Free to Grieve… Good Grief!

St Barnabas, Norwich VT

Sermon by Rev Jennie M Anderson

Lord, make us stewards of ourselves, that we may be servants of others. Take my words and speak through them, take our minds and think through them, take our hearts and set them on fire, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.  Good morning!  Welcome!

Free to Grieve… Good Grief!

Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, "The paradox of vengefulness is that it makes men dependent upon those who have harmed them, believing that their release from pain will come only when their tormentors suffer."

Last week I had to honor a commitment to supply for a congregation in NJ. The commitment was made in August of 2015 and so I went. I have not been so challenged in a long, long, long time! I was angry, frustrated, sad, and feeling so very displaced. Granted, not always does a simple traveling weekend affect me this intensely. I am sure there was a lot more going on than just a weekend away. When I read this week’s texts, I could relate in a very keen and particular way to what was being expressed. It seems as though I have become so quickly connected here that it pained me to go there. Today’s readings in Lamentations, “She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her…” Or the reading from 2nd Timothy, “Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy,” offer a glimpse of feelings that are about loss, separation, pain and grief. Like the desperate apostles (ones who go forth for Christ) who likely feeling the pain and grief that accompany this life were needing so badly to have the faith in God’s love gifted to them by Jesus… “The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"”

When I finally, finally! got to the other end of the Garden State Parkway and got to park my car, let the dog out and go to bed, all I could feel was how far from home I was… and yet, and yet… there was a tiny bit of hope. Hope that there would be a bed to rest in, and that even here, with the tight neighborhoods, the endless regulations, the limitations and the crowds… even here, God might give me a connection with someone or something in order to show me God’s love alive, even in this place so far from home.

My friend Kate said about today’s reading that many of us understandably cringe at the last two verses of Psalm 137, when the psalmist longs for someone to "take the little ones" of Babylon and "dash them against the rock!" We often read edited versions that leave those verses out, which is one way to approach the text. But could there be another way to read it, and to hear it, and even to pray it? After all, the psalms are prayers that come from deep within the very human hearts of a people who knew what it was to suffer and to question, to believe and then to doubt, to feel loss and devastation, rage and a desire for revenge. Aren't those all just as much at the heart of the human experience as feelings of joy, gratitude, and praise? And isn't prayer the place and the way we can take those feelings, for better or worse, to the God who knows our inner hearts better than we do ourselves? Can't a prayer be an outburst instead of a pious, proper, careful composition of words? 

In 587 B.C.E, the Jewish people experienced the terrible disaster that is at the center of the Old Testament: Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed, and the leaders, the "cream of society," were carried off in exile to Babylon. There, they refused to sing the songs of Zion, the songs of God, for their mocking oppressors in Babylon. No, they say, we'd rather hang up our musical instruments than entertain you. In the midst of a spiritual crisis, the people cry out in anguish and long for vengeance. Where was God now? And who was going to do something about these wretched Babylonians? Yes, someday things will get better, and the prophet Isaiah will even speak of Jerusalem once again as a joy, but for now they--we--are indeed, free to grieve, to pour out our hearts in anger at injustice and suffering and in longing for all things to be made right, free to put all of that into the hands of the God who loves us, and listens to us, and looks after all things. [Kate Matthews]

Sometimes it seems to me that we are living in a world of such evolving times, such change and separation, then coming together, then separations again… that we are in a perpetual change… and that change causes a deep grief… of course that is always true in any times but sometimes we feel it more than other times don’t we? We recognize it in a way that is different… I have been in touch with feelings of grief so many times in these past couple of years. I lost my dog Tryphosa when she was hit and killed by a car last August. Then two months later, my mom got the headaches that indicated that her cancer had metastasized to her brain with over 20 lesions, lending only months left to live… Then, another big and grief/joy blessing with the invitation to come and serve here at St Barnabas. It is a place that was for me more of coming home feeling than I felt in any of these past 15 years. And most recently caring for my mom as she died this past July.

All these things I have experienced with God’s gift of amazing Good Grief. Because all the most beautiful and intense loves I have ever known have been touched on its edges with grief and heartbreak, the truth of loss even while the bright shiny love is being lived! And all of the profound and devastating times of grief that I have experienced are dipped deeply in the heart-truth that love is at the center of that pain. There is no true love without grief and there is no good grief without love right in the center of the pain. It’s weird to think that joy is stirred in with our pain and that joy is a part of our struggles… For me, that feeling of joy within the pain of love and loss leads me to a quality of God’s own creative and indestructible love to which we sing hymns of glory. So, I want to sing you a hymn of glory right now.

But first I want to explain a little about it to you. This is a song by JJ Grey, the lead singer of a band called Mofro from Northern Florida, the Gainesville area. When JJ wrote this song he didn’t know quite what it was all about but it was on his heart and in his mind and it had to be expressed. Over time, he came to understand just what it was all about… it was about the last conversation that his grandmother and grandfather had driving to the hospital, the drive when his grandfather died. The voice of the song is that of his dying grandfather as he speaks the heart-truth of love and life as he approaches his last breath. I first came across the song on the night that my dog Tryphosa died and it became my prayer that I sang/prayed on walks in the parks, at the pulpit, in the car driving to FLA, and in walks in these very woods as I came to interview… It was the song that invited my tears and brought me back to the smiling joy through the deep pain expressed through the tears. The name of the song is, “the sun is shining down.” Today is a day that the lectionary invites us to live deeply in our grief and sadness as well as our underlying joy and courageous love. Today we are invited to feel all of God’s Good Grief.

"How many more days can you hold out (on)?
How much longer can you wait?" she asked.
There was a time I thought I, I could answer
But my tongue gets tied as my thoughts drift away.

Glory, Glory - Hallelujah
The sun is shining, shining down
Glory, Glory - Hallelujah
I'm alive and I'm feeling, feeling fine

All those simple thoughts all those peaceful dreams,
Share the space with a hard worked, hard worked day
But it's the little things, the little things not expectation
That make life worth living, worth living.

Glory, Glory - Hallelujah
The sun is shining, shining down
Glory, Glory - Hallelujah
I'm alive, and the world Lord, world is fine

Read more: JJ Grey & Mofro - The Sun Is Shining Down Lyrics | MetroLyrics 

Let us pray. Wholeness of the sick and Home of the exile, give us grace to seek the well-being of those among whom we live, so that all people may come to know the healing of your love and new voices join to give you thanks in Jesus Christ. Amen.