Things Jesus Didn’t Say
“Things Jesus Didn’t Say: There, There…Don’t Cry”
A Sermon on John 11:1, 17-20, 32-35
by Rev. Elizabeth Meador Strobel
Preached at Trinity Presbyterian Church of Independence, Missouri
June 30, 2019 – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him… When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep.
This summer, we are exploring a sermon series called “Things Jesus Didn’t Say.” Because, let’s be honest, in our faithful strivings to be God’s people, sometimes we put words in Jesus mouth. Sometimes, we don’t even officially attribute our sayings to Jesus, but they become so commonplace that we assume that they must come from some source of authority. So, today, I want to talk about something a little vulnerable that Jesus never said, that we really should never say, but that many of us hear in the life of faith – neither Jesus nor the Bible ever respond to human hardships by saying anything like “there, there…don’t cry.” In fact, when Jesus encounters people in grief, his response is usually to grieve with them. And I think, friends, that we need to be just as careful and compassionate in what we say to each other about grief.
I realize that this sermon comes at a particularly tender time in our congregation. A lot of us are grieving right now. We have a funeral scheduled for this afternoon, and we’ve lost many others over the last few weeks and months. So, please know that if during this sermon or service you need to take a breather, you are more than welcome to do so. Also know that this sermon was planned over a month ago and isn’t meant to address any one situation or any specific conversation – this is all information for life in general. And know that we’re not going to talk so much about how to grieve as how to comfort those who are in grief. We all journey with each other every day, and the way we talk to one another matters deeply. So we’re going to review some things Jesus didn’t say, look at what he did say, and then explore what we might say that would be most faithful and helpful.
The sad reality is that all people grieve. No matter if you’re mourning the loss of a loved one, a job, a vision, a relationship, or simply a chapter of life, the reality is that all things come to an end and we grieve them. The good news is that we always grieve as a people of hope. We believe that God has promised us good things to come, and so we can face death of any kind with hope and peace and – sometimes – even joy. But in our rush to encourage people, we sometimes, accidentally, say things that suggest people don’t have a right to be sad. We say things like:
· There, there, don’t cry.
· Cheer up, your loved one is in heaven now.
· Things could be much worse, you know.
· I know you loved grandpa, but he wouldn’t want us to be sad.
· Everything happens for a reason.
· You’ll find another job soon.
· This is a day to rejoice since they’re no longer in pain.
· You’re young, you’ll have another baby.
· Don’t be sad - you’ll get married again!
I have said many of these things myself, but I’d humbly suggest they are rarely helpful. They all suggest that grief and sadness are somehow wrong, or that living in the moment is less real than looking toward the future. The last two about having another baby or being married again are never, ever helpful, and shouldn’t be said. The promise of a good future does not negate the pain someone feels in the moment. The truth is that grief is a normal part of life, and glossing over it is just harmful.
The good news of the gospel is that death doesn’t get the last word. The promise of resurrection is that Christ loves us so much even death can’t keep him from us – much less losing a job or losing a friendship. But in our haste to celebrate this good news, sometimes we forget that Jesus also grieved; that Jesus still bore scars even after he came back to life. Resurrection is not meant to wash over the reality of our lives. Resurrection is promise born through trouble. Resurrection is not always easy. It is perfectly possible to believe that God promises us new life and still grieve things that happen to us.
We have a tendency to rush to happiness. We get uncomfortable, so we offer up tissues at the first sing of tears, we try to assure happiness immediately after loss, we put pressure on ourselves to say the right thing to make someone feel better when, honestly, words can’t fix the situation at hand. We do these things with good intentions, but I think God would have us do it differently. God did things differently when on earth in the person of Christ. Jesus managed to offer comfort without insisting on immediate cheer. Jesus journeyed with people through grief rather than trying to divert them around it. Here are some things that Jesus does say in response to human hardship:
· Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
· Love one another as I have loved you.
· Peace I leave with you.
· And with Mary of Bethany, he actually says nothing; he just stands there in the middle of the road and weeps.
Do you hear the difference between the two lists? One tries to fix things and move grief along quickly. The second sits in grief with people.
And so with that in mind, I want to read to you a third and final list; a list of things we can say that I think are more in keeping with what God says to us through Scripture. When trying to comfort people, we might say:
· I’m sad, too. I can only imagine how sad you must feel.
· Here, come cry on my shoulder.
· That’s terrible! Are there ways I can help?
· Do you mind if I cry with you?
· I’m so glad he’s in heaven, and so sorry you miss him.
· (and when all else fails) I love you.
And sometimes, friends, we just accompany each other in silence. Sometimes, we just need to stand with each other and weep like Mary and Jesus. It is ok to cry. It is ok to admit sadness. Eventually, happiness will come. Sooner than we think possible, we’ll be laughing and sharing fond memories. But then we might circle back to tears for a bit. Grief is not a linear path; we can have moments of joy immediately after a loss and moments of sadness 40 years later. We journey one step at a time, and thanks be to God we do it together.
I hope for all of you joy and happiness and lives free from worry. But Scripture and life have taught me that’s not a realistic expectation every moment of every day. And so the reality is that we sometimes need to pause and talk about how to be sad with one another.
Sometimes in church we make the mistake of being so joyful about the good things that we don’t really make room for the sad things. God has been so good to us that we sometimes think that to focus on anything but that goodness is ungrateful. It’s not; it’s simply a different part of life. One of the remarkable things about Jesus is that he came and lived as one of us, to know our suffering and happiness and relationships up close. And in his life we are given an example of God with us, through the ups and downs, meeting our joy with celebration and our depths with companionship.
We grieve as a people of hope. We are grateful to God for giving us promises beyond this life. And so as we offer that hope to one another - today, or next year, or a decade from now - let’s remember how Jesus comforted his own friends. He didn’t insist that they be happy, he didn’t try to distract them or cheer them up – he learned how to be sad with them, and then journeyed with them the rest of their days. It’s a holy gift to be able to give that to each other, as well. Thanks be to God. Amen.