The Gospel According to Fred: It’s a Good Feeling

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It’s a Good Feeling

The last couple of weeks have not been particularly good feeling.  I’ll speak just for myself, but I was never trained in how to do ministry from home, and I’ve been feeling anxious, and fearful, and angry, and sad, and on the bad days – all of that, all at once. 

I’m deeply aware of my place of privilege which allows me to work from home, spend time with family, afford to stock up on everything we need – and yet – there’s been so much out of my control – wondering how long this will last, how many of us will be affected, how many celebrations (like the celebration of life for Shirley Double) will have to be postponed, and the unknown, as we know that life will never be the same, when we return to a new normal. 

In amongst my stress eating and going for walks and finding (brief) moments for prayer – I’ve tried to be deliberately aware about my feelings – because it’s easy to ignore what I’m thinking and feeling and just sink into the 24/7 news cycle and constantly hit refresh on the public health page to feel like answers outside of myself will somehow bring me comfort. (They haven’t.)  Not only have there been very few answers – I’m finding the more I ignore how I’m feeling, the more stressed I feel.

Mister Rogers sang about the ‘mad that you feel’ and in the clip posted for the sermon about mastering the mad, and controlling our emotions before they control us.  It was his way of teaching children that it’s our response to situations that matter most, for even though it’s a good feeling, being alive…there are many times that being alive doesn’t leave us with good feelings.  So Rogers set out to help children explore their feelings, and call them out, instead of bottle them up.  Rogers founded his lifelong ministry upon this notion, believing in the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery (The Little Prince): It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eyeRogers knew that our emotions are essential.  Emotions are essential to our wellbeing – they are the communication of our heart, and the connection of our hearts, one to another. 

It’s that connection that takes focus in this story of the raising of Lazarus.  While the miraculous healing of Lazarus if often cited as proof of Jesus’ power, I’m more captivated by one of the shortest verse in the whole Bible.  Jesus wept/Jesus began to weep stands as an antidote to modern toxic masculinity and that little phrase deepens the mystery of God.  Why did Jesus cry?  When Jesus is told of Lazarus’ condition he doesn’t break out the Kleenex, or rush to his bedside, in fact, he echoes words we heard in last week’s story – that this is to demonstrate God’s glory (last week he talked about the person’s blindness, so that God’s works might be revealed…) and then Jesus stays put for two days longer in the place where he was.  (Talk about physical distancing at its worst).

Before I unpack that – I need to ensure that you hear me – and this is similar to last week.    

Illnesses, death, coronaviruses, natural disasters are not brought about by God to reveal God’s glory or works.  These are not “tests” by our Creator to see if we pass.  We are not Job losing everything to see if our faith makes it out intact – in fact the Israelites knew the book of Job to be a complete work of fiction.  God doesn’t play games with our lives.  So where is God in a pandemic?  In a recent New York Times article, Father James Martin[1] tries to answer the same question – and comes up with the only answer we have:  we don’t know…but couples that with an even more difficult question: Can you believe in a God that you don’t understand?

Why didn’t Jesus run to Lazarus?  I don’t know.
Why did Jesus stay two days longer – or – wait til Lazarus was in the tomb four days?  I don’t know that either.  (You’d think if it was for literary foreshadowing, Lazarus would have been in the tomb three days, just like Jesus). 

Why then did Jesus weep? If we are to believe the Gospel of John (which is where we find the story of Lazarus’ death) then Jesus, the Word, came before all of creation, and all things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being.  And the power of the universe came to stand before his friends, before Mary, and Martha.  And that love that may have once been invisible came pouring down their faces as their hearts broke open in anxiety, fear, anger, and most of all sadness that Jesus had abandoned them in their need.

Jesus began to weep.  For the heart of God breaks open in the midst of despair – God weeps in those moments we assume that our current struggles mean an absence of the divine presence.  God, in Jesus, weeps because of the disappointment of his friends, in the sorrows shared, in the human experience of loss and suffering.  One person called this collective time of distancing and quarantine, a season of grief: [2]  [that we have lost] normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.

Jesus wasn’t used to this collective grief either.  He was prepared to come and heal and wake Lazarus to remind his followers to have faith and follow the light, and you’ll never stumble.  But met by collective grief – Jesus cannot help but feel what his friends are feeling. 

Jesus cannot help but feel the collective grief of the world today.  The sorrows of lost loved ones is felt a thousand times over, and our planet is in collective mourning.  And the miracle beyond the raising of Lazarus, is that we are not alone in our sorrow.  The very heart of God breaks open to ensure that that what is essential – the care for one another, the love we feel needs to be shown – that which is invisible can no longer be as in this time of physical distancing, we have to ensure that it’s not a social distancing too. 

For we are more prepared for this quarantine than any other age.  I can call around the world, Facetime with anyone, record sermons in my pajamas (not really – but I could!) – and the privilege I have motivates me others know they’re not alone too. 

This is the miracle we discover in this story of Lazarus – not the miracle of resurrection, or raising.  It’s the mystery and question of God’s presence, which makes me work harder to see God present in the midst of difficult times such as these.  The miracle we discover is that we are not alone. 

It is the same miracle that Beth Usher experienced when meeting Mister Rogers.  For those not able to access the clip – Beth was a young girl experiencing seizures, her only relief was when she was at home watching Mister Rogers, and who eventually had to have life-altering surgery to remove part of her brain.  In her recovery, Mister Rogers came to her bedside, to connect with Beth, to remind her that she was not alone.  Rogers wasn’t a doctor, or a nurse, nor was he Jesus with the powers of life and death, but did more for that girl in sharing what was invisible to the eye – the power and connection that reminds us that we are not alone.

(The clip is aptly title – Mister Rogers saves a little girls life – it’s that connection that saves all of our lives) For in life, in death, in life beyond death…God is with us, we are not alone.  Thanks be to God.


[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/22/opinion/coronavirus-religion.html

[2] https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief?fbclid=IwAR3aEqzxj-IJpynlCM1ZN94bmQx_iTMw-T5rqm5XylTtALqJbiXWzReaImY

5 Comments

  1. Thank you, Chris. That was an inspiring service full of reassurance and hope and your characteristic touch of humour. We will rise again and be better versions of ourselves.

  2. Charmian Taylor Patrick

    Thank you once again Chris for a wonderful service and your words that remind us that we will rise again. This will carry us through another week.

  3. Rev. Chris, Once again thank you for a meaningful service. You said you were not trained in doing ministry from your home, yet you have done an amazing job. We will get though this trying time and hopefully be better for it.

  4. Wow, Andy and I were so impressed with this online ministry. We appreciate the hours of work to produce it. It flows seamlessly through Morning Message, song, children’s moment, sermon and links to more music. More to the point, you are a voice of calm, a voice of worship in this murky time, Rev. Chris. It soothed us for that hour and we can go forward in our week knowing we heal in spirit and that we will rise again (loved that song!). I am posting your song choices and poetry on Facebook to share (loved Laura Kelly Fanucci’s words). Everyone needs as much hope right now as they can glean. A heartfelt thank you for being a leader among us.
    Dianne and Andy Rath

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