Posts Tagged ‘Mourning’

Where Were You Lord 11-4-8


In this sermon for All Saints Sunday, based on John 11:32-44, I explore the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  We are given a unique glimpse into the grief that even God has experienced in the face of death.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

The grace and peace of the Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

There are times when I like to joke around that I’m turning into a hipster…but then I really got to thinking about it, and I realized that there are 5 signs that you are, in fact, a hipster.  Number one, you are a fan of facial hair…check.  Number two…you love craft beer…check.  Number three, you tend to wear baseball caps at an odd, ironic angle…which I do not do. Number four, you have a preference for wearing skinny jeans…nope.

And finally…the deciding factor…you have tattoos…which I don’t…so I guess I can say, for the moment anyway…that I’m only 40% hipster…but, someday that might shift…because I’ve always thought about getting some ink…so much so that I even know what I’ll get, if I ever decide to take the plunge.

There’s an image that I love…2 hands coming together…grasping each other at the wrist.  Now the first time that I saw this image was at the very end of the first Lord of the Rings movie back in 2001…(demonstrate the image) one of the characters, who can’t swim, has sank in a river, when another character reaches down from a boat…grabs his wrist, and after a brief second, they are both holding on as he gets pulled up out of the water.

This image is meaningful for me for a couple of reasons…one probably being because I’ve been pulled out of the water…many of you sitting out there have heard me tell the story of a time when I foolishly tried swimming out to a buoy in rough water and my brother in law had to pull me back to shore.

The second reason stems from that…when another impulsive decision on the part of Peter resulted in Jesus reaching out and taking him by the hand, lifting him up out of the water. And interestingly enough…this action of Jesus…grabbing another person by the hand…its something of a regular occurrence for him…especially in terms of the miracles that Jesus is famous for. Several different times…in different circumstances, we hear of Jesus grasping another person by the hand.  He heals several different people, including Peter’s mother in law, through his words combined with the action of grabbing the individual by the hand.  And in one instance…he even raises a young girl from the dead in this same way. And that’s worth paying attention to.

There are only three instances in the gospels of Jesus raising people from the dead…the young girl…a widow’s son when he walks up on the funeral procession…and today’s story of Lazarus. I can’t help but think that’s eye opening to consider, knowing how much stock we place on Jesus and his action of overcoming the power of death in the world…its strange to think that only 3 people are actually raised from the dead.

But today’s story is one of those times…but to be sure…the story of Jesus and Lazarus is an odd one.  For starters…I wish we knew a little more about the relationship between Jesus and this family…for he was close to Lazarus but also his sisters Martha and Mary…we hear about these three siblings in quite a few different instances….but we never really hear about the basis for their ongoing relationship, beyond the love that is expressed between them.

But regardless of their history…it would certainly seem that there is a sense of extreme familiarity, perhaps even a sense of duty that lies between them…evidence in the details within this greater story…a portion of which takes place before our action begins today.  Because for starters…Lazarus gets sick…we don’t know his ailment…but its serious enough for Martha to send off for Jesus…who’s hanging out somewhere in the region in the midst of his ministry.

Now keep in mind…Martha can’t just pick up a cell phone and shoot him a text…she had to send someone to look for him…and who knows how long that took…but when word finally reaches him…Jesus acknowledges that Lazarus is sick…and promptly stays put for a couple more days before finally meandering his way to Bethany…in fact he takes so much time in getting there…that by the time he approaches the village…Lazarus has been dead and sealed in the tomb for the better part of a week.

I can only imagine how frustrating this must have been for the sisters…and maybe you can too…ever been in a situation like that…one where duty or personal obligation dictates that you should put some hustle into the situation…or vice-versa that you expect the person you’ve reached out to to do the same?

That seems to be the case here as well…because before Jesus even makes it to the village, Martha hears he’s coming and she marches out to give him a piece of her mind…and in the midst of a back and forth between Jesus and Martha…one that I imagine was a touch on the heated side…she says “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (pause)

Now this isn’t the only time we hear it…because pretty soon Mary…who had stayed in the house when Martha stomped off the gates of town…Mary follows suit and heads out to find Jesus as well…and when she does…she says the exact same thing to him. “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  I can only think that both sisters are placing blame…casting some shade…seeking out a target for the grief and sadness and anger that they are feeling in the death of their brother…in the death of someone that they love. They might as well be saying “Its your fault he’s dead” or even asking the question “Where were you on this one Lord?”

