Look! Weep! Live!
The barren branch in the chancel--bereft of leaves, blossoms, fragrance, growth--reminds us of Our Inner Wilderness, the theme of this 40-day Lenten season, when we remember Jesusí 40-day struggle in the wilderness coming to terms with himself, his purpose in life, his mission, and his methodology. The wilderness, for Jesus, was a time of testing, a time of struggle with the devil. Into each of our lives, comes the wilderness experience. We may choose to go into our inner wilderness voluntarily, or we may be driven by circumstances. Is it safe to say that everyone at some time is driven into the wilderness? Is there anyone here who has never experienced loneliness, despair, suffering, pain, anguish, sorrow, and struggle with questions of identity and purpose?
The point of this sermon series and the Lenten Retreat on March 4 is not how we can avoid the wilderness experience, but how we might handle it, so we can come out of the wilderness like Jesus: resolute, confident, determined, empowered, ready to take on life, ready to do Godís work, and prepared for the next journey into the wilderness.
I am indebted this morning to Alan Jones and his excellent book, Soul Making, The Desert Way of Spirituality. He advocates a spiritual pathway through the wilderness guided by the sign posts LOOK! WEEP! LIVE! Dr. Jones, who by the way is Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, says that "the wilderness is the place where nothing grows and where our very existence is threatened. Yet it is also the arena...especially chosen by God as the focus of his revelation." (p. 6) God revealed the Law to Moses in the wilderness. God spoke to Elijah in the wilderness. Jesus continually went to the wilderness for struggle, inspiration, and renewal.
Therefore, when you confront or are confronted by your inner wilderness, even though your very existence is sometimes threatened, donít run, avoid, or escape, but Look! Weep! Live! Dr. Jones writes, (p.22)
The first imperative is, LOOK! Looking means a contemplative willingness to see what is there in front of us without prematurely interpreting what we see...If we look long and accurately enough, the tears will begin to flow. Thus the second imperative is, WEEP! The fruit of honest contemplation is "the gift of tears"; and the sure sign that our attentiveness has been focused and honest and the tears cleansing is joy. Joy is the fruit of...patience. Thus the third imperative, LIVE!
LOOK! Donít run. Donít try to escape from the world or from yourself. Look at what is happening. Look at the pain and suffering. Look at the problems. Look at what is wrong. Nicols Fox in the February 13 issue of Newsweek asks,
What are the real American values? Look who our heroes are. They arenít the people who volunteer in the soup kitchens; they arenít struggling writers and artists; they arenít the librarians or the nurses or the social workers. Mainly they are the rich and the famous and the successful and the beautiful, the film and sports stars, the Wall Street barons...Perhaps the best indicator of what we really are is what we spend our money on or what we watch on television. Look at what we read. Look at what we choose to do with our spare time. Thatís what we value.
We complain about the invasion of drugs but our culture tells us that no discomfort can be tolerated and that every desire deserves to be satisfied. We complain about crime but our system demonstrates that good guys finish last--that crime pays. We complain about the moral decadence of our young and the high incidence of teen pregnancies but our young have been carefully taught, by example that responsibility is old-fashioned.
..Who makes the rules these days that determine how our society is going to work--the code of ethics behind the laws that determines our values and decides how we are going to live together in community?
It isnít the churches. Itís not so much that their moral leadership is being ignored as that, to a great extent theyíve abdicated the role. Collectively they seem to exude the same relativism and insecurity about right and wrong as the rest of us.
...Itís time that we started looking at ourselves as we really are because a healthy future will be based on reality, not on ad copy.
Go into the wilderness of our society and look! Donít run, escape, or try to hide. Go into your own wilderness and look at your life. Contemplate it. What are your values? What is important to you? What are you living your life for? On what do you spend your money? Dr. Jones in his book, Soul Making, says that, beneath all our searches, we are looking for love. (p. 151)
In everyday life we make do with anything that might look like love...We settle for anything when the real thing eludes us...(It) makes me want to cry out in my loneliness, curl up in someoneís arms, close my eyes and suck my thumb until I drop off to sleep. In short, I want my mommy!...Since my mother is no longer available, I have to make the best of what I have. I make do. I have to admit that I am not looking for love in any mature sense; I am looking for safety and security. I need to be held safe and warm against the abyss, the darkness. So where does my eye rove when I realize that I can no longer curl up in my motherís lap? I turn to religion and to romance. Others may turn to money or to power. Love becomes a way into oblivion. Soul making is exchanged for soul stupor.
Rather than looking for mommy; rather than looking for money, power, or material security; rather than looking for a religion to tell you what to do and believe; rather than looking for a religion to hold you in its lap instead of helping stand on your feet; look at yourself and the world, and weep.
WEEP! Growing in relationship with God involves weeping. There comes a time, or even times, when things fall apart. Look at the experience of Jesusí disciples. They followed him, leaving everything behind. They found joy, enthusiasm, purpose. They had great visions of the kingdom of God saving Israel from the Romans. Everything was wonderful. But, then, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. There Jesus met his enemies. He was arrested, convicted, and died. The world of the disciples fell apart. They were bewildered, confused, disappointed, uncertain about the future.
Into each of our lives comes the wilderness. We feel confused and bewildered. Things fall apart, and we would like to again find mommyís lap. Some believers lose their faith when things fall apart. Some get disillusioned and leave the church when life doesnít go their way. They turned their lives over to Christ, and it was wonderful, but then things fell apart. When life falls apart, go into your inner wilderness, look at what is happening. Donít run and hide. Face it, and weep.
Itís okay to weep. We are fragile human beings. Itís okay, even Jesus wept. Itís okay to feel helpless, and to admit helplessness. Suffering and pain will happen to most of us. When it comes, weep. Let the anger, disappointment, frustration, come out in tears. Get those feelings outside of yourself. Donít let them lie buried within you where they will fester and ferment. In the Old Testament, weeping, repentance, wearing sack cloth and ashes, tearing oneís clothes and wailing were accepted and healthy practices. "Tears soften the soul, clear the mind, open the heart," wrote Jones. (p. 96) "Tears are agents of resurrection and transformation; they can raise the dead. Such tears are surely a gift...and their fruit is always joy." (p. 82)
Weeping for your sins, weeping because of pain and suffering, weeping on behalf of the world, weeping, caring deeply, can clear the sinuses, purify the heart, wash away the old, cleanse the soul, clean out the garbage, and make way for transformation. God can save us when we have looked honestly, confronted courageously, and wept sorrowfully and penitently. Jesus had to struggle in the wilderness, suffer and die on Good Friday, before he could be resurrected on Easter. In order for us to really experience transformation, resurrection, new hope, and new life, there are wildernesses and Good Fridays to endure.
Then we LIVE! We learn how to trust in Jesus Christ, rather than in ourselves, for our salvation; and live joyfully, lovingly, hopefully in Jesus Christ who is present to us in the Holy Spirit. Then, we live with a deepened faith that no longer fluctuates when things fall apart. Then, we live with a faith that is not dependent on mood, emotion, or feeling. Then, faith is abiding.
Faith is the confidence, the assurance of Godís love for us. You can endure all suffering and setbacks. When things fall apart, when health fails, when death comes, you can endure with joy and hope when you are convinced that God loves you, longs for you, aches for you. I have returned to the onesermon I am always preaching: God loves you. The faith that enables you to live even when you go into wilderness, especially when you go into the wilderness, is God loves you.
Therefore, when the wilderness calls, donít run; but, LOOK! WEEP! LIVE!
ã 1989 Douglas I. Norris