“Pastor Chris, I love you but your sermon was awful” (Note: She was right!)

jane esdale

During the post-ritual worship ritual of greeting the preacher Rev. Jane Esdale in as polite of a way as she could do it informed me I had just preached an awful sermon.  I immediately asked Jane if she would share with me and the congregation her thoughts.  Rev. Esdale convinced me never to use the words “worthy” or “unworthy” in a sermon or in my theology.  Previously I had stressed that we are all imperfect, which is true, but I had used “imperfect” and “not worthy” as synonymous, and they aren’t.

I am forever grateful for what Rev. Jane Esdale taught me.  So many people I’ve encountered struggle with feelings of being unworthy.  Jane’s theological point has great ramifications for our relationship to ourselves, each other and to God.

By the way, Rev. Jane Esdale may be the most incredible Christian I’ve ever met.  She got on my nerves and the nerves of others by making fun of our southern accent, but hey, we all get on each other’s nerves.

One of the best gifts, other than correcting my sermon, Jane gave me was a small clay piece of art.  It was the head of John the Baptist being served on a platter.  Jane knew the what the cost of following Jesus could be, and the answer to, What does the Lord require?

Here’s her sermon.

Original Blessing 

Genesis 1:24-31

And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Those of you, who were in church last Sunday, know that my sermon this morning is a response to a paragraph in Chris’ sermon, called “Recycle,” that he preached on April 3. To remind us of the sermon, here is a brief summary. Chris said: “in the scripture text for today Jesus, Mr. Recycle himself, is recycling, his disciples. Yes he is. He could have thrown them overboard. He could have given them a pink slip. He could have tossed them out into the garbage pile. He could have started with a new group. And who would have blamed Jesus. They all forsook Jesus and fled. They all betrayed him and hit the trail. They all denied him and deserted him. He appears before them but not to criticize or scold or shame. He appears before them, Jesus that is, to bless them and commission them.” Still, all good. I am agreeing wholeheartedly. And then…

Let me say that it is a rare day indeed when I disagree with Chris’ sermons. Oh, I may not like too many masculine references for God, or I may roll my eyes when he speaks of his BELOVED Tar Heels. But for the most part, my theology – my thinking about God and how God wants us to live as Children of God – runs pretty much along the same lines as our pastor’s thoughts.

But I was caught up short. Yes, I actually cringed when I heard our leader say the following words near the end of his sermon on April 3rd.

“Really, nothing of us are worthy. Let me say that again so I can get an amen this time. Really, nothing of us are worthy. And none of us will ever be worthy. And the great thing about the Easter story is that Jesus hangs with us despite our unworthiness.” Right there, in the fourth row, on the right of the sanctuary, I shuddered. Couldn’t help myself, really. Especially the sentence, “And none of us will ever be worthy.”

You see, I am what I call a recovering fundamentalist. I doubt that I made up that phrase, “recovering fundamentalist.” I had been taught from the time I was in children’s Sunday school that I was born bad. Remember the wordless book song. Four little blank pages: My heart was BLACK as sin until the Saviour came in. His precious blood (the red page) I know, has washed me WHITE as snow. And someday when I’m old, I’ll walk the streets of GOLD. Oh wonderful wonderful day, that washed my sins away.”

My sweet little Sunday school teacher said that I had to ask God’s forgiveness for my sins or spend eternity in the fires of Hell. For me, there was no FUN in fundamentalist.

In order to be certain that we weren’t tainted with temptation, our church held “alternate activities” on nights of school dances following football games. We were not to attend movies. Not even Walt Disney movies. We girls were discouraged from wearing more than lipstick and a little foundation. We were taught that other religions, like Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and even our Roman Catholic friends and neighbors belonged to CULTS, and of course, would never get to Heaven. And we were taught that God was a JUDGE who, if displeased with us, would send us straight to – you guessed it – H-E-double hockey sticks, exclamation point.

Imagine how I felt, then, at age 20 to find myself pregnant with my first child, married – really a child myself. I smoked, too. I really was bad. I knew that I must be headed straight to the Hot Place where the fires were never quenched. I lived in fear that no matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I worked for Jesus, I probably wouldn’t make it to the streets of gold.

Imagine again, a young married woman of 24 with two small children, meeting with her new Baptist minister, who told her for the first time in her life, that God is a God of LOVE. God loves all of us – no matter what. No matter what. That God loves the Charles Mansons, the Osama bin Ladens, my enemies, just the same as God loves me. Think that it was rough to feel unworthy of heaven for 24 years? Try believing that God loves us all the same, without regard for who we are or what we have done – or as one prayer of confession says – what we have failed to do!

