11/5/2000, All Saints Sunday, Year B
a Time to Cry...
ing Solomon, reflecting on his long life, much of which was lived in defiance of God, wrote the book of Ecclesiastes to spare future generations the futility of having to learn through their own disappointments that life is ultimately meaningless without God. What this wisest man who ever lived did not know was that each human soul must learn to deal with this dilemma on his/her own. Sure, we can profit from Solomon's good advice; but in the final analysis, we must learn from our own disappointments along the way.
My favorite verses in Ecclesiastes informs us that in life there is a season for all kinds of experiences. Here is the New Living Translation's version of Ecclesiastes 3: 1-4:
"There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to rebuild. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance."
There is a meaningful thread of verses in the Bible dealing with the fact that we all must endure a crying time. It is natural, and spiritually therapeutic, to cry when we are sad. Certainly bereavement is a season of anguish and tears. Jesus cried at the death of his dear friend Lazarus. (John 11:35). Jesus even said that we can be blessed through mourning because beyond the tears we are comforted by a fresh and more mature faith. "God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted." (Matthew 5:4, NLT).
As we grow in Christ and experience the wisdom of Solomon we come to feel in the season of sorrow that through the power of the Holy Spirit at work within our lives that even this too shall pass. Furthermore, we know that the crying time was a time of heightened spiritual growth and a drawing closer to God.
In this manner God's promise through Isaiah is realized in us. "He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears." (5:8).
It even becomes difficult to grieve for our saints who have, through the experience of death, gone on to a better place where, "God himself will be with them. He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain." (Revelation 21:3-4). Since they have already realized this joy beyond sorrow, we at times experience a foretaste of it now, and it diminishes our present pain. Beyond the crying there is joy and even laughter.
In the midst of all of the raging storms of life God is faithful to see us through. As we read last Sunday night: "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit." (Psalm 34:18, NLT). All Saints Sunday is a time to celebrate the victory that God has given us in the midst of the storm of bereavement. He has rescued us from a crushed spirit. We are only experiencing a natural time of temporary difficulty; and there will be joy in the morning!
The Good News on this All Saints Sunday is that we are called to remember the lives of believers who learned that life has meaning. These names we have read are of saints who have helped make us saints. They influenced our lives and led us toward a relationship with God in Christ. Many of us would not be believers today if it were not for the influence that "Our Saints" had on us. I hope that each of us will take time today to reflect upon the persons who influenced our lives, and be grateful for their ministry to us.
Many faces of dear departed saints who helped turn me toward God pop up in my memory. My high school football coach, Lee J. Stone, a member of the North Carolina Football Hall of Fame, died this past year. Coach Stone did not allow any "funny business" from his boys. However, he had our respect because his strong leadership led us to many championships. We always knew that his Lutheran faith was a major part of his life and that if we were ever going to amount to anything we had to have Coach Stone's Lord in our lives too. He is one of the folks for whom I have lived my life in a manner that would make him proud. He knows now in Glory that he was a saint for me.
The Bible has a lot to say about weather related storms: rain, wind, whirlwinds, thunder, lightning, drought, cold and heat. For thousands of years there has been a natural order to the elements. Of course, when we are caught in a hurricane it's hard to remember that the wind, rain and hail are a natural occurrence-- the way God created it. But don't we usually hear survivors of tornadoes saying how terrified they were during the storm but how it made them stronger to have gone through the wrenching experience? This does not make the tornado a good thing, but it does mean that out of the darkness God can bring light.
Scripture concerns itself with the serious threat of spiritual storms that threaten our bodies and souls. To these too there is a naturalness. Spiritual and emotional storms are common to all people. We do not have to pray for God to send some suffering so that we might grow from it because adversity visits us with regularity. We have learned that it is not the bad situation that threatens our souls, but it is our response to sadness that determines our destiny. We have a choice to make as to whether we are going to go on with God, or remain in our pain. God extends the helping hand but we must reach for it.
It is God's great desire to relieve our deep sorrow. He wants to heal our pain through the gift of time. It is not God's will that we remain at the same level of grief forever. Neither would our friends and loved ones want us to continue to grieve for them. Today can be our new beginning. Will we grant Him permission to end our crying time and give us joy?
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor