In light of the events of the past few days, this morning I offer my sermon from this past Sunday. Our regular congregational focused blogs will resume in the coming days.
Grace, Peace, Joy, and Prayers
Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer
How long will you forget me, Lord? Forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long will I be left to my own wits,
agony filling my heart? Daily?
How long will my enemy keep defeating me?
3 Look at me!
Answer me, Lord my God!
Restore sight to my eyes!
Otherwise, I’ll sleep the sleep of death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I won!”
My foes will rejoice over my downfall.
5 But I have trusted in your faithful love.
My heart will rejoice in your salvation.
6 Yes, I will sing to the Lord
because he has been good to me.
John 11: 27-37
27 She replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, the one who is coming into the world.”
28 After she said this, she went and spoke privately to her sister Mary, “The teacher is here and he’s calling for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Jesus. 30 He hadn’t entered the village but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were comforting Mary in the house saw her get up quickly and leave, they followed her. They assumed she was going to mourn at the tomb.
32 When Mary arrived where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled. 34 He asked, “Where have you laid him?”
They replied, “Lord, come and see.”
35 Jesus began to cry. 36 The Jews said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”
How long, O Lord???
How long will we weep?
How long will JESUS weep?
Earlier this week, we had a network outage at Union that allowed me to sit down and write not just today’s sermon, but get a solid draft written for next week. Life was good. And then Friday happened. I couldn’t stand up here and preach a happy sermon. I couldn’t pretend everything is ok… because it isn’t. Things aren’t ok. I’m scared and sad. I don’t know what to say right now. And I know I am not the only one.
Friday evening, my husband and I were making dinner and getting ready to go play games with our friends. Somewhere between cleaning up dinner and sticking some brownies in the oven, I checked my phone and saw a report about an attack in Paris. “Well, crap” I said as I read the headline to my husband, wondering when things like this would quit showing up on my news feed… wondering if someone thought this might be a fun “Friday the 13th” prank. We went about our life after a mild lament. I said a quick prayer as I slipped the brownies in the oven, “Lord be with them.”
After a few hours of playing with our baby nephew and some competitive card games, we checked our phones real quick while the baby was checked on. “Over 40 killed.” “Multiple Attacks Ravage Paris.” “Prayers for Paris.” I quickly dug deeper when I realized that I wasn’t seeing the fun Friday night pictures littering my Facebook, but instead pleas, pictures of Paris, and terrifying headlines. My heart ached for Paris.
Yesterday morning, hoping to find an uplifting article on the situation I pulled out my phone. Baghdad. Beirut. Japan. Paris. Syria. Kenya. Mexico. Some I missed on Friday as I wrapped up work and enjoyed having a sermon completely written and even printed already. Some were brand new. I laid there in bed wondering what in the world was going on. Wondering when it would end. My heart broke. The only clear thought that I had was simply, “Jesus wept.”
Jesus did indeed weep. We wept. In those moments on Friday evening, unfortunately like so many before, we all wept together.
This morning, I personally find myself asking the same questions as David, Mary, and the Jews.
“How long will you forget me, Lord? Forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long will I be left to my own wits, agony filling my heart? Daily? How long will my enemy keep defeating me?”
HOW LONG?? How long will time freeze when we see “Breaking News” flash on our TV screens? The first time I remember seeing that, I was in the 8th grade and the next thing I heard was that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. My heart still stops when I see that screen as I pray “Oh God, please don’t let it be bad.” On Friday night, it was bad and grew to horrific as the weekend progressed.
How long will find ourselves lying in bed reading reports of mass shootings and bombings? How long will those reports overshadow the natural disasters that really no one can explain, like the earthquake in Japan and Mexico? How long will the personal agendas of self-centered jerks block our view of God?
I want to stand up here and say “look around at the world around us and see the many ways that God loves us,” but on mornings like this, I am with David. I want to know why God is hiding his face from us. I want to know how long we will have to stand here, defeated. I want to cry out to God to look at us, to look at our pain and losses and take care of us. Help us! I don’t want to feel like we are in this alone. My brain tells me that isn’t the case, but right now, it feels like it.
Both Mary and Martha, dropping at Jesus’ feet following the death of her brother, cried out “Lord, if you had been here he wouldn’t have died!” How many people around the world are crying the same thing? How many of us, even for a fleeting moment, have thought that- this weekend or during another tragedy? How many of us have wondered where God was, and if God had been there would the outcome be different?
“He healed the blind man but he couldn’t save Lazarus?” How many of us stand with this group of Jews right now. How many of us wonder why so many other terrorist threats have been thwarted, but not these. How many of us wonder why so many earthquakes have been almost uneventful, but Japan has suffered yet another powerful one. How many of us wonder why a religion that appears to put persecution of others before all else, seems to be winning in this round.
I will claim it. I have had many of these thoughts this weekend. I want to know what in the world is going on and why God is letting it happen. I want to explain all of this away with a simple theology term or statement from our confessions- that is why I went to seminary after all, right? But- I can’t. Instead, I stand here with the rest of the world asking the same questions, looking for the same answers.
In the midst of the fear and questioning though, we find two words that change everything. Two words that we can remember almost any other time but we forget when we are in panic mode. Jesus wept.
When the young child was shot in the drive-by, Jesus wept.
When the college student fell from the balcony, Jesus wept.
When the older man struggled for his final breath, Jesus wept.
