How Jesus Grieves, a sermon for All Saints Day (Matthew 14)

loaves and fish

How Jesus Grieves, a Sermon for All Saints Day
Scripture: Matthew 14:1-21
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 11/3/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

Introducing All Saints Day
Traditionally celebrated on November 1st, or the Sunday closest to it
On All Saints Day, we remember…

  • We too are saints (1 Corinthians 1:2-3)
  • Our loved ones who have died
  • Those who have inspired our faith and led us to Christ

For some, All Saints Day is a day of thanksgiving and gratitude. A day of inspiration. For some, a day of beloved memories. A day of sadness because those memories bring a reminder of grief and loss.

Whatever you are feeling, it’s ok. All those feelings are welcome.

Reading of Matthew 14:1-21, Jesus grieving the death of John the Baptist

Jesus’ relative, John the Baptist, is unjustly imprisoned and brutally murdered. John was executed by a weak man, Herod Antipas. Herod was drunk, aroused, showing off. Herod got caught in a bad place. in order to “keep up appearances” before those who had gathered for his birthday, those he had to lead, those who might report his choice to Rome, Herod had John executed.

John had been a part of Jesus’ life from the very beginning, since before the two of them were even born. They met in their mothers’ wombs. At the meeting, John began jumping and preaching in the wilderness of his mother’s womb that Jesus was the Messiah.

John was family, literally family. If anyone understood who Jesus was and what Jesus was called to do, it was John the Baptist. If anyone understood what Jesus is going through- the sacrifices Jesus was making, the mocking, the confrontations, the homelessness, the misunderstandings, the persecution, it was John and now John is dead.

John’s disciples come to tell Jesus and Jesus is shaken by the loss. He’s grieving deeply. It’s one thing to lose a loved one, it’s another to lose a loved one in such an unjust and brutal way.

What does Jesus do? Jesus gets into a boat and crosses the Sea of Galilee to find a quiet place. But when Jesus arrives he does not find a quiet place. Jesus finds people. Thousands of people.

These folks are also grieving the death of John the Baptist. They’re heartbroken, sick, hungry, and oppressed.

Hoping to find quiet, but instead finding people, what rises up inside Jesus? What would rise up inside of you?

What rises up inside Jesus is compassion. Compassion literally means “suffering with.” He hears their cries alongside his own. He understands their pain because he is in pain. What does this pain do? This pain opens Jesus. Opens his heart in compassion, in empathy, his hands in generosity and Jesus helps.

There’s healing in the helping. He helps. He blesses. He feeds. He listens. He comforts. He heals.

Excerpt from an Instagram Post by Jen Willhoite @cobbleworks
“Jesus let himself be interrupted by the pain of others even as he was suffering, reeling in his own. He took what scraps of food and hope there were and offered it all up to Divine Love. He knew something abundant could come from something threadbare and it seemed he knew it started with honest sharing…with himself, with others, and with the Sacred One. He held it all aloft and the bread and meat grew in abundance. …

Maybe it was healing for Jesus to nourish others when he was aching. [What] if suffering alongside each other and giving our hope to God even if it’s just grieving scraps might be the thing that gets us all through. Maybe the 5,000 were fed and Jesus was fed too. Maybe we’re still being fed today by stories like this. Stories that tell us hope matters. That our pain matters. Our friendships matter. Our cries matter. Our gathering matters. Our willingness to say we’re hurting and also be interrupted by the pain of another all matters.”

Amen! It matters. It all matters.
Jesus was grieving and what rose in him was compassion and generosity and hope-
not bitterness, not revenge, not isolation, not despair

This is the power and glory of our Great God rising in the midst of death. This same power and glory of God are rising in you.

Jesus’ brokenness, the crowd’s brokenness, your brokenness – God gathers it and redeems it all. Broken hearts, broken bodies broken systems, broken bits of bread and fish- God gathers it and redeems it all.

This is our truth – God is good, God is strong, God is near. When we claim it and cling to it, this is what makes us saints. 

God’s compassion, generosity, hope rising up in us so we find healing in the helping.

A saint is not a perfect person. Saints are simply people who understand their deep need and turn to God and ask God to bring good out of the pain. That’s what redeeming is- God bringing good out of the pain, out of the brokenness, out of the mess.

Today we remember we are saints. We remember the saints that have gone before us. Claim this life. Say “yes” to it. Place your trust in Jesus and follow him. Be a saint.

And so my brothers and sisters, let us remember who we are in Jesus- wounded healers, saints, set apart by God and for God.

Let us remember our purpose- to lead a devoted life of compassion, generosity, and hope. A life worthy of the calling to which we have been called. A life that inspires faith in others.

Let us recommit ourselves to this life, by first honoring the lives of those who have inspired us-
The heroic and humble who ran the race before us
The martyrs who sacrificed all for the sake of Jesus
And especially those who we have known and loved
who led us to Jesus and encouraged us to deeper faith and service

Let us pray…
Blessed are you, O Lord our God,
You surround us with witness after witness to your transforming love
Inspire us and empower us to persevere
Fill our hearts with courage

Blessed are you, O Lord our God,
You weep with us in our heartbreak and loss
Comfort us and protect us in our mourning
Fill our souls with hope

Blessed are you, O Lord our God,
You cry out in victory over sin and the grave
Raise us and release us to fulfill your calling
Fill our lives with faithfulness and good works

The message concludes with a prayer consecrating the elements for Holy Communion.

