October 12, 2014
Friends, it feels as though in recent weeks and months that we have been to hell and back. We have lost so many … Ron Harvitt, Howard Reist, Dot Toutant, Bob Fulton, Steve Polzin, Bill Colson … Patrick … and countless others. Some of us have lost jobs, relationships, abilities and hope. Our collective losses have left us broken – so very broken and wounded. And these are just the tip of the iceberg for many of us. We have so many wounds, of all sorts, shapes and sizes, inflicted by others, by ourselves, and by life. And whatever the wound and whatever its cause, we are left with undeniable pain, anguish and despair. Obviously, I’m not talking about skinned knees here. I’m talking about our wounded hearts and those things that afflict us and haunt us in the deep, dark reaches of our souls.
Over the past few weeks, I have reflected much on brokenness in all of its forms. I certainly can’t escape brokenness when I am on duty in ICU and the emergency room. It’s my job. I care for many physically broken and severely wounded animals – devastated by disease and trauma. And at the same time I am privy to the traumatized lives of the people in that space – the pet owners, my colleagues, and our students. It’s funny. But I have come to the conclusion that wounds, be they physical or emotional, are really not all that different. Perhaps the greatest difference is in our ability to see the physical more clearly than the other. Yet, both physical and emotional wounds hurt … and have the capacity to heal. But the wounded area is never the same. The scar left behind is less flexible and more fragile than the original tissue/space. That means that our old, scarred, broken places, when subjected to new and perhaps even minor traumas, they may break open and begin to weep yet again. Prior pain comes flooding back, augmenting that of our latest injury.
No. We can’t escape injury. We would have to live in a protective bubble to avoid it. But that’s not realistic. And that would not be living. Yet, at the same time we do not enjoy suffering. We struggle to make sense of all the suffering in our lives, in the lives of those we love, and in our broken world. You know, as hard as I have tried to understand it and make sense of it, I cannot explain suffering in the context of an all-powerful and loving God. I can’t fully reconcile it. I have wondered at times how God can permit bad things to happen to good people. It makes no sense. “Go after the bad guys, God! Pick on someone your own size!” And while blaming God is easy, it’s not fair. In fact, to blame anyone for the suffering in our lives is probably unjust and most certainly fruitless. Suffering just is. It is what it is. But what do we do with it? How do we respond to it? How can we make sense of it in the context of God and our faith?
I don’t claim to hold all of the answers. And I do not claim that any of my thoughts on the subject are correct. They are simply my perspectives out of my context and my broken places. I can only hope that the thoughts I share here this morning will help us start a conversation. Because I think through our collective dialogue and grappling with our suffering and woundedness, that we might facilitate some measure of healing.
From Isaiah we heard “Comfort, O comfort my people, says [our] God. A voice says, “Cry out!” [But] “What shall I cry?”” I have no words …and even if I did, they would be insufficient. What shall I cry? … I am beyond tears… and my eyes are like a parched desert, raw and chafed. Has anyone else felt that helpless, that hopeless? You know for me, I have found it much easier to face my own pain than the pain of another, especially of someone I love. I so want to fix it. I so want to make their pain go away. But I know I can’t and that is so frustrating. I have never felt more helpless or inadequate than I did the night Patrick died. All I could do was be with them and share their pain. And you know the amazing thing? – Amid the pain, amid the sorrow and the tears, I felt a presence and a love so huge and so comforting it had to be God. “Ye, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death… thou art with me.” In retrospect, my inadequacies didn’t matter that night. Because there was something/someone so much greater than I present, to embrace and hold all of us. Mary was holding Patrick, Phil was holding both of them, and God … Godwas holding all of us.
You see, God understands suffering. Christ Jesus – the divine in human form, shared our lot in life, by experiencing the suffering of our broken world first-hand. He faced the very personal pain and anguish of betrayal, of abandonment and denial, of humiliation, and of profound physical trauma. And through his death, God knows what it is like to lose a son. But that’s not the end of the story, right?. The rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say, is found in the brilliant light of the resurrection. And I have come to realize that we can’t have one without the other. In order to be raised from the dead, Christ had to suffer and die first. Darkness always precedes the dawn of a new day. One cannot heal, if one has never been wounded. One cannot understand suffering, if one has never suffered. For me, in the midst of suffering, God is not some distant, nebulous entity. God is with me. God suffers and weeps with me, with us. And by the grace of God, a light shines through the darkness to give us comfort and hope. That light is found in each of us, in our broken places. And we need to pay that light forward to facilitate healing.
In his book, The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen said that from our “own woundedness, we can become a source of life for others”. We’re not talking about one-upmanship here – flaunting our scars. “Hey, you think that’s a scar? Well, look at this!” No, I’m talking about, as Nouwen said “an act of discipleship in which we follow the hard road of Christ, who entered death with nothing but bare hope.” It is stepping out on faith into unknown and fearful territory. How often have we said: “But I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say.” And that is precisely where we must enter in, as disciples imitating Jesus. But, as Nouwen said, our “imitation of Christ does not mean that we need to live [just] like Christ”. That would require perfection. And that is unrealistic.
No, our imitation of Christ means that we need to live our lives “as authentically as Christ lived”. And who we are, as individuals, opens up endless possibilities for serving one another, in our own unique, God-given ways of being. The road to healing is born out of courage – “courage to enter where life is experienced [with all its pain and sorrow, in those] unique and private places”. If we can find the courage to enter in, we have the capacity to touch the very soul of the other. You see, it’s not about fixing the problem. It’s not about taking away the pain or blowing sunshine where the ‘sun don’t shine’, if you know what I mean. It’s about entering that intimate place of suffering with another and walking with them through the dark, lonely, painful valley. It is simply a matter of being – being with someone and allowing that person to be as they are. Words are optional.
Jesus said “Come to me, all you that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And by the power of the Spirit, we make Jesus’ presence tangible, to provide comfort and rest to weary and hope to the hopeless. Monday, at Patrick’s funeral, Pastor Nicolette spoke about points of light. She said that even little Patrick was a point of light for so many people. Patrick – only 10 months old, unable to even speak. Yet, he was a point of light. As I’ve thought about that, I’ve thought if Patrick could do that, what’s keeping me from doing it? What’s keeping you from doing it? John described it as a “light in the darkness and the darkness [cannot] overcome it”… Jesus, the light of the world, shines in us, shines from us, from each of us.
You see, in the great symphony of life, the Great Maestro cannot play the master piece without each and every one of us. We cannot afford to miss a note. Each of us is required. And it is in being broken when God can play the most amazing music through us. From our wounded places, the light of Christ shines forth and offers comfort, love and hope in unexpected ways. That is how God’s goodness breaks into the broken places – through each of us. So, be. Just be as you are, as God created you in all your magnificence, in spite of your woundedness. Let your light so shine, so that the healing may begin. Thanks be to God. And thank God for each of you and for this community. Amen.
I’ve replace the hymn of reflection today. As you listen to it and reflect on the sermon, I need you to reflect from the context that you are the angels being called. If you are unfamiliar with the piece, you have the lyrics in your bulletin. You and your special light, you are the angels in our broken world. Now, let the music wash over you.
Calling to All Angels — Jane Siberry