by Elaine Maust
2 Cor 1: 3-7
September 10, 2006
Over the years we’ve often spent these Sunday mornings sermon times speaking of God and names for God. There was the sermon about the Green Stamp God, the God who can redeem anything. We’ve thought together about God, the Mystery. And of course the one about our recklessly generous God, the Lagniappe God.
“Teach me your name, oh God,” I prayed this week. “What is your name, Holy One? Maybe if I know your name, I can know you.”
I suppose we will spend our lifetimes learning God’s names. Today I introduce you to another name for God, the God of all comfort.
That’s from II Cor. 1:3 (NIV)… If you know God to be one who does not put up with foolishness, then you know my God. Because that is certainly true about God! But I hope you also know God to be “the Father of Compassion and the God of all comfort.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about comfort this week. Where it comes from; things like peach cobbler, the smell of the woods after a rain, our favorite chair, or any soup with too much okra in it. And how we give comfort; hugs, flowers, calls. What makes it soak in. Pardon the pun, but it was comforting to consider that this comfort business originated with God, the “Father of Compassion.”
So what brings you comfort? How have you known God to be comfort-able? Able to comfort you and comfortable to be around?
A favorite Psalm talks about God’s comfort. (Ps. 23:4 KJV) “Yeah though…” God is always there with us. “And, lo, I am with you always,” Jesus told his disciples before he went up into heaven, “even unto the end of the world.” (Mt. 28:20 KJV).
Several years ago I found a lump in my breast. After multiple doctor visits, it was determined that I needed to have it removed. Probably nothing serious, they said, but just to be sure… I decided that to save the dreadful being put to sleep, money, and recovery time, I’d just have it done in the doctors office. No big deal, right? Well, as it turned out, the lump was no big deal. But the procedure turned out to be a bigger operation than anticipated. The doctor said if he had known what he was getting into, we would have been in an operating room. It’s a long story, but here’s what I remember most. Through that whole procedure, there was a woman standing at my feet, holding my leg, talking to me. My comforter. At least I could see no other purpose for her being in the room. The doctor and nurse were busy with their business, but she was there with me. I told them, “I think this woman ought to be the best paid person in this entire hospital!” I meant it.
No matter what we face in life, the good the bad and the ugly, God is with us.
(Ps. 23:4) Standing beside us. There for us. Unaffected by all the other things going on. With us always to comfort. Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “Nothing ever happens to us alone. It happens to God too.”
Many of you have found encouragement from the familiar parable of the footprints. In reviewing life, the person saw two sets of footprints. But then noticed spaces with only one set of footprints. “Those were the times,” God said, “When I was carrying you.”
Oh how can we thank you enough for always being with us, God? How can we thank you enough?
And here’s another way God comforts. No matter where I go, no matter how new or frightening or unfamiliar, God is already there. Ps. 139:2-6 (The Message).
Now some people find this overwhelming, frightening even. God is in front of me and behind me? But believe me, once you’ve made peace with God, gone ahead and told him upfront everything you’ve ever done that you’re ashamed of. And then if you keep it clear from there on out… Knowing God is everywhere is pure comfort. Ps.139:7-12.
You might not know this, but completely new situations scare me. When I anticipate going alone into a new environment where I know no one, I’m afraid. Then I pray like this: “God, I’m scared. I won’t know anybody. I’ve never been there before. But I know that you are already there and I know you. Thank you for being there waiting for me when I arrive.” I find tremendous comfort in that. God is already there waiting.
Jesus was so certain we would need comforting that He put in a special request for us to God. This is John 14. Jesus was just hours from the cross. He was talking to his friends. He knew that very soon, they would be slammed with shock, fear and grief. This is what he said, (John 14:16 KJV) ” And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another comforter, that he may abide with you forever.”
Now Jesus knew how sad life would be sometimes. “Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus said, “For they shall be comforted.” (Mt. 5:4) He planned ahead. Jesus said, (in my words) “There are going to be times when they’ll cry. When they’ll be scared. When they will be sad. I know what I’ll do. I’ll send the Holy Spirit to be with them forever. The Spirit with a nickname, Comforter.”
