Monday, April 3, 2017

Through Weeping….
A Sermon on John 11
By Griff Martin
On the Fifth Sunday of Lent
For the People of First Austin: a baptist community of faith
April 2, 2017

Incarnate God, we ask that you once again take the Word and transform it into a living and breathing reality we can all together experience. Be present here in this space and in these words God for if you are present here then nothing else will matter, but if you are not present here then nothing else will matter. In the name of the Creator, the Christ and the Comforter. 

At some point most of us have been taken with Holden Caulfield, the fictional teenage character from J.D. Salinger’s incredible book The Catcher in the Rye. Maybe it’s his boldness with words, stating exactly how he feels in a way we understand and often wish to say it ourselves. Maybe his rebellious adventure speaks to the rebellion we always desired but were never brave enough to pursue or maybe his story is our story. Maybe it’s his teenage angst, which happens to all of us. Maybe it’s the way he understood the world or the way the world understood him. Or maybe it’s something much deeper, truly sicker, maybe we all can relate to a 250-page novel about trying not to cry.

At its heart that is what the novel is about, trying not to cry, which makes it’s ending so moving. It’s a novel about trying to find ways to keep your inner life and emotions inside, not to let the tears out.

Because a large part of our world sees crying as a weakness, as a liability.
“That’s not worth crying over.”
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
“Boys don’t cry.”
“There’s no crying in baseball.”
“There is no use crying over spilled milk.”
(Even Fergie herself) “Big girls don’t cry.”

And this is not new, Saint Augustine bought into lies like this at one point. When his mother died, he refused to grieve her death because he believed that she had gone on to a better place and grieving her would do no good, he went so far as to believe grieving was morally wrong. Saint’s don’t cry. Until he could no longer not grieve, it was overwhelming for him and the tears came on like a flood and what he found was salvation in his tears. In his words, “The tears flowed and they made a pillow and on them my heart finally rested.” His very tears were agents of healing.

Tears always are. According to UCLA professor Dr. Judith Orloff, tears are always healing. There are three types of tears, reflex, continuous, and emotional. Each type is healing in its own way. Reflex tears allow our eyes to clean our particles which irritate us. Continuous tears keep our eyes lubricated which helps fight infection. Some interesting science, there is a difference in the make up of a reflex tear and an emotional tear. A reflex tear is made up of 98% water, whereas emotional tears contain hormones that are stress related and only get released from our body through crying. And that alone might explain this: after crying our breathing and heart rates both decrease and we enter a calmer biological and emotional state. Crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our bodies’ natural pain killers and uppers. In her words, “tears are the body’s release valve for stress, sadness, grief, anxiety, and frustration.”

Hence why we say we just need a good cry.

Crying is healing. Crying is good science, but it’s also good theology. Scripture is tears from beginning to end:

Sarah died in Hebron in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. (Genesis 23:2)

His family all tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “I will go to my grave mourning for my son,” he would say, and then he would weep. (Genesis 37:5)

"Hannah, why do you weep and why do you not eat and why is your heart sad? (1 Samuel 1:8)

And Jonathan and David wept together, but David wept the more. (1 Samuel 20:41)

Then David and the people who were with him lifted their voices and wept until there was no strength in them to weep. (1 Samuel 30:4)

"My face is flushed from weeping” (Job 16:16)

“I am worn out from sobbing. All night I flood my bed with weeping, drenching it with my tears.” (Psalm 6:6)

My tears have been my food day and night, While they say to me all day long, "Where is your God?" (Psalm 42:3)

And this one- this one is worth holding onto-

“You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.”  (Psalm 56:8)

And the Psalms have a great deal of weeping, but nothing compared to Jeremiah who is known as the weeping prophet.

“Quick! Begin your weeping! Let the tears flow from your eyes.” (Jeremiah 9:18)

This is what the LORD says: "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." (Jeremiah 31:15)

Behold, their brave men cry in the streets, The ambassadors of peace weep bitterly.” (Isaiah 33:7)

"Yet even now," declares the LORD, "Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping and mourning. (Joel 2:12)

And it continues in the New Testament:

“and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.” (Luke 7:38)

“And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, "Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:75)

“But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept.” (John 20:11)

“Weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)

“Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it;” (Revelation 5:4)

From Genesis to Revelation, people weep.

And when God risks incarnation, when God puts on flesh, God weeps. When God’s very presence becomes embodied presence, that presence weeps. Three times in the Gospels Jesus weeps. Including the text we read this day, a text that begins with Jesus and the disciples a long way from home when word reaches them that the one Jesus loves has died. It’s Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha. These are Jesus’ people. This is where he goes to be restored and to find rest. This is home and suddenly his home is full of grief.

So despite the fact that traveling through Judea, to make it home,  will make Jesus vulnerable to his enemies…. despite the fact that what will take place their will most certainly speed up what will take place on Good Friday…. despite the fact that this trip will make Thomas’ prophesy in this text true: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Despite all this, Jesus heads to Bethany to be with Mary and Martha in their grief.

