Faith United Methodist Church
April 6, 2014
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Rev. Krista-Beth Atwood
Scripture: John 11:1-3, 17, 30-45, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Prayer of Illumination:
As Lazarus in the tomb heard your words of power, so have we. On this day may we walk out of darkness and into the light of righteousness. May the ministry of your word remove our grave clothes and embrace us in the kingdom of God. Amen.
Sermon: God’s Tears, Our Tears
For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven. We’ve been pondering these words in our Tuesday afternoon Bible Study. What do you think? Do you think it’s true? Is there a time for every matter under heaven? What time is it right now, by the way? Is there time for a sermon?
The truth is, we spend a lot of time tied to the clock, don’t we? We are always rushing to get here ~ or there ~ on time. We objectify time and talk about it the same way we talk about money ~ saving, spending, losing, wasting. What would happen if we took seriously the words of this scripture? We might begin to see time in a totally different way.
The author of Ecclesiastes was not putting forth a time management technique. He wasn’t trying to help us get the most out of our time. Rather he was pointing out that life is essentially a cycle of events ~ and their opposites ~ which occur in endless repetition. Planting and harvest. Life and death. Love and hate. The author highlighted the various activities and emotions that make up human life. A time to tear and a time to sew. A time to seek and a time to lose. A time for war and a time for peace.
And, as we consider at these, we have a choice. We can take this teaching as encouragement that life has a balance, and the right time will come ~ or ~ we can become fatalistic, thinking that life is predetermined and hopeless. The author of Ecclesiastes fluctuated between these two poles himself. But no matter what choice we make, the truth is life is not smooth or predictable. There are always ups and downs, twists and turns. Times to weep and times to laugh. As one commentator put it, “The test of our wisdom or our folly is our adjustment to the pattern.”
Today I want to focus specifically on verse 4 as it relates to our story of Lazarus in the tomb. “A time to weep, and a time to laugh…” Immediately this called to mind one of my favorite Scriptures, “Weeping may linger for the night but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30) And this isn’t the only such Scripture.
There are 42 references to laughter in the Bible and many more references to people rejoicing. In the story of Jesus healing the 10 lepers, I can imagine that the one who came back praising God was laughing in his joy. In the Psalms we find several references to God’s laughter. We hear in Psalm 2, “The One enthroned in heaven laughs…” The Bible contains no particular references to Jesus laughing, but we know that he often taught in puns and paradox (even sarcasm), using jokes to get people’s attention.
Weeping, on the other hand, is much more common in the Bible. There are lots of tears in the Bible. The first reference to tears is when Abraham wept over the death of Sarah. Psalm 22, the Psalm Jesus quoted from the cross, reads, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer…” Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. He wrote in response to the disobedience of the people, “If you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears…” And we read this morning how Jesus wept in grief at the death of his friend Lazarus.
But we know from our own experience that tears and laughter are not mutually exclusive. Have you ever laughed until you cried? Have you ever cried until you laughed? Have you ever gotten into such a state that you weren’t sure what you were doing? When my grandmother died we all gathered at her apartment to go through her things. As the evening went on we found that our tears turned to laughter and our laughter turned to tears as her belongings brought back different memories. Both the laughter and the tears were healing. Sometimes there is but a hair’s breadth between joy and grief.
Matthew Henry wrote in the 18th century, “To expect unchanging happiness in a changing world must end in disappointment.” Our world is changing. Our loved ones die and people get sick and we lose our jobs and babies are born and new opportunities arise. But the good news of Ecclesiastes 3 is that our lives are made for both. “God has made everything suitable for its time.” And while our days may seem short ~ and our timing may not seem good at all ~ for those of us on this side of the resurrection, Jesus has revealed the eternal…. where weeping and crying and pain will be no more.
Our Gospel reading today is about the death of one of Jesus’ closest friends. When Jesus got word that Lazarus was sick, you would think that he would’ve left immediately to do whatever he could for his friend. But instead, he waited two days to even begin the 20-mile journey. Two days. By the time he arrived at the house of his friends, Lazarus had been dead four days.
Put yourself in Mary and Martha’s shoes for a minute. How do you think these sisters must have felt? Grief stricken, abandoned, maybe eve a little bit angry? At least Mary didn’t beat around the bush once Jesus finally arrived. She confronted him saying, “Master, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She fell at his feet crying.
And what did Jesus do in response to Mary’s tears? With those who mourned Lazarus’ death, Jesus wept. Some people have said that Jesus was weeping over the people’s unbelief. Others suggest that Jesus cried because he knew, after raising Lazarus, he would have to face his own death. Those are both good reasons for Jesus’ tears. But I think that Jesus cried because, as a man, he shared the pain of his friends. He felt the magnitude of the loss. As one preacher suggested, in Jesus we find the resurrection and the life here grieving with us, listening to us, crying with us in the midst of pain and death.
We know the rest of Lazarus’ story, right? Jesus didn’t stay weeping outside the tomb. No, Jesus wiped the tears from his eyes, went to the tomb and demanded that the stone be rolled away. “Lazarus, come out!” Wrapped from head to toe in his burial cloth, Lazarus stumbled out of his tomb. Joy! Laughter!
For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven. There is joy. There are tears. We encounter both on our Lenten Journey, in our faith, our throughout our lives. And God is with us through it all. The religious sister, Joan Chittister, reminds us, “Real spirituality demands that we care enough about all the moments of life to live all of them.” Amen.