Sermon – Sunday, October 6, 2013
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
Year C, Proper 22, Track 1
“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
Please Be Seated.
Today in our lesson and Psalm, we hear of tremendous grief. Lament – wailing and mourning. The focus of Lamentations and Psalm 137 is the destruction of the City of Jerusalem and of the Temple in Jerusalem by the invader Babylonians. Many died. Many were exiled to Babylon, the focus of the Psalm.
The homeland… their place of comfort… the place dedicated to God… the place of worship and praise and sacrifice… the holy and sacred place… was destroyed. In addition, the people were forced to try to live and to worship God in a foreign place. They were no longer free. They were oppressed. Yet, their oppressors demanded they continue to live their lives as if nothing had happened.
Lament…. Why is this book placed in the Bible? Why something so mournful and woeful and then adding Psalm 137 to the readings for today…. As someone said, the readings are so morose.
Yet, I think the book of Lamentations and the readings for today underscore the importance of grieving. The importance of acknowledging our losses. Acknowledging the depth of what we’ve lost and ultimately will never have again. All shifts and changes. We must live in a new and different way.
It seems like much of life is truly about living through loss. In some cases, we might choose to lose something…. When we marry, we choose to lose our singlehood, for instance. Yes, it’s something we choose, but there is still a loss. When we choose to move to a different place, there is loss, even as we are excited about the newness that awaits us.
A Christian community like St. John’s experiences loss as members come and as members go, shifting and changing the community. I know many of you were very happy for Margaret in her decision to move to something different from being the Priest here at St. John’s. Yet, you also are going through the loss of her spirit and her life among you.
And there is the hardest loss to many of us. The death of a loved one. Even if the loved one has suffered and we know death has brought comfort and release to God, we mourn…we feel the absence of their presence and life among us.
Our culture is not quite sure what to do with loss and grief. Even though our grief process is well documented and results in shock and disbelief, sadness, guilt, anger, fear and manifests itself in physical symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight loss or weight gain, aches and pains, and insomnia, often we are given at most five days off work and that’s only if a close relative dies. For many of our losses, there is no time off… no acknowledgement. We are supposed to go on as if nothing has happened.
And most of us who have lived through grief know that while people seem to be around the first month or so… after awhile people don’t call as much or ask how we are. Some have suggested that we have a kind of phobia or fear of grief, so we remove ourselves from those who are grieving, lest we have to face our own losses and griefs.
But the book of Lamentations and Psalm 137 encourage us to feel our grief… to name it… to own it… to weep bitterly in the night, with tears on our cheeks.
Lamentations and Psalm 137 also support us when we become angry at God during these times of grief. God, why did you allow this to happen is the ageless cry. Now the Israelites believed it was their bad behavior that brought such destruction upon them and sometimes our own bad decisions do bring on our grief. However, sometimes we just don’t know and I believe we must be careful about blaming God – the cause and effect thinking about God. Maybe we just don’t know and as hard as that is to live with… we may need to do so.
Recently a parishioner told me of a time of tremendous grief and lamentation for him. The woman he loved was killed in an automobile crash. He told me he was so angry at God…almost characterized this as having lost faith in God. But then he said one day he realized, you couldn’t be angry with something you did not believe in…
Lamentation and Psalm 137 as morose and mournful as they are… are signs that in our deep grief and in our anger… the important thing is that we keep in touch with God. Even our anger is a way of staying in relationship with God. Even our questioning expresses faith that God is there. Even our crying out, how could you let this happen, is a way to be in relationship with God.
Being a steward of the faith means that through our grief and anger, we stay in relationship with God.
And there is hope… There is the other side of grieving. It never happens fast enough for me. I get so tired of the deep cries and all of the tears. I just want to get through it quickly. But grief just takes the time it takes. While the hurt or the place of empty may never fully go away, it does get better.
And in our Gospel, we are reminded… that even faith the size of a tiny mustard seed is enough… Our cries of anguish and our lamentations of loss are still small seeds of faith that can move a tree from one place to another.
The Iroquois Nation in upstate New York and Canada, understands this paradox of grieving and hope. They have a condolence ceremony. After a period of mourning the death of a loved one – 1 ½ – 2 months… the community visits the grieving family. They acknowledge the depth of grief and loss AND the hope – the continuance of life: –
Your grief has caused so many tears, you have not been able to see clearly. Now we wipe away those tears with a soft cloth of the deer, so you may see clearly again. Your grief has stopped up your ears so that you have not been able to hear and now we take the feather of the Eagle to clear your ears so you may hear again. Your grief has caused your throat to close up. You have not been able to speak. So we take clear water and open up your throat so you may speak once again to your family and friends.
Life goes on. The birds still fly. The rivers still run. Yes, our grief has immobilized us and that is as it should be and we still have hope….. In our grief, there is the mustard seed of faith… the mustard seed keeping us connected to God…the tiny seed of faith holding us in God’s loving arms.