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Posts Tagged ‘Grief’

God Listens.

There is so much pain these days, and so many tears need tending to. People need to be heard.

The Burning Bush, by one of the Morton Church children

A Sermon on Exodus 2:23-3:12 (With allusions to Mark 10:46-52)

Moses had no plans to go back to Egypt.  He had left the pain behind.  He had left the whole situation behind.  A fat lot of good it had done when he reacted impetuously to the brutality he saw all those years ago.  It had forced him to flee for his life to Midian.  Now he was well into middle age with a good family, a good job, a good life.

But God never left the suffering and the suffering people behind.  God heard every cry for help and pitied every groan.  God saw everything, knew everything.  And God remembered God’s covenant with all the ancestors of the people.

We do not know how many generations the Israelites endured trauma upon trauma.  Genesis 15 says the oppression lasted 400 years.  Year succeeded year with no relief in sight, and it impacted people’s psyches, shaped their outlook, shaped the lives of their children and grandchildren.  I am sure their cries echoed those that are collected in the Bible in the Book of Psalms, cries like: Are you listening, God?  Have you forsaken us?  How long must we bear this pain?  Is there no one to help us?  When it feels like those cries have not been heard, not been heeded, the pain is multiplied.

But God was listening, and when a new Pharaoh came to power in Egypt, God saw an opportunity to take action.  However, God needed at least one human partner to help.  With his life story, and with his passion for justice, even though it had gone dormant, Moses was just the person God wanted to work in, with and through.

One ordinary workday, God caught Moses’ attention out in the field.  And when Moses came nearer to see what was going on with that bush, God spoke to him.  “I am the God of your ancestors,” God announced.  Then God poured out what was in God’s heart.  “I have seen how miserable my people are,” God said.  “I have heard their cries, and I know how much they are hurting.  I know what slavery is doing to them.  So I have come down here to do something about it, to get them out of there and take them to a fertile place where they will be safe and free.”  Then God repeated, “I have heard their cries!  I have seen what the Egyptians are doing to them!”

Moses’ heart must have stirred with the memory of what he himself had seen.  It certainly was about time God did something!  “And so,” God was saying, “I am sending you to speak to Pharaoh and bring my people out of Egypt.”

“Oh, no,” Moses groaned inwardly.  “Who am I to do that?” Moses exclaimed to God.  And thus began a long argument between Moses and God.  Moses steadfastly maintained he was not the person for the job—no way!—until he finally said flat out, “Lord, please send somebody else!”

There were a lot of reasons why Moses was reluctant to say yes to God’s call.  One objection he raised was his difficulty in speaking clearly.  But God had an answer to that objection and all the rest.

I’m thinking one reason was that if Moses says yes to God’s call, that means Moses will have to see and hear and know what God sees and hears and knows, and I can’t blame him for not wanting to get close to all that anguish and hurt again.  It is not fun to witness people’s distress.  It is distressing to hear people cry.  It can leave you crying, too.  How perfectly understandable if Moses wanted to shield himself from such things.  It’s uncomfortable.  And sometimes people’s cries strike others as a nuisance, even offensive, as Bartimaeus’ loud cries annoyed the people around him.  They wanted him to hush and not interrupt their time with Jesus.

How tempting it is to try to say something to make the hurt stop, like telling an anguished person all the reasons why the situation isn’t all that bad, or that they are overreacting, or explaining that a tragedy is God’s will.  The unspoken message is, “Be quiet.  Move on.” The suffering person is left feeling unheard.

Being unheard, not being taken seriously, especially if it happens again and again, adds to the trauma and leaves lasting effects.  I’ve shared this experience with you before, and thank you for bearing with me as I relate it again.  Surgery is traumatic in general, but it holds special distress for children.  I have vivid memories of surgery and hospitalizations.  When I was nine years old, I went in the hospital for surgery, one of the less invasive ones.  It was the Monday after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon.  That night I didn’t sleep well at all.  I was so nervous I had to get up and go to the bathroom every fifteen minutes.  The next morning I had to wait a long time because the surgery was towards the middle of the day.  Then they took me down to the surgery suite too early and left me waiting all alone on a stretcher out in the hall for what felt like a very long time.  Finally I just couldn’t stand it any more.  I was grieving the whole situation and dreading the sickness I knew was coming on the other side of the operation.  I lost it, and I started crying.  In the operating room, a man in a mask, a doctor I guess, said to me, “If you don’t stop crying, I’m going to slap you.” 

