Monday Reverb – 15May2023


We’re in the sixth week of the Easter season.

The theme for this week is suffering and the nearness of God.

The selected passages are Psalm 66:8-20; John 14:15-21; Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:13-22.




  • In Psalm 66:8-20, the psalmist recounts the ups and downs of life, and it speaks of God’s faithfulness during the most difficult times.


John 14:15-21
15 ‘If you love me, you will keep[a] my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,[b] to be with you for ever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in[c] you. 
18 I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.  19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ 
    1. John 14:15 Other ancient authorities read me, keep 
    2. John 14:16 Or Helper   
    3. John 14:17 Or among
  • In John 14:15-21, Jesus promises another Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, who will never leave us as orphans.

SECOND READING (continued)


  • Title:  Not an Orphan
  • Presenter:  Michelle Fleming, GCI Elder
  • Keynote passage:  John 14:15-20

From the transcript …

When I was growing up, I remember reading several books that had an orphan as the main character. Maybe you did, too. Remember Cinderella, Anne of Green Gables, and even Harry Potter? The children in these stories were left without parents, and their plots revolved around how well they fit into another family’s dynamic.  Often, they felt like outsiders – unwanted and alone.

At the Last Supper, Jesus tried to prepare his disciples for what was coming: his betrayal, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.  He reassured them that while things would be different without him present, they would not be alone. Let’s look at John 14:

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

John 14:15-20 (NRSVUE)

Notice that Jesus refers to “another Advocate,” the “Spirit of Truth,” who would always be with the disciples.  Jesus was their first Advocate; now the Holy Spirit would be another companion who would always be with them.  The Spirit’s goal is not to replace Jesus, but to share the presence of the Father and the risen Son to those who trusted them.

Since the Bible often refers to people as the “children of God,” it makes sense that Jesus would use the word “orphaned.”  We’ll have the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit, and because of the triune relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit, we’re brought into their fellowship.  We’re not like Cinderella who was mistreated and forced to become a servant.  Instead, we’re welcomed into the family of God as cherished members, never to be left on our own again.

By sharing with the disciples about the Spirit of Truth, Jesus is telling them that life will go on after the heartbreak of the crucifixion.  He says, “You will see me; because I live, you also will live.”

The resurrection was not the end of the story but the very beginning, thanks to the Spirit of Truth who will never leave us as orphans.

May you know how completely you’re loved and accepted by the Father, Son, and Spirit, and may you trust that you’re never alone.


  • Paul explains the “Unknown God” to the Athenians in Acts 17:22-31, reminding them and us that “in him we live and move and have our being.”



Romans 6:3-4

Romans 6:5-11





When Life Is Beautiful and Hard

1 Peter 3:13-22 (NRSV)


Author Kate Bowler seemed to have it all.  At 35 years old, she was married to her Canadian high school sweetheart and had a one-year-old baby boy.  She had landed a faculty position at Duke Divinity School and had finished her first academic research book called Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel.  And then she started having stomach pains, and no one could tell her why.  When she was at work one day, she received a call from a physician’s assistant who told her she had stage IV cancer and needed to come to the hospital right away.  All she could say was, “But I have a son.  I can’t end.  This world can’t end.  It has just begun.”

As a historian, Bowler had researched the prosperity gospel for her book.  It’s the idea that God wants to reward you based on your level and quality of faith, usually in the form of material wealth, good health, and other external signs of favor.  Though she thought of herself as an observer, not a believer of the prosperity gospel’s promises, when she received the cancer diagnosis, Bowler recognized in herself the unspoken belief that being a good person and receiving blessings were somehow causally related.

In 2016, Bowler wrote an opinion-editorial (i.e., op-ed) article for the New York Times called “Death, the Prosperity Gospel, and Me” where she suggested loosening our grip on the need to figure out why things like stage IV cancer happen to 35-year-old mothers with no inherited risk factors.  The response to her article was surprising to her: thousands of readers wrote to support, even defend, the idea that there had to be a reason for bad things happening.  Whether it was evidence of unrepented sin, or an opportunity for her to use her writing skills for God’s glory, readers wanted her to know there was “a hidden logic to this seeming chaos.”  “Everything happens for a reason” was a quip she heard often.

These responses probably aren’t much different from what we might think or say when confronted with a tragic situation.  It’s important to consider our thoughts about suffering for two reasons: 

  1. We will all face suffering in this life because that’s the human condition.
  2. As we can see with Bowler’s story, we hurt those who are suffering by suggesting they deserve it, or that there is going to be some kind of positive outcome.

These are things we simply don’t know.  When we try to get the sufferer to “look on the bright side,” we run roughshod over the pain they’re experiencing – often in an effort to make ourselves feel better about the situation.  This is why we must think deeply about how we respond to suffering, others’ and our own.

