Poor in Spirit, a Sermon from The Beatitudes (Matthew 5)

Sermon Series beatitudes 1110 x 624 (1)

Sermon Series: The Beatitudes, God’s Surprising Blessing
Message 1 of 4: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit and Those Who Mourn 
Scripture:  Matthew 5:1-12; Luke 18:9-14
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 8/25/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

Set the scene

  • Jesus is at the beginning of his ministry
  • He calls his first disciples – the educated and advantaged? No. Some fishermen
  • He travels around his home region of Galilee proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease
  • His fame begins to spread. Large crowds started coming- Galilee, Syria, Jerusalem, 10 Roman cities of the Decapolis, Judea, and beyond the Jordan

People started bringing him all the sick

  • folks in crippling pain
  • folks possessed by demons
  • folks with seizures
  • paralyzed folks
  • poor folks
  • suffering folks
  • desperate folks
  • the outcasts and the unwanted

Every day the crowd grows bigger and bigger and bigger.

One day Jesus heads up one of the mountainsides and sits down. This would have caught everyone’s attention. When a rabbi sits, he’s indicating a time of formal teaching. It’s unusual, he’s outside, not in the synagogue.

Everyone gathers around and settles down, expectant, waiting. What are the first words out of his mouth?

Matthew 5:3-4
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

What??? Who in their right mind would look out over this massive crowd of broken, desperate, mourning, pain-ridden people and call them blessed?

The kingdom of God couldn’t possibly be for the likes of these. Many rabbis were teaching all over the region that the reason you were hurting, broken, sick, or poor is because you weren’t right with God and God was punishing you.

Jesus says, “Nope. That isn’t right.” Jesus says God loves them and welcomes them into the kingdom and they are blessed

I imagine Jesus looking out on that crowd on the side of the mountain and seeing all of humanity. Every person who ever lives.

I imagine Jesus looking down the mountainside and down through the ages and seeing me and seeing you.

We may have access to better medical care and clean water and be more educated. But deep down Jesus sees us and sees our brokenness and our pain.

I am those people on the mountain.
We are those people on the mountain.

We are the broken, the ill, the demon-possessed.
We are in pain, desperate, outcast.
We are loved and we are blessed and we are welcomed.
We need Jesus just like they need Jesus because we are all spiritual beggars.

Matthew 5:3
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Dallas Willard’s translation of Matthew 5:3 from his book The Divine Conspiracy
Blessed are the spiritual zeros- the spiritually bankrupt, deprived and deficient, the spiritual beggars, those without a wisp of religion when the kingdom of the heavens comes upon them. 

I work so hard to not be a spiritual beggar. What child says, “When I grow up I want to be a beggar?” We don’t aspire to that.

I don’t want to be a beggar. I don’t want to be a beggar spiritually, financially, emotionally.

I don’t want to be a beggar, so I work hard. I want to have something to offer God when God comes to me.

  • God will love me if I do good things
  • God will love me more than others if I do more good things
  • So doing good things and being a good person will earn me brownie points with God
  • So when the Kingdom comes and Jesus comes I have something to offer.

I’m a good person and I do good things and that will save me. Nope.

The nope is good. Aren’t you thankful we don’t have to get good to get God!

Being a good person and doing good things will not earn me brownie points with God. It will not save me. My hard-working hard turns salvation into a transaction. If I do this then God will do that. Salvation isn’t a transaction – its grace, its mercy, it’s a gift.

Yes, Jesus is correcting the twisted theology of those who would judge and exclude people from God’s love and grace. But he is also reminding them and reminding us that we all spiritual beggars and we all need a Savior.

Isaiah 64:6, NIV
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind, our sins sweep us away.

Romans 3:23 puts it even more simply- all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Now hear the Good News, Matthew 5:3-4
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

What does spiritual poverty mean? (Adapted from a definition by Jim Forest in his book The Ladder of the Beatitudes)

  • It starts with self-awareness. I cannot save myself.
  • I am basically defenseless. Neither money nor power will spare me from suffering and death.
  • No matter what I achieve, no matter what I acquire, it will fall short.
  • Poverty of spirit is my awareness that I need God’s help and mercy more than I need anything else. 

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Luke 18:9-14.
Look at the reason why Jesus tells this parable.
9 Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Matthew 5:3
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

We recognize we are spiritual beggars. We recognize our poverty of spirit. We recognize we cannot save ourselves and this naturally leads to us mourning our sin. 

Matthew 5:4
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

We mourn the foolishness of our boasting.
We mourn how we’ve wasted our time, our talent, and our resources.
We mourn our self-centeredness
We mourn our self-righteousness
We mourn our apathy to God and the ways of God

We mourn how our words, our action, our inaction separate us from God, others, our true selves.

We mourn and we do what the tax collector did.

  1. We recognize our reality- we are all spiritual beggars, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
  2. We stop trying to save ourselves
  3. We place our trust in the mercy and grace of Jesus

The ground is even at the foot of the cross. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are all there together.

Receive the promise: blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.        

How many of us carry around the burden and guilt of sin? We mourn it, we confess it, and we are comforted. We receive the grace and forgiveness and healing we need.

