First Lesson: Psalm 130
Gospel Lesson: John 11:1-4
Sermon Series: Break Through
Sermon Title: “Breaking Through the Lament of Death”
Preacher: Kirstie J. Engel
Family we are still in our Break Through sermon series and because of the state of our world, I felt it necessary to switch our lectionary readings to preach on what I had on schedule to preach on March 29, to preach it today….and so our topic today is “Breaking Through the Lament of Death.”
Because listening to our readings today from Psalm 130, and our gospel reading our of John today; I believe it describes to the T what the world is experiencing…
For in both of the readings, there is a great measure of Lament;
And to share the working definition that I am gleaning from on the word Lament;
So lament as a noun is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow and lament as a verb, means to mourn (such as mourn the death of someone or something); and I stopped by to say family that this world is lamenting from both a noun and verb perspective.
You and I will see the lamenting as a noun in our first lesson where it starts off by saying; I cry out to you from the depths Lord…” (this is the epitome of the definition where a passionate expression of grief or sorrow is being expressed.)
You and I can see lamenting as a verb in our gospel where John 11: 32, Mary says to Jesus; Lord, if you had been there, my brother wouldn’t have died. So this is the epitome of someone mourning over a loved one who has died.
And unfortunately in the COVID-19 crisis that we are all experiencing; where all of us are indeed impacted; I would imagine that our lamenting comes from both perspectives as well.
Our country and those right in Lancaster County are lamenting as a noun in the fact that may of us, (including my own family) have for the very first time had to file for unemployment.
For those in hospitality, restaurants, hotels, retail, vendors, small businesses, transit authority, non-profit agencies and more were immediately faced with the reality that their families would suffer economically….
So many of us with the rest of the world are lamenting; we are crying out for help; for there was no way to prepare for this….
The health care/medical system is crying out; for in a normal case where you and I would never have to worry about medical supplies such as masks, hospital gowns, medical ventilators and more are at an alarming depletion; NY’s governor Andrew Cuomo said yesterday that they were literally, “scouring the globe for Medical supplies.”
Our schools and universities across the globe are scrambling to adapt to this new reality of continuing to educate our students online and both the administrators and students are crying out because in most states, they didn’t even get to say goodbye; in most states, seniors in HS are not able to participate in their graduation…
For our churches; both pastors and laity are crying out because not only do we miss seeing one another face to face; but in light of this pandemic we are in, having to minister to members who are estranged from their loved ones because they cannot see them or they will risk exposure; or loved ones who are hospitalized for a myriad of reasons but cannot be visited; or loved ones who have lost loved ones and cannot have a proper funeral or memorial service because it threatens the safety and health is heart wrenching…..
And there are many other instances that I have not mentioned where you and I and the world are lamenting as a noun; we are crying out for relief; we are crying out in panic; we are crying out in frustration; we are crying out in fear….
And with our gospel today; many of us along with the world are lamenting as a verb; because people are losing their lives to this virus; of all ages, races, demographics and socio economic backgrounds…..not to mention there are other illnesses and diseases that are still there to deal with; this virus is most prevalent mainly because it is not contained or controlled.
And so friends, I took the time to name some of these realities for you and I both locally and globally not to just add salt to a wound that is ever bleeding; but to high light that in such a time as this, it might seem bombastic to suggest that there could even be a break through in any of this!
But for me, having faith in times like this is not unreasonable or unrealistic;
On the contrary; our gospel this morning teaches us that this illness or any illness we may be facing will not be fatal; for God is still with us; and God’s work through this will be glorified in spite of.
And so there is a reason why I stopped this story at verse 4; because on the surface, a literal interpretation of this scripture that says This illness isn’t fatal. It’s for the glory of God so that God’s Son can be glorified through it, could seem as if we are somehow being tested by God so that we might honor and praise God more…
And let me be clear, I do not subscribe to a theology that would suggest that God would wish any of this upon anyone;
For in our gospel, when Lazarus dies, Jesus wept as well…
So I stopped by to say that God is lamenting both as a noun and a verb with all of us….
So for me this is not what this scripture is saying at all…That God caused this or even that God is testing us…
You and I are not being tested…
God did not cause this…
You and I don’t deserve this….
