Alleluia!

On September 18, 2016, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Alleluia! Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Jeremiah is writing during a time of exile for his people. His nation has been conquered and his people are living under foreign rule. It’s a difficult time. His people have lost their home, their freedom, and in some instances, they fear they may be losing their identity. The passage […]

Alleluia!
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Jeremiah is writing during a time of exile for his people. His nation has been conquered and his people are living under foreign rule. It’s a difficult time. His people have lost their home, their freedom, and in some instances, they fear they may be losing their identity. The passage in Jeremiah today asks, “Why has this happened to us? Isn’t there some medicine that can heal our broken hearts, and if it exists, why haven’t we found it?”

Some of the people wonder if God has abandoned them. There is some really bad theology that says that if God is pleased with you God won’t let anything crappy come into your life.

The Apostle Paul who received a bunch of beat downs, stonings, and incarcerations probably wouldn’t agree.

Jesus who was betrayed by one of his students, denied by one of his best friends, and later was tortured to death probably would say, “You know, you can be way spiritual and still step into some mess sometimes.” In fact, he did say that (“The rain falls on the just and the unjust” – Matthew 5.45).

You know what else Jesus said, though. When his companion Lazarus died, he was sad. The bible says he wept. And even in his sadness, he prayed, “I thank you, God, for hearing me; I know that you always hear me.” Even when we are sad, if we trust that there’s not a spot where God is not, we know that our prayers are received. And if our prayers are received, then comfort is always possible. Lazarus died, but good things happened after that. Bad things happen, but that doesn’t have to be the end of the story.

We get to choose how we will respond to what happens in life, we can make meaning of whatever it is, we can try to find a hidden treasure in the wreckage, and we are free to believe that beyond the heartbreak there are new opportunities. We can take lemons and make lemonade, but the lemons we will always have with us.

Jeremiah wonders, his people wonder, and maybe Jeremiah even imagines God wondering, “Is there any medicine that can ease the suffering and sorrow of these hurting people?” Jeremiah can give expression to his momentary hopelessness, but he trusts that God is near. And so as he names his despair, he creates space for hope to replace it. By asking a question, he makes room for an answer. Is there no medicine for our social ills, our global woes, our spiritual dryness, our emotional burdens? Is there no balm that can sooth our aching hearts? Maybe there is.

Trusting in God’s nearness and goodness, and trusting God with the question allows for new insights. Now, maybe Jeremiah can begin to hear God saying, “I will hold you through this hardship, I will encourage you, I will celebrate with you when things get better…you are not alone.”

There is a beautiful drawing, haunting, powerful, of Jesus being crucified. I don’t celebrate Jesus’ death or attribute it to a divine plan, but this crucifixion portrait captured my heart when I was an AIDS chaplain. It shows Jesus covered in Kaposi Sarcoma lesions, which were once common among people with AIDS. The heavens looked upon him as if his pain was the only thing to see. His mother and his beloved hold each other in grief, while a woman cries at his feet and anoints him to give comfort in his moment of suffering. Above him there is a mocking sign that reads: AIDS, Homosexual, Pervert. And close by, there is a preacher with an open bible and a clinched fist shouting words of hate and condemnation at the suffering Jesus.

It was a visual reminder that the body of Christ had AIDS. The children of God were suffering with AIDS, some fretting helplessly on the sidelines, some ministering to the suffering as best they could, some condemning those who suffered, but the painting suggested that God and the godly were aware of and concerned about the suffering.

The presence of divine Love was right in the midst of the AIDS crisis. Some people ignored the crisis, some people tried to help in the midst of the crisis, some hurled hateful words and accusations, all while the heavens looked on with compassion, hoping and working with us for medical breakthroughs.

Several years ago there was an American Baptist pastor whose son was killed in a car accident. Some well meaning person tried to comfort the minister with thread bare, bad theology. The misguided friend said, “Pastor, it was just your son’s time; the Lord called him home.” And the pastor responded instantly by saying, “The hell it was! When my boy died God shed the first tear.”

That’s what I believe. It is God that kisses us gently in the night, whispering words of encouragement to our hearts, calling us together to work together to do great things, and it is God who first yells “hooray” when a war is ended or a cure is discovered or a depression is lifted or an oppressive law is repealed.

The psalmist wrote, “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Sadness and sorrow occur, but we do not face the tough times alone. God is with us, and on the other side of the pain, there are still infinite possibilities.

Napoleon Hill said, “Opportunity often comes disguised in the form of misfortune, or temporary defeat.”
That’s what Jeremiah is trying to remember. That’s what he wants his people to remember. That’s what God wants us to remember.

Today’s disappointment may well contain the seeds of tomorrow’s miracle. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Jeremiah will later imagine God saying very clearly, “I know the plans I have for you, plans for your well-being, not for harm; plans for a hopeful future (Jer. 29.11).

The psalmist echoes this holy hope in the first reading. The psalmist doesn’t say we won’t ever feel knocked down; the psalmist says we can get back up. That’s the very definition of resurrection power! The psalmist acknowledges that there are times when people feel down and out, but the good news is, God is always trying to lift us back up.

Like Jeremiah, you may have felt knocked down lately. If so, the psalmist has something to tell you…God wants to help you get back up. And that’s something to get excited about; so, with the psalmist, say “Alleluia!”
Alleluia’s right, because this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2016

Alleluia!
Alleluia!
Alleluia!

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