I can’t help but think that we’ve all been there at one time or another…because death is a reality isn’t it? One that we’ve all encountered…and death’s a funny thing, though perhaps that’s not quite the right word for it…because sometimes death feels almost okay…but other times everything about it is wrong.

Circumstances can alter how we look at death…the life of the individual…how old they are…if they’ve battled a long illness…or if its an accident that comes out of nowhere…all of these things factor into our response…but if there is one thing in common, regardless of the circumstances…it’s the pain and the sorrow that we feel when death enters the picture.

Now here’s the thing. We’re not the only ones who feel it.  Because not just once…but twice in today’s story…we hear how deeply Jesus is moved…he is shocked…angry…deeply agitated within himself. Our English translation doesn’t do justice to what Jesus was feeling…and not only that but we hear that Jesus weeps openly when he come face to face with the death of a loved one.

And as we recognize the response of Jesus we begin to see that we are not alone in grieving…but that we have a God who mourns death just as we do…in fact I believe that the first being to mourn every single death is God…and that God is weeping before the reality even begins to take hold in our hearts and minds when something like this happens.

God is no stranger to the pain of loss…the emotion that comes with it…because God has experienced it first hand when the Word became flesh and dwelled among us…and this is why God has made us a promise over and over again in the scriptures…one that we heard today out of Revelation…now I don’t know if you are familiar with Revelation, but it’s the last book of the Bible and the reading today was one of the last parts of it. And this promise says that once this crazy broken-down messed up reality is over…that God will make everything new…somehow, someway…and not only that, but God will dwell among us…and he will wipe away every tear from our eyes…death will be no more…mourning and crying and pain will be no more. (pause)
I’ve often said…I have no idea what things are going to look like in the life to come…but somehow it seems that the pain that we feel now…the pain that gives us sorrow and tears…and the pain that makes us angry enough to scream out at God “Where were you on this one?” That will be no more.

And that gives me hope…even in the midst of times when everything else gets cloudy in the face of the pain…and this is a place that, perhaps, you find yourself in today…I’m guessing many from our community are still in this state…still feeling that anger and loss…still asking those questions after the tragic death of a high schooler just a couple weeks ago…a sense that we’ve felt before in our community in the face of tragedies that just don’t make any sense.

But we remember in these times, that not only do we have a God that mourns along side us…but we have a God who has done something about it…even in those times when we might be a little too sad or angry to see that hope clearly…that hope remains…and in these times, we look to each other for love and support.

We look to each other because together we are the hands and feet of God…together we are the body of Christ here on earth and we are called to lift each other up…because sometimes the immediate answer that God gives us when we ask “Where are you on this one” is to point us to look around and see those that are here to share our burdens with us.

There’s a painting that hangs up in the high school. Admittedly I don’t know what the story is behind it, but sometimes I wonder if its actually based on the same image from the movie that I talked about before…two hands grasping one other by the wrist…one whole and strong…the other bruised and scarred…and that my friends…is life…we do this for one another…knowing in the next instant that our strength might fail and we’ll need someone to take us by the hand…to mirror that love and that strength and that power to comes from God in the first place…that’s how we get through these times…holding onto the promise that one day…one glorious day…we like Lazarus, will hear a voice calling our name…a voice that is bigger…louder…greater even than death and the separation that it causes with those still living…a voice of one who knows the pain of mourning…and who will always be there to take us by the hand…in one way or another…and lift us up to new life. Amen.

Just Wait 11-6-16

In this sermon for All Saints Sunday, I explore the crazy cycle of life as Jesus describes in in Luke 6:17-31. Throughout the ups and downs, the promise remains that the kingdom is already with us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
*note, that between the writing and recording of this sermon, a congregational member died, and so rather that the number of All Saints names being 4, it was actually 5*

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

So the Cubs finally won the World Series. All the jokes and the predictions…all the ho-hum years that went nowhere, and all the heartbreaks of good teams that didn’t quite make it are over…the longest streak in American professional sports since winning the championship no longer belongs to the Cubbies.