Our sermon text today comes from 1 Peter, and the context of his letter indicates that Peter was writing to a group of Christians living in Asia Minor who were experiencing persecution for their faith.  Some scholars suggest Peter wrote this letter at the beginning of Nero’s persecution of Christians.  The Resurrection and Ascension happened years before, and Christ still had not yet returned.  Some have called 1 Peter the “Job of the New Testament” because it encourages believers to persevere and endure during suffering.  Let’s read I Peter 3:13-22:

1 Peter 3:13-22 (NRSV)  

Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?  14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear,[a] and do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord.  Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence.[b]  Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.  18 For Christ also suffered[c] for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you[d] to God.  He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water. 21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you — not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for[e] a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.  

Though 1 Peter may have the context of suffering persecution for the faith, we can understand broader truths about suffering and our human condition:

  • Suffering is not necessarily related causally to what we do.  Because we tend to see the world in terms of stimulus and response or “garbage-in-garbage-out,” we try to make sense of what happens to us, and then we take control of it by logically determining the reasons why it happens.  This approach works pretty well if your car won’t start, and you realize that you forgot to fill up the tank with gas yesterday.  Sometimes, maybe a lot of the time, human beings make mistakes and must deal with the consequences.  That’s how we learn.  However, this “everything happens for a reason” mindset falls short when we’re dealing with children with cancer or other tragedies that fail to provide a logical path back to the “cause.”

The believers Peter was writing to were suffering, not because they had done wrong but because they were doing right.  Notice v. 13 …

“Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?”

Sometimes people who do good are harmed.  This suggests that “being good” or “doing good” does not ensure that we won’t endure suffering or at the very least, obstacles,

“Maintain a good conscience so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.” (v.16).

In The Message, this is translated,

“Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick.”

The believers’ suffering had nothing to do with wrong actions.

  • Suffering is not divine punishment.  Jesus suffered, and he did nothing wrong. 1 Peter 3:17-18 point out that Jesus suffered for others’ sins, and it’s possible that we do, too.  Through no fault of our own, we can be affected by others’ bad choices and mistakes.  1 Peter 3:19-22 take the story of the Flood and Noah’s faithfulness and compare it to baptism.  We are presented “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him” (1 Peter 3:21-22).  Jesus has the last word on everything – including suffering.  Sin has no hold on us; therefore, believing that our suffering is connected to divine punishment disregards the reconciliation we have in Christ.

Understanding that suffering sometimes happens for no discernible reason can make us afraid and uncertain, but it also can help us stop blaming suffering people and ourselves.  Since we are “meaning-making” creatures, we try to make the random and sometimes tragic events that happen mean something.  We look for and construct a greater purpose as if having a greater purpose makes it “worth it.”  While we can examine that for our own suffering, it is not our place to discern that for others.  In our efforts to be helpful and encouraging, we can inadvertently say things that come across as blaming, judgmental, and unsupportive.  We need to think about how we can better support others and ourselves during times of suffering.

After her cancer diagnosis, Kate Bowler went on to write another book, Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved).  She talks about her struggles with deeply-held beliefs she never realized she had (she calls them “Lies I’ve Loved”), and she offers ways we can support someone who is suffering:

  • Instead of saying “Let me know what I can do to help,” take a meal, drop off a gift, or send an email with links to funny YouTube animal videos.  By taking the initiative and offering to drop something off (depending on your talents and interests), you remove the burden of thinking from someone who already is overwhelmed.
  • Instead of saying “Tell me the details about your latest procedures,” let them know you’re supporting them by sending a card or saying, “I support you. I’m on your team.” Having to go through all the wretched details for the hundredth time does not give the sufferer a respite. Try asking about other parts of their lives, or their other interests.  Their suffering does not define who they are or what they love.
  • On the other hand, let the sufferer talk if they need to talk, and be willing to listen to the ugly parts of what they’re enduring, without trying to fix them or solve their problem.  Bowler says, “Be willing to stare down the ugliness and sadness.  Life is absurdly hard, and pretending it isn’t is exhausting.”
  • Instead of saying, “Everything happens for a reason” or other trite and unhelpful clichés, say, “Dear friend, what you’re going through – that’s so hard.” Acknowledge their suffering and don’t try to minimize it.
  • Instead of avoiding the sufferer because you don’t know what to say, try asking, “Are you up to a hug today?”  For some, physical touch is a comforting reassurance.

Suffering is part of our human existence.  It was part of Jesus’ existence when he lived as a man.  We can learn from him that suffering is not divine punishment; sometimes it is simply a random event or collateral damage from someone else’s bad choiceIt might be the consequence of our own mistakes, but we don’t have to beat ourselves upThe world is full of contradictions: light, dark, joy, pain.  They are all true at once, and our job is to understand how to hold the tension these opposites create without blaming ourselves or others when we don’t know why tragedies happen.

Bowler says, “Life is so beautiful, and life is so hard.”  We can face our beautiful and hard lives … knowing the comfort of our Triune God … and offering that same comfort to others when they suffer.



  • I WILL SING … Don Moen et al …



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