19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 14), Year B

2 Samuel 18.5-9, 15, 31-33
Psalm 130
Ephesians 4.25-5.2
John 6.35, 41-51

Sometimes we think about what it would take for there to be no suffering in the world. You know, in an effort to remove the first tenet of Buddhism, how would we need to direct our magic wand to make it where there was no longer suffering?

Well, one option might be if we could eliminate death. Wouldn’t that be cool? Imagine, no one dying. That would certainly take away a lot of suffering wouldn’t it?

But even if this dream of an idea were true, it would not eliminate all suffering. There would still be form after form of things that would cause each of us pain, some of it completely self-induced.

So much of David’s life can be used as an illustration of suffering - much of it the self-induced variety. He seems to keep making choices to fulfill his hungers that result in tragedy. This week our scripture focuses in on the end of the story between David and his son Absalom. There is no way for us to imagine what sort of grief David (and likely Absalom) lived with in the years they were estranged from one another. They had a Complicated relationship and from what we see of their story they were not able (for whatever reason) to find a way to try and find a way back together. Before the end of their story, it was already a sad, painful situation. And then their story ended in a really horrible way. David commanded his army to defeat Absalom’s insurgent group and Absalom’s life ends with him stabbed to death by his father’s men while hanging from a tree. In spite of all the suffering that had gone before, in spite of the contentious relationship, David bears enormous grief at news of Absalom's death.

In Psalm 130 we again get an insight in to what David might have been feeling at such a difficult time. Reading this we can see some of the grief he may have experienced and some of the ways he yearned to have God help to take away some of the pain and suffering he was experiencing. As we mentioned last week, this gives us some insight to some of the fallout that can sometimes show up when a person gets so consumed by greed and the search for power.

In John we see Jesus continuing to explain who he is and his purpose in being there. Of course, he is not doing this directly. He explains to his listeners that he is the Bread of Life from Heaven and that he is From God and has seen the Father. He tells folks that if they accept the Bread that comes down from heaven (him), they will not die. Now, this is quite an exciting promise…to live forever. We do not know if his hearers understood his words to be making promises for this life or for a life to come, but we can certainly imagine a message like this would get the attention of people. Again, we are all a little greedy to get as much life as we can and avoid the fear and pain and discomfort and suffering of death. Jesus is attempting to offer them a type of relief from some suffering….he is not offering a relief from all suffering, but he is offering solace from some extiential suffering.

Now when we turn to this week’s reading from the letter to the followers of Jesus in Ephesus, we see a different approach to attempting to ease the suffering of others. The writers of this letter are fairly directive on how the readers ought to live. There is a lot of direction about putting away anger and grief and angst and agita. Where Jesus offered folks options so they could choose to live with less suffering, the writer of this letter tells them directly what they should do. But we wonder, can you really just set all of that aside? Or does it need to be acknowledged somehow?

Is there anything that can eliminate all suffering?
What does the promise of living forever do for you?
Are there types of suffering that are worse than death?
What do we lose in the absence of suffering?

Creator, Holy, Everywhere, God
If we are made in your image,
we imagine that we experience a mere whisper
of the pain and the loss
that You experience each moment.
If we are made in your image,
we imagine that the pain and loss
of living has meaning.
Help us to distinguish between
our delicate humanness - being in your image
and our greeds and passions for more or less
of what is offered up by your creation.

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