And when he gets close Martha goes racing to meet him. “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.” And then it’s Mary right behind her to meet Jesus, “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.” And there is so much weeping and instead of saying “let us go straight to grave so I can bring him back”, instead of promising the heal that was certainly to come, instead Jesus joins them in their weeping.

Jesus wept. And it’s not just crying and it’s beyond simply the ugly cry, this is weeping. This is wailing and lamentation. This is guttural and physical. This is an expression of grief and mourning that is loud and visible and embodies all of a person.

So why the weeping?

Is it his own grief over a dear friend who is not there? Is it seeing the pain of his own friends and how death has robbed them of life? Is it his knowledge that even after he is gone death is still going to have it’s way here and how much more weeping has to be endured? Is weeping how he joins the community? Does he weep because he hates seeing his people hurt? Does he weep because our lives our fragile and so easily broken? Does he weep to show us that we are not alone in our tears? Does he weep because he knows what is soon to come in his own life? Does he weep because his heart can’t handle one more broken situation?

I think it’s all those reasons and one more.  
Nicholas Wolterstoff was awoken one night to the phone call we all fear, his son who was across the globe rock climbing with friends had been in a fatal climbing accident. He has written of this experience and the lessons he learned in grief in a truly magnificent book, Lament for a Son. In it he writes this of grief, ““If [one] was worth loving, [one] is worth grieving over. Every lament is a love-song.”
Hear the words of Scripture: “Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
Jesus weeps because Lazarus was worth loving and Lazarus is worth weeping over. As are Mary and Martha. As are you and me. Jesus weeps because of his incredible love for each of us, we are worth loving and we are worth weeping over.
Laments and tears and weeping and groaning are all love songs.
And our greatest love, our God weeps. In the words of Duke Chapel Dean Luke Powery, whose words deeply influenced this entire sermon: “God is [always] there, weeping right alongside everyone else just as we are called to weep with those who weep, to be a communion of modern day saints through a spirituality of weeping. God joins the company of suffering and opens himself to the wounds of the world. When God weeps God suffers with the suffering world.”
Jesus wept, so why aren’t we? Because there is a world that is worth weeping over.
A world where currently 34,000 people are forcibly driven out of their homelands everyday because of violence, conflict and war… who leave their homes not for an adventure or a trip, but because leaving their homes and risking death by drowning or hunger are the only options they have if they want to stay alive…. And for this we should weep church.
A world where prejudice and racism is still rearing it’s ugly heads, a world where Jewish cemeteries are the target of hate crimes, a world where Mosques are burned down, a world where black parents have to teach their children what areas of town they can and can’t walk in without fear of being shot…. And for this we should weep church.
A world where bigotry still exists and there are still LGBT individuals who are not accepted in their homes, a world where churches still preach their very being is sinful and where they are still not welcomed, a world where their discrimination is legal, a world that is missing the beauty of all people…. And for this we should weep church.
A city where homelessness is becoming epidemic, where homeless sisters and brothers sleep on our doorsteps and we as a church can’t figure out what our job is to do in that place or even worse we simply ignore it….And for this we should weep church.
A world where one in five women will be raped in their lifetime and one in four girls will be sexually abused. A world where the campus just down the street just released a study that 15% of their students have been raped during their college years. A world full of violence and abuse for an entire gender…. And for this we should weep church.
A world where division has become the norm and where everywhere you turn there are false binaries dividing us, a world where we have lost the common good, a world where we even allow issues of justice to divide us…. And for this we should weep church.
A world where a child dies every 21 seconds from diseases related to not having access to clean water. A world where every 4 seconds a person dies because of hunger related illness…. And for this we should weep church.
A world full of addiction to alcohol and drugs and pornography and power and money…. And for this we should weep church.
A world full of depression and suicide and low self esteem… And for this we should weep church.
A world of oppression and systems of oppression that seem to grow stronger every day…. And for this we should weep church.
A world still full of cancer and heart failure and car accidents and Alzheimer’s…. And for this we should weep church.
A world where a bus full of senior adults on a church outing is hit ad 12 are killed…A world where our morning emails still arrive with a message from our mom that they are in the ambulance with our dad, emails that change our lives forever…. A world where friends fail us…. A world where our spouses cheat on us…. A world where it seems that we are often just a few steps away from falling apart… A world where our bosses call us into their office and we leave unemployed….A world where things don’t always go the way we want them to go and a world that often hurts like hell…. And for this we should weep church.
A world where death still has a hold on us…. And for this we should weep church.
A world that is still not fully yet the promised Kingdom of God… And for this we should weep church.
So may we weep, because it is only in weeping that we may hear the words of salvation: “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.”
Weeping leads to hope. Weeping is holy. Weeping is the way of Jesus. Weeping just may be the most true thing the church community can do together.
So sisters and brothers, may we weep as Jesus wept. May we follow in his example and may the tears flow as baptismal waters for our world.
Amen and Amen.

*artwork: Broken Vessel, by Dan Christopher, 


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