Rev. George Miller
Jeremiah 8:18 to 9:1
“For the Hurt of My Poor People I AM Hurt ”
Sept 19, 2010
(Sermon starts in character as a safari tour guide.)
Hallo. My name is Rra. Samuel and today we are going on a safari. But this will not be a bang!-bang! kind of safari in which we will use guns. But a safari in which we will use our hearts and minds.
Our safari takes place in the beautiful country of Botswana, Africa. Botswana is a place that has been blessed by God, in which the rains restore the land and the earth is full of diamonds.
And the people believe in old, old values of respect, hospitality and sharing the land with all God’s creatures.
In Botswana you will find much cattle. Cattle is used to measure wealth and security. A family with 20 cattle can plan on living a good, good life. When a woman gets married, cattle become her dowry. The more pretty a woman is, the more cattle her family can expect.
In Botswana there are many, many chickens. Chickens all over the place. In the front yard. In the market. In front of stores. Sometimes, if a shop keeper is not careful, they can find chickens for customers.
Botswana also has snakes. Big, big dangerous snakes that can get into your home, inside your car or bite you on the leg. We do not like snakes, especially the giant mamba.
Botswana also has giraffes. Beautiful, beautiful, majestic giraffes, with their long, long legs and tall, tall heads and their pretty, pretty spots.
A giraffe is a magnificent thing to see. He stands tall and proud, up up in the air. He eats the leaves off the trees and walks in magnificent strides.
There is a story in Botswana that we tell about the giraffe. You see, the women of the village will make baskets to sell on the side of the road. Each basket has a design worked into the weaving,
The little marks that make up the design are tears. It is said that the giraffe gives its tears to the women and they weave them into the basket.
The giraffe gives its tears because it has nothing else to give, and to remind us that we all, no matter what, can give something.
And sometimes tears are all that we have.
Life is a wonderful, wonderful thing; filled with beauty, filled with laughter and love, and yes, even filled with tears....[i]
(Here ends the character acting.)
Life can be like a Botswana safari. Moments when hospitality is displayed, be it a cup of cool water or a hot cup of tea. When love and laughter rain down so profoundly that heaven breaks in.
Even when our eyes become a fountain of tears, because that means we were loved and we have loved. And our tears, like Botswana’s diamonds become a way for God’s light to enter into our lives.
Yes, life can be like a Botswana safari. Around us are the cows of finances and wealth in which we put all our energy into money and financial security, wanting to gather as much as we can, making sure that none is lost or stolen, afraid of what will happen if we do not have enough.
Around us are chickens, the aspect of being busy. Busy in the yard, busy in the market, busy shopping, busy doing-meeting-making. So busy doing that some times we forget to just be.
Around us are snakes, or perhaps better said, the fear of snakes. We worry about what others are saying or doing, wondering who is plotting and who is planning, so afraid that there may be a snake in the grass that we forget to even notice the grass. How much time is devoted to fear?
But do we leave room for the giraffes? Do we leave room for the tears? For the tears of others, for the tears of ourselves?
Do we allow for our tears to be woven into the fabric of our life, or do we instead push them back inside, so we can go back to focusing on finances, keeping busy and feeding our fears?
The people in Jeremiah’s time were very busy with their symbolic cows and chickens. They were on a constant quest for more, more, more. More wealth and more power, even if it meant forgetting about the widow, the poor or orphan.
They were too busy with their idols, praying to wood carvings and worshiping false gods, hoping all their inward-focused needs would be met.
They were busy, busy. Too busy to pay attention to foreign affairs, too busy to notice the injustices going on in their country, too busy to realize that things were not as shiny as they seemed.
But Jeremiah could see exactly what was going on. And he became their giraffe, offering his tears. Jeremiah also became the vessel through which God was able to speak to the people.
Jeremiah was unafraid to shed tears on behalf of the people and for God. These were tears based on love, but they were tears also based on pain.
They were tears based on disappointment for all the ways in which the people were hurting each other, hurting themselves, and hurting God.
Through tears of melancholy Jeremiah said “For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt...O that my head were a wellspring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears.” (8:21, 9:1)
He stood before the people, with his tears, pleading for God, pleading for their own sake. He was hoping that the people would take his tears and weave them into their lives.
But they didn’t. Instead, they went into denial.
