When Sorrows Like Sea Billows Roll
We will continue with our Sunday morning series on the life of Joseph and have come to that turn in the story when suddenly things are going very well for Joseph. From pit and prison we will watch as he rises to the position of prime minister of all of Egypt. One of the companion texts for the sermon is Jesus’ saying in Mark 10:29-30 where he makes a seemingly preposterous promise to reward the faithful a hundredfold for any losses incurred for the sake of the gospel. It is a text greatly abused by the promoters of the health and wealth gospel, the “name it, claim it” lie of the televangelists. But it is promise of our Lord and there are others like it. Blessings, the rewards of faith, are never in the Bible just a thing of “pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye.” “O taste and see, that the Lord is good,” the Psalmist says. God’s blessings are visible. We can taste them.
Over the years, I have often tested what I preach against the reality of the lives lived by my friends in Brazil. Could I say to those who live in deep urban poverty in the global south what I say to affluent North Americans?
Without mentioning the Mark text, or any text for that matter, earlier in the week I sent an email to my friend Leonardo. Leo is probably 22 years old, so I have known him since he was 14. Leo’s father died three years ago from the lingering effects of a gunshot wound a dozen years ago. No one knows whether he was an innocent bystander or a participant in the drug deal that went bad. Leo loved his dad deeply, but knows that he was a man feared in the favela. Now Leo lives with his mother, Jendara, and his older brother, Leandro, and younger brother, Luiz, in a small house on Beco Edna, one of the darkest and narrowest – and most dangerous – alleys in Favela da Ventosa. Becky and I have loved this family.
Recently, the government notified Jendara and her sons that they intend to bulldoze the houses in Beco Edna as a way to eliminate one of the favorite hiding places of the drug lords. They don’t know where they will live after October. I have been trying to help Leandro come up with a solution, but solutions to most problems are hard to come by in the favela.
It’s not a matter of “might be,” it is a fact that Leo would be in prison, maybe dead, if God had not intervened in his life beginning with a chance encounter with an American pastor from Pennsylvania eight years ago. But that is a story for another day.
So I wrote Leo, who has come to know God, and asked if he believes that God blesses those who have faith, and not just someday, but now. Here is what he said
Yes, Pai, I believe this. I believe that God blesses even those people who have no faith in him. God gives common grace to all – the graces of fulfillment in life, walking, feeling, breathing, loving, having a family and people around you who care for you. He gives the sun, the rain and food. God gives this common grace to all. But to us he has given special grace, the grace of joy and peace in the midst of tribulations, in times when we have nowhere to live, in our saddest moments when we have lost a loved one, like a father. God has greatly blessed me even though I do not have as much faith as I should. By his grace he has given me true friends like Edvan, Ademar, Kurt and you. By grace he has given me a great treasure, my mother. And by grace he has given me a dear church home. He has blessed me greatly and I could write much more. God is very good to me, but I am not so good to him. I pray continuously asking God to help me be a faithful servant.
I should tell you that Leo calls me “Pai,” Dad. It is a term of great respect and honor. I hadn’t mentioned Jesus’ promise to those who lose parents, but live faithfully for the sake of the gospel. I am humbled to be a blessing from God in his life and his family’s life.
There are a few readers of this blog who understand Portuguese, and for those who do, I will add the last line of Leo’s note. Becky cried when she read it.
um grande abraço meu pai e amigo querido, sinto muitas saudades de você.
On Sunday we will sing “It is Well with My Soul” at both services. There’s a story there, as well. (click
for a more traditional rendering and here for a more contemporary version by Selah, one of my favorite groups.)
How has God blessed you, here and now?
See you Sunday.