Mama Grumbling or Widow Thanksgiving?
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)
Aaron Burr, Jr. was reared in a godly home of prominence. His great grandfather was Solomon Stoddard, the powerful theologian and pastor of Northampton, MA. His grandparents were Jonathan and Sarah Edwards. Jonathan was no doubt the greatest philosopher and theologian in American history. His father was Aaron Burr, Sr., President of Princeton, and his mother was Esther Edwards Burr, the godly daughter of Jonathan and Sarah.
In October, 1757, when young Aaron was only two years old, Aaron, Sr. died suddenly, and the authorities at Princeton asked Jonathan Edwards to assume the position of President. Edwards agreed and moved to Princeton from Stockbridge, MA in January, 1758. Sarah and the remaining children were to follow soon afterward. Edwards, always progressive in scientific and medical issues, agreed to take a smallpox inoculation. It went bad and he died in March. Later that summer Esther died. Finally, while Sarah was caring for Aaron, Jr. and his sister, Sarah,1 she contracted dysentery in Philadelphia and also died. So young Aaron lost his parents and grandparents within one year!
Several years later, after his graduation from Princeton, young Aaron took a year to think through what he believed. His decision was to reject the faith of his godly heritage. Aaron Burr went on to great prominence in politics, serving as Vice President of the United States under Thomas Jefferson.2 However he grew to become an unprincipled man, one whom today we would call ‘slick.’3 When running for Governor of New York in 1804, his long time nemesis, Alexander Hamilton, made disparaging remarks about his character. Burr was so incensed at this besmirching, that he challenged Hamilton to a duel. Hamilton, who had not owned a gun in years, borrowed one and reluctantly agreed to the duel, thinking they would stop short of actually shooting at each other. Burr was serious, killing Hamilton, fleeing later to St. Simons Island, GA. Later, Burr was arraigned four times for treason and acquitted each time. He said that he wished to be buried at the feet of his parents and grandparents in the cemetery in Princeton, knowing that he was not worthy to be laid beside them. He was laid to rest near their graves.
To be sure, Aaron Burr faced incredible hardship at a young, impressionable age, but the way he responded to it no doubt added to his long, slow spiritual demise. You have faced, or perhaps are facing this very minute, untold hardship. James tells us to consider all trials with joy. He gets more specific and tells us to handle the trial of poverty and the trial of wealth with unparalleled joy. He concludes by summarizing, encouraging us to remember that the man who perseveres (James 1:3, Matt. 10:22, 1 Cor. 13:7) under trial (1 Pet. 1:6-7) receives God’s benediction or affirmation (Psa. 1:1; 2:12). And once he is approved, once he passes the test of these trials (Matt. 24:13, 2 Tim. 4:7) without denying the faith, God promises the crown of life. Jesus calls it a reward in heaven (Matt. 5:12) and a crown of life (Rev. 2:10), while Paul says it is a crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8), and Peter refers to it as an unfading crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:4).
There is both a present and eschatological realization of this reward. All these references speak of receiving it in the future, but Jesus also said that he came to give an abundant life now (John 10:10). So there is a present experience of this crown of life. A crown is symbolic of something great. A beauty pageant winner receives a crown, symbolizing her ‘reign’ as Miss America. A king, at his coronation, has a crown placed upon his head, pointing to his assurance, authority, power, and victory. As you persevere in your trials, you grow in faith – coming increasingly to know and experience the assurance of God’s love for you, his authority in and through your life as others watch how you navigate the troubled waters of sorrow and hardship, the power of a life submitted to majestic providence, and the victory over sin, the flesh, the devil, and worldly compromise. This all proves what those with eyes to see and ears to hear already suspect – that you love the Lord, something he has wrought in you by his grace (Psa. 145:20, Rom. 8:28, 1 Cor. 2:9).
How you handle adversity is very, very important. When Rachel was dying at the birth of her son (Gen. 35:16-18) she said that she wanted him called Ben-oni (son of my sorrow). Would you want to hang such a name on your child! She hoped her son would go through life, proclaiming to everyone, that he was the cause of her death! Jacob wisely did not honour her request, calling him Benjamin (son of the right hand) instead. If Rachel’s son was to be ‘son of my sorrow’ then that makes her ‘Mama Sorrow’, or better yet, due to her cynicism ‘Mama Grumbling.’
We see this further played out when God promises Judah, though facing judgment due to idolatry, that he will establish a new covenant with them (Jer. 31). Within this message of hope they say, ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel is weeping for her children, she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more’ (Jer. 31:15). Instead of focusing on God and his promises, both Rachel and Judah are grumbling.
On the other hand, Anna, age eighty-four (Luke 2:36-38), who was married for seven years before being widowed, never left the temple, praying and fasting night and day. When Jesus was presented in the temple after his circumcision, when Simeon rejoiced to see him, Anna also gave thanks to God for him. She continued speaking of Jesus to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. In other words, she was waiting, praying, and fasting for the coming of Messiah; and when he came, she could not stop speaking of him and worshipping the One who sent him to be the salvation of sinners. In difficult circumstances Anna rejoiced and kept speaking of Jesus. Anna was ‘Widow Thanksgiving.’
Which are you – Mama Grumbling or Widow Thanksgiving? If you focus on your problems, like Rachel and Judah, then you will surely grumble. The only way to rejoice, to pass the test, to consider everything with unparalleled joy, is to look at Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith (Heb. 12:1-2), the man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief, who saw the travail of his soul and was satisfied (Isa. 53). But you may say, ‘I lack what I need,’ but God says you have all you need in him (Phil.s 4:19, 2 Pet. 1:3-4). You may say, ‘I am alone,’ but God says he is always with you (Isa. 43:1-3, Matt. 28:20). You may say, ‘I am a failure,’ but God says you are more than a conqueror (Rom. 8:37, 2 Cor. 2:14). You may say, ‘I am completely overwhelmed,’ but God says he will keep your soul, that he will not allow your feet to stumble (Psa. 121).
What must you do to move away from being Mama Grumbling toward Widow Thanksgiving? See the Father’s purpose in every one of your trials (Isa. 46:9-11). He will accomplish his purpose in your life, which ultimately is your conformity to his Son (Rom. 8:29). Go to Jesus for his rest (Matt. 11:28). By this Jesus does not mean that he will tuck you comfortably into bed amidst all the pillows your wife puts there. He will refresh and strengthen you so that you can get up from your bed of sorrow and serve him in the world. And trust the Holy Spirit to strengthen you in every trial (Rom. 8:26-27). You are weak but he is strong. May you begin to see Jesus in your trials, and consequently rejoice like Widow Thanksgiving!
- Sarah later married Tapping Reeve of Litchfield, CT, founder of the first law school in America. Aaron, Jr. studied law under Reeve. There was a steady stream of law students from Midway, GA to Litchfield at the time, studying under Reeve.
- Burr ran against Thomas Jefferson for President. After a tie within the Electoral College, the election was decided by the House of Representatives, who elected Jefferson on the thirty-sixth ballot, and Burr was placed as his Vice President.
- While in exile in Europe he began using his grandfather’s last name to avoid creditors. He was asked to leave England and Napolean Bonaparte of France refused to receive him.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Al Baker’s sermons are now available on www.sermonaudio.com.
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