June 3, 2016 various scriptures
John 11: 28-37
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.’ And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The 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. When 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.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’
(Sing together) “Be Still My Soul” NCH #488 vs. 1
Be still my soul: for God is on your side;
bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to your God to order and provide;
on every change God faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: your best eternal friend
through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
What do you cry about? What brings you to tears? (pass mike)
What is the first thing a baby does when it is born? We cry. It’s our first form of communication. Babies are unable to laugh until about 20 weeks. They smile, but they don’t laugh. Crying comes easily to a toddler. Just tell them “no!” and see what you get. Isn’t it amazing how easily they can turn those tears on and off?
And yet, as adults, we all too often hide our tears from others, bottling them up inside, afraid to release them. We avoid pain and misery at all costs - our own, or that of others. We numb ourselves with alcohol and drugs in an effort to escape and feel good again. How often in our society, when one is diagnosed with an incurable disease, or looses a loved one, are they left to cope alone? People just don’t know what to say to them. It makes them uneasy. I remember a close friend saying to me when I was going through a difficult time, “Why can’t you just be like you were before?”
From an early age we instill in our boys that it is unmanly to cry - especially in public. Shakespeare’s King Lear declares, “Let not women’s weapons, water drops, stain my manly cheeks!”
“A reporter was once interviewing an Indian guru about his work in giving spiritual instruction to Americans. The reporter asked the spiritual master, ‘What is the first thing you attempt to teach Americans?’ The old man replied, ‘I try to teach them how to cry again.’” (Edward Hays, “Pray All Ways”)
Edward Hays, in his book Pray All Ways, describes tears as “the prayer beads of all of us, men and women, because they arise from a fullness of the heart.” Unlike so many written prayers that often become rote recitation, our prayers of tears bypass the head and emanate from the soul. Weeping is holy and life giving.
Ecclesiastes tells us “For everything there is a season, a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; … a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance…”
Joan Chittister, in her book based on this passage, says, “If we do not weep on the personal level, we shall never understand humanity around us. If we do not weep on the public level, we are less than human ourselves.”
You shared some of what you cry about this morning. We cry about what we care about. The more you love someone, the more pain you feel when when they have passed on, or for some reason are no longer a part of your life. In our story this morning Jesus wept, along with others, at the death of his dear friend Lazarus. He was filled with compassion at their grief and moved to action. We can’t raise someone from the dead, like Jesus did in the story, but being witness to someone else’s tears begs us for a human response.
I’ll never forget arriving at LaGuardia years ago. As I was making my way to the baggage claim, a woman ahead of me was apparently given some horrible news. She collapsed on the floor, wailing and weeping uncontrollably. I had never witnessed someone in such grief. Others who knew her were trying to comfort her, but she was inconsolable. My heart went out to her. I remember stopping to say a prayer for her. It’s all I could do.
Chittister tells us, “Sadness affects the center of the soul. It closes us in on ourselves. It weighs us down and burdens our steps”. A friend turned me on to the BBC series “Call the Midwife” on PBS. There was the most poignant scene in a recent episode. A young nun had been attacked by a man late at night while returning home. At first she wouldn’t let anyone touch her or try to comfort her. She was filled with anger and couldn’t cry. An older nun, trying to console her, told her she needed to cry, to let it out. It wasn’t until she allowed herself to do that, that she accepted the comfort of this older nun. Her tears flowed and her healing began.
“Without tears”, Chittister continues, “we have no hope of healing because we do not begin to confront the anguish… Tears release us from the past,” … What we’ve been holding in and have now released, “has no more power to control us. … Tears cleanse and rinse and irrigate our souls so that new life can flow where only silt had been. They give us the right to grow beyond where we have been to a place where life beckons us to begin again.”
If you turn on the news, or open the paper, you are witness to events happening in our communities and our world that warrant righteous anger, that cause us to cry out in pain, to weep with those who are suffering. These are the tears that move us to action. They moved Jesus as he looked out over Jerusalem in Luke 19: 41-44a:
“As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying “If you, even you had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side.”
I remember sitting alone in the Anglican Cathedral one day on my first trip to the Holy Land, crying over what I had witnessed there. I teared up the other night watching a report on 60 Minutes about a French Catholic Priest reaching out to the Yezidi people in Iraq who had been driven from their homes, many of them murdered by ISIL.
Jesus wept, seeing what the Romans were doing to his people. He couldn’t ultimately change it, but he couldn’t ignore it either. His ministry was his response. Once again Chittister tells us, “What we weep for measures what we are. … If we do not allow ourselves to face and feel pain, we run the risk of entombing ourselves in a plastic bubble where our lies about life shrink our hearts and limit our vision.” What do you weep for that moves you to action?
And finally there are what the ancients call ‘the gift of tears’, the grace of sorrow for sin. Have you ever cried over your own brokenness, over something you have done to hurt someone else? Now, we progressive Christians don’t like to talk about sin. We don’t sin, We make mistakes - right? To have ‘the gift of tears’ opens our hearts, awakens our conscience to care about how we have treated others. These tears cultivate humility. They lead us to change our behavior, to ask for forgiveness, to ultimately forgive ourselves.
When he knew that his time on earth was coming to an end, Jesus predicted the weeping that was sure to follow; tears of anger and loss, and yes, “the gift of tears.” Remember, Peter denied he even knew Jesus, and others deserted him, and fell asleep when he asked them to pray with him. But along with the weeping he predicted joy.
In John 16: 20-22 he says to them:
“Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
We know that joy too can produce tears. Tears can produce laughter, and laughter tears. It’s all an interconnected universal language of the soul - a sacred gift from God to help us grow - to become fully human.
Sitting over dinner with friends last week in New Jersey, we started telling stories, and laughing. My sister said the next day she hadn’t laughed that much in ages. I felt the same. It too cleanses and rinses and irrigates our souls. Our world is in need of more laughter these days. So next weeks’ service is entitled “When You’re Smiling.” We will discover that God too has a sense of humor. Let’s sing together the last verse of “Be Still My Soul.”
Be still my soul: the hour will soon be here
when we shall be with God whom we adore,
with disappointment gone, no grief or fear,
sorrow replaced with joy for ever more.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.