- John 11:1-4, 17-27, 32-44 • February 27, 2013
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Brothers & sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I’m grateful to be with you today. I began traveling home from El Salvador with the Mission Team from Good Shepherd at 4 o’clock in the morning this past Sunday. After a lengthy and unexpected weather delay in Denver, we finally made it back to Bismarck yesterday. Needless to say it was a long trip home. I’ll share more about our ministry in El Salvador in the coming weeks. I thank you for your prayer for this mission team and for the relationships that continue to grow between Good Shepherd and our brothers and sisters in Christ in El Salvador. And we look forward to Pastor Carlos Najera’s visit to Good Shepherd on March 16-17. Pastor Carlos serves Cristo Rey Lutheran Church In Santa Ana, El Salvador.
During the past two Wednesdays of our lenten worship series we’ve explored a few of the clichés that we hear in Christian community. “Everything Happens for a Reason” and “God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle”. Together we have discovered that, even though it may seem that these words comfort those who are experiencing a difficult time in their lives, they can actually be more harmful than helpful. And so we continue today and explore another Christian cliché – “God Must Have Needed Another Angel in Heaven”.
God Must Have Needed Another Angel in Heaven? This cliché is a challenging one for me. Simply stated it’s because I have experienced it’s use first hand. A few years ago, my niece, who had not celebrated her 2nd birthday yet, died unexpectedly. I do not believe that she died because God needed another angel in heaven. The pain that her parents and my entire family experienced during that time does not make me think of cute little angels with wings flying around.
Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare – whether that child is 53 years or 15 months old. The pain that accompanies the death of a child is incomprehensible. An experience like this can cause grieving parents and family members to have a spiritual crisis. Some will even question the very existence of God. How can God cause my child to die? Where is God in this?
Brothers and sisters, these are very real questions.
A cliché like “God Must Have Needed Another Angel in Heaven” is a way to try and explain the unexplainable, especially when someone young dies or when a child dies before a parent does. These times make no sense. It’s out of the natural order of things, so we try to explain our way through it. You and I are uncomfortable when things don’t seem to follow any logic or fairness. We try to make sense of it by explaining it, in order to restore our feeling of security or control. But in our efforts to explain something with a cliché like “God Must Have Needed Another Angel in Heaven”, we minimize the magnitude of the grief that we ourselves or someone that we love is going through.
When I have walked through a time of grief myself or have visited with someone about a time of grief that they have experienced, there is one common theme that I hear without fail. Comfort didn’t come through fancy clichés. Comfort came through the simple presence of someone who loved them and cared about them.
And if you feel like you really need to say something, say something that doesn’t judge or try to explain. Simply say “I’m sorry for your loss.” or “How can I pray for you?”.
I once visited a young couple who was walking through grief following a miscarriage. They told me that they found open ended questions helpful. A question like, “How are you doing today?” They said that the word “today” was huge because it acknowledged that the grieving process they were walking through was chaotic and that how they felt as they were walking through it changed from day to day or even hour to hour.
This young grieving couple said that by asking a question like “How are you doing today?”, and then really listening to their answer, made them feel like the people who loved them were entering into the experience with them. They said, “We knew that they genuinely wanted to know how we were doing and we could be honest with them and know that we weren’t looking for an explanation. We just needed to know that they cared. That was more than enough.”
In today’s scripture reading from the gospel of Saint John, Jesus finds out from Mary and Martha that their brother Lazarus has died. What does Jesus do when he hears about Lazarus’ death? He doesn’t try to explain it, or say positive things to make Mary and Martha feel better. In verse 35 of our text today, Jesus weeps. He enters into the depths of Mary and Martha’s pain, and into the depths of his own pain at the death of his friend. In the midst of despair, he brings them hope through his presence. Whenever you and I experience loss, or are faced with a difficult time in life, we must never forget that Jesus enters into the depths of our pain with us, and brings us hope.
And as followers of Jesus Christ, we have the opportunity to be the presence of Jesus for others. Not by having to say something or do the “right” thing, but by simply being present. Brothers and sisters in Christ, be present for someone this week. Amen.
NOTE: Good Shepherd’s Wednesday worship series, “Love the Sinner. hate the Cliche.”, is adapted from a series of the name from our friends at Changing Church Forum from Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, Minnesota.
March 27th, 2014 at 4:14 pm
Pastor Craig, I stumbled onto your sermon in researching for a similar series on clichés we’re doing in Beaufort, SC. It was great to read a thoughtful and compassionate sermon from someone I’d helped in the Pastoral formation process. I am the Pastor Craig that was ELCA regional coordinator when you went through the candidacy process. My heart is warmed when I see ongoing fine ministry. It was humbling for me to be able to assist with the process for so many of you. I’m now retired to SC but doing part time ministry with the ELCA and with a local congregation. Blessings to you!
March 28th, 2014 at 4:37 pm
Thank you for the kind words. It is so good to hear from you. I’m also glad to hear things are going well in “retirement.” 🙂
Grace and peace,