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Edward F. Markquart

Series A
Suffering: Who wants to live in Pasco?

Easter 4A, 7A    I Peter 2:19-25; 4:12-14; 5:6-11

Have any of you ever lived in Pasco? Have any of you lived in Pasco, Washington? Isn’t there anyone here who has lived in Pasco? Do any of you know where Pasco is? What color are the hills outside of Pasco?

Now, when most of you think of Pasco, you think of a town in central Washington, located in the Tri-Cities area. It is east of the mountains and is brown and desolate. If you had a choice to live in brown, desolate, dry Pasco or green, lively, wet western Washington, which location would you chose? In a small town or a big town? In Pasco or Seattle? It is a riddle. Riddles, you need to figure out the meaning of riddles. For those of us live in Seattle, who wants to live in Pasco?

Jesus often told riddle in the New Testament. I would like to play a riddle with you right now. I like coffee but I don’t like tea. I like Bill but I can’t stand Clinton. I like Ed but Markquart rubs me the wrong way. I like wood but I don’t like trees. We had two twins here at the previous service and I want you to know that I like Nicole but I can’t stand Natalie. I like coffee but I don’t like tea. It is a riddle and you probably have figured it out by now.  Anything with the letter “T” in it, I don’t like. I like Bill but I cannot stand Clinton; I like Ed but I can’t stand Markquart; I like Nicole but I don’t like Natalie; I like wood but I can’t stand trees. Anything with the letter “T” in it, I can’t stand. It’s a riddle.

Pasco is a riddle.

Part A. They were a fine couple. They were married many years ago and lived together as a married couple of about fifty years. Like evolved and they finally ended up at a neighboring nursing home. She became a vegetable; in fact, her mind was like a vegetable for more than fifteen years. Her husband used to go over to see her twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. He was very faithful to her. People assumed that she would die relatively soon but she didn’t. Instead, her faithful husband died; and she remained like a vegetable for a long, long time after his death. After many years, she too finally died. In this situation, there was so much suffering. It was such a long, suffering experience for everybody, but it wasn’t Pasco.

She used to come to this sanctuary on Tuesdays. I met her every Tuesday here at church. She was an attractive young thing, about thirty-two years old. Blonde, blue eyed, two children. Single. She was going for cancer treatments up at the Virginia Mason Hospital. She was trying to defeat the cancer in every way that she could. Part of her defeating cancer was for her to come to the sanctuary to receive Holy Communion every week. Food for her soul. She came faithfully, week in and week out, month in and month out, for at least six months. Gradually cancer got the best of her, and she died. I drove over to Bremerton and over to Squim, and in a little cemetery outside of Squim, we buried her and it was sad. It was so sad. There was so much suffering. But it wasn’t Pasco.

The tornadoes struck in Texas like tornadoes are always striking in Texas. There was a small town in Texas and that tornado came roaring out of the sky and hit the ground and hit the school and forty-five people were killed. Three days later, the bishop of the Roman Catholic church from the large city nearby came and administered the funeral, and there was so much wailing and so much crying. It was just terrible. There was so much suffering but it wasn’t Pasco.

He was driving east of Auburn one night, just past dusk. He was driving in a little sports car and having a nice day. A deer suddenly jumped out from the ditch and hit the windshield and killed the man. When the family gathered together, it was awful. Everybody cried and everybody said that he died too young. But it wasn’t Pasco.

What is Pasco?

Part B. There was a man and a woman who had been married but after many years, they started to fall out of love with each other. In this situation, one of the two had an affair and that made their marriage even worse. Their relationship got very nasty and they had a very ugly divorce. The divorce was so nasty that his parents, the grandparents, could not even see their grandchildren anymore. These grandparents were very sad that he had lost his marriage, lost his children and they had lost their grandchildren. There was immense suffering but it wasn’t Pasco.

He was a driver. Type A personality. This man was a top notched engineer with a lot of drive and he worked six days a week and ten hours a day. This person was always on the go. Stress did not bother this person. Chain smoker. Hard working man. And suddenly, bam, it hit him. A heart attack. His body hit the floor and he was already dead. No hope for resuscitation. It was sad. All the executives came to this church for the funeral and those executives were all wearing their three piece, dark suits with dark ties. They were whispering to each other, “Good man.  Good company man.” It was immense suffering but it wasn’t Pasco.

The farmers in Iowa were having a hard time with their crops. The soil had been slowly depleting and so the farmers had to bring in all kinds of pesticides. They sprayed the crops very heavily, and the people in that area of the country started to discover that he rate of cancer was slowly increasing in the same rate as the use of pesticides. There was a great deal of cancer in those countries in Iowa. Everybody was sad at the many funerals but nobody wanted to change their lifestyles. There was lots of suffering but it wasn’t Pasco.

It is a riddle. What is Pasco?

Pasco is the Greek word for suffering. And four times in the text for today from I Peter, we hear that we are to share in Christ’s suffering, that we are to suffer with Jesus Christ. He says, “Let the same experience of suffering be required of all your brothers and sisters throughout the world.” Pasco is not only the name of a city in eastern Washington. Pasco is the Greek word for suffering.

The Bible says that unless a person suffers with and for Christ, that person is not a Christian. Jesus says that all Christians are to take up the cross and follow me and anyone who does not pick up that cross of suffering, is not a Christian. The Bible also says, Anyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” is not necessarily a Christian. Anyone who wears the label of Christian is not necessarily a Christian. Only those Christians who enter into the suffering of Christ belong to Christ. I Peter 5 says that suffering is required of all Christians.

What is Christian suffering that is required of all Christians?

Now, in part A, Christian suffering, Pasco, is not human suffering. Now, the first set of stories that I gave were examples of suffering because one is a human being. When my young friend died of cancer at thirty-two, it was not the result of being a Christian but the result of being a human being. The deaths due to the tornado in Texas was due, not because those people were Christians but because those people were human beings. A deer hits a car and the driver is killed, not because of being a Christian but because of being a human. In all of these examples, it was not Christian suffering but human suffering and therefore it was not Pasco. If you are born and you live, you and I are going to experience suffering because that is the nature of the human condition. But it is not Pasco. It is not Christian suffering.

In part B, Christian suffering, Pasco, is as a consequence of sin and foolish actions and behaviors. I gave several examples of suffering that happened as a consequence of sin. A man and woman fall out of love; there is anger and bitterness; and there is immense suffering but because of sin. Or, if you take the man who was working so long and compulsively, a type A workaholic, has a heart attack and hits the floor, because he did not take care of himself. That suffering was the result of sin. It is not Pasco. People who spread pesticides all over the ground and eat food saturated with pesticides, they get cancer at higher rates, and their suffering is the result of sin. It is not Pasco.

So there are three forms of suffering in this world. Part A: there is suffering that is the result of being a human being. A man and woman are married for fifty years, one gets a premature stroke, the healthy one dies, and there is so much suffering, not because of their sin but because of their humanness. Part B: there is suffering that is the result of sin. I do something stupid in my life and there are painful, suffering consequences of it. I don’t take care of my marriage or my body and I experience much suffering. But it is not Pasco.

There is Part C, the third kind of suffering that is Pasco. Christian suffering. And the Bible says to rejoice in your sufferings. Christian suffering is, and I underline the following word in I Peter 5:9, required of all Christian brothers and sisters.  What is this Christian suffering required of all Christians throughout the world.

We have other references to suffering in the New Testament and these Bible verses are helpful. I Peter 2:19, “Christians are to endure pain while suffering unjustly.” I Peter 3:17, “For it is better to suffering from doing what is right than for doing wrong.” II Timothy 2:3, “Take your share of suffering as a soldier for Christ.” II Timothy 1:8, “Do not be ashamed of testifying to the Lord, but take your share of suffering for the gospel.” We are also aware of the several references to Jesus suffering on the cross for our sins. We are aware that we Christians are also to take up our crosses of suffering.

To suffer as a Christian is to enter into the suffering of those around you. Pasco is to enter into a loving relationship and suffer with those people around you. Let me give you some examples that illustrate what I that loves means to embrace the suffering of others. 

The first example I would like to give is of Anne and Al Burdick. They are forever driving to Pasco. Now, Pasco is not east of the mountains, but they are forever driving to Pasco.

Some years ago, we had a woman in our congregation by the name of Christine Larsen. Twenty some years ago, she had some back surgeries and she ended up being bedridden for a full twenty years. She had full mental capacities but no one called on her. No one. She was totally alone. No one called except for Al and Anne Burdick. They used to go over and see Christine not because it was going to be a fun afternoon and “we will go and see Christine for a little entertainment.” Their visit was not out of duty; that is, this is what we should do or ought to do. Rather, out of their love for Christine they faithfully called on her. They drove over to Pasco every week and it is about a mile from here. Eventually, Christine died, and it was one of those funerals that three of us were there. The Burdicks came to the funeral that day, not because they had nothing better to do. They didn’t think, “This is not a good day for shopping so we might as well go to a funeral.” No. This was not their attitude at all. The Burdicks loved Christine and they entered into her suffering and they drove to see Christine all the time. The Burdicks drove to Pasco. 

