Jesus Still Weeps

Devotional:

John 11.35

Jesus wept.

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Jesus’ emotions in the gospel accounts are often overlooked. We, the readers, often become so consumed by his actions (like the miracles) and his teachings (like the parables) that we miss how Jesus was also fully human in his experiences. Preachers and teachers will gloss over profound verses in which we can discover how Jesus was just like us, in favor of verses where he is anything but us.

And even if we do emphasize Jesus’ emotions it usually comes in the form of focusing on his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane or his cry of dereliction from the cross – both of which are remarkably important, but in those moments we encounter the inner turmoil of the Messiah in a way that is difficult for us to resonate with.

But in John’s gospel we find a small window and vignette into the humanity of Jesus when he cried over the death of his friend Lazarus.

In a strange way, Jesus’ emotional turmoil over the death of his friend brings great comfort to we who call ourselves Christians, because in that moment we see how Jesus still weeps with us as we encounter hardship and injustice and suffering in this world. However, Jesus’ emotional solidarity is not an apathetic response to the world’s tragedies, but instead it is a deep and profound desire for the world to to wake up to the senseless disregard for life that is still all too present.

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Last Wednesday a man in Kentucky attempted to enter a predominately black church and when he failed to get inside he drove to a nearby Kroger grocery store in which he murdered two black individuals in cold blood.

Jesus wept.

On Friday law enforcement officers arrested a man in Florida after he sent at least 13 potential explosive devices to prominent political and media figures in the days preceding. And after searching his property they found a list he created of more than 100 other potential targets.

Jesus wept.

On Saturday morning a man stormed into the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA shouting his hate for Jews while shooting worshipers with an AR-15 in a 20 minute long rampage. 11 were killed and 6 were injured.

Jesus wept.

And so long as we believe that violence reigns supreme, so long as we continue to act and move and speak with such disregard for human life, so long as these types of stories continue to flood our world, Jesus will continue to weep.

May God have mercy on us all. 

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God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

Mark 2.1-5

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

 

 

On the day of the funeral, everything felt too familiar. The pews were filling up with the same people who were here the week before, the same family was waiting in the narthex, and our organist was even playing some of the same music as people were walking in.

I stood right here in front of the gathered congregation and asked everyone to stand for the family. Leading the profession were two daughters who were about to bury their father after burying their mother the week before. Their grief and pain and anger were palpable as they slowly walking down the center aisle, and everyone watched them as they passed.

And we did what we do for a service of death and resurrection. We prayed. We opened up the hymnals and proclaimed God’s faithfulness through song. We listened. We grieved. We cried.

As we finished, I watched the pallbearers stand up and surround the coffin. With hands shaking in nervousness and fear they carried their friend’s body out of the church and put him in the hearse.

And we did what we do when travel to a cemetery. We got in our cars and turned on our hazard lights. We followed one another through the streets of Staunton. We watched cars slow down and pull over out of respect for what we were doing. We drove. We listened. We grieved. We cried.

After arriving at the cemetery, I watched the same pallbearers carry the coffin to the grave over uncertain soil. With sweat perspiring on their foreheads they lowered their friend to the ground and stood beside the family.

And we did what we do by the graveside. We prayed. We listened. We placed dirt on the coffin. We said what we needed to say. We listened. We grieved. We cried.

After the final “Amen” I waited by the grave with a few others, making sure the family was comforted. I overheard familiar and charming anecdotes about the man we just gathered to bury. I witnessed family members reach out to one another for the first time in many years. I saw a lot of tissues filled with tears wadded up in clenched fists.

And then I saw something I’ll never forget. A man, unknown to me, walked right over to one of the daughters devastated by the loss of both her parents. He placed his hand on her shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, God won’t give you more than you can handle.” And with that he turned around and walked away.

God won’t give you more than you can handle.

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I’m sure that all of us here have heard this statement, or some form of it, in our lives. It is part of that trite and cliché Christian-lingo that we use to fill uncomfortable silences when we don’t know what else to say. And it’s not true.

Let’s start with the beginning: God won’t give you… We’ve talked about it with every sermon of this series so far; God doesn’t give us our sufferings. God is not some sadist who delights in our trials and tribulations. God is not some architect of divine destruction. God is not sitting up in heaven plotting away about what terrible things to send for us to handle.