How many of us carry around the burden of resentment? The burden of bitterness? The burden of judging others? The burden of getting busy enough to earn our salvation? The burden of self-medicating the feelings we hide?

Mourn them. Be honest with them. Hand them to Jesus. Receive the grace, mercy, and comfort Jesus is ready to provide. That’s the Good News. That’s our hope.

It feels upside down and backward. We’re “supposed to” pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and put on our big girl pants. It is actually surrender and truth and blessing.

Will you recognize who you are and receive the blessing, the comfort, the Kingdom?

Prayer based on James 4:8-10: Jesus we claim the promise that if we draw near to you, you will draw near to us. Cleanse us. Purify us. We are double-minded. We deny. We hide. Help us release and lament and mourn and weep the things we have done, the things we have said, the things we have left undone. Help us to humble ourselves before you, Lord, so you will lift us up.

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Beatitudes Sermon 1 of 3 © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Celebrating Your Life and Witness, a resource for preplanning the worship services following your death

Ria Munk on her Deathbed, Gustav Klimt (1912), Oil on canvas

Ria Munk on her Deathbed by Gustav Klimt. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

There’s a growing trend to not have a funeral or memorial service following the death of a loved one.

Hear my plea- have the service!

Those who remain need it. It’s a critical part of a healthy grieving process. We need to stop, gather, remember, and give thanks in a season of death. It’s a mile marker moment. If we don’t stop, it will chase us.

Christians have even more reasons to gather. We stand on thousands of years of tradition. Good, meaningful, helpful traditions. Traditions of gathering as a community to lament, gathering to embrace the consolation of Christ, gathering to hear the testimony of a faithful Christian witness, gathering to claim Christ’s victory over death and offer of eternal life.

Here’s the heartbreaking part- I’ve sat with many Christian families who tell me their dying loved one told them “don’t go to the bother” of a service or “don’t go to the expense”. They think they are doing their loved ones a kindness, but the truth is they aren’t.

Here’s another heartbreak- If your worship planning is left up to family members who do not value your faith, there may be no service at all. These dear ones don’t understand how meaningful and vital this type of worship experience is.

Think about how not having a service would affect your friends who are believers. Think of the opportunity lost for your own family to hear about your faith and what Christ makes available to them as well.

In my tradition, a worship service following the death of a loved one does not have to be complicated or expensive or formal. It can be in a church or funeral home or cemetery, but it can also be on the beach or in a living room. It can be both faith-full and welcoming for those yet to believe.

The important thing is to stop, gather, remember, and give thanks.

Take time to pre-plan the worship service following your death. To do so is a tremendous gift to your loved ones since they will not have to make these decisions in the midst of grieving. To do so is a witness to your faith in the promises of Christ.

Click the link below for resources to help you pre-plan. Feel free to leave questions or ideas in the comments. I pray these resources are a blessing and a balm to you and those you love. – Lisa <><

CLICK HERE for a pdf of the following resources

  • Descriptions of the different types of worship services which may take place following a death. Remember, there’s no one right way to remember and give thanks for a life. Different types of services and locations are often combined at the preference of the family.
  • Descriptions of the different parts of a worship service to help in your planning.
  • A worksheet to record your planning decisions
  • A worksheet to help you write your testimony

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Celebrating Your Life and Witness, a resource for planning the worship services following your death © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Growing in Resilience: Comfort Us, based on Isaiah 61.10

Isaiah 61 10 robesGrowing in Resilience
Day 22, Read Isaiah 61
Reflection: Comfort Us, based on Isaiah 61:10, NRSV

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Comfort us
Comfort us who mourn
When one suffers, we all suffer

Hear our lament for the ways we hurt one another and in turn hurt you
Our words weapons instead of life

Hear our wails for all shattered by sin and fear and shame

Hear our groans for all bent low beneath watching and waiting
for another in pain
or their own

Hear our tears for all captive to
their poverty
their addiction
their loneliness
their otherness

Hear our grieving for the powerful misusing their influence
The Forgotten… forgotten

Comfort us
Comfort us who mourn
Comfort us in your coming
Your freeing
Your healing

In your deliverance, there is a crown for our ashes
The oil of gladness pouring across tender brows till it pools in our clavicles

In the nakedness of our need you clothe us
Garments of Salvation
Robes of Righteousness
Jewels of our Belovedness
You dress us in your Victory
Wrapping us in your Joy and Delight
Swaddling us in your Promises made real

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Click Here for more on the Growing in Resilience Reading Plan sponsored by Bishop Ken Carter and the Cabinet of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. 

Comfort Us © 2018 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Jesus, The Hen: when it’s time to weep

Detail from Descent from the Cross by the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden

Detail from Descent from the Cross by the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden

Matthew 23:27; Luke 13:34 NRSV
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

Extended quote by Barbara Brown Taylor from The Christian Century (2/25/86)
If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world –wings spread, breast exposed –but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand. …

… Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first; which he does, as it turns out. He slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakens them, they scatter.

She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her — wings spread, breast exposed — without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart . . . but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.

