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The Man Who Cried
March 9, 1975

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

JEREMIAH 31:31-34

When I was about nine years old, I saw a man cry—my uncle—and it made such an indelible impression on me, I can still see the scene. The oldest of his two children, a boy about 12, was playing around a gasoline barrel with matches. It ignited, burning him to death. I can still see the scene following the funeral service. The rela­tives and friends had already left the church, waiting for the family to come out. We stood at the base of the steps. My aunt and uncle came down the steps holding each other up. My uncle cried, not just tears, but audible sobs, moans. He had to be helped into the car. 

Somehow our culture has developed the idea that men don’t cry, that crying is a sign of weakness and controlling emotions a sign of strength. We also have the idea that the expression of most emotions, such as anger, is to be denied, almost as if emotions are bad and need to be repressed; otherwise they will get out of hand and control us. 

We have it all backwards. To repress emotions is a sign of a lack of courage, for repression is a sign of fear, fear of what other people might think, fear of the emotions themselves because we are not sure if they can be trusted. But, the man who cries, the per­son who expresses emotions is really the strong one. I personally feel that a man who cries has less trouble with his heart, no ulcers, but I don’t know of any study to substantiate this diagnosis. 

Jeremiah was a man who cried. He expressed his emotions. Jeremiah lived in Judah when it was conquered by the Babylonians. Prior to the event, he prophesied, preached about the coming disaster, urging the people to change their living, deepen their religion, so the nation could be united and strong. During the event, he too was carried off to Babylon along with the civic and government leaders. Here he wept, and tried to bring comfort and hope to the people. Jeremiah was for­tunate to have a secretary, a man named Baruch, who recorded his words which are now preserved for us. 

Jeremiah was a man, first of all, who cried over his own personal situation. His own life became unbearable at times as with many of us. Jeremiah was not afraid to identify his feelings and express them. He cried, “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?” He felt deeply the hurts of life. He felt lonely, “I did not sit in the company of merrymakers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone.” He also cried, “I have become a laughingstock all the day; every one mocks me.” A lonely man; unpopular, his words trying to warn the people of impending disaster were too threatening. At one point, after he was denied access to the temple, he sent Baruch, his secretary, to read. A crowd gathered in the temple to hear Baruch read from the papyrus scrolls. 

Some of the leading mem­bers of the community felt King Jehoiakim ought to hear these words. So the scroll was taken to the king. Jeremiah and Baruch were urged to go into hiding to await the outcome. Can you picture the scene? King Jehoiakim is gathered with a court of dignitaries, including the princes. Now remember, this is before printing pres­ses. Books are precious articles because they are handwritten scrolls with no mimeograph to run off copies, no copier at the library for you to put a dime in and get a copy. A scroll is the only copy Jeremiah had, dictated to Baruch, and painstakingly written by Baruch. 

The king is sitting before a brazier in which a fire is burning. As the scroll is read to him, he reaches over, takes his penknife, cuts off three or four inches at a time and drops it into the fire. All of Jeremiah’s work goes up in flames. This is an example of how Jeremiah was received. What did he do? He went into hiding in a cave and re-dictated to Baruch what was burnt, plus dictating more and more material. Much of the present book of Jeremiah was written at that time.

Jeremiah was a lonely man who cried his loneliness. He also was not afraid to express anger, even to God. Have you ever been angry at God? I imagine you have, we all have, but few of us dare to be angry at God. We think we are to be nice, holy, respectful. Yes, we are, but there are occasions when we think God is unfair. It is better to be honest, to express anger, resentments even at God, then to hold those feelings in until they work themselves out, often in destructive ways, such as apathy, indifference, or physical symptoms. 

At one point, Jeremiah cried to God, “Wilt thou be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fall?…O Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived; thou art stronger than I, and thou hast prevailed.” In one outburst, we see the pent up feelings of Jeremiah  exposed. He said, “Cursed be the day on which I was born; the day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, ‘A son is born to you’ making him very glad. Let that man be like the cities which the Lord overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb for ever great. Why did I come forth from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?” 

We are so afraid to cry, to express emotions. We even suppress the happy emotions, the joy, afraid we might be out of place. Irresistible Irma Bombeck (whom many of you enjoyed last Sunday), has written. In church the other Sunday I was intent on a small child who was turning around smiling at everyone. He wasn’t gurgling, spitting, humming, kicking, tearing the hymnals or rummaging through his mother’s handbag. He was just smiling. Finally, his mother jerked him about and in a stage whisper that could be heard in the Little Theatre Off Broadway said, ‘Stop that grinning! You’re in church!’ With that, she gave him a belt on his hindside and as the tears rolled down his cheeks added, ‘That’s better,’ and returned to her prayers. What must they think, these children of the 70s? We sing ‘Make a joyful noise unto the Lord’ while our faces reflect the sadness of one who has just buried a rich aunt who left everything to her pregnant hamster. Suddenly I was angry. It occurred to me the entire world is in tears and if you’re not, then you’d better get with it. I wanted to grab this child with the tear­ stained face close to me and tell him about my God. The happy God. The smiling God. The God who had to have a sense of humor to have created the likes of us. I wanted to tell him God is an understanding God. One who understands little children who pick their noses in church because they are bored. He understands the man in the parking lot who reads the comics while his wife is attending church. He even understands my shallow prayers that implore, ‘If you can’t make me thin, then make my friends look fat.’ What a fool, I thought. Here was a woman sitting next to the only light left in our civilization, the only hope, our only miracle, our only promise of infinity. If he couldn’t smile in church, where was there left to go?” I want a church where children can smile, where we are natural, smiling when we are happy, crying, expressing anger, expressing joy trusting our emotions, trusting each other. 

Jeremiah cried. Jeremiah not only cried for his own personal life, Jeremiah cried over the world. He wept. He saw destruction coming on his country. He watched the Babylonian army come, devastating the country, carrying off the leaders. He felt the agony of his people. He mourned. When Jesus said, “Blessed are they that mourn,” he primarily meant, “Blessed are they who sorrow, who weep, who care over conditions, over the concerns and troubles of their neighbors.” Jeremiah wrote, “0 that my head were waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” 

Blessed are they that mourn, that care enough about people to cry the word of God. Poor Jeremiah not only cried for himself, and for his people, he also cried the word of God. He preached, proclaimed, lived the word of judgment, truth, hope and promise. He proclaimed and lived the word of the Lord reluctantly. It cost him a great deal to be a prophet. He gave up his wealth. He was a wealthy man who gave it all up to be a prophet. He could not marry. He left his family. He was unpopular, no acclaim, no position, no respected member of the community. One of our ladies told me the other day that one of the townspeople told her how much they liked St. Paul’s new minister. That’s nice, but it would never have been said of Jeremiah. The word that needed to be
said and lived in that time was not popular. 

So Jeremiah took God’s call reluctantly. He first appealed to his youth. The Lord to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’ Be not afraid, for I am with you.” Jeremiah tried to say, “I’m just a kid.” Nonsense, there is no such thing as just a kid. No one is excused from the responsibility to preach, to live the word of God. Whether you are 10, 15, 21, 35, 50 or 65, there is a word for you to speak and live in every situation. Even if you are only 10 years old, there is a word for you. Look around your neighborhood, your school. Somewhere there is lonely boy or girl whom no one plays with. They have few friends, they aren’t comfortable playing games, they are shy, probably teased. You can cry for them as Jeremiah did, and you can go up to him or her and say, “Come, play with me. I’ll teach you. Come to my house, I’ll show you my things.” That is the word of the Lord in that situation. No one is too young, no one is too old. 

Jeremiah was reluctant but he couldn’t contain himself. He had to witness. He said, “If l say I will not mention him, or speak anymore in his name, there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” Jeremiah had to preach, had to give a word of hope, of comfort. 

He preached as we heard in the Old Testament lesson, “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: l will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” 

Jeremiah was a man who cried, who dared to cry, expressing his emotions, trusting the feelings God had given him. He was a genuine person, thus able to cry over the world, cry for the situations in which people were hurting, and to those situations, to those hurts, he cried the word of the Lord, preaching, speaking and living a word of hope, comfort and love. 

Jeremiah was a man who cried. Do you dare to cry?

© 1975 Douglas I. Norris