STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH MAY 10, 2020
Rev Sabrina Ingram
WORSHIPPING TOGETHER AT HOME
Call to Worship: Isaiah 25: 6 – 8
“Here on this mountain, God-of-the-Angel-Armies will throw a feast for all the people of the world, A feast of the finest foods, a feast with vintage wines, a feast of seven courses, a feast lavish with gourmet desserts. God will banish the pall of doom hanging over all peoples, the shadow of doom darkening all nations. Yes, he’ll banish death forever. And God will wipe the tears from every face. He’ll remove every sign of disgrace from his people, wherever they are. Yes! God says so!
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Compassionate God, not only do you see our sorrows, you bear them with us. And not only do you bear our grief, you came in Christ and wept with us. It is an amazing thing that you, the Sovereign Lord of All, bends down to identify with your creation. Not only that but you empathize with us, sharing our sadness. You seek to bless us and to transform our sorrow to joy.
We confess that we have done things that have brought injury and sorrow to others. We are not always a-tune to the sufferings of those around us or the pain in our world. We can fall into self pity. Sometimes we bottle up our grief, instead of letting it flow as a gift from you. When we are in grief, it is hard for us to trust you or to believe that the future can be good. Forgive us.
In our time of worship, help us to come to be raw and vulnerable in your presence. Comfort our sorrows and increase our faith. May we lift up your holy name and renew our hope trusting that you are the Lord of Life. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon: Isaiah 30: 19
“Oh yes, people of Zion, citizens of Jerusalem, your time of tears is over. Cry for help and you’ll find it’s grace and more grace. The moment he hears, he’ll answer.”
Prayer for Illumination:
Lord God, wipe away the tears from our eyes, the pain from our hearts and the despair from out souls, so that we may know peace and joy, and share our hope with others. Amen.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5: 4 NRSV
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” The Message
Romans 7: 14 – 24
Revelation 22: 1 – 7
Matthew 23: 37 – 39
While all the Beatitudes challenge our paradigms, today’s borders on being an oxymoron. “Blessed are those who mourn”. Is there any such thing as a “happy mourner”? With the exception of greedy siblings looking at a will, I’ve yet to meet anyone who has thought “I’m in grief, lucky me!” or “I’m in grief, goody! I’ll get to be comforted” and done their happy dance. Certainly, losing a person who is “most dear to you” doesn’t make us feel blessed. Lost, sad, despondent, sick, abandoned, stabbed through the heart, yes, but not blessed, not happy. More often than not, when a loved one dies, we do not feel comforted. If anything, it’s often a time when we feel God has deserted us. So, what was Jesus talking about? It’s doubly perplexing when we recall that Jesus himself knew grief. Our “man of sorrows” wept on his way to the tomb of his friend Lazarus, in part out of empathy for Lazarus’ friends and family. He wept in the Garden of Gethsemane where he experienced “sorrow and anguish”. Hebrews says, “While he lived on earth, anticipating death, Jesus cried out in pain and wept in sorrow as he offered up priestly prayers to God.” (Hebrews 5:7). And he wept over Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Let’s look at these.
People cry. Tears are one of God’s most amazing gifts. When our hearts are overwhelmed with sorrow, our pain leaks out through our eyes; it’s like a safety valve so we don’t implode from our distress. Losing someone we love, creates unending sadness. Because we never forget them, we’re always aware of their absence. Death tears that person away from us and no one can replace them. Death doesn’t seem like a blessing to those left behind. And in some way, there’s little anyone can do to comfort us. No one can change our circumstances. Jesus raised Lazarus from death, but that’s a rare occurrence. Normally, we’re left to deal with our grief. In a different way, we might say God has blessed us, because we’ve loved someone enough to mourn them. The person we’ve lost brought us great joy or we wouldn’t feel great pain. We danced our happy dance when they were alive because we had some whom we loved and who loved us. Love like that isn’t as common as we may think. When my mother-in-law lost her second husband, who was the love of her life, she said she told God she wouldn’t get angry or pity herself, she was going to be thankful that she’d had him in her life, even for a short time. She was going to focus on her blessings rather than her loss. So that’s one way to understand this beatitude. But I think Jesus was going for something deeper still. We could also phrase this beatitude this way: If you mourn, the comfort you receive will bring you to God, where you will once again find blessings and happiness. It’s a process. Scripture doesn’t tell us not to weep for our loved ones. But we can find peace in knowing that God is with us, even in our darkest hours. Further, our God is one of resurrection. When our grief settles down to the point that we are able to engage in life again, God still has many other good things in store for us. Although we’re miserable and think our misery will never cease, it does subside in response to God’s comfort, and we’re able to find other sources of happiness in life.