When the young mother broke down under the pressure, Jesus wept.
When the bible study members were shot by the stranger they welcomed, Jesus wept.
When the bombs detonated in Beirut, Baghdad, and Paris, Jesus wept.
When the ground shook in Japan and Mexico, Jesus wept.
When the gunshots rang out in Syria and Kenya, Jesus wept.
When we weep, Jesus weeps. That is where I find comfort in these times. No matter what else is going on, God is with me in my pain. God doesn’t want to see this happening- look at the story of the flood when God tried to rid the world of this and start fresh. God even promised to not get involved in such a way again, giving us the opportunity to use our free will in a way that could build up God’s Kingdom… and this is what has happened. The last thing that God had planned for us was that we would live in a world that seems to move from one shooting or bombing to the next. Time is no longer measured by seasons, but instead by the number of days since the last attack. This is not what God created us for. This is not what Christ came to teach to us.
Christ came to share and teach God’s love.
Where is that today?
In the midst of ISIS attacks and threats, in the midst of shootings and suicides, in the midst of pressure from work and pressure at home- where can we find God’s love and grace?
I know, this sounds so cliché but I say this because it is true- we find God’s love and grace all around us.
When chaos was breaking out in Paris, I found reassurance as I looked in the eyes of a sweet baby smiling back at me. My heart broke for the victims of the attack, but my heart was filled with a love unlike any other at the same time. That is what God does for us.
When I read about Japan, Baghdad, and Beirut I found reassurance in the warm purring of our cat, sleeping soundly between us and enjoying the light pouring through the window.
It seems superficial to some, but sometimes that is how we have to see the world. In the midst of chaos, we have to take note of the even the smallest things that God has given us. Even in those, we find God’s love.
I am not saying that a baby’s smile or a cat’s purr will change the world, but it can help to refocus us. Take a minute and close your eyes. Think about the hours before you came to church. What happened- what did you hear, feel, see, smell, or touch that reminded you that God is with you? Hold onto that. In all that you do today, keep that memory with you. Remember, in all things that God is with you.
I can’t explain the earthquakes. I can’t explain the shootings and the bombings. I can’t explain most of what we see on the news each day. I wish I could. Life would be so much easier that way.
I can remind you that God loves us though. When it feels like the world is crashing down around us, God loves us. When we can’t explain anything, God loves us.
As David said, “I have trusted in your faithful love. My heart will rejoice in your salvation. Yes, I will sing to the Lord because he has been good to me.”
When we sing to the Lord, in a way that all can see, we won’t bring an end to these horrific events but we just might change the heart of one person. We don’t know who that person will be, and we don’t know what they will do after we meet them. But when we share God’s love and praise God in all that we do, maybe… just maybe, something in the world might change. Maybe, a school shooting will be prevented. Maybe, a bar bombing will be prevented. Maybe, a city massacre will be prevented. Or maybe, we might just make someone smile after a really bad day. We don’t know. But it never hurts to try.
We don’t know how long this will go on. But we do know that as we weep, Jesus weeps. This is not what God had planned, but we can work together to slowly usher in the world that was intended.
Presbyterian pastor, Fred Rogers, once said “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” When we share God’s love, we help. When we reach out to our neighbors and offer God’s grace, we help. Be the helpers. Be the ones who are loving instead of hurting.
This morning, as we prepare to go into a world full of pain but also full of God’s love, let us go to God in prayer using a prayer shared by PC(USA) on Friday evening.
God of mercy, whose presence sustains us in every circumstance, in the midst of unfolding violence and the aftermath of terror and loss, we seek the grounding power of your love and compassion.
In these days of fearful danger and division, we need to believe somehow that your kingdom of peace in which all nations and tribes and languages dwell together in peace is still a possibility.
Give us hope and courage that we may not yield our humanity to fear.., even in these endless days of dwelling in the valley of the shadow of death.
We pray for neighbors in Paris, in Beirut, in Baghdad, (added: in Japan, in Syria, in Mexico, in Kenya) who, in the midst of the grace of ordinary life–while at work, or at play, have been violently assaulted, their lives cut off without mercy.
We are hostages of fear, caught in an escalating cycle of violence whose end cannot be seen.
We open our hearts in anger, sorrow and hope: that those who have been spared as well as those whose lives are changed forever may find solace, sustenance, and strength in the days of recovery and reflection that come. We give thanks for strangers who comfort the wounded and who welcome stranded strangers, for first responders who run toward the sound of gunfire and into the smoke and fire of bombing sites.
Once again, Holy One, we cry, how long, O Lord? We seek forgiveness for the ways in which we have tolerated enmity and endured cultures of violence with weary resignation. We grieve the continued erosion of the fabric of our common life, the reality of fear that warps the common good. We pray in grief, remembering the lives that have been lost and maimed, in body or spirit.
We ask for sustaining courage for those who are suffering; wisdom and diligence among global and national agencies and individuals assessing threat and directing relief efforts; and for our anger and sorrow to unite in service to the establishment of a reign of peace, where the lion and the lamb may dwell together, and terror will not hold sway over our common life.
In these days of shock and sorrow, open our eyes, our hearts, and our hands to the movements of your Spirit, who flows in us like the river whose streams makes glad the city of God, and the hearts of all who dwell in it, and in You.
In the name of Christ, our healer and our Light, we pray, Amen.