For the first time in my life, I really embraced my faith. I reveled in this kind of love, which I had never experienced before. I could hardly stop singing with happiness because of this new love given to me by God.

Thirteen years later – if you’re keeping track of my journey, I am now 37, a single parent, finishing my final year of seminary. I had an opportunity to hear Matthew Fox, a formerly Catholic and now Episcopalian priest, speak at Colgate Rochester Divinity School, in Rochester, New York, (optional: one of those fine Northern seminaries. Yep there are divinity schools north of the Mason Dixon line!) Matthew Fox’s theology, based upon the Hebrew scriptures, states that blessing permeates “all creation from the very beginning.” He continues “There is no doubt that original blessing is the basis of all trust and of all faith. Original blessing underlies all being, all creation, all time, all space, all unfolding and evolving of what is…” Original Blessing! Not “Original Sin” as I had been taught back in fundamentalist days where we all begin life – not in innocence – but in sin.

Fox continues to say, “The (Hebrew) word for covenant, beriyth, is also directly related to the (Hebrew) words for ‘create’ and for ‘blessing.’ A covenant is a blessing agreement, a promise to bless and to return blessing for blessing.” Fox also quotes former president of the Catholic Bible Association of Germany and author, Herbert Haag, who writes: “The doctrine of original sin is not found in any of the writings of the Old Testament. It is certainly not (emphasis mine) in chapters one to three of Genesis…The idea that Adam’s descendants are automatically sinners because of the sin of their ancestor, and that they are already sinners when they enter the world, is foreign to Holy Scripture.”

Fox cites Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor, whom he calls “a Jewish prophet.” Wiesel says, “The concept of original sin is alien to Jewish tradition.”

One last quote from Fox: “We enter a broken and torn and sinful world – that is for sure. But we do not enter as blotches on existence, as sinful creatures, we burst into the world as “original blessings.”

Enough quoting from “Original Blessing.” You can get a copy at your local bookseller or online anyway. I’ll cut to the chase. What does all this have to do with us today at Wedgewood Baptist Church?

Fox’s theology has to do with the idea of living in the reality of being blessed by God — not cursed by God. This thought of being God’s blessing contradicts atonement theology – the belief that we are “such worms” that we needed saving from our own bad ways. And that’s where Original Blessing has meaning for me. Phrases like “such a worm as I,” “saved a wretch like me,” etc., in our hymns and in the way we think about ourselves – especially concerning whether or not we are worthy to take communion or to consider that Jesus might or might not recycle us – cuts to the quick. I believe that we are all worthy.

And I am thankful that Jesus knew the worthiness of his disciples and chose to recycle them. Even though they made mistakes. Even though they walked away. For it is certain that we all do make mistakes. We lose our tempers, we ignore peoples’ needs, we separate ourselves from God. But it is also certain that WE ARE WORTHY. WE ARE BLESSED BY GOD. WE ARE LOVED. WE ARE GOOD. Let’s proclaim this together. Would you repeat after me?

We are worthy!

We are blessed by God!

We are loved!

We are good!

And on this basis we are WORTH RECYCLING. Not because Jesus swept down and “rescued” us from our unworthiness, but because we have been blessed BY GOD since our beginnings. Thanks be to God for this blessing! Let us resolve to live up to our worthiness and our goodness as children of God! Amen.

Panda-monium: God’s Protection, First Sunday in Lent Sermon

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Reader 1: When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.

Reader 2: You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, ‘Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.’

Reader 3: When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God:

Unison: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now we bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given us.’

Reader 1: You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

Psalm 91

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.’
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling-place,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honour them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.

Panda–monium, which is a specific kind of pandemonium except it is spelled with an “a” instead of an “e”, Panda-monium has reached new heights at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

Is there anybody present who doesn’t love pandas? I didn’t think so. If you don’t love Pandas you may have trouble loving. Pandas are so cute, so – adorable, so endearing- – like my wife. Hey, I had to sneak in a Valentine’s Day remark.

Everybody loves Vicky and everybody loves Pandas so no wonder Vicky-monium and Panda-monium break out every now and then.

This particular panda- – monium was caused by Bei Bei (pronounced bay bay) — whose name means “precious treasure”. Bay Bay made his public debut on January 16, sixth months after he was born to parents Tian Tian (pronounced ten ten) and Mei Xiang (may sh-ONG). By the way, that’s the southern pronunciation of the Chinese. Anybody got a problem with that pronunciation?