Can you imagine going to a devastated neighborhood in Chicago to families whose sons have been killed by gunfire and saying, “Don’t worry God won’t give you more than you can handle”?

Can you imagine going to a young mother recently diagnosed with breast cancer and saying, “Don’t worry, God won’t give you more than you can handle”?

Can you imagine going to the millions of people in this country who are terrified of losing their healthcare coverage in the next few months and saying, “Don’t worry, God won’t give you more than you can handle?”

God did not kill those families’ sons, God did not give that woman breast cancer, and God is not responsible for the arguments about whether or not to eradicate the Affordable Care Act.

Sometimes, we say things like “God won’t give you more than you can handle” because we don’t know what else to say. We encounter the shadow of suffering that is so suffocating we don’t know how to respond. So instead, we will that awful void with awful words. And we make God into a monster.

The problem is that when we use trite and cliché words like the ones we are confronting this morning, we imply that God chooses to make people suffer.

Jesus, God incarnate, had been on the road for a while, going from town to town, synagogue to synagogue, proclaiming the Good News, teaching about the kingdom of God, and healing those on the margins of society. Word about his ministry spread pretty vast, and he returned to Capernaum for a few days, perhaps to rest. But so many people knew where he was that they surrounded his house and Jesus spoke the Word to them.

Some friends heard about what was happening, so they went to their paralyzed friend and carried him on a mat to Jesus. When they could not bring him to the Messiah because of the crowd, they carried him to the roof, dug through the ceiling, and lowered their friend to Jesus. And when Jesus saw the faith of the friends, he looked at the paralytic and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

What a strange and beautiful story. Friends with such profound faith were willing to carry their friend, and dig through a roof, just so he could encounter the living God.

I often wonder about the tradition of pallbearers at funerals. Did it start of out a practical necessity? Is there strong theological purpose behind it? Is it a unique Christian behavior?

But on the day I buried a husband after burying his wife the week before, the day I saw a man dismissively respond to the daughter’s suffering, I saw the connection between pallbearers, and the friends who carried the paralytic to Jesus.

When we cannot handle what’s happening in our lives, we need people who can carry us, and the ones we love, to Jesus.

We will face adversity in our lives. We will experience hardships. We, or someone we love, may struggle with debilitating depression or suicidal thoughts or grief so heavy it feels like someone is sitting on our chest. We might give in to the temptation of an addiction and lose contact with the people we need most. We may fall into a pit of financial debt that feels impossible to climb out of.

If we are like most human beings, at some point we will absolutely face things that are more than we can handle.

So here’s a corrective. It’s not that God won’t give you more than you can handle, but that God will help you handle all that you’ve been given.

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This acknowledges that trials and tribulation will occur in our lives, and it promises that when we go through the muck and grime of life, God will be present.

When we’re walking through hard times, whether they were given to us by the random chance of life, or they’re a result of our own brokenness, or they’re signs of our captivity to the powers and principalities, it’s okay and good to admit, “I can’t handle this by myself, and I need help.” There are times when we need a doctor, or a therapist to carry us. More often, we need family, friends, pastors, neighbors, and brothers and sisters in our church family to come alongside us to carry us through.

God does not give us more than we can handle. God gives us Jesus Christ so that we can handle what life gives us.

For a lot of people, what happened on Friday in Washington DC was more than they could handle. Whether it was the pent up frustration with the political rhetoric that overflowed over the last 18 months, or witnessing a billionaire place his hands on Abraham Lincoln’s bible, or experiencing the great swing of the pendulum from one political ideology to another, it felt overwhelming. Some responded with violent protests and destroyed shop windows and attacked the police. Others responded with peaceful demonstrations making sure their voices were not stomped out among all the shouting debauchery. There were the political talking heads offering their opinions about who was right and who was wrong. There were smug smiles and there were frightening frowns. The inauguration, for some, was more than they could handle.

For others, the last eight years has been more than they could handle. Whether it was the constant feeling like the country was slipping out of their fingers, or the realization that the American dream is not what it once was, or the rise of oppositional and divisive voices, it felt overwhelming. Some responded with protests and boycotts of particular institutions, others responded by focusing inwardly and praying for change, and still yet others waited patiently for a new direction. For eight years there were plenty of talking heads offering their unsolicited opinions about who was right and who was wrong. The last eight years, for some, was more than they could handle.

