Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Sermon: Sowing Tears

Psalm 126

I have been listening to Christmas Carols on the radio while driving. I joked with Kristi that every time I get in the car I hear at least one of these three songs: White Christmas, Silver Bells, and Blue Christmas they are so overplayed. So then we took a 10 minute drive to Arby’s for lunch together and what happened – they played White Christmas, and Blue Christmas – but no Silver Bells.

Well, if I were going to play one of those three songs today as part of my sermon, it would be Blue Christmas. You see, one of the realities of Christmas is that it comes with tears. Every Christmas as we gather in the church for Christmas Eve it is a different gathering. There are those who are no longer part of our lives, those that we are separated from by changes in relationship, by moves, or by death – and we deeply miss them. But there are also those that are new in our midst that remind us that there are new joys, new lives, and new relationships and these bring hope and gifts for tomorrow.

This interplay of joy and sorrow is captured well by Psalm 126.

Psalm 126
When the Lord changed Zion’s circumstances for the better,
    it was like we had been dreaming.
Our mouths were suddenly filled with laughter;
    our tongues were filled with joyful shouts.
It was even said, at that time, among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them!”
Yes, the Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are overjoyed.
Lord, change our circumstances for the better,
    like dry streams in the desert waste!
Let those who plant with tears
    reap the harvest with joyful shouts.
Let those who go out,
    crying and carrying their seed,
    come home with joyful shouts,
    carrying bales of grain!

As I read the psalm I was captured by one of its lines. “Lord, let those who plant with tears, reap the harvest of joyful shouts.” And I began to reflect on the image that that created in my mind.

I imagined a person going out to their garden and weeping, with the tears running down their cheeks. And then that person takes those tears and carefully plants them in the ground. Over time the tears sprout into plants and they grow. What they grow into, I am not sure. I guess it is just a time of growing and waiting for the expected vegetables to grow. The plants flower, they are pollenated, and then begins to grow what the gardener wanted. Weeks or perhaps months later the vegetable is ready to pick. In this case, the vegetable is joy. Such joy that you want to shout.

As I reflected on that image I began to wonder how our sadness and tears can grow into joy. How are the two emotions related to one another? When have you seen one transform into the other?

Now I know that the writer of the Psalm may not have meant it to be a picture like the one I created in my mind. I realize that they simply may have watched people planting with tears in their eyes because the times were tough – they were being oppressed and under the power of others. And then later when the harvest was happening the situation was changed and the threat to their lifestyles was gone.

But even when you see the image that way, the emotions are connected. People rejoice because what once was heavy upon them is gone. The sorrow and the joy are still bound together, they are related, and one transforms into the other. And so I decided to ask you – for your wisdom as a group. Because you have been through tough times, I know you have shed tears, and I also know that God has sometimes turned those tears to joy.

The sermon today is not just me sharing my words. You see, I knew that you have sat here and listened to the kids, and heard the Christmas story from them with its message of hope and peace, and you might be ready to do something more interactive. So I am changing my approach today, and asking all of us to contribute our life experience as we talk about three questions. Just three, so don’t be afraid to speak up! I won’t keep us going forever with a thousand questions. We can take our time and answer a little more deeply and get several viewpoints in answer to each. Ready?

Question 1. How are sorrow and joy related?Question 2. How do you see God involved in transforming one into the other?Question 3. What advice do you give to someone who is right now planting tearful seeds?

Thank you all for sharing your wisdom. For those of us who are feeling blue this Christmas, there was some great insight and advice there.

I think the greatest joy of this passage is the promise that our tears can be turned into joyful shouts. It can happen. As Isaiah 61:11 says, “As the earth puts out its growth, and as a garden grows its seeds, so the Lord God will grow righteousness and praise before all the nations.” There is water for the desert, and life in Christ. Thanks be to God.

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