It took me a long time to heal from the damage that did to me.  I never told anybody about it until I was an adult.  I was in my twenties before I told my mother.  I thought it was my fault, that something was wrong with me because I could not stop my tears, that my tenderheartedness was a weakness.  

I don’t think that any more.

My next major operation was at age 12.  That time I didn’t cry.  But I got sick at my stomach before I even went to the operating room.

If that is my small experience, what about people who have been through so much worse?  What about the Israelites who couldn’t stop crying then?  What about people now who cannot stop their tears?  People grieving huge losses.  People afraid for themselves and others.  People for whom fresh news of justice denied or justice delayed rubs more salt into wounds that go way back, memories of thousands of episodes of justice denied or justice delayed, of many, many small cuts, cutting remarks, cutting looks. People who have been told time and again just get over it already, just be quiet.  Disappointed people, angry at the way their lives have turned out, angry that they haven’t been taken seriously.

What about the Israelites, and all God’s children with tears they cannot stop?  God never leaves suffering people behind.  God is listening.  God hears every cry.  God heard my cries that day, and many more since.  God hears your cries.  And God is enlisting partners to do something about it.  

The other day I read a quote from a theologian named Paul Tillich.  He said, “The first duty of love is to listen.”  Amen and amen.  Being still and quiet enough to hear people out is a form of love.  It is a way to humble oneself and take up the cross, to see with God’s eyes and to listen with God’s ears.

God says: I see, I hear, I know the pain, and I have come to do something about it, to take people to freedom and safety.  And so I am sending you to crying children, to struggling children everywhere, to people whose bodies and souls ache, to the anxious and frightened, to those whose wellbeing is precarious for any number of reasons, all of whom need to be listened to well.  Help me get them to a place of freedom and safety!

God said, “I’m sending you, Moses.  Go tell Pharaoh to let my people go.”  So Moses went to his father-in-law Jethro and said, “I have to go back to Egypt.”

AMEN.

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Floor mosaic Strage degli Innocenti (Slaughter...

Matteo di Giovanni, floor mosaic, Cathedral of Siena (detail)

The Gospel lesson for the First Sunday after Christmas in Year A is filled with pain, and so are many people’s hearts this Christmas.  Here is a sermon I preached on this text in January of 2002.  Circumstances made it necessary to delay this sermon until Baptism of the Lord, which was also a communion Sunday for us.

Rachel’s Tears
A Sermon on Matthew 2:13-23 with allusions to Isaiah 25:6-9 and Revelation 21:1-4

One person can cause unbelievable amounts of pain, especially if a few people cooperate and a lot of people look the other way.  No wonder all Jerusalem was disturbed when the Wise Men brought the news of a baby King of the Jews.  All Jerusalem knew what King Herod was capable of if he felt there was the least threat to his position.  Already he had ordered the execution of one of his wives, her mother, several of his sons, three hundred of his court officials, and countless others.  Later, shortly before his death, Herod ordered the imprisonment of a number of the most distinguished citizens of Jerusalem.  At the moment of his death, all these innocents were killed, so that there would be weeping and wailing in Judea.  Herod was well aware that no one would mourn his passing.

What did the lives of the children of Bethlehem matter to Herod?  Compared to the rivers of blood he had already spilled, what did he care about the blood of the twenty or so infants and toddlers that lived in the village?  When the Wise Men failed to return with the intelligence Herod needed to zero in on Jesus, he ordered his soldiers to search out and destroy every child in Bethlehem age two and under.  Jesus would surely be among them.

In a dream, Joseph received a warning about this evil plan.  In a flash he was up, waking Mary, and hurrying to pack a few essentials.  There was no time for more.  In the dead of night they slipped away as quietly and as quickly as they could, leaving everything behind.  Now they were refugees.  Now they would have to find a way to survive in a strange land.  Joseph would have to start all over again: find food, find shelter, find work.  Jesus’ earliest memories would be not of home, but of Egypt.

Soon there was weeping and wailing all over Bethlehem.  (more…)

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