Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Sermon: When I Remember Your Tears

Lamentations 1:1-6, Psalm 137, 2 Timothy 1:1-14

Tears, crying, weeping, sadness, broken hearts. These are the things of life. They are real. Paul says to Timothy, I remember your tears and then goes on to give great encouragement to the young man, trying to tell him that even in the midst of sadness and tears we can have faith. Apparently Timothy is having a hard time either because Paul was arrested or perhaps in grief over the deaths of his mother and grandmother. Whichever reason it is affecting Timothy’s faith.

Timothy isn’t alone in struggling with his faith during difficult times. Listen to these words from Psalm 137:1-4

Alongside Babylon’s streams, there we sat down, crying because we remembered Zion. We hung our lyres up in the trees there because that’s where our captors asked us to sing; our tormentors requested songs of joy: “Sing us a song about Zion!” they said. But how could we possibly sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil?

The people have been taken from their homelands, they have witnessed the horrors of war, the loss of loved ones, and now their captors want them to sing religious songs for their entertainment, and they can’t do it. Their hearts are too broken to sing. In fact, they aren’t even sure if they can sing God’s song at all right now. Tears can push our faith to the limits.

Another scripture from that same time period. Lamentations 1:1-6

Oh, no! She sits alone, the city that was once full of people. Once great among nations, she has become like a widow. Once a queen over provinces, she has become a slave.

She weeps bitterly in the night, her tears on her cheek. None of her lovers comfort her. All her friends lied to her; they have become her enemies.

Judah was exiled after suffering and hard service. She lives among the nations; she finds no rest. All who were chasing her caught her—right in the middle of her distress.

Zion’s roads are in mourning; no one comes to the festivals. All her gates are deserted. Her priests are groaning, her young women grieving. She is bitter.

Her adversaries have become rulers; her enemies relax. Certainly the Lord caused her grief because of her many wrong acts. Her children have gone away, captive before the enemy.

Daughter Zion lost all her glory. Her officials are like deer that can’t find pasture. They have gone away, frail, before the hunter.

Even the priests are struggling to find meaning, no one is coming to the religious festivals. In this crushing situation, faith is difficult. All three scriptures suggest that people often feel shame in their suffering. So it may be hard for us to talk about our faith, we may find it hard to sing songs. We may feel that God must be angry, or even that we have lost our way. Our beliefs may be challenged.

Let me tell you the story of Janet Perez Eckles.

Janet lost her sight at age 31, dealt with marital infidelity, and lost her youngest son to murder. As you can imagine she dealt with anger, inability to forgive, struggling with self-pity, and more – just like in the passages that we read. But she says, “God has turned my sorrow into joy.” How?

She found hope in the words of a pastor on television who was talking about having an attitude of gratitude. That every day we should be looking at what we have that is good. When we focus on the bad, that is what rules our lives, we make it the most important thing. But when we focus on the positive, it gives us a different perspective, it reminds us that God is at work.

Janet realized that “Yes, I could get up in the morning and begin saying ‘Oh, poor me. I don’t know how I’m going to make it to the bathroom. I can’t even see my way out of the bedroom.’ But, instead, I say ‘Thank you, Lord, that you have given me ears, that you have given me eyes of the heart to see. I can walk. I can talk. I can do so many things. I want to thank you for that and I want to say thank you for what you will do for me today.’

She continues, “I believe that everyone without an exception has something to be grateful for and something to say, ‘Lord, this is what I appreciate and I’m going to focus on that and I’m going to praise you because you deserve the thanks.’”

“So often when I have so many tasks to do with the ministry, and working full-time, and traveling, and preparing, I could begin to think, “Oh, if I could only see I could do so much more.” Or “Oh, goodness, if I could only see I could get to this website,” or “If I could only have my son back, if I didn’t have to…” All that negative thinking would already defeat me. It would change my attitude. It could even affect my health, so I always choose to think “Lord, I am so grateful. Yes, I have a glitch. My screen reader stopped talking.” A glitch like that is similar to a sighted person looking at a blank screen. Instead I say, “Ok, Lord, you want me to say something else” and I begin to repeat a verse. Controlling our thinking is so important.”

“So, I encourage you not to think of what you don’t want to do. Think of something else. So, I always think of the positives; the good, the lovely, the right, the excellent and, of course, we always have the Lord to think about. This will then change your thinking.”

“Now, I don’t want you to think that right now my life is perfect. There are issues in my life right now that are extremely difficult and I don’t know how the Lord is going to resolve them. My oldest son has recently learned he has the same disease I do and he is also starting to lose his sight. So, you see, there’s another issue that could get me down.”

“None of us can expect the Christian life to be perfect, but we have a perfect God who says, “You know what? I always knew this was happening. This doesn’t catch me by surprise. Didn’t I promise you that I overcame the world? I overcame. I triumphed over that. Will you come with me to show you how I’m going to triumph over this too?’” [From A Life of Gratitude: 21 Days to Overcoming Self-Pity and Negativity, by Shelley Hitz]

What Janet is trying to teach us is that despite the tears,

Despite the difficult times, faith endures. Because God is still at work. We cannot allow the difficulties of our present situation to blind us to the good that still exists. We cannot allow the sorrows of today, to make us believe that God won’t overcome them. We cannot allow one bad thing, or even two bad things, or even thirty bad things to convince us that this is a bad week. It is a good week, blessed by God, with some bad things in it. But God is still good, all the time.

The poetry of Lamentations has survived because the community hung onto its faith in the most difficult times. It grasped at the straw of perseverance and would not let go. Paul from prison, writes to encourage Timothy, that our suffering is not the last word. Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality into clear focus. It is faith that, even in times of crisis, sustains Paul. So Paul says, hold on to the faith and love that are Jesus Christ.

We need faith to face to the daily challenges that come our way.

I would also say that we need the community, we need the encouragement of others. When I have been through tough times, it has been the help of others, the hugs of you all, the prayers, the words of encouragement that have helped me on the way. I know that many of you would say the same thing. When cancer hit, or when your spouse was sick, it was the community, perhaps the church, perhaps people of faith outside the church, that helped you along.

So let me give you a challenge. Who can you encourage today as they face a struggle? Who can you listen to as they question if God is angry with them, or if God even exists? Who is having a hard time singing God’s songs? Who needs a hug of understanding, a word of kindness? Who needs you to be like Paul and notice their tears, their sadness? Who can you tell that their suffering is not the last word – that Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality into clear focus? Who needs to be reminded of all the good things that they have to be grateful for? Who needs that right now?

When we do that for one another, we are truly the community of faith.

May God help us, to remember all that is good, all that God has done, is doing and will do, and may we be part of that work by reaching out to others in the midst of their tears. Let us travel together to see how God is going to triumph over these troubles!

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