I’m happy to report Bei Bei is now eating solid foods and nibbles on bamboo leaves and likes sweet potatoes. I’m not much for bamboo leaves but I’m with Bei Bei on sweet potatoes.

Well, what got folk so into panda–monium last week was not Panda food but little Panda cub struggling to do some tree climbing, one of your required basic panda skills.

After “several attempts,” the panda cub managed to climb a tree for the first time. How about some applause for Bay Bay?

If you have children, I’m sure you remember all their firsts: first smile, first laugh, first rolling over, first sitting up, first (and second) tooth, first crawling, first foods – which I hope did not include bamboo leaves, first standing, first waving, first walking, first word, first “Mama” and “Dada”, first hair cut, first birthday, first vacation, first attempt to climb a tree. Hoping that was much later than Bay Bay’s six month attempt.

Did any of you see the video taken at the National Zoo on the evening news? If you did, then you are aware climbing up was easier for Bay Bay than climbing down. His mother, Mei Xiang (may sh-ONG) had to help her son down. She protected him from falling. Mom decided some ‘paw’s on’ help was in order.

Which leads me to our paws on God. The Psalmist writes: “You who live in the shelter of the most High. You who say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress.” God will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence, and will not let you fall out of trees. – Nah, that’s not in there.

Because you have made the Lord your refuge, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent or your casa or your apartment or your condo or your house. Little modern paraphrase there at the end since we don’t have any Wedgewoodians living in tents.

For God, the Psalmist continues, will command angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hand they will bear – will bear you up. – The pun is intended, but even without the pun you see how the Psalmist speaking of God reminding me of Moma Panda with her hands underneath her child.

In our scripture lesson from Deuteronomy we are reminded that Israel’s ancestors were wandering Arameans and ended up down in Egypt land and lived there as aliens. And the Egyptians treated them harshly and The Moma Panda Bear God heard the cries of the oppressed and brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand.

God the Moma Panda Bear God. God, the protector. God the deliverer. Comforting words as we enter the Lenten journey in which we explore, reflect on, our wilderness experiences.

Anybody living in the wilderness right now?

Now permit me as a liberal preacher to talk out of both sides of my mouth.

I hate the wilderness.

I hate being treated harshly by the Egyptians and working hard for them.

I want to live each and every day in the shelter of the Most High. I want to trust that God is like parents protecting small children – putting up a safety gate to prevent junior from crawling up the stairs and falling down the stairs, putting inserts into the electrical outlets so little princess will not get electrocuted, putting latches on cabinets so curious kid will not get into chemicals, keeping an eye out for small objects that gene pool carrier can put in ears or up nostrils.

I want God to be like me walking my granddog. Layla wants to chase every car, every truck, every Fedex and UPS vehicle that gets within 100 feet of her territory and I have to save her, protect her, from herself as she almost jerks my shoulder out of its socket.

I want to believe God is like our immune system which fights off and protects against diseases.

I want to believe with all my heart and mind that God is just a bigger and better Luke Kueckly in the sky – you know Luke Kueckly, the Panther’s middle linebacker who does advertisements for CPI protecting homes against bad guys.

Sign me up for God’s CPI program, angels guarding me in all my ways so that I will not even dash my foot against a stone. I don’t want to fear the terror of the night or the arrow that flies by day or the destruction that wastes at noonday. Sign me up for Psalm 91 and Deuteronomy 26. Put the CPI sign in the front yard. Install the sensors and alarm system in my house. Send the guardian angels.

With North Korea launching rockets and Syrian refugees in no man’s land and the Zika virus on the loose, I’m sure there are others who want to sign up for God’s CPI, Psalm 91, Deuteronomy 26 protection plan.

And there’s the rub. There’s the problem. Here’s where I have to talk out of the other side of my mouth. How can we with a straight face even talk about God’s protection in light of all the crappy stuff that happens in the world? How can we entertain the possibility of God’s protection when we know six million Jews were exterminated during the holocaust?

A lot of people are in church this morning because they are looking for, and desperately needing and wanting, God’s protection. And there are a lot of clergy out there selling God’s protection, and people, including many people who are as poor as the church mouse, are filling the offering plate as a way to escape the Egyptians and get out of the wilderness. And the preachers are getting rich off their preaching and rich off of Jesus.

And you, you are stuck here with a liberal preacher talking out of both sides of his mouth because he feels he has to be honest, he has to have integrity, and he has to tell you what Jesus said.

