I feel like everything I read or hear on the news is negative. So much suffering in the world. A few are making out really well, while many suffer. Our political leaders stuck in their own partisan ruts, thinking only of what is in it for them and their tribe. Families torn apart. People left to live in fear. I have to remind myself of the Apostle Paul’s words almost daily, that, ““suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5) “But,” you might ask, “how can I deal with the suffering in the world?” Good question. Is there anything we can do to help us, to remind us that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produced hope, and hope does not disappoint? I can only answer the question by sharing what helps me.
There is a picture in my office that is part of a gift from the congregation I served in San Luis Obispo from 2001-2006. The inscription that goes with the picture says, Pastor Ron, Thank you for responding to God’s call by so graciously sharing your gifts of word, music, prophecy, teaching, and pastoral care with us during this, our time together...”
The picture is of a single red rose seemingly growing out of nowhere. This is the story of that rose.
I began my appointment as pastor of the United Methodist Church in San Luis Obispo on July 1, 2001. I received the assignment call from my Bishop in March of that year. So, prior to my appointment, I met some of the leadership on Palm Sunday, which was in April. They showed me around the church grounds, the church campus.
The following Sunday, Easter Sunday, I received a call from one of their church leaders around 6:30 a.m. The news was not good. An arsonist had broken into the Sanctuary earlier that morning and set it ablaze. The fire destroyed the entire Sanctuary and fellowship hall. And, so, I began my time as pastor of this congregation in the aftermath of this devastating attack.
We were a church family without a home.
A crew came in and cleared the debris from the area leaving bare ground covered with a wood chip ground cover. It became a constant reminder of our loss. Occasionally I would walk up to the empty lot where the Sanctuary once stood. And I would wonder. What is in store for us?
One of those such days I walked up to the empty lot and something caught my eye. I couldn’t quite make out what is was. It was pretty small, but the color looked out of place. As I got closer to the thing I realized it was a flower, a red rose, not just any old red rose, but a perfectly beautiful red rose.
Growing out of nowhere. I took a picture of it. It is the picture in the gift the people of San Luis Obispo gave me.
It was as if God spoke to all of us through that rose, saying, “I’ll have the last word here. I am the Lord of all creation. I am the Lord of life. I love you and will never abandon you. This is my sign, a life giving sign. Don’t ever forget this.”
We rebuilt a beautiful new church home, serving the community in so many ways, bringing God’s love into places where love is missing. I look at that picture and remember. Out of suffering came hope. Because of our endurance. That created character.
And hope did not disappoint.