Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tears and New Life

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.

God is:
          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.


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 tears
    reap 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.

          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!

And that is something to cry about!!

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