Some say the time has come for all of us to just get along. A couple weeks ago I even told you that we, as a church, should have a collective New Year’s resolution to be more kind.

Kindness and getting along are good and nice. But there are people around us, people in our lives, who need more than kindness and getting along. There are people desperately clinging to the hope of their healthcare coverage completely unsure of what it about to happen. There are people who are hopeless when confronting their joblessness and economic futures. There are people shaking and quaking about their faith and whether or not they are going to be forced to register themselves because they wear a particular piece of cloth on their heads. There are people who see police officers as enemies and not community protectors.

There are people in our community; there are people in our church, who have more than they can handle right now.

We need people, like the friends who carried the paralytic to Jesus, to carry others who have more than they can handle. We need people who can look us in the eye and tell us we have a problem. We need people who will call their friends every night just to get them through a profound period of loss. We need people like all the women who marched in solidarity all across the world yesterday. We need people with eyes wide open to the horrible suffering of the people around us so that it does not go on unnoticed. We need people who are unafraid of the consequences for questioning the status quo. Right now, we need people who are brave enough to carry us to Jesus. Amen.

 

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Love Hurts

John 13.31-35

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

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Two weeks ago I stood before all of you and preached about love. I said, “Here we are, just like the disciples, a few weeks on the other side of Easter. For us the normalcy of life has returned. The shadow of the cross has crept back into our daily lives. We turn on the television and we want to know why we live in such a broken world. We confront people who drive us crazy. We grow tired of the seemingly endless race for the White House. We clench our fits with frustration over our lack of control. We worry about our bank accounts, and our children, and our futures.

“And then Jesus has the nerve to show up in our lives and ask, “Do you love me?If we love Jesus, then we have to love one another.”

I think the message was pretty straightforward. Jesus loves us so we should love each other. In fact, none of you complained about the service while shaking hands afterwards, I received zero emails regarding the content of the sermon, and after singing the hymn “Lord, I Want To Be a Christian” most of us left with smiles on our faces.

Today we are here in church reading about another example of Jesus calling us to love. We love this story. It repeats for us our assumption that whatever it means to be Christian, whatever creeds we affirm, whatever beliefs we proclaim, it at least means we are supposed to be nice and loving toward other people.

The fact that we often boil Jesus down to a guy preaching love makes sense. Jesus talks about love all the time in the gospels, toward all people regardless of circumstances. Love, in fact, seems to be what Jesus is all about. And in this story, during his final night with his friends, in his concluding remarks, he tells them to love one another just as he loved them.

Loving one another like Jesus sounds pretty nice. Don’t you think the world really would be a better place if we could all just get along?

Love is lovely, but it also gets us into trouble. If Jesus really was all about love in the Hallmark sense of the word, if we can whittle the entirety of the gospel down to “love one another” then why did Jesus have to die? Why would you put someone to death who is recommending that we love each other?

Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

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Just as I have loved you…

A couple months ago I was sitting at a coffee shop downtown working on a sermon. As I often do, I was wearing a clergy collar and sitting near the door with a cup of coffee and my computer. For the overwhelmingly majority of my sermon writing coffee shop experiences, everyone ignores the pastor in the corner, but not this day.

A guy walked in, looking pretty disheveled, and immediately bee-lined over to me. His eyes were locked onto my collar and, before I knew what he was doing, he fell to his hands and knees and started to kiss my feet. Embarrassed, I tried to get him to stop, and when he could tell that everyone was staring at us, he asked to speak to me outside.

We sat down on a bench and he began to tell me about his troubles. He was down on his luck, no money, no job, no home. He had been kicked out of a couple local homeless shelters, but heard a rumor that he could get better help in Charlottesville. As he went on I caught myself preparing my response in my head rather than really listening to his dilemma. And as I often do I offered him a few dollars and suggested that he try SACRA or any number of other places in town.

He looked at me blankly and said, “Man, I just need a ride to Charlottesville.”

I don’t remember exactly what I said in response but I’m sure that I made excuses about how much work I had to do, or that I really needed to get back to the church. And as I went on listing my justifications he stood up while I was talking and he left me there sitting on the bench. My voice trailed off as he walked away, and before he turned the corner he said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…

Jesus loved people so much, that he was willing to correct them when they were wrong. When Peter tried to tell him that he was not supposed to die on a cross, Jesus quickly replied, “Get behind me Satan, for you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.” Jesus was unwilling to sit idly by while people continued to miss signs of the kingdom and regularly corrected others when necessary.