Jesus. You remember him? He said, “the rain falls on the just and the unjust.”

And in response to a person born blind, Jesus said, “it had nothing to do with his sin or his parents’ sin.”

Those two statements by Jesus wipe out a lot of theology you find in the Bible in both the Old and New Testament and a lot of theology preached in what I call the modern certainty churches.   So much for a formula for God’s blessings and protection.

Lent is not for the weak-minded or those who are shallow in their theology.

So where does that leave us, alone, by ourselves in the wilderness? No, I don’t think so. At least, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Deuteronomy text reads: “you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.”

Don’t worry I’m not turning into one of those certainty, God is going to bless you financially if you bless your church financially preachers. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. Got it.

But stay with the text. You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens – the Hispanics, the Syrians, the beat up LGBT community, the poor as dirt people – you and the Levites and the aliens who reside among you – not reside out your gated community – everybody shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

So – so Lent is not about giving up beer, as if you could get liberals to give that up, or giving up chocolate, as if you could get anybody to give that up, no, Lent is about giving up some of what you have so some people who have no protection can at least have a beloved community, which while it may not be able to do everything, can do some things that make a difference and let you know you are not alone, you are not alone in your wilderness. Lent, in part, is about sharing food around a table, maybe even like having a soup contest.

And Lent means, in part, that if any of you are not very good at climbing trees and you get stuck, maybe we can help you climb down because your name also is Bay Bay, which means precious treasure.

Advent Sermon: He Said, She Said: Getting Out of Jail

Philippians 1:3-11

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

What’s it like being in jail?

I bet it’s lonely being in jail.

How do you spend your time in jail?

Time must seem like eternity, but not in a good way.

What happened to your dreams?

In jail you probably have trouble sleeping at night. And when you do sleep, the sleep is not restorative, not deep sleep. If only your sleep were better you would dream a good dream, the dream of getting out, getting out of jail, because unless you get out of jail your dreams are just dreams that go nowhere, nightmarish dreams.

I hear the food they serve you in jail is awful.

What’s it like being in jail?

How long have you been in jail?

Are you in jail right now?

OK, everyone is smart enough to know it’s a metaphor. But are we honest enough to admit the jails we’ve been locked up in?

Some of our jails are of our own making. Yes, we can make jails for ourselves and lock ourselves up and throw away the keys to the cell.

Some jails are of our own making. Others are made by our society which for whatever reason cannot accept us or love us or appreciate us like God our Creator can.

A lot of jails. A lot of different kinds of jails. It’s Advent 2015. Are you in jail?

We can’t really grasp the depth of our scripture lesson unless we realize where Paul is. He’s in – I’m going to give you three guesses – – – He’s in jail. Yeah, he’s locked up. He’s in the slammer. He’s in the brig. He’s in the pound. Paul is in the cooler. He is incarcerated.

So with the context, the location, in mind listen again.

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy. . . I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion…And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best . . .

Paul is in jai,l but he doesn’t sound like he’s in jail. Have you listened to yourself lately? How do you sound?

I want to tell you a story about two people who were both in jail but got out of jail together. And to tell you this story I’m going to use the “He said, she said” format. Being that we are liberal church and I’m a feminist I’m going to start with a “she said”. Anybody got a problem with that?

Ok, here we go.

She said:

When I was twenty-one, I came into the topless bar that you were bouncing. They were having amateur night, and I had decided to compete because I needed the prize money – I had two children to support.

This story is off to a great start, isn’t it!

He said:

When you came in, you immediately caught my attention. I just thought. She doesn’t belong in here.

She said:

I remember at one point that night you said, ‘I’ll keep an eye on you.’ And I think that was probably the beginning of our relationship. You always hear people talking about love at first sight. And for us, I think that really was the case. From the moment I saw you, I was just madly in love.

He said:

Well, you got me and all the baggage that came with me. I wasn’t worth much at that point. I was into a number of things decent people just don’t do.

She said:

You and I both had been on the wrong track. I was in an abusive marriage, and I was doing drugs and drinking a lot. If you hadn’t come into my life at that particular moment, I think I would have ended up in a very bad place. But we knew if we wanted any kind of life together, we had to pull ourselves up and get out of those situations.

I remember at one point telling you that I had always enjoyed science. You said, “Well, why don’t we just go back to school?” And I said, “You are out of your mind!” Because we didn’t have any money to pay for tuition or anything like that. And I was just petrified to make that leap.

