Psalm 30, Matthew 11:25-30, John 14:1-4, 27
Our focus today as part of our sermon series involves exploring a topic that will eventually strike all of us. At some point/s in our lives we will experience some type of loss – death of a loved one, loss of a job, death of a relationship, loss of health. We come to a barrier that for some of us may seem insurmountable. How can we go on with our lives when we are feeling so lonely, so afraid, so vulnerable? Where is God when we are being crushed by the world around us? How do we overcome the pain of loss?
Some will tell us to just get over it. We are Americans and we are accustomed to trials. We simply need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and move on. Often that is just not possible. Our grief takes a special hold on us to the point where we either feel like we too have died or we wish for anything that will take away our pain, even death itself. We can’t see any hope. We can’t acknowledge anything outside our little world of despair. God is truly distant from us, hidden away from view.
I do not pretend to be an expert on grief. I have had my share but that in no way makes me an expert. In preparing for today I did consult several sources that provided some pretty sound advice for overcoming loss. First, we need to acknowledge that it is ok and even necessary to grieve. If we bury our feelings deep and pack our days with activities in order to drown out our sorrow and/or avoid being alone we are setting ourselves up with unrealistic expectations. If your loved one departs your life by chance or by choice you are left with an emptiness. There is no shame in feeling sorrow – love is a powerful part of us, therefore the loss of love is also powerful. When we lose a job or a partner through separation or divorce we somehow no longer feel complete, as if our value was measured by what we did or what role we played as opposed to who we are. When we struggle with health issues it’s as if we have to learn a new way of life and sometimes that is just overwhelming. We’re tired, we’re weak, we’re discouraged. It may be helpful to accept that you to allow yourself to grieve when you experience loss. There is nothing more human. Consider this song called “Cry Out to Jesus” from the group known as Third Day. [Play video]
Second, we can look at the examples in scripture of those who grieved. The Psalms are packed with what I call the Blues Psalms – those Psalms that clearly show the author in periods of peril and grief. Often there is a turning point in the Psalm that shows an ultimate hope in almighty God. We read promises as noted in Psalm 30:5 – “We may cry through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” We see scriptures like our gospel lesson that assure us that Jesus’ yolk is easy and his burden is light. We are reassured that the characters depicted in the Bible were human too, struggling to go through life’s trials while still maintaining their faith in God. We are in good company when we read stories of Hannah and Naomi, Job and David. Grieving a loss of any kind is a process we do not have to be embarrassed about or want to conceal from others because we are afraid of how we may appear. Realizing that God is with us no matter the situation can help to ease our burden a bit. We are not promised a life without burdens, but we are told that Jesus’ yolk is easy, and his burden is light.
For some, grief has a tendency to turn them toward God and others to turn away from God. I do not believe God would want us to be caught in a pit of grief so deep we cannot seem to see any way out. Some friends of ours lost their son when he was sixteen years old. This young man took his own life, and his father was the one to find him. The grief these parents experienced was palpable. Their son was a regular attendee to church and youth activities. He seemed to have a stable network of friends and family. It was such a shock to this family that his mother found herself falling into a steep depression.
As the first Christmas without her son rolled around, this mother came home from work on Tuesdays and she found a nativity figurine hooked to her screen door. The first was an angel, clothed in pure white. The next was an animal, then a wise man, then Joseph, and so on until she had an entire nativity set in time for Christmas. Those figurines were not expensive or elaborate. What they represented to her was hope – hope in Jesus to see her through and hope for her son at his darkest moment. While she had turned inward, God – through a blessed friend, gave her hope and a reason to go on. Every year, she and her husband spend time alone on the anniversary of their son’s death, yet every year they emerge stronger and more hopeful as they trust in God. Giving our grief to God is a powerful way to help cope with the pain of loss.
Finally, we are encouraged to share our grief with others. Whether this is with friends and family members or with a professional we need to share our grief in order to be reassured that we are not alone. I’ve said this many times but it bears repeating, we need each other. We need to know that when the family members go back home and the last casserole dish is returned, we still have a network of caring individuals, the church, who gives us hope and a reminder that God is with us. When the friends have stopped calling because we are no longer a couple we need the church to remind us that God is with us. When our health is failing and there is no one who understands fully what we are experiencing, we need the church to remind us that God is with us.
How can we be the church instead of attending the church? What does it mean when I say we need to take the church beyond our four walls? The scripture lesson from the children’s sermon rings true for us – when we do it for the least of these, we have done it for Jesus. What is ‘it?’ Someone may need a ride to the grocery store because he/she can no longer make the trip alone. Someone may need to share a meal because the thought of cooking a meal for one is too much to bear. Someone may need a visit so he/she knows another person cares enough to listen without judgment. A single parent may need someone to help tutor his/her child in math because he/she is working two jobs just to keep a roof over their heads. A child who is being bullied may need someone who can teach them confidence and help create a network of safety. Church – how do we transform the world? One person at a time.
I encourage you this week to look and think outside the box. Look beyond your own realm of responsibility and consider the needs of others. You don’t have to look very hard to find someone who needs an extra helping of kindness. Your elderly neighbors may want a little help with some spring projects. Hungry children in our neighborhood continue to need our support. The children on our immediate street need a safer playground – can you help us raise money to replace our equipment knowing this is truly a ministry of this church, touching the lives of many in our community. Can we inspire a young person to stay in school? Can we visit someone who is sick or shut in this week? Take action – put your faith into action. It is my prayer that when acts of kindness we do are witnessed by others, our response will be, “I am a follower of Jesus and a member of Mayo UMC. I don’t know any other way to act.” When your faith in Christ is genuine, people will notice. Carry the light with you now and always, especially during the darkest times and the fiercest storms. God will be with you now and always. Amen.