I brought along a comforter for the table this morning. Now I know your terminology may differ here, but this is what I grew up calling a comforter. Instead of thousands of little stitches holding the top and bottom together, there is knotted yarn. By this definition, a comforter is usually softer, warmer and less ornate than a quilt. (John 14:17b-18 KJV) More words of Jesus describing the Comforter, the Holy Spirit: “…he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.”
But let’s face it. It’s great that God is the big daddy of comfort and that the Holy Spirit is with us forever. But sometimes, we need someone with skin on. Shall I speak for myself?
I was 16 the summer my little brothers were burning a trash pile that exploded. I was at work checking out groceries when it happened. My dad was wise and came to pick me up at work to tell me the news privately. One of my brothers was treated and released, but my ten-year-old brother, Eric. Well, it didn’t look good for him. Thank God, my brother survived. But he and my mother spent the summer in hospitals. Mostly that stretch is a blur.
God comforted me that summer through my grandmother. She was there to hold me when I cried and to cry with me. She invited me over for lunch during my break at work. I could stop by her house after visiting the hospital. And I’m sure that I don’t fully remember exactly how she comforted me. I can’t remember anything she said. I just remember that she was there for me and the rest of our family. Steady. Honest. Strong.
As I thought about comfort this week, I realized I learned a lot about comforting others from my experience that summer. I learned that people say and ask a lot of tacky things. I discovered how difficult it was for me to manage my grief, anger and fear. I learned that perhaps what one needs during sever times, is quiet present comfort.
Back to II Cor. 1… (II Cor. 1:3-4) Turn back several pages to II Cor. 7 and let’s see what Paul is talking about.
II Cor. 7:5-7a
Comfort is a pass along type thing. The folks in Corinth comforted Titus. He comforted Paul. Paul was writing back to the Corinthians about the overflow of God’s comfort. (II Cor. 1:5)
That is one of the ways God redeems our sorrows. God comforts us by sending people along. When I know someone who is grieving, that is one of my prayers. “Dear God, please send someone to stand by them.” And God does. And when we are hurting, God does the same for us.
Then, later on, we remember what it feels like to hurt and how God and some neighbor, or friend from church or relative, comforted us. And we send a note, make a call, stop by, bake a cake…
But here’s another thought… God comforts. People comfort. But when we are grieving, we must find or accept comfort. Do you know what I mean?
Ever notice that sympathy cards use language about “finding comfort”? As if it is something that one must discover? It is seldom useful to determine how another should be comforted. Instead it’s more helpful to pay close attention and so discover how they are finding God’s comfort. Maybe this is what I mean.
When Christine was a baby, Duane often came home from work to the sound of her crying. We tried walking around the house. We tried the rocking chair. We tried leaving her alone in the crib. What would comfort her?
At last Duane discovered a comfort he could offer and one she could accept. It sounds like a complicated negotiation, but it was as simple as a song and a porch swing. Almost every evening after he got home from work, Duane took Christine out on the front porch and he rocked her on the porch swing. He had a little song he sang for her (which by the way, he can still sing). She found comfort in that time with her daddy that soothed her.
So, when you are hurting, how do you find comfort? I’ve learned to jot on the bottom of cards I send. “God will comfort you. May you find that comfort.”
How do you allow God’s comfort to come to you? Sometimes when we are afraid or angry or hurt, it takes us quite awhile to settle down enough to accept the help God offers. But that’s okay. God is a gentleman. He doesn’t force himself on us. He’s the father of comfort and he has time to wait.
Henri Nouwen wrote about prayer, but I think it applies to comfort receiving too: “We cannot plan, organize or manipulate God; but without a careful discipline, we cannot receive him either.”
One last image of the God of all comfort…
Ps. 42 is a lament. There are phrases in this Psalm like, “I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?'” And “…my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, ‘Where is your God’?” (9-10)
But in the middle of this prayer of lament is this precious verse 8, an image for me of the God of all comfort. (8)
This is the image that comforts me, the God of the universe bending down to sing a lullaby over his weeping children at night.
For those of you who are afraid maybe God has gone soft on us somewhere along the line, well… he has. This is the Father of Compassion. This is the God who has promised never to leave us. Brothers and sisters, this is our God, the God of all Comfort.