They resented Jeremiah’s tears and his words of warning. They began to treat him as if he was a dangerous mamba snake, placing blame on him, causing him to suffer the consequences: prison, humiliation, rejection by family and friends.
Unfortunately, time proved Jeremiah right, and just a few short years later, in came the snakes, true snakes he had been warning them about. And Jeremiah watched his people fall. Men, women, children, people he knew and loved, killed by the enemy.
And then, finally, the people began to weep and they began to cry and they began to call upon God “Why us?”, “Where are you?” and “Why won’t you help?”
Not realizing that as they were suffering and crying, God was suffering and crying too.
For the hurt of God’s poor people, the great I AM hurt too.
The story of Jeremiah’s people can be our story as well, if we are not careful. Like the people of Jeremiah’s era, we also spend a lot of our time worried about our wealth. Like the people of Jeremiah’s era we are always too, too busy. Like the people of Jeremiah’s era we leave little room for tears.
Think about our cultural makeup and teachings about sorrow and grief. When we attend a funeral and the wife or the husband stoically sits by as the preacher rambles on, people will say “Oh, he is so strong” or “She is the picture of grace under pressure.” But if someone cries, they are said to be a mess and people run over with boxes of Kleenex to keep the tears in.
Hospitals have many, many rooms. Operating room, waiting room, family room. But I have yet to see one marked “crying room” in which people can freely poor out their grief.
And why is it that when somebody does cry, they are the ones to say “I am so sorry. I do not know why I can’t stop crying.”?
I’ll tell you why we cry and why we can’t stop crying when we hurt: because we are human, and the ability to feel sorrow, loss and pain are a part of our humanity.
And we cry because our humanity has been created in the image of God.
Our God, as experienced in Jeremiah, is a God who experiences great pain and sorrow, who knows what it is like to feel anguish.
Our God, who created the world and was willing to take the risk in having us care for it, is also a God who suffers disappointment and hurt that can only come from being in love.
And, as we heard in today’s reading, sometimes there are not enough tears to express God’s distress.
Have you ever stopped to think about God’s grief and tears? It is there, throughout the Bible, and it is there in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
It is through Jesus that we encounter the fullest revelation of God, and in that encounter, in that spiritual safari, we discover that Jesus cried too. And Jesus did not just cry. No: Jesus wept.
Jesus wept for the community. We witness that as he approaches the city of Jerusalem. With tears in his eyes he said “If only you could all see what brings peace you could prevent the suffering of you and your children.”
Jesus wept for friends and individuals. We witness that as he hears the news that Lazarus is dead. When greeted by Mary and the others, with heavy sobs and tears, he asks where the body is. And when they tell him, Jesus weeps too. It is the shortest and perhaps most powerful verse in all the Bible.
Jesus wept for himself. In the garden, before he is to be betrayed, while his disciples sleep, he prays, grieved and agitated. And on the cross, he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Because Jesus, as the full revelation of God, wept, we know that God weeps too. And because that is so, we can claim our right to weep and be unashamed of our ability to cry, to grieve and to mourn.
We are created in God’s image. When we are sad, we can cry out. When things are not as they should, we can cry out. When we hurt, we can cry out.
Because not only does God know and hear our pain, but when we hurt, God hurts too.
In conclusion, in this great safari of life we will be kept busy with many, many things. With cows of wealth, chickens of busyness, and snakes that can bite us on our heel.
But may we not be so busy that we have no place for giraffes with their tears. Because tears are not something to be ashamed of, silenced or feared. But our tears are a way of saying we hurt, life has been fractured, something is wrong.
And as the giraffe gives its tears to be woven into the baskets of Botswana’s women, our tears can be lifted up and given to God.
Because when we give God our tears we are presenting a chance for God to offer us comfort, and we are allowing space for transformation.
When we offer up our tears to God, we allow ourselves to receive God’s healing balm, better then any that can be found in Gilead. Better than any amount of wealth, busyness or fear can ever offer.
When we offer our tears to God we allow ourselves to become more woven into the very fabric of life and God’s redemptive plans for this world.
All thanks and honor to be to the Spirit that gives sound to our sobs, for God who feels our pain and for Jesus who, as we are told, wept also.
Amen and amen.
[i].Based on Alexander McCall Smith’s Tears of the Giraffe, 2000, pp. 226-227.