He said:

Neither one of us had anything but a ninth-grade education. I’d tried tenth grade three times and I couldn’t cut it. Still, I said, “We should become biologists.”

We didn’t think anyone would take us, but I said, “Call’em and tell’em we’re grown and we need to do something.” And Sul Ross State University accepted us on probation. I was thirty-nine, and you were thirty-seven. We were both working on biology degrees, and we took almost all of our courses together.

She said:

You didn’t tell me until after we had been in school awhile that you thought you wouldn’t make it because you had never made good grades. But I told you, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll get you through it.” And I tutored you in a lot of the harder subjects. We made little flash cards.

We ended up with many more hours for our bachelor’s degree than we needed and we decided that we needed to go farther so we started our master’s program.

He said:

You were always the one that said, “Why don’t we try?”

I learned for the first time that I really was a person of worth.

That’s a story, an Advent story, not of waiting, but of arriving. Two people arriving at a point where they were no longer willing to live in jail, two people who became field biologists.

Advent is the first season in the Christian Year. It is often said Advent is a season of waiting, but what if we wait too much? What if Advent is a season of arrivals, our own arrivals as we prepare for the arrival, the advent, of the Christ child? Often our waiting has to do with others, others changing to the way we want them to be. Don’t hold your breath! Good luck with that! What if we focus on changing ourselves, which with the help of God and others, will involve new arrivals?

The Christ child arrived in a town named Bethlehem. In Hebrew Bethlehem means “House of Bread”. Come now and eat the bread at the Lord’s table that symbolizes all God’s dreams for your life. This bread – this bread – is much better than anything they serve in jail.

We will have two communion stations, one at the back of the sanctuary and one at the front. Our servers will now move to those stations. And Chris Gwin and his mother, Castella, will sing the first verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem and then I signal us to come eat the Bethlehem Bread.

 

 

Why Go To Church When You Know You Are Going To Cry?

Why Go To Church When You Know You Are Going To Cry?

All Saints’ Day
John 11:17-36

When Jesus arrived, he found Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ 35Jesus began to weep.36So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’

Revelation 21:1-5a

21Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away
.’

5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’

 

A lot of weeping going on in our scripture lesson from John’s gospel. Torrential tears, uncontrollable crying, emotions let loose.

Weeping. First Mary, then Jesus. And I’m guessing Martha wept too, although some people are criers and other people aren’t.

Are you a crier? If so, when is the last time life or death made you weep?

In this situation, what had people all weeping and out of whack was the apparent death of Lazarus. Lazarus was the brother of Martha and Mary. Lazarus, which by the way in Greek means “God is my help”, was Jesus’ friend, close friend, close enough that his death made Jesus weep.

Lazarus, God is my help. Mary needed God’s help. Martha needed God’s help. And yes, Jesus needed God’s help. How about you? Do you need God’s help in your life especially in these days?

Our second scripture lesson from the book of Revelation has John of Patmos seeing saw a new heaven and a new earth; and has the touching statement that God will “wipe every tear from their eyes”. God touching our face, wiping tears from our face. Touching us, touching our tears.

Now I’m enough of a liberal Christian to think: hey, why not create a world in which tears are not necessary. Why not create a world in which there’s no so much unnecessary suffering? Better yet, why create death? Why the need for another life? Just get it right the first time. Eliminate death and grief. Yeah, eliminate death and grief. I’ll vote that.

Some people say there are things worse than death. Not many things. It may be true that some things are worse than death, but not much.

 Grief, grief is wanting to have back the one thing you can’t have back, the person back.

In one of my favorite books – yes, Vicky got me to read some fiction – in one of my favorite books, Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns, a young boy named Will Tweedy says, “I didn’t think I could stand any more mourning.”

Hard lesson to learn at such at early age, or really any age.

“To mourn is to be eaten alive with homesickness for the person.”

Will Tweedy and his grandfather are standing in the cemetery after Grandpa’s wife’s death. Grandpa put his arm around Will and stared down into the grave. “Like they say, the old must die and the young may die,” he muttered softly. “It’s what you get for living.”

“How you going to stand it, Grandpa? I mean, going home every night and she ain’t there.”

“That’s what I don’t know, son. That’s what I don’t know. Your granny was —-“   He choked up again.

He knelt down on the grave with both arms touching the soil, and said, “But do I got a choice?”

Today we gather as a community of grievers, mourners. Yes, we celebrate the lives of our loved ones, but we grieve. Some of us weep.   Some of us cry. Some of us cry inside. We all hope God one day will wipe away every tear.