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Preparing for the Worst – Br. Curtis Almquist

John 15:18-21

For several years after college I worked for an international development and relief organization based in Chicago.  We provided medicine and medical equipment and personnel for foreign hospitals in 80 or so of the economically-poorest countries of the world.  My work was in personnel, which included orienting our expatriate doctors and nurses and medical technicians to the host culture where they would we working.  We always told them in great detail the worst they would likely experience: the extremes of the weather, the meager diet, the primitive sanitary conditions, the political tensions with the host government, the competition among various religious and political groups in their area, the lack of privacy, the prospect of their becoming sick, the homesickness they would likely feel, the possible strains on their family, the desperate need for their work… and the haunting guilt they would probably feel being such privileged people in the face of such poverty.

Much of our extensive orientation program focused on worst-case scenarios, and for two reasons.  For one, we didn’t need to tell them much about how good their foreign experience would likely be.  Drawing on their imagination, their sense of adventure, romance, virtue, dedication, heroism, altruism, faithfulness already gave them a lot of good images of what their foreign experience might be.  We didn’t need to tell them about that.  Rather, we especially told them how difficult their foreign assignment would likely be because that’s what worked.  We relied on extensive research undertaken by the U.S. Agency for International Development and by the United Nations.  These studies showed conclusively that people facing adverse situations are much more prone to find success, fulfillment, satisfaction, good mental and physical health, and be retained if they were prepared for the worst they could possibly face, rather than for the best.  And so we prepared our personnel for every worst-case scenario.

I’m reminded of this “preparation principle” in today’s gospel lesson.  Jesus reminds us that “servants are not greater than their master.”  He says, “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.”   Jesus is not promising us an easy time if we choose to follow him.  Quite to the contrary.  Someone has said that the Gospel, the good news, is bad news before it is good news.  Jesus’ prediction, read in isolation, is just bad news.  Here’s the qualification that makes Jesus’ bad prediction good news: Jesus promises us his presence and his provision in all that we face in life.  Nothing will separate us from the love of God.  Nothing.  Nothing will separate us from the presence of God: God Emmanuel, God with us.  After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, Jesus’ followers discovered this to be true.  Like Jesus promised, they would be shared – not spared, but shared – the cross, and that they would meet Jesus in their suffering and distress, and they did.  You would have no reason to believe this unless you, too, have experienced Jesus’ presence and Jesus’ provision in your life in the worst possible situations… which, if so, makes bad news – the bad news of the Gospel, the bad news in our newspapers, the bad news we hold in our own hearts and lives – promising.  Jesus promises us his presence and his provision always.  Come Lord Jesus.

© 2009

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4 Comments

  1. anders on May 27, 2016 at 10:52

    I struggle with the dualism which I often find in US Christianity which leads to self-righteous indignation. In that light this text can polarize: The message behind much of what I experienced growing up in an exclusive evangelical ethnic enclave was much like this: Those people are bad and against you, we are good. They don’t understand what we live our lives for. They are wrong, we are right. Their evil causes us to suffer for our righteousness. Nothing separates us from God; everything and everyone is against us in knowing and living God’s love as we know it, and we know it right. Sure we are all sinners, but our sins deserve God ‘s most awesome mercy and grace, for we have accepted Jesus as our personal lord and savior, and have it all figured out.
    I see the preparation principal you speak of as a spiritual discipline of being fully open to the best and thoroughly prepared for the worst. We are not in control and our ego lacks the power to engineer outcomes. We need humility and adaptability to survive and deal with the worst. And when we align ourselves at that base line, we see how it’s all really a gift of grace and mercy above and beyond anything we deserve, and it’s all good.

  2. Rick Wheeler on May 27, 2016 at 10:29

    The very thought and understanding that Jesus is with us is such a benefit for all. If something goes wrong in our lives it is a time to pause and offer a prayer to him for his guidance that he will share with us. Rick Wheeler

  3. Christopher Engle Barnhart on May 27, 2016 at 09:55

    Oh how I can relate. From 1966 to 1968, I was a Peace Corp Volunteer living and working in Somalia, Africa building schools. Peace Corp considered Somalia along with Afganistan to be the most difficult countries for PC volunteers. For me it was a time to explore, to grow in understanding of who I was and where I was going with my life.

  4. Arthur on May 27, 2016 at 08:20

    The good brother wrote:” Jesus is not promising us an easy time if we choose to follow him. Quite to the contrary. Someone has said that the Gospel, the good news, is bad news before it is good news. … Like Jesus promised, they would be shared – not spared, but shared – the cross, and that they would meet Jesus in their suffering and distress, and they did. ”

    Oh please, please, please come on! is someone upset with us again? I hope everyone’s life is improved for the best and none have to suffer. Not even Jesus. For with God everything is possible – why not an end to suffering for himself and us? Please, good kind Sirs can someone please tell God everyone has suffered a great deal (with loss of hair and acne and all kind of problems that I don’t even want to mention lest I scare people or rob them of their innocence) The rationale for this is given so:

    ” Here’s the qualification that makes Jesus’ bad prediction good news: Jesus promises us his presence and his provision in all that we face in life. ”

    Really? Please perhaps it is not necessary to have compensation for suffering with His presence please. We want the presence and connection with God in joy and goodness. Is this not the way of the God of Abraham? Does He not “give wealth and adds no trouble to it” (Proverbs)? Does He not give “wealth and blessings without toil” ? Isn’t He the God who gives blessings without burdens? Is His way not of Grace – grace which takes a bad seed and still gives a thousand good seeds (as the very nature created by Him). If He can do all this why can’t He spare us and (Jesus) the cross and suffering and bad news? Of course He can. Pain , suffering, toil, trouble is not needed for reform. Harm is not needed for reform. Darkness is not necessary in order to appreciate light.

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