Sermon: September 19, The Great Groan Within

“The Great Groan Within”
September 19, 2010

Scripture: Jeremiah 8: 18-9:1; Mark 10: 46-52

           Maybe it is due to the start of a new church year, or maybe it is because it is the beginning of a new chapter in the life of this beloved community, but for whatever reason, I have been thinking a lot about what is that we are to do here.   What is our purpose?  And how can we know if we are truly living into that purpose?    

Now I am not so foolish to claim that I have all the answers to those questions, but I do suspect that it has something to do with love.   I suspect that we are here both as individuals and as a community of faith so that we may know and grow in love, love of God and love of all that God has made — you and me, the sunlight, sound, a tree.   I suspect that what we are to be about —  is a deepening, a moving more and more completely into the current of love that pulses through all that is and that in which we are meant to dwell.

I read something once by Dorethee Soelle, that great German mystic theologian, which really stayed with me.  She says that in church we hear a lot about how God loves, protects and saves us but we don’t talk much about how we love God.  That is curious she claims because love can only be truly experienced when, like all genuine love, it is mutual.[1]  So how is it that we love God?  How is it that we are growing in this mutual love affair with God and with all that is?  

Well one way that we love God is by trusting in God.  I spoke to this last week, do you remember?  Last week Exodus 32 took us into the delusion of idol making.  We saw how a deep homesickness of the soul had seized the Exodus people as they waited for Moses to return.  For you remember Moses had gone up the mountain to receive a word from God.   We saw how this homesickness of the soul, this anxiety of dwelling in the already of having been delivered from bondage in Egypt and the not yet of not having arrived in the promised land made them vulnerable.  They feared that Moses  was gone from them and that there was no one who could lead them now.  No one to show them the way home.  In this vulnerability, we saw how they turned to Aaron and implored him to make a god they could follow.  We saw how they turned from God and worshiped instead an idol of their own making.

          The Exodus text spoke a warning to us.  When we are in those inevitable times where we feel confused and do not know which way to go, do not know how to get to the home we crave, we must not escape into idol making as a way to alleviate our pain.  Instead we must heed the call to trust that God has not left us – that God will show us the way.  Remember, at the exact moment that the people thought Moses had left them, that God had abandoned them, God was in fact giving Moses the ten commandments, commandments that would make of their lives a dwelling place for God.  Biblical witness affirms and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus our Christ embodies the truth that God is with us and that we can trust in the fidelity of God no matter what it is that we face.  

A second way that we can grow in our love of God flows out of trust.  We grow in love of God and all that God has created when we become fully who we are, fully who God would have us be.  Now sometimes growing in love in this way, growing so that we live from the inside out, so fully alive that we press up again our skin can be wonder-filled, full of great joy.  There is nothing more exciting and thrilling than freely uncovering one’s gifts and learning how to use those gifts more and more fully for the glory of God.  Look at the joy in a child’s face as she rides a bike for the first time.  Feel the awe in the heart of the artist when the marble gives way to the figure within.

  But sometimes growth in who God calls us to be can be tremendously hard for it can cause us to crash us head long into exactly that which prevents our flourishing.  To be intentional about growing into the fullness of who we are, of who God calls us to be means that we can no longer ignore or tolerate the barriers that put the fullness of living out of reach.  Sometimes these barriers started out as our own defenses, ways to cover up hurt or anger.  Sometimes they were constructed by others through abuse, neglect, a constant refrain that you are not enough and you never will be.  Over time, these barriers fixed and immutable walling us off from the fullness of life that was meant for us.  These barriers have names.  They are called addiction, rage, shame, fear.  

These barriers are built out of the injuries and abuses to our selves but they can also be constructed out of the compounded injuries and abuses to entire communities.  These are barriers of oppression and are called racism, exploitation, violence, misogyny. I am pained to say that there are more barriers to the fullness of life than I have time to name.   

That is why Jeremiah weeps.  There is exploitation in the land.  The people have little love for God in their hearts.  The great Assyrian foe is closing in upon them.  Fullness of living seems far, far way and this is why Jeremiah cries “joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.  Hear, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land.” “For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt.”  “O that my head were a sponge of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people.”

There is a tremendous book entitled Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.  Perhaps some of you know it?  It was written with the back drop of Apartheid South Africa in 1948, and its opening chapter could have been written by Jeremiah himself.  Hear the words from this text “The great red hills stand desolate, and the earth has torn away like flesh. The lightning flashes over them, the clouds pour down upon them, the dead streams come to life, full of the red blood of the earth.  Down in the valleys women scratch the soil that is left and the maize hardly reaches the height of a man.  They are valleys of old men and old women, of mothers and children.  The men are away the young men and the girls are away.  The soil cannot keep them anymore.”

The book Cry, the Beloved Country begins with this anguish, but this lament does not end there.  You see, the cry of lament for what has been lost is but a birthing cry for what can be.  The cry rises from the pain of knowing that something is wrong but naming what is wrong is the first step in transforming that wrong into what can be right.  When the great groan within is given voice, that which was hidden is made visible.  The reality of pain and suffering cannot longer be ignored.   For the cry at injustice is the first cry for justice.  The cry out of pain is the first gasp of relief from pain.  A cry is what marks a change from a mute, life sapping resignation of suffering, to the transformation of that suffering into something else.

This is why Walter Brueggemann in his book Hope within History, writes “where pain is visible it becomes dangerous.  Because where pain is visible, I suspect we are close to the history making process.  [2]    What I think Brueggemann is getting at is that something tremendously important is at stake when pain is voiced. History is in the making.  For Paton in Cry, The Beloved Country, what was at stake was the future of South Africa.  Would hate and injustice continue to keep millions of God’s children from the fullness of life? 

Bartimaeus knows that he is not living the fullness of life as God intended.  His life is one of crushing poverty and he spends his days sitting by side of the road, by the side of the road, marginalized, asking for spar change while the rest of the world walks by.  But when Bartimaeus hears that Jesus was coming he begins to cry out “Son of Daivd have mercy on me.”  The reaction of those around him that cry is to try to silence him, but miraculously, Bartimaeus will not be silenced.  In fact the text tells us that when the disciples (note to self) tell him to be silent, he   “He cried out all the more.” Baritmaeus “was not muted.”  The healing he so desperately desired, the fullness of life he craved began with his resistance to the pressure to be silence.  It was his cry that stopped Jesus.  It was his cry that brought him into the healing presence Jesus.  For Bartimaeus, the fullness of life began with a cry.[3]  

          So let us trust in the God who is with us so much that we dare let the cries of our hearts rise up to our God who is ready to hear them.  Let us with courage name and cry out against that which keeps us and God’s people from living the fullness of who God created all to be.  Let us lives that bear witness to the love that is our purpose of being.  Let us be a place that does not just talk about how much God loves us.  But instead a place that proclaims through who we are the mutuality of our great love affair with God and all that is.   May it be so.  Amen

[1] Dorothee Soelle.  The Silent Cry:  Mysticism and Resistance. (Augsburg Fortress 2001) p. 3

[2] Walter Brueggemann. Hope within History. (John Knox Press: Atlanta, 1987) p. 52.

[3] P. 88.