Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sermon for Jan 26, 2014; Matthew 4:12-5:12

Jan 26, 2014
Scripture: Matthew 4:12-5:12
Sermon Title: “Wounded Yet Wonderful”
Rev. George N. Miller

A few weeks ago I shared with you one of my favorite children’s books. Today I’ll share with you some words from one of my favorite novels: Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker.

It is about an African woman named Tashi who has experienced great suffering and has moved to America to start her life over. She is fiercely proud and protective of her adopted country and in one scene she is asked “What does an American look like?”

Tashi tries to describe various people: Raye, who is the color of certain seed pods with curly hair and freckles, not seen in Africa.

Or Amy Maxwell, with powdery skin tinged with yellow and pink, teased white hair and bony shoulders.

Or Eskimos with yellow skin or white men on the TV with hearty voices and fake warmth in their eyes.

No matter how hard she tries, Tashi can’t seem to pin down how to describe what an American looks like. She knows red women with black hair, brown people with blue eyes.

In Africa she could describe what a Massai or an Olinkan looked like, but neither height, skin tone or eye color can describe an American.

Then one day, Tashi realizes her answer:

“An American looks like a wounded person whose wound is hidden from others and sometimes from herself. An American looks like me.” (page 213)

I find this answer fascinating.

After years of providing pastoral care to a variety of people, there has emerged for me what can be called a “theology of wounded-ness.”

It has not been an easy theology to embrace; not one that many are aware of. It was not part of my upbringing.

As I child, I was not sheltered from the reality of death. I learned early on that everyone and everything dies. I was not coddled when I was sick; we still went to school or off to work.

I learned that hurts were to be ignored and not talked about; true strength is acting as though nothing bothers you.

That when bad things happen, that’s life.

How many others have learned the same thing, that we are not to dwell on pain or loss? We are to pretend things don’t bother us even when they do.

I wonder how many of us have learned, as Americans, to hide our wounds so they are hidden from others and hidden from ourselves.

How do we learn that? Who teaches us that? Who decided it was better to bottle our feelings up, as opposed to letting them out?

I guess part of it comes from our understanding of faith, or our misunderstanding, if you will.

We think that as Christians we’re called to always be strong, put on a smiling face, and believe that God has a plan so we shouldn’t complain.

That all things happen for a reason; that the Lord is our Rock. Therefore if we have faith we should never feel sad or become emotional jell-O.

…But yet it is our wounds that play a part in making us who we are. It is our hurts that create spaces for the Spirit to enter in and do its work.

It is during our times of weakness that God is able to step in and truly make us strong.

That it is by acknowledging our hurts that the Holy Trinity can bring us closer to healing and wholeness.

Take for example today’s reading. Matthew introduces us to the situation when vss. 12-13 state “When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee…he left Nazareth…”

These words go by so quick that it’s easy for us not to notice, but let’s focus on the words used: Jesus withdrew to Galilee; Jesus left Nazareth.

Hear them from an emotional level.

Jesus’ peer, John the Baptist, the man who baptized him, has been handed over, put in prison, and Jesus withdraws.

Can we emotionally hear what is happening here?

The Gospel of Matthew shows the humanity of Jesus. It shows Jesus as being a human who can be tempted, who can make choices, who has his own inner turmoil.

Here we witness Jesus as a person who withdraws when something bad happens to someone in his life.

His peer has been betrayed, locked up, and what is Jesus’ very human reaction? To momentarily withdraw from the situation.

Have you ever done that? Just withdraw from something that hurt or scared you?

Have you ever had something happen to you or your family or your friends that just made you sad, mad, scared, that made you just want to run away?

Have you ever received some disturbing news and the first thing you do is separate yourself?

Maybe you immediately went to the store, got a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, came home and ate the whole container in one sitting?

Or maybe you just sat on the couch and zoned out while watching the Cooking Channel?

Or cooked an entire meal and then threw it out because you realized you weren’t hungry?

Maybe you withdrew by going into the garage or workbench to tinker around, or went hunting or fishing, not caring if you caught anything.

Or maybe you just lay in bed for a day or two or three without bothering to get up and take a shower. Have you ever done that?

Where you don’t bother answering the phone, checking e-mail, or responding to text-messages?

We all have and I believe Jesus did too.

We see this behavior happen a few times in his ministry where things are not going right and Jesus breaks away from the group to have some alone time.

So as Christians, what can this mean?

It can mean that as followers of Christ, when we are wounded, when we are hurt, when we are scared, we are allowed to go away in private and deal with our wounds.

That when someone we love is hurt, or hurts us, it is OK to separate ourselves from the situations and to try and figure out what it all means.

Good news for those who like Ben and Jerry’s, TV marathons and three days of not showering: “Me Time” is actually OK. It’s alright.

It doesn’t mean we are any less Christian, or our faith is weak, or that we have turned our back on God.

In fact, it can become a time in which we turn more towards God.

Everyone needs time and space to be by themselves. The important thing is to know when enough is enough and when it is time to return to society.

For each person that time line will be different because everyone hurts differently, everyone withdraws differently, but here’s the thing- eventually we emerge.

That eventually, after that time period is over, we throw away the empty ice cream containers, we open up the blinds, we discard the clothes we’ve been sleeping in, we take that shower and we reenter the world, wounded yet wonderful, scarred and healed, different and ready for change.

That’s what I believe Jesus did. Notice that in chapter 4:12 Jesus withdraws upon hearing that John has been arrested. But by verse 17 Jesus is ready to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven, by verse 18 he is calling the first of his disciples, and by verse 23 he is teaching and healing.

By the time we get to chapter 5 Jesus is up on the mountain, surrounded by people, giving his infamous “Sermon on the Mount.”

What is the first lesson he teaches: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

I’d like to suggest that Jesus has experienced his own moment of sadness, his own time of grief and fear, and he temporarily withdraws from it all.

When he emerges, he emerges ready to proclaim the good news, heal the masses and lead the disciples.

Could Jesus have done so if he hadn’t withdrawn, if he had pretended everything was O.K., if he acted as though things were fine, when they weren’t?

Perhaps he could have, but would he have been as effective?

Could Jesus have truthfully called those who are poor in spirit or those who mourn “blessed” if he himself did not experience what it is like to mourn?

The more I preach and teach about Jesus, the more I feel I learn about who Jesus is, the more I fall in love with him, and am glad to be a Christian.

Knowing that the gift of Christmas continues, even long after decorations are taken down and ornaments are put away.

Knowing that Emmanuel, God with Us, knows just what it is like to have loved, and what it is like to have lost.

That our Jesus knows what it is like to feel fear, worry, and temptation, perhaps even uncertainty, depression and loss.

That Jesus was not an unrealistic Superman or like Spock from Star Trek who could not understand the gamut of human emotion.

But that Jesus, as Matthew shows us, knew what it was like to be human, to experience the human condition, even when it meant wanting to run away, get away from it all.

Because that means we, as Christians, do not have to feel ashamed about our own hurt nor about our own wounds.

We do not have to hide our humanness or prove we are made of steel. We do not have to waste time and energy proving things are fine when they are not.

But that we, in our very humanness, can submit to those moments when all we want to do is run away, sit in our pajamas and eat Ben and Jerry’s while crying over what or who we have lost.

In Christ, we have that comfort and that rock, so that we can lean on him, so that when we are ready, we can get up, we can continue our faith journey and we can find blessedness even in mourning.

That a Christian can look like a wounded person and still be wonderful.

All thanks be to God who brings healing, for Jesus who knew what it’s like to have loved and lost and for the Spirit that empowers us to gird up our strength and to be renewed.

Amen and amen.

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