Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sermon Oh Good Grief (United Church of Beloit 1/25/15)

Psalm 126
A song of ascents.
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
4 Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.

Romans 8:31-39 NIV
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(intro) continuing our Sermon series on “Giving up our baggage”

Now I have to admit, I have some baggage...ok I have a lot of baggage. Many of us do! It's part of the human condition! I have worked hard to get rid of some of it, but there is more work to be done! So when I asked Steve which particular baggage I would be preaching on, he gave me a partial list to choose from. This was after a recent meeting and some of the folks were still there. I read through the list ...loneliness, weariness, anger, doubt, worry, anxiety; and said, “Bingo!”

we all deal with some of these at one time or another. Several of you have said you have a lot of them too! We are all a work in progress! Sometimes we get 'stuck' and just can not let go. Sometimes we are so used to having these things in life we can't fathom another way!

Oh Good Grief! We don't think of grief as being good...but it's sure common. Grief happens when we lose someone we love of course. It's also part of any sort of loss...job, health issues for example. and even part of change..even good changes. There is a process that happens through any change of life...

So let's look at our Psalm. This is one of the Psalms of ascent..that is one of the songs sung by the Jewish people as they ascended, walked to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. This psalm refers to the return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile―more than 500 years before the time of Jesus. The Exile had lasted for 70 years! Most of those marched away from Jerusalem had died off, their children and children's children were the ones who returned to they were 'coming back home for the first time!” this psalm is a hymn of joy, the streams in the Negev means streams of water in a desert, parched land into vibrant life! Carrying sheaves..sheaves are bundles of grain, so that is symbolism of a plentiful harvest! that God had intervened and their deep grief and sadness had been turned into joy.

This is a theme in many of the psalms and prophets, that the struggles and despair that happen in life will turn into joy, mourning into dancing one psalm says! The troubles of life are not permanent. There is MORE!

So let's look now at our new testament lesson. This is from Romans, Paul's incomparable letter to the church in Rome. Romans is a book that is challenging, inspiring, will make you say WOW and Huh?! Sometimes all in the same breath! This is a part of chapter 8....
“these things...”... He says Verse 18
“  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Paul is talking here about the struggles of life, the challenges that come with being human, and trying to live for God..for Christ.
{READ Romans 8:31-39}

NOTHING can separate us from the Love of God.....
this is a text that we share at funerals.. it's a powerful reminder that the one we lost is not lost for all time! NONE of us is, if we are in Christ! God who did not spare his own son...part of Gods very self!! Jesus who died. Who more than that was raised to life!
Now I confess when I read this at a funeral I do skip verse 36, the sheep to be slaughtered. That's a reference to Psalm 44, another psalm of the struggles of life.. that Paul's listeners would get....but modern families prob won't..

we are MORE than conquerors....imagine the power of hearing this read to you, when you live in ancient Rome, with soldiers in full armor always around! We are MORE than those warriors! Through the One who loved us...and Loves us and will always love us because God was and is and ever shall be!

So what does this mean to us and our baggage, to our grief?
Grief is part of any sort of loss, or change..even good changes. (marriage, births, church mergers...) There is a process that happens through any change of life...
most of us have heard the 'stages of grief” defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her ground-breaking work. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. One of the things we need to be reminded is that our work through the stages does not happen neatly. It is rarely a set period of time, with an orderly progression through each stage, culminating in a sigh of relief and gratitude. my experience personally, and with family and friends, as well as a pastor, it;s almost never a neat tidy process.

Our reactions to grief are in large part a reaction to something we can't control. Yes we love to be in control. We want things to be a certain way. When change happens, when someone is ill or dying, we are not in charge any more and it makes us crazy. We may complain about things, we may find something else that we do frequently to bring that sense of control back...years back, when my dad was dying of cancer, I realized that I was obsessively doing laundry. I got over that! It was something that I could keep on top of, my way of finding some sort of order in a situation that I couldn't handle.

When you are going through these emotions, pray about them! It's ok to say to God “I am hurting here!” or even “i am angry!” and it can help a lot to pray it out. It really is ok to tell God you are mad that God took your loved one...or whatever the situation is...It's not a sin to say you are mad at God. God has big shoulders. And praying out these feelings can help. It's helpful too to journal, write things down in a notebook.. journaling is a powerful tool to help with the grief process and in most life situations. And using support systems, like your church, Hospice counseling and so on, are great tools to help get us through, especially if you start to feel stuck at any point.

When we have these feelings one positive thing we can do is create a new tradition or new ritual to honor the past. When holidays come, maybe having a special ornament to remember your loved one. Giving to their favorite charity! Friends of ours have fundraisers every year for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society to honor the memory of their loved one who died of leukemia.

We commemorate the good events..celebrate anniversaries and birthdays. We have rituals for these celebrations. (NOTE when I suggest creating a new tradion or ritual to honor a loved one, I am saying we have to spend a lot of money! It's possible to do things that are very economical...even if it's serving their fave food at the holiday meal...getting out pictures and sharing memories...great way to commemorate losses and celebrations!

As I said earlier, our psalm speaks of -deep grief and sadness had been turned into joy. Not necessarily happiness, they are different. To be happy is more of a temporary thing, it's transient, it depends on circumstances. but Joy lives deep inside and is a recognition that things will be ok, that God is in charge. It's a realization of the big picture. We can have joy even in the midst of trouble or grief...i guess that is 'good grief.'

This week Ernie Banks died, the legendary Chicago Cubs shortstop. He was a terrific ball player, and also a person who was universally viewed as a happy man who people loved to be with. He was well known for his quote..."It's a great day for a ballgame. Let's play two!” That's more than happiness, that's Joy.

this week author Marcus Borg died. He was a prolific writer, sometimes thought of as a very 'liberal' theologian, but his writings showed a depth of faith in Jesus as Lord. -some so called liberal theologians seem to think Jesus was nothing more than a nice guy...but Borg's faith was much deeper than that. I want to share a quote of his with you...this is from his book Speaking Christian.
    “So, is there an afterlife, and if so, what will it be like?
I don't have a clue. But I am confident that the one who has buoyed us up in life will also buoy us up through death. We die into God. What more that means, I do not know. But that is all I need to know.”

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The One who lived, died, was raised from dead, is love, loves us always and will see us through it all and we will one day ALL be together with him! 

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