a priest's musings on the journey
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Sermon: Pentecost 3, 10 June 2007 St Andrew's, Haw River, NC
2 Pentecost Year C 10 June, 2007
Our Compassionate, Healing Lord
In 2004 Bobbie Sheranko wrote these words after the death of her child:
I cried hot burning tears...
That stung my soul as they stung my cheeks.
I closed my eyes wishing I could close my ears
As those awful words were said...
Those evil cruel words that no one wanted to say...
Your child is gone....your child is no more.
But you are not gone, don't they know, for you are here
Right here in my broken aching heart.
And I cry hot burning tears...
That sting my soul as they sting my cheek
According to The Psychiatric Diagnostic Statistical Manual , the most catastrophic even that can happen in the life of person is the loss of a child. It is a grief and pain unlike any other known or experienced. It is an emptiness that never goes away; when a child dies, a part of the parent’s very own heart dies as well. When a parent loses a child, those who have never experienced such a devastating loss often have no idea how to respond to their pain and agony. What do you say? What can you say? Every word that comes to mind seems trite and meaningless: and even those phrases that one thinks are helpful, such as “your child is a sweet angel in heaven now”, “God must have needed your baby in Heaven” cut deep, and cause even more pain. In reality, a grieving parent doesn’t want their son or daughter to be an angel in heaven: they want their child in their arms until the natural course takes the parent to Heaven first. After all, that is the way it is supposed to be.
The lessons for today tell the stories of two widows who had lost their sons. It would have been tragic enough to tell the story of a parent who had lost their child; but these stories introduce us to two widows, who we are led to believe were left all alone with no spouse, other children, or family to care for them. A widow in this condition was among the most vulnerable of all people in that society. These women were alone in their grief, and they faced a life of dark despair and poverty. Any inheritance that might have been theirs was given to the eldest male relative, who was supposed to use the inheritance to care for the widow. However, in reality, this never happened, and the widow had no recourse for justice. So, she had to rely on the mercy of others, which was not always given because despite provisions made for the care of widows in the Mosaic Law, the popular consensus was that widowhood was a sign of God’s disfavor- much like barrenness. Widows were held in such contempt, that they were viewed on the same level as a prostitute. A childless widow was seen as the property of her dead husband, and the law required her brother-in-law to marry her and produce offspring for his dead brother. If the brother was too young to marry, the woman would have to wait for him to come of age; and she could not refuse the marriage.
Our Gospel story tells us that Jesus had just entered the village of Nain, when a funeral procession of a young man passed by. Jesus learned that this young man was the only child of the grieving mother, who had also lost her husband. Jesus was moved with the reality that he knew would exist for this woman. He had compassion for and felt moved to help her. I don’t always talk about the greek words in the Gospel text, but the word that is translated as compassion here is a powerful one, only used in the New Testament for Jesus and the Good Samaritan. The word, σπλαγχνίζομαι (splagchnizomai), used by Luke, was primarily used by the Greeks before the time of Jesus to refer to great courage. The root of this word comes from the word for one’s inner parts, the viscera- it literally means to yearn from one’s bowels; to be moved down to one’s bowels- which in that time were thought to be the center of one’s being. It was from ones bowels that one would find the inward strength to do a difficult or terrifying task. Luke uses it to show a deep compassion and mercy; a mercy that flows from the inner most being of Jesus. Jesus did not merely feel sorry for this woman; he felt her pain’ he shared her suffering, his heart overflowed with compassion for her, and he was moved to action. He was moved to changed her plight and to save her from the life that would have been hers. So, Jesus touches the bier- even though the Law of Moses said that would make him unclean, and tells the young man to arise. He sits up and is restored to his mother.
What is important about this miraculous healing, is that Jesus did not perform this mighty act in order to impress the crowds or to prove that he had the power over death itself. He healed the young man because of his compassion towards this woman. Jesus wanted her to know that she was indeed a beloved daughter of God. Jesus wanted her to know that she was important to God- that God was with her.