And once, while I sat stunned on a bench, Jesus lovingly used the words from the story of the Good Samaritan through a homeless man to correct my understanding of what I was doing. That’s the kind of love that Jesus had for people, correcting them with love when they fell from the path

Just as I loved you…

A friend of mine was vexed when someone from his church continued to cheat on his wife. They all lived in a small community where everyone knew everyone’s business. And this particular man would get in his truck, drive to the other side of town, and cheat on his wife. Of course, the wife remained faithful and steadfast, even through she was traumatized by his infidelity.

Friends tried to convince the man that he needed to stop, and he even admitted that he knew what he was doing was wrong and against God’s will, but he couldn’t help himself. They tried getting him in therapy, they tried calling him everyday to remind him to remain faithful, but no matter what they did, it continued.

One day my friend grew so frustrated with the infidelity of the man that he showed up at his house and demanded the keys to the truck. He said, “It doesn’t seem like you can stop yourself, but you’ll have a hard time getting over there without your truck.”

And you know what? It worked.

Jesus loved people so much, that he was willing to disrupt their lives and sensibilities when they were wrong. He once gathered people together and said, “If your arm causes you to sin, cut it off. If your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out.” Jesus was unwilling to sit idly by while people committed horrendous sins against other people and neglected to honor God through their behavior.

And once, through a demand for car keys, Jesus lovingly disrupted a man’s adulterous tendencies. That’s the kind of love that Jesus had for people, disrupting them with love when they fell from the path.

Just as I loved you…

Back in June a young white man entered Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina for bible study. The group gathered together to study God’s Word, and the man listened while they discussed scripture. However, when they bowed their heads in prayer, he took out a gun and killed nine of them.

After he was arrested, the family members of the nine victims were able to speak directly to the shooter during his first court appearance. One by one, each person addressed the murderer and offered him forgiveness.

“I acknowledge that I am very angry,” said the sister of one of the deceased. “But one thing my sister taught me what that we are the family that love built and we don’t have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray for God to have mercy on you.”

“I forgive you,” said the daughter of one of the deceased. “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. May God have mercy on your soul.”

Near the end, the granddaughter of one of the victims stood up and said, “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul, is proof that they lived in love and their legacies will live in love. So hate won’t win.”

Jesus loved people so much, that he was willing to forgive their faults and transgressions even at the point of his death. While the crowds gathered at the foot of the cross, while the crown of thorns dug into his skin, while he felt his life slipping away he prayed, “Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus was unwilling to let anger, and aggression, and hatred get the better of him. He witnessed the abandonment of his disciples and followers, he experienced the people’s movement from “hosanna” to “crucify” and he still forgave them.

And once, while a murderer sat in a courtroom surrounded by the families of his victims, Jesus lovingly forgave him through their willingness to forgive. That’s the kind of love that Jesus had for people, forgiving them with love when they fell from the path.

Jesus didn’t get killed for loving too much. At least not in the way that many of us belittle the kind of radical love Jesus had for the people around him. Jesus got killed because his way of loving challenged the status quo and upset sensibilities. Jesus got killed because his love hurt.

On his final night with his friends, the very people that would be responsible for continuing his message of salvation and love, Jesus offered them a final commandment. “You have to love one another. Just as I loved you, you also should love one another.”

Jesus loved people so much that he was willing to confront others in the midst of their wayward behavior. He knew that time is a fleeting thing and that love, God’s love, demands confrontational action when we act selfishly rather than selflessly.

He was also willing to disrupt actions and attitudes that led to brokenness and abuse. He saw all people for their fundamental worth and he challenged others to seek holiness in every way, shape, or form.

And Jesus was convinced by the power of forgiveness when he was betrayed, broken, and even killed. He lived his life as God in the flesh to point others toward the power of grace and mercy.

To love like Jesus will hurt. It will put us in positions we would rather avoid, it will call our kind of behaviors and practices into question, and it will force us to confront the brokenness in one another. But this is the way everyone will know that we are his disciples, if we love each other just as he loved us. Amen.