Sunday, September 30, 2012

See How He Loves

See How He Loves
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
September 30, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Romans 12:15b
John 11: 28-37 

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
            For your eyes show us the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

I really liked my sermon from last week, but I'm a little intimidated by this one.  For the last bunch of weeks I have been comparing these marks of a true Christian to the actual life of Christ, showing how the marks of a Christian are the very same marks of self sacrificing love that Christ bears. Today I will still do that, but I want to also try something a little different. I plan on going further to show how amazing the life of Jesus acts as an incredible revelation about the truly wondrous nature of God. So let's get started. The passage for this week is Romans 12:15b, "Weep with those who weep." Last week we were "rejoicing with those who rejoice," and now we are weeping, ultimate compassion. Let's look at where we've come on this journey.

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.[1] 

Since this passage deals with weeping, that ultimate act of compassion, I wanted to show Jesus being an amazing example. Here is John 11: 28-37, titled simply in my Bible, "Jesus Weeps":

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”  

There it is every child's favorite verse to memorize. John 11:35: "Jesus wept." Two words, easy to remember. But wow how important it is. What a glimpse into the personality of God, like no other we get, and the reaction of the people there to witness is awesome as well. They see Jesus weep and they say in response, "See how he loved him." Loved. Jesus Loved Him. God loved him. God loves us.
There are passages throughout the Bible that talk about God loving, especially throughout the Old Testament. One of the most famous phrases describing God's Old Testament love is "steadfast love." I decided to see just how many times it is used throughout, so I did a search, it came back 174 times. 174 times God is described as giving steadfast love. It was cool to see how God shows his "steadfast love" to all the big names of the Bible. It's like a who's who.
Jacob: Genesis 32:10 "I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown"
Joseph: Genesis 39: 21 "But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love"
Moses: Exodus 15:13 "In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed"
King David: 2 Samuel 7.15: But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.
King Solomon: 1 Kings 3.6: And Solomon said, ‘You have shown great and steadfast love 