And if social media is to be believed…there were a lot of us watching that game…a lot of us biting our finger nails…especially in the bottom of the 9th when the Indians smacked a 2 run homer to tie it up and send it into extra innings…and if you were still up watching at that point…you know we had to wait even longer because of a rain delay between the 9th and 10th. Fortunately it wasn’t overly long.

In a lot of ways that brief rain-delay reminded me of a very common saying that we have here in Iowa. (pause) Don’t like the weather? Wait 5 minutes. (pause) And isn’t it the truth? It never ceases to amaze me at how quickly the weather can change in this part of the country…and who knows, maybe it’s the same everywhere…but its really true here. Now, typically we use this expression to talk about rain…how it can come and go so rapidly…and often does.

But this time of the year, this phrase runs through my head just thinking about the way the temperature changes so much over the course of the day.  We start the day with heat…by mid-morning you open the windows…you turn on the air conditioner in the afternoon when it gets a little on the hot side…but by evening…you’ve got the heat on again. (pause) Don’t like the weather…just wait…it’ll change.

Now its that notion of the way things change, and specifically the cycle of the temperature through the day at this time of year that gets me thinking about the gospel lesson for today…because the gospel highlights a very familiar notion…that in life…there are ups and downs…back and forth…reversals…cycles…and if our experience shows us anything as we go through this crazy thing called life…its that these cycles of the good and the bad…they just keep on happening don’t they? (pause)

Now perhaps today’s story seems familiar to you. It’s from a portion of Luke’s gospel called the Sermon on the Plain…it lines up with a lengthy portion of teaching from Jesus found in Matthew’s gospel known as the Sermon on the Mount…and they have A LOT of similarities…including the way they both start off.

Both accounts start off in the same way…with something called the Beatitudes…but where Matthew shares a slightly longer listing of people who are blessed within their present circumstances…Luke shortens the list…but he also shares the flip side of things…because we’ve got the “Woe’s” in there too. (pause)
Now it’s interesting how Luke presents them…this list of 4 sets of people who have it rough in the present, but they are blessed…and in the future the opposite will be true…and then, once those things are listed, we hear Jesus switch gears…and he lists off 4 more sets of people…who seem to be enjoying good times in the present…but they better watch out, because harder times are coming. (pause)
Now maybe this makes sense…because that’s a pretty accurate notion of life. Sometimes things are good, sometimes things are hard…Some times we feel pretty blessed…and sometimes we need to watch out. (Pause) But there’s a little  more too it than that isn’t there? Admittedly, I’m not much for rearranging scripture, because I think it typically does a pretty good job on its own, but I do find myself wishing that the order of things was mixed up just a touch here….because it’s a little more eye-opening if we pair them up together.
Blessed are you who are poor…for yours is the kingdom of God…but woe to you who are rich. (Pause) Blessed are you who are hungry now…for you will be filled…but woe to you who are full. (pause) Blessed are you who weep now…for you will laugh…but woe to you who are laughing now. (pause) And finally…blessed are you when people hate you…and exclude you…and revile you and defame you on account of the Son of Man…for surely your reward is great in heaven…but woe to you when all speak well of you…

Isn’t that crazy? These sayings of Jesus all partner up…they are two sides of the same coin…and through these 4 different situational pairings, Jesus seems to be saying…if it stinks now, it’ll get better, but if you’ve got it good now its gonna go downhill…ups and downs…lots of reversals…a cycle…just like life. (pause)
Now…out of all 4 of these situations…perhaps one of them is a little bit more fitting than the others today…Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh, but woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

Today is, of course, All Saints Sunday…and already within our worship service we have taken the time to remember those who have died in the last year…we have shared their names…we have shared a moment to dwell in their memory…and we have lit a candle for each of them which is still burning right over there.

And I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of just how recently three of those 4 names were added to the list for today.  Just within this congregation, we have experienced 3 deaths…3 funerals in the past 2 months…and the most recent one just 2 weeks ago. (pause)

For many of us here…we don’t have to think very hard to remember being in the state of weeping and mourning…and maybe in some ways…maybe even in every way for some of you sitting out there today…we are still fully in this state…and the very last thing we might think is possible is that we would ever smile again…or laugh again…or in some way feel any sort of joy. (pause)

Because grief is a hard thing…and there is no right way to go through it. Two weeks ago I stood before in the midst of my own grief…my own shock in the death of a 15 year old boy, and in that moment I shared the sense of anger and sadness and the honest feeling that any joy was pretty hard to see.

In the time since then, I’ve had conversations with many different people expressing the same sort of feelings…the same sort of pain and sorrow and disbelief…and I’ve heard statements of gratitude to hear that its okay to react to senseless things this way. (pause)
But time goes on…and in the short amount of time that has passed since that day, I’ve seen some things that have brought a smile to my face…some things worthy of happiness…things worthy of joy…things worthy of celebration. Things like spending time with a group of 5th graders…watching them get their hands dirty to help make the bread that we’ll share today in Communion…and laughing with them as we talked about the Lord’s Supper…those are good things…and it sheds just a touch of light on what Jesus says when he tells us…when he promises us that you are blessed now as you mourn for one day you will laugh again. (pause)

I think this is important for us, as a community who has recently endured a tragedy to hear…that yes we have all experienced pain and suffering…and in many ways we still are…but the promise of Christ is that joy WILL be found again. (Pause) Now that being said…one thing Jesus does not give us is a time frame. And so, if you are hearing this today, and within your life you are still experiencing pain of some kind, mourning or otherwise…and its still difficult to see the possibility that things could get better…that’s okay. (pause)

And on the flipside…if you find youself in a mode today where things are looking pretty good…just keep in mind…the cycle of life is going to bring around some bitterness again…and I think its pretty safe to say that this cycle just keeps on going…things go well, then something happens…and it sends us reeling…and we wallow in it for awhile, but then, right when we aren’t paying attention, things start to turn around again…That’s the craziness of life…and it seems a lot like that old saying about the weather in Iowa…wait 5 minutes…it’ll change. (pause)

But you know what…I stand here and I think about all these words I’ve said in the past few minutes…and I think it sounds pretty “self-helpy.” That yes life is rough but all you have to do is grit your teeth because it’ll get better…And I know that sometimes our experiences show us that this idea…is a big load of crap…and being honest about that raises the question…that where’s the gospel in the midst of all this? Where’s the good news?

And interestingly enough, we find it in a couple of very simple, almost throw away comments. First of all, think about the narration at the begin of what I read today…Jesus, God in human form…was up a mountain…but he came down to where the people are. And it was in the midst of them that he shares this teaching…but he’s also healing them…he’s meeting them in the midst of their pain and their suffering…and not only does he offer healing…but most importantly he offers them his very presence…Jesus, God in human form comes to where WE are…and is present in the midst of all this…the good and the bad.

And there’s another thing….keep in mind that throughout the Beatitudes, the statements tell us that things are one way now, but in the future they will be the opposite…you suffer now, but you will be better…You have it good now, but you will suffer hardship…that’s the way they are all listed…with one exception…

Throughout all of this…the one constant…is that the Kingdom of God…IS. Because the kingdom came among us when Jesus…God in human form made the choice to come down to where we are…the kingdom is present here…now…in the midst of whatever state we find ourselves in today…if we are mourning, the kingdom is here…if we are laughing and celebrating…the kingdom is here…and when we find ourselves in the midst of the craziness…the ever changing reality of life…the kingdom is here…and through Christ…we are made heirs of it.

And if we are heirs of the kingdom…then we are heirs to the promise of the Risen Christ…that where he is, we will also be…and today we look at those 4 candles…and we remember the 4 individuals that they represent…and we trust in the promise that Christ has made that the death which they have experienced doesn’t get the last word…God does…and I believe that those 4 people are in a place today where they want you to know it.

However you find yourself today, rest assured that the one who made you, sees you…and the promises are yours. Blessed are you…for yours IS the kingdom of God. Amen.