The Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ
January 1, 2023
“Made Perfect Through Suffering”
It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
A little over a week ago we were singing peace on earth, joy to the world, O little town of Bethlehem. This week? Not so much. This week we are brought before this stark truth — “It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” It seems a rather stark transition.
Let me be clear, however, with the scope of this sermon. I intend to explore how the suffering of Jesus made Jesus the perfect savior. I am not attempting to explain why human beings suffer neither am I implying that suffering somehow brings us to perfection. I am limiting the scope of this sermon. I want to explore why God in the Second Person of the Trinity, was made perfect through sufferings. Why you suffer? I don’t know. What I do know is you do. Every human being suffers. Some are blessed with lives of relative ease, but no one passes through life without some measure of suffering. Everyone here today knows this to be true. Which brings me to my first point.
A savior who knows nothing of human suffering is no savior at all. I don’t need to be saved from happiness. I don’t need salvation from peace, neither do I need to be rescued from joy. No. I await a salvation that releases me from the grip of darkness and lifts me beyond despair. So a joyous savior fails to meet my most pressing need. In the end, I stand with Thomas. You remember? In the twentieth chapter of John Jesus appears before the disciples in a locked room. Thomas who was not present when Christ first appeared before them, had listened to the witness of the other ten but said that he would not believe until he had placed his hand in Jesus’ wounded side and his fingers in the holes in Christ’s hands. Unless the wounded Jesus was the risen Jesus, Thomas would not believe. I’m with Thomas. I need a wounded Jesus who saves the whole of me — wounds and warts and all — and unless the wounded Jesus is the risen Jesus, I fail to see how my salvation is complete. So, my first point is this — a savior who knows nothing of human suffering is no savior at all.
And it’s a good thing this was left in God’s hands. If I had been the one to writing this story of salvation, I suspect I would have focused more on God’s power. I would have wanted a God who would wipe all suffering away, who would bring a new day into being when human suffering was a thing of the past and immortality assured. I would have been more concerned with omnipotence than with companionship. This is what I might have wanted. But the German theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, has an insight for us today:
“… a God who is only omnipotent is in himself an incomplete being, for he cannot experience helplessness and powerlessness. Omnipotence can indeed be longed for and worshiped by helpless men, but omnipotence is never loved; it is only feared. What sort of a being, then, would be a God who was only ‘almighty’? He would be a being without experience, a being without destiny and a being who is loved by no one.”
A savior who knows nothing of human suffering is no savior at all.
The Second Person of the Trinity was made perfect through suffering for a second reason —namely, suffering may be inevitable, but it need not be final. For some of us, there have been days when the sufferings set before us were enough to defeat us. I have never suffered the loss of a spouse, the premature death of a child. Such losses can bring us to the brink of emotional ruin. In one of the churches I have had the privilege to serve, I was going about my day unaware of the horror one of the families in the church was passing through. I got a phone call and I fell into disbelief. O beautiful child had died of Sudden Death Syndrome. I don’t know to this day what they listed as the cause of death. What I do know is how devastated the family was, how overwhelming their grief. I was asked to do the eulogy and pondered long and hard as to what I would say. The child’s life had been brief. There were no accomplishments to point to or noble deeds done. Rather, I focused on our sense of loss. In the end I told the story of film I had shared with the youth group. It told the fictional story of a man whose job was to secure a railroad bridge that spanned a river. The bridge was unique. It pivoted on its axis so most of the time, the train tracks were parallel to the river’s shore. At a particular time each day, the man would row out to the bridge and throw the switch that moved the treks back into place thus connecting the two shore lines. One day the man set out to do his job. He arrived at the bridge, threw the switch that connected the rail
 Moltmann, Jurgen, The Crucified God.
[i] Hebrews 2:10-18
10It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” 13And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Here am I and the children whom God has given me.”
14Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham.17Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.