In Jesus situation with Lazarus, he wept not only for his own loss, but out of empathy for those around him. Not all our grieving is for ourselves. We also mourn when we see the pain of others. We bear each other’s burdens so no one will be crushed by the weight of their anguish. When we weep over the tears of others, God’s blessing fall on us as well.
Death isn’t the only circumstance that causes us to mourn. When Jesus came near Jerusalem, he wept over the sadness of their history, the mistakes they’d made particularly as they rejected God’s word given through the prophets. We weep over the brokenness in our world. We weep over children gone astray. We weep for people who’ve lost loved ones in a pandemic. We weep for the starving and abused. We weep for genuine victims of the cruelty or selfishness of others. We weep over war zones, over those who perpetuate war and for those whose lives are devastated by it. We weep for the environment. I went through a stage when every time I watched the news, I cried for the pain of others. I confess that it got so bad, I had to stop watching the news for a time. When we weep over our shattered planet with so many wounded souls, we weep with God. We weep right along side God, and so there is the blessing of being united with Christ, and there’s comfort in knowing that God too shares our sadness. And comfort in remembering God is working out his plan of salvation and healing through Christ.
We also weep for ourselves. I grew up with a father who wouldn’t tolerate “self-pity”. Crying was considered “selfish”. But hard things happen in life. People can be unkind or betray us. We lose not only people, but jobs, homes, money, our health. We fear bad things, which to a degree, is a wise response. Jesus gives us permission to acknowledge our losses. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he too was fearful. He sought God’s will and he sought God’s comfort. In kindness to ourselves we too can ask for God’s comfort and God’s guidance.
We also lament when we are truly sorry for something we’ve done. When we see, own, and confess the ugliness and sin within us and our expressions of that sin in the lives of others. When we regret something deeply, we mourn and seek forgiveness. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, not only because of their past, but because they would not weep for themselves. They wouldn’t repent. While it is a good thing to confess by acknowledging we are “poor in spirit”, it’s another thing to be contrite – to lament our lack and want to change. When we mourn over our own sin, we are blessed with the comfort of God’s mercy and grace.
Revelation tells us there will come a time when tears will dry up and sorrow will cease. We look forward to that day. In the meantime, our tears are precious to God. And God is present to our every sorrow and heartache. God reaches out to comfort us. Knowing this we take heart. Even if we lose everyone and everything, God is still with us, ready to wrap his comforting arms around us. We know his grace even in our gloomiest times, and while a happy dance may be just a little too much in that moment, we can rest in a safe place. And in an inexplicable, unnoticed, miraculous way, our safe place eventually becomes our happy place.
Questions for reflection:
Have you ever experienced blessing in the midst of grief?
Who have you grieved the most in your life?
Over what things in our world do you mourn?
What things have others done to you which created deep sorrow?
What things about yourself do you lament?
Does it make any difference to you that Jesus also wept?
When have you experienced God’s comfort?
Lord, we thank you for your goodness to us even in times of sorrow. We offer ourselves to you so that we may bring your comfort to those who weep and so be a blessing to them. Amen.
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
God, we are grateful for the people with whom we share or have shared a deep love and for those who walk life’s journey with us. We are grateful that when we are filled with sorrow, you are there to comfort us. We thank you that when we mourn you do not dismiss us but seek to bless us.
There are people we know who are mourning – perhaps even ourselves – and we hold them up to you. Help them to find healing and hope in your goodness. We pray for all those who have lost loved ones to CoVid 19, help them deal with the suddenness of death and the apparent injustice to them. Help them forgive those who have passed this illness along. We pray also for the families and friends of the soldiers who were killed in the helicopter crash and ask for your peace in the midst of a tragedy that seems so unnecessary.
We pray for our broken world where there is much betrayal, injustice, and abuse. We pray for countries where people are oppressed by their own leaders. We pray for places where there is little food and people are always on the brink of death. We pray for young people who are forced into slavery. We pray for people who are persecuted for their faith and especially for those who are persecuted for loving Jesus. We pray for orphaned children.
We lament our own sins and short-comings, the many times when we have hurt another intentionally or unintentionally. Only in your can we find forgiveness. Help us to change. May we be reconciled to those we’ve injured.
We pray for our society in this time of transition, asking you to give us patience and to show us how to exist in what is presently “normal”. Relieve our stress and help us to be loving.
And we pray for those we know who are ill or recovering from surgery. And we hold up those who do not know you yet.
We pray in the name of Jesus, who taught us to pray saying…
The Lord’s Prayer.
Invitation to Mission
We go from here to share the sorrows of our world
To grieve with those who grieve,
To lament over the evil we witness,
And to bring your blessings wherever we go.
May the Triune God bless you and keep you. Amen.