Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Holding on to hope

My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for adversity.
Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be hasty in time of trouble.
Cleave to the Lord and do not depart, that you may be honored at the end of your life.
Accept whatever is brought upon you, and in changes that humble you be patient.
For Gold is tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation.
Trust in Him, and He will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him.
You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy; and turn not aside, lest you fall.
You who fear the Lord, trust in him, and your reward will not fail;
You who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for everlasting joy and mercy.
Consider the ancient generations and see: who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame?
Or whoever persevered in the fear of the Lord and was forsaken?
Or who ever called upon Him and was overlooked?
For the Lord is compassionate and merciful; he forgives sins and saves in time of affliction.

Woe to timid hearts and slack hands, and to the sinner who walks along two ways!
Woe to the faint heart, for it has no trust! Therefore it will not be sheltered.
Woe to you who have lost your endurance! What will you do when the Lord punishes you?
Those who fear the Lord will not disobey his words, and those who love Him will keep His ways.
Those who fear the Lord will seek his approval, and those who love him will be filled with the law.
Those who fear the Lord will prepare their hearts, and will humble themselves before him.
Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, but not into the hands of men; for as his majesty is, so also is his mercy.
- Sirach Chapter 2

This is one of my favorite passages from the Bible. I post it here because the book of Sirach is one of the 7 that Martin Luther discarded and therefore is one to which most Protestants do not have access.  Yet it is a beautiful passage, and speaks eloquently to the suffering soul.  It is a reminder to all of us who walk the way of the cross that God does not abandon His faithful, and that though our suffering may be great it is only for a short time and only to purify our souls.

I was reminded of this passage by a friend of mine from Egypt, whose people are undergoing great persecutions at the hands of the Muslims with no end in sight. He has lost his livelihood, he has lost friends and leaders and even Churches near his home that have been burnt down.  He wonders where God is to be found in the midst of all of this, and it is hard for him to understand why God allows those who do not believe and do not follow Christ to prosper while he and his family suffer.  He is not the first to ask or the first to question.

However, Christ did warn us that to follow Him it was required that we pick up our cross and do as He did. He suffered much and often for our sakes, in the end dying in a most terrible manner a slave's death on a cross so that we who were slaves might be shown the way to Heaven. The cross is a narrow bridge of self-sacrificial love, and absolute abandonment to the will of the Father. It is a hard road, a narrow road, and sometimes the world's road is tempting because it seems easier than our own.  Yet the world's road leads to a living hell: to misery, unhappiness, broken relationships, destroyed families, and to loneliness.  The narrow road of the cross may mean that we must leave behind worldly goods, as there isn't enough room for us to carry them on the path we follow, but it leads to an internal heaven where peace, joy, and love rule the heart. It leads to building relationships, creating families, and to a full life shared with others. It's worth the sacrifice to walk the narrow road. There are times, though, when the walk becomes so difficult that we think we cannot go on and this is when we must hold on with all our might to the hope of Christ.

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