Tonight I stood in front of 300 people, about 290 of whom I had never met before, and did my best to deal with the reality that their 26-year-old brother, son, nephew, a friend had taken his own life. This was perhaps one of the most overwhelming experiences of my entire life. It’s a pretty good bet that most of them aren’t regular churchgoers, and I realized that tonight I had the opportunity to introduce (perhaps not for the first time but at least in a fresh way) them to my God and my friend Jesus. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where you find out if your theology does speak of “Good news.”
Wednesday night in the weekly bible study that I am a part of, we discussed the question of, “what would Jesus say to these people as they are dealing with such a horrible loss if he were here?” Stacy, one of our PBU students, said, “I think he would say, I’m sorry.” It was that thought that reminded me of two of my favorite words in the Bible:
So tonight, I shared the following (or at least something like this, I never really follow my manuscript perfectly) with these new friends… By the way, thanks to all of you who prayed for The Well and me during this time. It was clear that God was present and active amid the pain.
What do you say in a time like this? How do you respond in a time like this? When I received Matt’s e-mail about Phil, my heart sank two days ago. I didn’t know Phil, but my heart broke for him, his family, and each of you who knew him.
So I stand here as a Pastor, a minister and I realize that for some of you, you expect me to give some answers. Some of you might actually expect me to have no answers. I expect myself to have some answers. What now, pastor? How do you explain this?
But, one of the things that his family shared with me was that Phil loved to read; he was introspective, he loved to ask questions, and his mom described him as the “ultimate seeker.” One thing that seems clear was that for Phil, God was not something you could put in a nice little box, wrap up with a nice bow and say, “here is God, he makes perfect sense.” But, he asked lots of questions about life, faith, and God.
Today more than ever, I believe that Phil was on to something. We are all witnesses today that you can’t put God in a nice tidy box, stick a bow on it, and put him on your mantle. God’s ways are indescribable. God is often confusing.
We often look at the world that doesn’t make sense and wonder what’s going on. Today, we find ourselves in one of life’s darkest times.
And so the question that you might be asking yourself and I am indeed asking myself, “Where is God in all of this?”
I believe with God; there are no questions that are out of bounds. So, asking “where is God in all of this” is a valid question.
Where IS God in all of this? What IS going on? Why?
I don’t think that it’s possible or even wise to try and present to you this evening a God that fits into some preconceived, nice little tidy box. I can’t shape him into a little box that you can fit on your mantle. I think if I did do that, I’m pretty sure Phil would have been one of the first ones to stand up and call my bluff. (and yell, well you know what he would yell).
Amid these questions that don’t have easy answers, I believe a few things:
I believe that God has not abandoned us.
I believe that in the midst of all the pain, confusion, and tragedy, God is still here.
And I believe there is hope.
There is a story in the Bible in the book of John about Jesus. This story is about two women dealing with their brother’s death. Their brother’s name is Lazarus, and he becomes ill and passes away. Most obviously, like us here today, they are desperately distraught. Yet, there is nothing they can do. And so they do the only thing that makes sense, they call for Jesus.
In this story we see, what I believe, is a beautiful picture of Jesus. The narrative says the following: “When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews that had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “˜Where have you laid him’ Jesus asked. “˜Come and See Lord’ they replied.
Then comes two of the most beautiful words in the entire Bible”¦
As a kid, I always thought this verse was great because it was so short. But, as I have experienced more and more of life, I have come to see the richness and depth of this verse. The profound sense of hope comes in the form of these two words.
and the words before it.
“Jesus was deeply troubled”
Why? Why did Jesus weep? Why was he troubled?
I think it’s clear from the passage that Jesus was weeping because he saw and understood the desperate brokenness of these two women who had just lost their beloved brother.
Jesus’ tears and pain came from the fact that this is not the way it’s supposed to be. This is not what he, God, intended for humanity. He made us for something else. He didn’t make us for death, he made us for life. But, as I said, he understands, it’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
That’s why we revolt against death because it’s not natural. I believe the Scriptures teach us that God created man to be in a loving relationship with God, with our world, with ourselves, and with each other. And we see clearly over and over again, that those relationships are broken.
The book of Romans talks about how all of creation, along with us, groans and eagerly awaits the day that it will be healed. Today we feel the full effect of this longing. It is moments like these that I long for creation to be as it was meant to be.
The wonderful, good news is that I believe that is exactly why Jesus came to die on the cross and rise again from the dead. He came to fix this world. The scriptures allude to the day because he conquered death on the cross, all things will be made new. All of creation will be healed. One day, there will be no more mourning. There will be no more pain. There will be no more death. The world will finally be as it’s supposed to be.
So, I believe that tonight, and in the days ahead, we can find hope in two things.
First, we have a God who weeps with us. We have a God who is deeply troubled that the world is the way it is. He’s not a God who sits upon a throne unattached and unmoved by the flight of humanity.
But, as he did with Mary and Martha, he sits with us in our darkest hour and weeps alongside us.
The second hope we have is that he’s doing something about it. One might ask, “How do you believe in a God that would allow something like this to happen?” I believe there is another way to look at this, “I am so thankful that God sees this world and has decided to do something about it.”
So tonight, instead of giving you a God that wraps this tragedy in a tidy box that makes sense and allows no questions. I invite you to sit with the God who mourns along with you. Knowing that Jesus weeps because this is not the way it’s supposed to be.
If you can remember two words tonight, let them be “Jesus Wept.”