Trevor's mom suffered a lot in her life, but she showed him how her suffering produced endurance and her endurance produced character and her character produced hope and hope did not disappoint her because the love of God had been poured into her heart through the Holy Spirit that was given to her. We don't have to be "born a crime" to know that suffering can be a gift, but each and every one of us is going to have to unwrap it for ourselves.
What I have learned in all of this is that our experience of suffering is essentially Trinitarian. First, our suffering makes us cry out to God, the One who created us and is still working on us. Secondly, it brings us closer to Christ, the One who suffered for and continues to suffer with us. And thirdly, it breaks us open to receive the Holy Spirit, the One who sustains us and fills us with life and hope. So you see, we don't need a theology degree to understand the Trinity. By the grace of God, we live it every day. And though life doesn't get easier, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I promise you that it gets better and better. Amen.
What Paul wants is for all of us to be free for life. Let all the death die in you: the old self that serves nothing but the self; the old sins that just keep causing new sickness; the old fears that are never going to face new realities; the old blindness that sees the violence but keeps silent. You can't let any of this death have dominion over you, if you want to be with Christ. Resurrection means that whatever bad has happened to you, whatever awful choices you have made, however many horrible people have hurt you, none of it has any power over you. Because he defeated death, because he rose on the third day, you are dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. [6:11]
Thankfully, I am not a miserable Methodist, but General Conference does challenge my faith in ways that makes me uncomfortable, to say the least. But that is good for me, because no spiritual growth ever comes out of comfort, only out of discomfort. "Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come. Tis grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home." It is amazing grace that teaches us that life in the Spirit is not an easy life. In fact, it has its share of what Rohr calls "necessary suffering." Just look at Jesus. Look at the cross. The cross will tell you that any church that is built on love is a church that is built on suffering. Any Christian who is going on to perfection in love (as Wesley used to say)—that is, learning to love even the enemies of love—is going to endure a lot of suffering. We just have to remember that Jesus' suffering ended in resurrection and, by God's grace, ours will, too.
I am convinced that the same can be true for us, that all the losses we experience in life will be totally eclipsed by the love. The Son of God is one Sun you can look at, and you don't need special goggles to do it. You only need the eyes of faith to see that, nothing—or as Wayne Williams used to say, absolutely nothing—in all of creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Yea God!
Ministry isn't the only vocation that requires a lot of different kinds of gifts. Any job worth doing requires more gifts than we've got. But that's just God's way of reminding us, in Paul's words, not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. Being human is very humbling, and what we humans ought to think is that none of us can have it all. None of us can be it all. And none of us can do it all. Doing what is good and acceptable and perfect is not something that any one of us can do by ourselves. To be "perfect in love," as Wesley used to say, is a group project. We may each have a few marks of the true Christian, but we need the whole Church in order to be remarkable.
To preach on the politics of Paul, I could launch into a long discussion of the various schools of Christian political philosophy, but I think it will be more helpful if I just tell a story. This is the story of one Christian for whom the politics of Paul was no abstract theory; it was a lived reality. This is the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.