The list goes on and on, and the Psalms are also full of witness to the steadfast love of God. As I was scrolling through the list, it seemed like there were more psalms that had the phrase in it than those that didn't. It was like 21, 22, 23, 24, 25. and on and on.
Mostly the steadfast love that God shows deals with continued blessings, or setting free from bondage, or deliverance through a difficult journey, or the promise of future blessings. God's steadfast love is throughout the Old Testament, but it seems to be always impersonal. It seems as if there is a breach. Even at the burning bush with Moses, there is tremendous separation between Moses and God. Only once do we see the closeness, and that is before the fall, before Adam and Eve eat of the fruit, and then it all changes, after the fall. In Genesis 2-3, God and Adam had walked together in the cool of the day, but when God came to do that, after the eating of the fruit, Adam and Eve hid themselves from God, and it seems we've been hiding since. I've always read that passage in Genesis, where God calls out to Adam and Eve, "Where are you?" as God experiencing pain. Where are you? Why hide? What are you doing? Don't you remember my steadfast love? But no they hide. Do we hide because we don't understand God? Can we not see the history of humanity from God's eyes? What characterizes God? Anger, Jealousy, Wrath. This passage from John seems instead to suggest compassion, sympathy, mourning.
What causes Jesus to weep? Is it the loss of his friend, Lazarus? I don't think so because he must know he is about to raise him. What is it then? It seems to me that the answer to this question is at the very center point of this morning's mark of a Christian, "weep with those who weep." Look at verse 33, "When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved." Jesus sees the people weeping, and he is moved to tears himself. What is going on here? The easy answer is compassion. Jesus is feeling the pain with the people here. He is mourning with them. He feels their loss, but I think it goes beyond that. Try to put yourself in Jesus' place, I know it is very difficult. Think of all that Jesus has seen, you know being the Word, as John's gospel, this very gospel opens, "In the beginning there was the word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God." This is who weeps. Think of everything that God has seen since the beginning. How many people have died, since that first "hiding" in the garden? Think of all the times when He must have thought, why don't you just see that I'm here, and that I love you? Why do  you put all of this pain on your own shoulders? Look at what Mary says, "Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died." Jesus must be thinking again, when will they learn? When will their tears stop falling because they know that I am here. I'm never not here. My love is never far away. Open your eyes and you will see. And the tears fall. He knows that he will raise Lazarus. But listen to the people, again they believe in Jesus, but they see limits, don't they. "If you'd been here, he'd still be living." "Surely he who healed the blind man could keep him from dying." Limits of presence, and limits that death is an insurmountable unchangeable fact of life.  And Jesus weeps. I go back again to Genesis, this is the God who spoke things into existence. "Let there be light and it was." All things then created by God and in God's control, all that is, how then could there be limits even death? But we put them there don't we? and Jesus weeps.  
I've been thinking about crying this week. There is no one in my life now, who cries more than Coralee and Clara. And I've been thinking about how I react to them when they are crying. Clara is much simpler than Coralee. She cries for food, or when she is tired, or bored, tired of that toy daddy. She can't put words to it, but that is what her tears mean. I know because I know her, and I've watched her. Coralee is more developed, and she has many different cries. She has the I'm hurt cry, that is kind of a high pitch squeal. She has the I missed my nap, whining constant cry. She even has the trying to be as pitiful as possible fake cry. I tried to think about how I usually react to her crying. I don't think I've yet been moved to cry with her. I'm sure it will happen though, I mean I'm me, but it hasn't happened yet. I tried to think about why not? Mostly I think it is because I know that her crying is not a big deal. That it will pass, that it is temporary sadness, caused by a little transient pain, or momentary loss, or not enough sleep. I know what the solution is, so I don't cry with her. Now all of these apply to Jesus in this situation. He knows us. He knows that soon the cause of the pain will be lifted, as long as the pain is the death of Lazarus. He knows that these tears of sadness will disappear quickly into tears of joy, but yet he still weeps with them.
Thinking about Coralee and Clara have helped me get at this idea. I think Jesus weeps because he understands how hard it is to be human. He has compassion for us. He sees in human beings the amazing attachment and love we can have for each other, the depth of our feelings, the endless potential that we have to care, but at the same time he sees how lost we are, how we just don't understand what "Steadfast Love" really is, how deep it goes, and how truly limitless is it's power. As human Jesus knows that attachment, but as God Jesus also knows that the attachment to God never has to go away. There never has to be the separation that we feel, and the limitations that we see and feel must be, just aren't there.
Look at where this story goes from here:
38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”

Limits. . . Jesus weeps.

40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”  

Don't you see it here. "I knew that you always hear me." Look at what that suggests. Look at the difference between the faith and relationship Jesus has and the doubt, worry, and fear that the people have here. He says things, "So that they may believe that you sent me." Believing, faith, so that there are no questions about who and what is going on here. Then he says: "Lazarus come out." And the power of God is displayed, the power to cancel death. If God has this power what are we hiding for? And why should we weep?
We should weep because it's human to weep, just as its human to doubt the closeness of God. But if you are blessed to know in your heart that God is there, close to you in all of the moments when you need God most, then like Jesus, weep for all of the pain that you see around you, and all of the other souls who are seeking, searching, needing, and weeping. Hope like Jesus hopes that the pain that they are experiencing now, is another opportunity to have their eyes open to the boundless steadfast love that God has for them. A true Christian, if any of us could truly live up to that distinction, weeps and feels compassion because, knowing what a Christian knows, how sad would life be otherwise? Certainly cause to weep.
Take a look at the Prayer of Preparation:
Lullay, lullay, little child, why weepest thou so sore?
Needs must thou weep--it was ordained thee yore
Ever to live in sorrow, and sigh and mourn alway
As thine elders did before thee in their day.
Lullay, lullay, little child, child, lullay, lullow,
In a strange world a stranger art thou. 

How do humans see the world this way, alone, abandoned, afraid, and destined to weep and mourn, instead of the world of "Let there be light and it was," of "Lazarus come out," of "For God so Loved the world," How much of a blessing it is to know that God is there, that God is amazing in power, steadfast in love, and close enough to weep with us. How amazing it is that God has that type of compassion. How amazing it is that we are called to the same. May it be so!



[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ro 12:9-15). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.