Thursday, October 30, 2014

SERMON: "A Tear-Wiping Community"

"A Tear-Wiping Community"
Revelation 7:9-17

When serving churches I usually chose the Sunday after November 1st as All Saints’ Sunday. All Saints’ Day (November 1) is the day after All Saints’ Eve (October 31) - or, Halloween. It’s a time in the church year when we not only remember the saints of the church – those canonized by the church – but also, those members of the church who have departed this life and those who still make up the church.

When the Bible uses saints it is referencing the faithful – all the faithful – not just those who have died and moved on to become even more fully part of God’s kingdom – heaven. All Saints’ Sunday or Day is a time for us to think about both the dead and the living saints – all of us.

Now, with that little pre-sermon offering finished let us turn to John’s hallucination-like book. One of the popular ways some read the book of Revelation is with an eye to what is going on in history. They attempt to associate descriptions John offers to people, places and events going on in the world right now. I have to admit to you that I’m not a fan of those who have attempted this down through the ages. I find it a colossal waste of time to try and figure out what John had in mind when he wrote the book.  And, I’m in good company.

Martin Luther once noted that the letter written to the seven churches in Asia should have been returned to sender. Zwingli was almost as harsh. He rather bluntly offered that in his opinion the book isn’t biblical and shouldn’t be included in the New Testament. John Calvin thought it such a worthless work that he never even offered a single comment on it despite writing extensively on every other New Testament work. (1)

Those comments aside, I want to share with you that at times I have found the book to be helpful when I have simply let some of the images in it wash through me. One such image is in the text on which I'm focusing this sermon. The thought – the image - of God being one who wipes away our tears I find powerful – I experience as comforting. It's images such as this one that suggests to me that the message of Revelation is one of encouragement and hope and comfort – a message I am certainly in need of often.

Think about it for a moment: God – the author of creation – the all-powerful one - the Ground of our Being – stoops and wipes the tears from our eyes. I find that to be an amazing image. I think it’s one of the most defining statements about the nature of God in all the Bible (2) – “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes…” God is with us – God is concerned about our needs and concerns – God is with us in our suffering and our successes, our joys and our tears. It’s the God Jesus showed us. He made us aware that the God he believed in was like “a loving parent bending down and personally wiping the tears out of children’s eyes. (Jesus’ God offers) comfort for the grieving, healing for the bruised and battered, hope for the despairing. There is a God who is aware of our heartaches, our frustrations, our fears – who personally longs to bow down
before us and wipe the tears from our eyes.

“God is an intimate and loving God. That is what Christ taught us and even showed us. God is very close. God knows each of us better than our best friend knows us.  And God cares about our problems." (3)

Now, I would like to suggest to you that one of the reasons God created churches was so that we could help in this tear-wiping ministry – that we would be the way people would recognize God’s tear-wiping.

Clara Null of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma wrote in The Christian Reader magazine: “It was one of the worst days of my life.  The washing machine broke down, the telephone kept ringing, my head ached, and the mail carrier brought a bill I had no money to pay. Almost to the breaking point, I lifted my one-year-old into his highchair, leaned my head against the tray, and began to cry. Without a word my son took his pacifier out of his mouth … and stuck it in mine." (4)

The community of faith – the church – exists to help with the tear-wiping of God – to offer our brothers and sisters in Christ pacifiers – not as a way to avoid the discomforts of life – the painful realities of life – but to provide comfort in the midst of the discomforts and pains.

When Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was developing her work among the dying she showed a class of seminary students a drawing a child had made. The child had terminal cancer but wouldn’t talk to anyone. His drawings were all the communication he offered.

The drawing Kubler-Ross showed the class included a beautiful little cottage set off to the side of the paper. Above the cottage was a bright, brilliant shining sun. Surrounding the cottage was a beautiful lawn with flowers and trees. In front of the cottage was a family of four: a mother, a father, and two children playing. In the center of the paper though was this tiny figure representing the dying child and this large tank pointing right at him as if ready to destroy him.

Dr. Kubler-Ross asked the group of students how they thought they could help this child communicate his fear? How could they offer him comfort?

The first one that tried drew a picture of a person holding a stop sign in front of the tank. There was no reaction from the boy.

A second seminarian drew a picture of a person standing beside the little figure in the picture and had the figure holding the hand of the child. Suddenly the child’s wall of silence broke and he began to pour out all his pent-up feelings. (5)

Our God stands beside us. Our God holds our hand. Our God gently wipes tears from our eyes. And we are the ones through whom others come to recognize the tear-wiping.  We are a tear-wiping community.

Now, this is not a Pollyanna faith we are espousing.  It does not say that we will avoid tears.  Far from it.  What it says is this, there is One who wipes tears from children’s eyes – all ages of children’s eyes. We can keep standing and hold on because we know that someone stands beside us – that someone holds our hand. (6)

And one of the ways we wipe away tears is by our being present when others remember – by mentioning the names of loved ones in a worship service – by recalling with – by lighting candles in memory of and being willing to sorrow again alongside and with those who know the pain the most.

1.   Robert S. Crilley, “When the Saints Come Marching In”, Veiled Glimpses of God’s (Lima, Ohio: CSS Publishing, 1995), 0-7880-0464-6.
2.  King Duncan, “When You Feel Like Crying,” Collected Sermons (Dynamic Preaching, 2005), 0-000- 0000-20.
3.  King Duncan, “Oh, God!” 2007 Second Quarter Sermons (Dynamic Preaching, 2007), 0-000-0000-20.
4.  "When You Feel Like Crying."
5.  Ibid., as quoted from Dick Underdahl -
6.  "Oh, God!"

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