********************
How Jesus Grieves, a sermon for All Saints Day © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

A Glimpse of your Glory, a reflection on Matthew 14.22-26

boat_on_still_water_by_crimson1d

Based on Matthew 14:22-36

The storm rages, where are you? Wave after wave crashing against us. The air is full of howling and screaming and struggle. My eyes and flesh burn with a thousand salty stings. I am blind. In the oppressive and unending darkness only the ghost of death approaches.

Your voice breaks through, “Do not be afraid.” It is you Jesus. Life not death. You are always present no matter how terrifying the circumstance, no matter how desperate the situation.

You step into our fearful and fragile boat. All is calm. A profound peace. A matchless silence. We wonder and worship, in awe at another glimpse of your glory.

*****
A Glimpse of your Glory, a reflection on Matthew 14.22-26
© 2017 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Wilderness: a place to prepare

Not by Bread Alone by Michael Dudash

Matthew 14:23 (NRSV)
And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.

Jim Harnish defines “the wilderness as the barren space between where we’ve been and where we are going; the empty place between a familiar, comfortable past and an unfamiliar, often risky future. It’s the place where we, like Jesus, are tempted to find some short cut to get to Easter without going through Lent; to leap ahead to the future without dealing with the very normal feelings of anxiety, sadness, loss, or fear that are always a part of every change or transition in our lives.”

On more than one occasion Jesus withdrew to deserted places to pray. Perhaps they reminded him of the wilderness experience that launched his ministry. There too life was seen and tempted in its elemental simplicity. Where the tempter sought to redefine life’s basic elements as fame and security and a full belly, Jesus discerned the exquisite but taxing simplicity of faithfulness to God in the absence of abundance… Jesus’ withdrawal perhaps has less to do with escaping ministry and more to do with seeking the strength to reengage and keep perspective. Simplify. Simplify.
– John Indermark, Traveling the Prayer Paths of Jesus

To thirst for God is to desire God; it is to know that God is essential. Sometimes we have to be in the wilderness before we recognize our thirsts, our desires. The Bible speaks of wilderness as a place of testing, trial, emptiness, absence. The rabbis called the wilderness the school of the soul. In the wilderness we discover the essential.
Kenneth H. Carter Jr., Pray for Me

If you therefore go to the desert to be rid of all the dreadful people and all the awful problems in your life, you will be wasting your time. You should go to the desert for a total confrontation with yourself. For one goes to the desert to see more and to see better. One goes to the desert especially to take a closer look at the things and people one would rather not see, to face situations one would rather avoid, to answer questions one would rather forget. – Alessandro Pronzato, Meditations on the Sand

The desert sometimes issues its own invitation: “Come! Enter into my silence, my uncluttered solitude, my stark beauty, and I will show you depths of your own soul you never knew you had. Come and listen to the Holy One who speaks within, tells you that you are loved, and clarifies your call to service. Come and find strength; let grace encompass you; let go of the baggage; and wait simply for God.”
– Elizabeth J. Canham, A Table of Delight: Feasting with God in the Wilderness

In the spiritual tradition, wilderness is the place where we leave the world behind and place ourselves at God’s disposal. – Daniel Wolpert, Leading a Life with God

The word “presence” is a relational term. The real Presence is offered in the Eucharist, but if we don’t know how to be present to the Presence there is no presence; certainly no “real” presence that can change you. What we’re doing in contemplation is learning, quite simply, how to be present. We’re learning how to access what is — and how to offer ourselves to it. – Richard Rohr

Somehow we know that without silence, words lose their meaning; that without listening, speaking no longer heals; that without distance, closeness cannot cure. Somehow we know that without a solitary place, our actions quickly become empty gestures. The careful balance between silence and words, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community forms the basis of the spiritual life and should therefore be the subject of our most personal attention.
– Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit

I wonder if we are afraid of being silent. Do we fear that if we suspend words and thoughts the world will stop or something terrible might happen to us? … Are we afraid that if we practice this kind of prayer, we might discover our falsehoods and pretenses? Maybe our brokenness and vulnerability would be exposed. These fears can seem terrifying, but they should not deter us. God is above us, below us, beside us, and within us. And we know from the revelation of God in Christ that this God loves us. We need not be afraid. So the purpose of contemplative prayer is to listen, to be loved, and to love. The purpose is not to get what we need or what we think we need but to allow God to commune with us and communicate grace and goodness in the deepest part of our being. – Daniel Vestal, Being the Presence of Christ: A Vision for Transformation

If we picture all the obstructions between us and God as a wilderness, Lent presents us with time to clear and cultivate a part of that wilderness, to create an open space in it. In this newly opened space, we may live more freely and commune more closely with the divine. We can transform this wilderness and make it our home, our garden, a place that invites God in and asks God to stay.
Sarah Parsons, A Clearing Season: Reflections for Lent

Matthew 4:1-4 (NIV)
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

———————
Be sure to also check out Jan Richardson’s post, Where the Breath Begins