I remember this other story about Anne and Al Burdick; that is, they used to visit Ted and Mildred Olson. Mildred Olson had the worst case of arthritis that I had ever seen in my life. Her hands were buckled over like no other hands that I had ever seen before. Ted took care of Mildred, and we all assumed that Ted would take care of Mildred in her death. Bam. Bingo. Ted had a heart attack and Ted died immediately, and there was Mildred all alone. Burdicks would go over and play pinochle with Mildred who had a hard time holding onto the cards because of her severe arthritis. They would drive over to Pasco quite often to play pinochle. … One night, while the Burdicks were there, Mildred said, “Anne you look quite tired tonight.” Anne said, “O yes, we have been taking care of our Asian refugees all day long.”

What I am trying to suggest to you that Al and Anne Burdick drive to Pasco all the time. Some would say, they actually live in Pasco. Pasco was and is part of their daily life.

Jesus said, “Rejoice when you share Christ’s suffering.”  I Peter 4:13. Not morbidly, but out of love.

Let me give you another example of a person who goes to Pasco all the time. Her name is Hazel Weed. She was married to Harold Weed in our congregation, and he used to be president of our congregation some years ago. He now has Alzheimer’s. Harold was down in the Veterans Hospital down in Seattle. Every single noon of every single workday, Hazel would drive across town, through the rush hour traffic at noon, and it took her twenty-five minutes to drive over every day to give Harold lunch. Every day. Every noon hour she drove to Pasco. Now, she did not do this out of duty. Not out of compulsion, but out of love. One day when I came into the hospital door and she did not see me as I stood in the door way, watching her rub Harold’s hand to calm him down. I watched for a moment and then called out, “Hazel, you are a good woman.” She replied, “Harold is a great man.” Hazel drove to Pasco every noon at lunch and every evening for dinner.  More recently, Harold has been down at American Lake. Hazel needed to be out of town, and who was going to visit Harold when Hazel was out of town? Who is going to feed Harold? So every day, Norm and Connie McDonald from our church drive down to Tacoma. Excuse me, they drive down to Pasco and they feed Harold so Hazel can be gone.

At the very heart of the Christian spirit is living in and experiencing Pasco. The book of Peter said that there is no greater joy than sharing the love and pain of life with our brothers and sisters.

But now we need to drive around Pasco and learn about that city of suffering. That is, Christian suffering also comes from being ridiculed, persecuted and made fun of because you are a Christian. Christians have always been persecuted, ridiculed and suffered because of their faith. The first Christians were often persecuted by their Jewish families for deserting Judaism and believing in Christ and Christianity. The first Christians often had to renounce their families and family heritage in order to become followers of Christ, and it was painful for those first Christians to be ostracized from their families. Among the first Christians, there were also martyrs who were killed for the faith, and martyrdom is still occurs today or in our recent historical experience. Christians in Russia were clearly persecuted and ridiculed because of their faith in Jesus Christ. We know all kinds of stories of Russians who ended up dead or in concentration camps in Siberia because of their faith in Jesus Christ. In Nazi Germany, there were Christian martyrs who stood up and against Hitler’s regime. So Christians have always been persecuted, ridiculed and suffered because of their faith.

Today, here in America where two-thirds of the population belong to the church, there is actually cultural pressure to belong to Christ and the church. Here in America, children who drop out of the church are often ridiculed and thought less of because of their lack of apparent Christian commitment. In America, at this time in our history, we often do not experience the kind of suffering and martyrdom of the first Christians, nor do we clearly experience the kind of martyrs of recent past in Russia or Germany.

But today, here in America, Christians are ridiculed for using the name of Jesus or Christ in our conversation. Even here in America, if we talk about Christ of Jesus, it will appear that we are too religious, and other people may feel awkward around us. So we avoid the name of Jesus or Christ in personal conversation because we know we will be ridiculed behind our backs or in the invisible ridicule of someone’s mind.

We Christians often suffer because we still do what is right because we are Christians. There are many times that we make choices about right and wrong, and we suffer because of those choices.

But, here in our situation in America, it seems to me that Christian suffering is primarily to embrace other people in their suffering. The Burdicks go to Pasco and take care of the Olsons in their immense suffering. Hazel drives across town every noon hour and goes to Pasco and feed lunch to her husband who is living with Alzheimer’s. There is so much suffering around us in the world, and as a follower of Christ, we embrace those people in our houses, our churches, our neighborhoods, and people all over the globe.

I must end where I began and I must ask you an answer to a riddle: “Would you rather live in Pasco or would you rather live in Seattle? In Seattle, you can take care of yourself. Have a good time, ignore the people in need around you, live for yourself and do everything possible to make sure that you never go to Pasco. Why would you ever go to Pasco when you can stay here in Seattle?” 

Jesus said, “Happy are those people who understand the joy of sharing the suffering and pain of life with others.”  Where? In Pasco, the city of suffering. Amen.

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