time we are driven to the comfort of the church.  Christ came to comfort

those who are afflicted.

 

Grace Church stands as a symbol to 100’s who seek the peace of God.

 

What about afflicting the comfortable.                                 

There is another side to the ministry of the Christian faith and that is that it

has the purpose of afflicting the comfortable.   True faith has the function of

being a conscience, not on matters that are irrelevant and removed, but on

issues that are both relevant and contemporary.

 

Did you ever read the novel by Paul Wellman, called “The Chain”?

As it begins, the Bishop is conducting the funeral service for the Rev.

Robbin Cowles Foote.  He had been the vicar of a small church for

Something like 20 years.  He had been known affectionately as Little Robbie,

a great favorite in that very aristocratic parish.  He had comforted many and

disturbed none.  But the Bishop knew the virtues and the failings of Robbie

and he was haunted by the feeling that Robbie had been a traitor to his Lord. 

He had lived, Mr. Wellman writes, “Twenty placid, undisturbed and

Un-disturbing years in Jericho.”

 

That can never be said about:   Jesus…..Paul…..Gaudi…..or Telemachus.

The story of Telemachus is held for another time, suffice to say that he is one

of the early Christian martyrs that helped bring the Gladiator Games to a close.

 

What a temptation it can be too seldom mention sin.  Or, when the occasion

demands it, to talk about sins that are on the level of parlor games.  True

faith comes to afflict the comfortable by talking about the very sins of

the hearers.

 

I suppose that in the long run, when it comes to preaching, it is better

to be wrong than to be silent.  You can explain mistakes, and people will

accept apologies.  But on the real issues of the day one should be honest

to the ministry.

 

A word like Affliction has a double meaning, and perhaps even more. Our

task is comforting the afflicted and to afflicting the comfortable.

 

Just one word.  If you happen to host a Vicar Candidate in the next months,

be careful what you say.  It may come back to haunt you.

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