From Grieving to Joy
5-10-20 Facebook Sermon
John 16, Isaiah 43: 18-19
=> You can see our entire worship service on Facebook: Congregational Church of Northridge – UCC
Nobody likes change except a wet baby … and talk about change!
You and I – in fact, all of us in every corner of the world – have been thrust into change that we could not have conceived of just eight or nine weeks ago.
So, it’s hardly surprising that people have begun telling me that
- they’ve become short-tempered
- they’re tired but can’t sleep through the night
- they miss just sitting in a restaurant and going to church
- they’ve lost their sense of purpose and meaning
During these four weeks since Easter, I’ve been reading about how the disciples struggled with letting go of the Jesus they’d known.
Remember how Mary wanted to hold on to the Risen Christ at the tomb?
Remember Peter’s panicked reaction when Jesus said that he’d be arrested, killed and then rise from the dead?
They’d known Jesus personally, in the flesh, and they wanted to keep it that way.
They knew his look, his voice, his touch, so even with the glory of his Resurrection, it was hard to move into the new experience of the Risen Christ – everything had changed, and they didn’t like it.
Because he knew how they would grieve, before his arrest Jesus tried to comfort his followers.
Sitting around the dinner table, Jesus said to them (John16:33) “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Would you agree that our world is having trouble?
Earlier this week I felt like I was getting sick – exhaustion, coughing, tightness of breath, raspy throat.
Naturally, I feared the worst.
I took my temperature every 15-minutes or so.
I got myself worked up that I would never see my son again, that maybe I’d infected my grandson, and I worried about how my dogs would make it without me.
That’s part of what’s hard with this pandemic, too.
These days, we don’t have to be a hypochondriac for those symptoms to mentally
send us down the road of catastrophe … and doing that is exhausting, too.
After some rest, I felt a lot better, but it prompted me to re-trace my actions so I could figure out what triggered this episode.
Of course, it wasn’t just one thing – we are experiencing layers of grief, fear, loneliness, and disorientation in our strange new world.
But I did shed light on a couple of specific things that I want to share with you.
First, I’d become anxious and frustrated by things I can’t control.
I can’t control what the President says in his COVID-19 briefings.
I can fact check his claims … and then fume at what I find.
I can go on a rant about it … but I have no power to change it.
I bet you can name a dozen things that are getting under your skin but that you cannot change … and yet we sometimes give them power over my health, my happiness, and my peace of mind.
Even though I’ve counseled you to moderate your intake of media, I confess how easily I slip back into obsessing on my little screen, checking for the latest update on bad news.
I habitually pick up my phone with the regularity I used to light cigarettes.
That’s a habit I need to break because it’s breaking me.
As I reflected on why I crashed and burned earlier this week, I realized it happened after I went down a rabbit hole of some stories related to Donald Trump – it’s like I’d let him into my soul.
So why do I keep doing that?
I’ve found that sometimes I dwell on these things because dwelling on them
makes me feel like a responsible person – informed, and engaged in what’s going on.
And on top of that, I feel that at least I’m doing something.
But of course, I’m actually not doing anything other than agitating myself.
I’m giving people and circumstances “out there” power over my soul “in here”.
Of course, we should stay informed, but not controlled by the 24-hour news cycle.
I want to give my soul to Jesus, not to Fox News or CNN.
That evening with his disciples, Jesus said (John 16:20) “Now you will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”
We have a lot to grieve … but how will it turn to joy?
It begins with accepting that like it or not, the life we knew just last February is gone.
Whatever comes next will be different – but (Hebrews 13:8) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Joy is a divine gift, so I will receive it as I open my mind and heart to Christ – no matter what chaos surrounds me.
Christ’s presence transcends time and circumstances.
Jesus walked the dusty roads in Palestine 2,000 years ago – yet his presence was with people in 3rd Century Ephesus, 8th Century Russia, 14th Century France, 21st Century Latin America, in our church last year … and also with us right now and in whatever is coming.
We can only control our controllables … and we do control what we allow into our minds and spirits.
I can choose to make room for Jesus Christ in my soul – starting by evicting from my soul polarizing, self-aggrandizing politicians and their never-ending web of conspiracy theories.
But then, as we do that, we must engage our devotions, scripture, our church community, healthy relationships and other resources to fill the void left behind.
This is what Jesus taught:
Matthew 12:43-45 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”
Evict destructive voices … but replace them with health.
Second, in addition, I need to release the past as the standard of what is good right now and in the future.
If I define my happiness by how my life now stacks up against what I could do last year, I will be miserable.
That was then. This is now … but Jesus is here now.
Try navigating down Balboa Blvd. by just watching your rearview mirror.
It would be a disaster.
The past has memories of loved ones and many happy times.
The past is familiar and humans are wired to hold on to the familiar and predictable.
But clinging to it will make us miserable.
All unhappiness is caused by comparison.
As the Dalai Lama said, “Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering.”
Referring to life six months ago as the standard to judge our present time will make us miserable and blind us to what is good and important now.
The news is full of people who are not making this emotional leap – demanding Huntington Beach reopen because that’s what we did in summers; threatening civic leaders in Stillwater, Oklahoma because they required people to wear masks to protect the community, launching a smear campaign against Dr. Anthony Fauci because he speaks inconvenient facts.
But as psychologically hard as it will be to shift perspective, each and every one of us will need to make this shift if we are going to be healthy.
Some will do it and find opportunities, joy, love and meaning in the new reality.
Others will be unwilling or incapable of doing it and will live diminished lives, and often they will attack people who are progressing.
When Israel was struggling with enemies and eventual exile, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah – not promising a return to the past, but to be with them in a new future.
Isaiah 43: 18-19 “Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.”
And one more thing: This is the church’s finest hour.
The church’s DNA is caring for the sick and suffering just as Jesus did throughout his life – we talked about that last week and saw how Christians stayed in Roman cities when plagues swept through.
In many cases, a third of the population died.
The pagans fled the towns, but the Christians were known for staying behind to care for the sick and bury the dead.
I was inspired by reading our church’s Mission Statement while adding the phrase “during this pandemic”.
Our mission is to honor Christ by worshiping Christ in the pandemic, and living as God leads in the pandemic.
To grow in Christ by personally growing in Christ during this pandemic, and bringing new people to Christ during this pandemic.
And to serve Christ by caring for one another during this pandemic, and ministering to those in need during this pandemic.
I’m so impressed by how you are caring for one another.
Spending time listening to one another’s experiences, sewing masks, giving money to people who are struggling right now.
But we’ve never been a congregation that is entirely inward-looking
Before the pandemic, 1 out of 4 children in Los Angeles was living in poverty … and no one knows about now since so many jobs have disappeared.
Families are lining up at food banks, lining up for protective masks, and packing multiple families into single apartments to save money.
Social workers tell us that in addition to food, the number one need kids around here have is beds so they’re not sleeping on floors.
Other critical needs include repair or replacement of refrigerators, and
repair of automobiles so parents can get to jobs when work resumes.
Imagine what a difference we make for a neighboring family with our prayers and by providing them face masks, gift cards to Food 4 Less, or even a dependable refrigerator.
This is front line ministry we can bring in the name of Jesus to families who are close to falling off the edge.
Our Mercies Team will be bringing information to us about how to engage in this ministry … an opportunity to be the caring Body of Christ in this new world.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.
And through His compassion, our grief can be turned into joy.
Not a false promise that everything will go back to what was normal … but the real promise that God can use everything that comes our way for our good.