This message that Luke is communicating here in this story gets to the root of who Jesus is and why he came among us. God is love, writes the beloved Apostle, and the consequence of God’s love is God’s self-giving of Himself to us. In Jesus Christ, God became one of us and walked among us. That same love empowered Jesus to offer himself on the hard wood of the cross in order to reconcile a broken world to God. God can do nothing but love; and when God sees us in our suffering, despair, and even in our sin, God’s heart overflows with compassion and love for us. God’s love moves the Divine heart to action- to self-giving. This morning many in the Church celebrate the self-giving of Jesus Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament in the Feast of Corpus Christi- the Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Through the Holy Eucharist, we are reminded, every time we celebrate it, that God love us and is present with us. Every time we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we hear God saying to us again that we are invited to have a place in the community of Love that exists in the Holy Trinity.
But more than that, the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist calls us to be like our Lord of Love. We are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ so that we might become the Body of Christ in the world. We are given the Body of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar so that we might become the hands and feet of Jesus in the world- hands and feet that are called and moved to action by hearts overflowing with love and mercy. We are nurtured by Christ Himself so that we can nurture and offer healing to others.
And the mystery of our ministry of compassion and healing, is that we receive the strength to love and heal others from those wounds that we carry in those deep places in our own hearts. Σπλαγχνίζομαι - being moved from our bowels to show compassion to others- is the gift the Holy Spirit gives us that both deepens our own healing and leads others in pain on towards their on paths of healing. This gift empowers us to have the courage to grow from our woundedness, and to raise others up with us. From our own personal pain, we allow the Holy Spirit to show us how to love and heal others.
Imagine how transformed our lives would be if we could tap into that healing grace that God offers through our own pain and suffering. Imagine how your family, parish, and community could be transformed if we allowed the Holy Spirit to fashion us a people of wounded healers. What might our ministries look like? What would become the priorities in our daily living and in the goals we set for our common life together in our parish?
Bobbie Sheranko, whose poem I read earlier, has allowed her pain to be the source of her compassionate action for others who are drowning in their grief. She writes poetry that expresses the feelings that many can not articulate, but find comfort in reading. She has posted helpful resources and encouragement on websites created to offer healing to grieving parents. Others like her have formed groups, such as the Compassionate Friends, which meets monthly to offer mutual support and to offer a safe place to share one’s experience as a parent who has lost a child.
There are many other examples of people who have allowed God to strengthen them in their love towards others. A former parishioner of mine discovered that her son had AIDS- and this was years ago when it was much more of a death sentence than it is now. Her heart was crushed; the pain unbearable. She felt helpless, overwhelmed- even angry. But she didn’t stay there. She opened her heart to God’s healing grace, and she was open to the possibility that she could share that healing grace with others. That led her to create a new ministry in her parish, called The Unseen Guest. This ministry meets weekly to cook dinners for people affected with HIV/AIDS. She could have easily wallowed in her pain forever- and make no mistake, the pain is still there; but she found the courage to allow God to transform her pain, so that she could be an agent of transformation and healing for others.
The road to discipleship is a way fraught with pain and suffering. Of course even though Jesus warned us that we would suffer because of him, we all know that suffering is a part of life, whether or not we follow the path of Jesus. What makes suffering different for us who are in Christ, is that the Holy Spirit enables our suffering to participate in the redemptive actions of God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that when we are baptized into Christ, Christ takes form in us, as Christ lives his ongoing life in and through us, and since God is a suffering God who bears our pain and sorrows, when we suffer, it is God who is suffering in us, taking form in a community of compassion through which God reconciles, saves and heals.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. (II Corinthians 1:3-4)
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 9:07 PM
Rob This is a great sermon. And I've heard a few! Wish I could hear you deliver it.
I am Bobbie Sheranko and I wrote the poem you are using. Thank you for this sermon. So many need to koow how parents hurt. God wants us to be of help to our fellow man. You have just helped many! God bless you!