"Through ... Sorrow"

I Peter 1:3-9; John 11: 17-44

Inspired by John Wesley’s Sermon, “Heaviness Through Manifold Temptations”
By: Michael Roberts

On the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem one week before the crucifixion, he is found looking out over the city and weeping. We get two sentences about why. Jesus says, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42).

 

I believe that it is worthy for us to fill this out a bit, and speculate on some possibilities that might have caused Jesus to weep that day. The very kingdom of God was in their midst, but so many had missed it. The way of life and love had been revealed and so many were blind to it. Maybe Jesus was weeping because of the large number of people who were so worked up hoping that the Jerusalem Lions could beat the Jericho Jaguars or if they might be able to get the point guard from the Bethlehem Badgers for the tournament. Oh, it would be so devastating if they lost this opportunity! The kingdom of God was right before them, and so much emotional energy was focused elsewhere. And Jesus cries. Perhaps Jesus is also weeping because he notices so many children who are hungry, and so many others who don’t seem to notice at all. In fact, many seem to be putting a lot of energy into not noticing. Or, perhaps Jesus is crying because he remembered the time when he healed a man on the Sabbath and how the religious leaders got so upset because he had broken the law in doing good. We can read how Jesus grieved that day as well because of the “hardness of their heart.” (Mark 3:5).

 

Jesus did his fair share of grieving while he walked this earth. For another big example, we just heard the story of Jesus going to see Martha and Mary, after their brother and his friend Lazarus had died. I want us to note this morning how the kingdom operates in this situation. Of course, Jesus can do something about this. He had the power to bring Lazarus back to life, but that’s not where Jesus starts. Nor does Jesus start by telling Martha and Mary to “just get over it.” He doesn’t admonish them for their pain, or even their questioning. Instead, he does an amazingly beautiful thing. It is found in what is known as the shortest verse in the Bible. “Jesus wept.” Jesus is “deeply moved,” as the lesson says, and he cries with them. This is the first sign of new and true life to them.

 

I love the story of the little girl who was sent on an errand by her mother. She took much too long in the coming back, and her mother was not happy when she finally returned. She demanded an explanation, and the little girl explained that on her way home she had met a friend who was crying because her doll was broken. "Oh," said the mother, "then you stopped to help her fix her doll?" "No," said the girl, "I stopped to help her cry."

 

That's what Jesus does. Before he tries to fix anything, he cries with Martha and Mary. In time, Jesus raises Lazarus, and brings him back to an earthly physical life for a while longer. It is a great blessing, but that’s almost anticlimactic. The true blessing comes in the giving and receiving of love. That’s the great miracle here. That’s where “resurrection and life” are most evident.

 

In our first lesson, we heard Peter talk about this as well. Peter is writing to Jewish Christians who had been scattered from Jerusalem and were now living away from home. They were struggling with how to be faithful in a strange land. They were “suffering” through “many trials.” And why were they suffering and grieving? It was precisely because of their faith. This is the big truth for the day. Faith does not shield us from sorrow and suffering. In fact, as our hearts are opened to love, sorrow can increase. In God’s kingdom, we become more and more aware of the suffering around us and we, like Jesus, are “deeply moved.” Faith can bring that kind of suffering.

 

And how do we handle this suffering? Well, we don’t say, “Hey, get over it; everything will be OK; be strong; have faith.” No. It is true that everything will be OK. As Peter says, we are given a living hope through the resurrection of Christ. We have an inheritance that is imperishable and undefiled. This hope, however, does not harden us to suffering. This inheritance is not an escape from sorrow. In fact, this inheritance can be summed up with the word love. And, on this side of heaven, we experience this love by embracing needs in the world and working to redeem them. In this love, we rejoice, as Peter says, even as we suffer and grieve now. In this love, we experience resurrection and life, even now.

 

Perhaps the best word to describe this dynamic is the word “compassion.” Passion means “to suffer.” The prefix “com” means “with” or “together.” So, compassion is when we “suffer with” others. It is not feeling sorry for them, or trying to fix things for them. Compassion is walking with others in their pain or struggle and bringing into the pain and struggle the light that illuminated God’s love. As we “suffer with” others, we open our hearts to the very love of God and bring this love into the world. It is our calling.

 

As human beings, none of us can take on all the suffering and grief of the world. That’s more than we can bear, but all of us are called to some form of ministry where we will get to experience this love and share it with others. What is that for you? What breaks your heart in faith? People who are hungry? Children in need? Youth struggling to find their way? Older adults who would love a visit? There are so many possibilities for ministry in the light of these spiritual burdens on our hearts. It is true that if you get involved you will experience sorrow. Your heart will break even more. But you will open your heart to the love of God. You will be able to see the living hope of God before you. And you will receive the strength to make it through to that inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled, there for you. Amen.