One of the things about being human is that we are known to break down every now and again and have a good cry
Some of us are even known to cry at the drop of a hat --- as the expression goes
But not everyone
Big Boys Don’t Cry is the unwritten rule that seems to be drilled into us by society.
Do you remember Dan Rather --- that hard hitting news anchorman for CBS?
He was known for his aloofness and the fact that nothing could rattle him.
But shortly after 9/11 he appeared on the Letterman show and people were shocked when talking about the attack he began to cry.
Big Boys Don’t Cry
But they do . . .
I cry over everything --- it is embarrassing.
And I try hard to cover it up.
Commercials – I cry
Plays --- I cry
Anything sentimental --- I can’t help it
At the Wedding on Sunday, the brides brothers were betting how long it would take before the dad began crying --- watching him struggling to hold back his tears --- well, it brought tears to my eyes.
The truth is a lot of us cry
Kids cry when their feelings are hurt
When their mom leaves them with a babysitter
Or when a teacher scolds them for being disruptive in class
We cry during arguments
At the loss of a loved one
When watching a movie
When listening to a song
When a thought runs through our minds
When we win the lottery
When our children do us proud
When our child gets married --- or when they don’t
We cry tears of revenge
Tears of empathy
Tears of pleasure
Tears of pain and anguish
The bible is full of stories filled with tears
Abraham weeps when Sarah dies
Joseph bawls when he meets Benjamin
David cries at the death of his son Absalom
Jesus, in that famously short verse weeps over the death of Lazarus
Some, I will cynically add, seem to have the ability to cry on cue when it benefits them.
I imagine, we can all think of people that this is true about
But why all this crying ---- and what does it have to do with Ash Wednesday?
Today marks the beginning of lent --- the season of the church year that invites us to journey through the darkness of Jesus persecution and death to his resurrection.
The prophet Joel invites us to cry
To cry tears of repentance
Divine judgment is on its way and God --- speaking through Joel says to us: “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning”
This coming day of the Lord is terrifying to the people of Joel’s day --- but God is offering them an opportunity to return to a relationship with God --- return through tears of repentance
But --- Joel says --- these tears must be authentic
God isn’t interested in our crocodile tears --- or in weeping designed to manipulate others.
God is interested in weeping that accompanies authentic change of heart
Weeping that leads to repentance
To repent is to literally turn your life around and walk in a new direction
It means to turn away from sin --- whatever is keeping us from God --- and turn toward God’s way and love
“Return to the Lord, you God,” begs the prophet, “for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
It is here that our crying gets complex
Crying is not only a sign of sorrow over our sins --- but it can also be an expression of joy over God’s goodness.
Joel reminds us that we are invited to turn toward a gracious and forgiving God --- not toward a vengeful and punishing God.
Full of goodwill
Showing the love of a mother for her child
Slow to anger
Waiting patiently for repentance
Full of steadfast love
Just think of the parable of the Prodigal son
The prodigal goes off to a distant country
Squanders his fortune in dissolute living
And THEN he repents
By that I mean when he hits rock bottom he decides to turn himself around and return to his father.
Lloyd Ogilvie, chaplain of US senate from 1995 – 2003, reminds us that although this story is commonly known as “the parable of the Prodigal Son” it really ought to be called the “parable of the prodigal God”
Think about it ----
The father represents God in the story and the father is really the prodigal
Prodigal of course means: one who spends or gives lavishly and foolishly
God is the one who is extravagant --- lavish --- unrestrained --- maybe even foolish in his love
The Good News, of course, is that God’s forgiveness knows NO boundaries
His joy knows no restraint
God runs to meet us
God puts God’s arms around us --- kisses us and welcomes us home
What Joel wants us to remember is that our crying ---- whether happy or sad --- should result in changed behavior.
Joel says: “rend your hearts and not your clothing”
Change your insides and not just your outsides
Make sure your fasting and weeping and mourning are part of a new walk --- not just a new talk
What Joel is really speaking out against is hypocrisy
People who say they are repenting --- turning around --- but fail to do it
Barbara Brown Taylor suggests that repentance is not complete until confession and pardon lead to “penance”
Penance being a set of actions that allow community to be restored
“Just for a lark,” she suggests, “image going to your pastor and confessing your rampant materialism, your devotion to things instead of people, and your isolation from the poor whom Jesus loved.”
Picture yourself confessing, with tears, all those things that you have done to rip the fabric of your community
She goes on:
“Then imagine being forgiven and given your penance: To select five of your favorite things --- including perhaps your Bose radio and your new Coach book bag --- and to match them up with five people who you know would turn cartwheels to have them. Then on Saturday, put your lawn mower in your trunk, drive down to that transitional neighborhood where all the old people live and offer to mow lawns for free until dark.”
I hope you are noticing that none of this is what you might call “standard punishment”
None of it is designed to inflict pain on you
Instead it is penance --- which is for the purpose of showing that your life is now turned around and that you are devoted to repairing relationships and restoring community.
If you find yourself crying over your lost radio --- just remember ---- when you weep in the process of true repentance, you’re crying the tears of new life.
THIS IS NO JOKE
Tears have long been thought to bring life to the dead.
Long before scandal plagued politicians (and religious leaders) learned to turn on the tears in a desperate attempt to save their careers --- people were making strong associations between crying and the restoration of life.
When, in the Egyptian tale, Isis finds her brother Osiris dead --- it is her tears that bring the dead god Osiris back to life.
The Mesopotamians have similar stories
And the Bible reminds us again and again the link between tears and new life.
Psalm 126 says:
May those who sow in tearsreap with shouts of joy.
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy
Those who go out weeping,
And of course Jesus tells us the same thing:
Luke 6:21 (NRSV)
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
At the Last Supper Jesus reminds all of us:
John 16:20 (NRSV)
Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.
TEARS AND NEW LIFE
They are linked in the promises of our faith
This Lent --- believe that if you return to our gracious God with all your heart --- with fasting, weeping and mourning, then we can discover a fullness of life that we have never known before.
If we turn our lives around --- work hard for the restoration of our relationships and our community we will know a joy that we never thought was possible.
Our tears will lead us to resurrection life!