In fact my reality and perhaps yours might be as well, is that although it is human nature to want to point the blame at someone or some group….because Lord knows looking at the news and all, I have been guilty of doing this in the confines of my own home…. for I am beyond frustrated that right now our world is all in the same boat….
The spirit within me has raised another reality and that is finding blame does not help the situation at all….
At some point even lamenting does not help the situation…
We must make space for the human response of lamenting, but our call as the family of God is to not stay stuck in this place of lament….
So what our gospel does teach us is that although our present reality is lamenting over this looming death; death of loved ones and friends; death of businesses; death of mental stability; death of wholeness and wellness; death of being able to be connected to one another face to face as we have become so accustomed to; our gospel teaches you and I how we get through this season of lament, is by daring to find the God moments and opportunities within ourselves and one another in spite of.
This my friends is the essence of what it means to love God and love our neighbor….
This idea that even in the midst of a pandemic crisis; this reality will not stop you and I from loving one another;
That even in the midst of this pandemic criss; this will not stop you and I from being concerned about one another;
For you and I were not created to be a one hit wonder…
And the working definition I am using for one hit wonder is this; A one–hit wonder is any entity that achieves mainstream popularity, often for only one piece of work, and becomes known among the general public solely for that momentary success.
So again, you and I were not created in this fashion…
On the contrary you and I were created to be a masterpiece of God’s vision and light.
You and I family are more than capable of just having one good piece of work within us and nothing more….God insured that.
So what times like this gives you and I the opportunity to do under the guidance of God’s love and light is to rise above;
As a church we are rising above by being intentional and collaborative with how we still continue to do ministry with one another in our community;
Right now we have ministries coming together by phone, email and other safe ways to ensure that we have resource lists put together; calling trees put together to call our members and community without computer access; and teams that might be able to do some shopping for essential needs for those who cannot go out.
We have ministry teams working together to still do church business that will keep our building, maintenance and over all operational needs going even though the building is not in use;
We have our staff working together to ensure that there is still worship and bible studies available to everyone from all ages;
We will be exploring ways to still be in relationship with some of the school and community partnerships that we have to ensure that our community knows that First Church is not in isolation; we are still here so much so that when we get through this; because we will get through this; we will be better; we will be stronger; we will be wiser; you and I will even be more appreciative of one another, because we have been through this together….and I give thanks for our First Church leaders, staff and members who are working together so that we can pul through this crisis.
And I would be remiss not to highlight that efforts like these are not just occurring in our very own back yard, but they are occurring locally and world wide; people coming together in the name of love and light in amazing acts of generosity (people applauding same time every night thanking the health workers etc., customers leaving high tips and more) and all of this is what I believe Jesus meant in our gospel when he said this illness is not fatal…it’s for the glory of God so that God’s Son can be glorified through it….
Because how I see things, is that these hard times will allow us to see the true glory that God already sees within each and every one of us….
It will hopefully allow us to see how truly beautiful you and I really are because working together and coming together highlights truly how beautiful our hearts are; it will highlight how beautiful our love is….
So my hope is that whatever comes down the pipeline; even if there are firmer restrictions on how we have to be right now, to ensure the safety and health of our neighbor; let’s agree to do so…
Let’s agree to stay indoors and only go out as necessary as we are instructed in the days ahead unless we are part of the community that has to be out; and as a side note I give a public thanks to all of the medical field, teachers, administrators, news reporters police, firefighters, package and postage deliverers, hospitality and food industry workers, community leaders and government officials and others that are out there to help keep us safe and informed;
Let’s agree to keep doing our safe practices and social distancing when we go out;
Let’s agree to only buy the things we need unless we are buying for others who do not have;
Lets’s agree to be compliant on every level; so that we can get through this and be able to interact together in the future and be able to shake hands, and hug and laugh and worship face to face…because I miss all of you……
But in the mean time, what an opportunity we have right now, to pray, to think and to allow our hearts and minds to be enriched in such a way, where when you and I can sit at the table together again… in numbers beyond 10; you and I will be able to see and experience one another with a new perspective; with a new set of eyes and witness just how glorious we are in God’s eyes…