Extended quote by Jim Harnish from It’s Enough to Make You Cry
Take a good look; a look that penetrates the self-protective shields of social acceptability; a look that goes deeply into the heart; a look that is a finite expression of the infinite love with which God looks out on our world, and it’s enough to make anyone with a heart cry.

It’s what the prophet Jeremiah felt when he looked at his world and wrote, “If only my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night for the wounds of my people.” (Jeremiah 9:1)

Read the headlines or watch the evening news and we know why Jesus wept over Jerusalem saying, “If they only knew the things that make for peace.” (Luke 19:42)

We weep for residents of Tel Aviv fleeing to bomb shelters and for Palestinians who have nowhere to hide from the attacks that are destroying their homes in Gaza.

We weep for thousands of children making their way across our border only to be caught up in our hopelessly confused and politicized immigration system.

We weep for millions of people who are homeless refugees because of the conflicts in Ukraine, in parts of Africa, and as a result of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We weep for the lives that have been lost in jets that have been blown out of the sky.

And we weep — the way Jesus wept beside the grave of his friend, Lazarus – for the deeply personal wounds, hurts, disappointments that sooner or late come crashing in on every one of us.

With Jeremiah, we ask, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” (Jeremiah 8:22)

I also know how Jeremiah felt when he said: “If only I could flee for shelter in the desert/to leave my people and forget them.” (Jeremiah 9:2)

I’d probably not choose the desert. I might take a house on the beach or a cabin in the mountains. I might just turn off the television, cancel the newspaper, go to a movie and stop paying attention to the pain and suffering around me. Sometimes we’d all like to flee.

Weep or flee? Which will it be? The truth is that there are times for both. There are times when I need to weep for the wounds of the world around me. And there are times when I need to accept Jesus’ invitation, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)

So, where is God in all of this? It may be when Jeremiah hears God say, “I am going to refine them, for what else can I do with my people?” (Jeremiah 9:7)

I’m not suggesting that God causes the terrible things that happen in order to teach us a lesson. I’m a Wesleyan, not a Calvinist. Most of the things that make us weep are a direct result of human decisions that are an outright contradiction of the will of God. Our sinful choices are enough to make God cry.

Although God does not cause everything that happens, God is able to use anything that happens to refine us, the way gold and silver are refined. Instead of making us bitter, it can make us better.

The Spirit of God is present in our tears to break our hearts with the things that break the heart of God, to show us the ways in which we contribute to the pain of the world, to form us more fully into the likeness of Christ, and to enable us to participate in God’s healing work in this world. If there is a “balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul” it will be found in the hearts, lives, and actions of faithful people who become the agents of God’s love in the lives of others.

Perhaps the Christ-shaped alternative is not just to weep or to flee, but to become God’s healing presence in the world. At least it’s worth praying for.

Click here for a deep reflection and call to lament by Steve Garnaas-Holmes entitled For the Hurt of my People.

In Christian symbolism, Jerusalem is everyplace and the ultimate place. Jerusalem is the conflicted city within our hearts and the hoped-for heavenly city of promise. Jerusalem is Earth herself. We lament over the world and our continual warfare and our ongoing destruction of land and seas and air. We are the holy place that kills prophets, healers, sages, and innocents in the complex chaos of our passions.
– Suzanne Guthrie, Lament Over Jerusalem

The tears which flow from our eyes from time to time are illustrations of the tears which Jesus shed as he looked down upon Jerusalem and lamented, “How often I would have gathered you to myself as a hen gathers her chicks, but you would not”. They are signs of the pain in God’s heart when even one sheep goes astray. Tears are an acknowledgment of the Fall, but as they flow from a truly-repentant heart, they are also the first signs of hope. The dam of sinful resistance has collapsed and the Water of Life can now flow. – Steve Harper, The Water of Repentance

Prayer: End the Madness by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Hear our cry!
Head our plea!
Hate compounds
Death surrounds
Evil abounds

Relief supplies rotting on docks
Vaccines waiting on shelves
The unsuspecting shot down
Abortions of convenience
The faithful persecuted
Riots in the streets
Human trafficking
Suicide bombers
Genocide
War

End our madness
Deliver us from bloodshed
Deliver us from us

Come quickly
Come in power
Your power, not ours
Rescue your beloved
Lord, where else can we go?

End Our Madness: a prayer for peace, justice and unity

PrejudicePrayer: End Our Madness
Hear our cry!
Head our plea!
End our madness!

Relief supplies rotting on docks
The faithful murdered at prayer
Vaccines waiting on shelves
Abortions of convenience
Riots in the streets
Millions of refugees
Human trafficking
Suicide bombers
Genocide
War

Hear our cry!
Head our plea!
End our madness!

Deliver us from bloodshed
Deliver us from us

Come quickly
Come in power
Your power, not ours
Your peace
Your unity
Your justice
Your hope
Your way, truth and life

Hear our cry!
Head our plea!
End our madness!

Extended quote by Jim Harnish from It’s Enough to Make You Cry
Take a good look; a look that penetrates the self-protective shields of social acceptability; a look that goes deeply into the heart; a look that is a finite expression of the infinite love with which God looks out on our world, and it’s enough to make anyone with a heart cry.

It’s what the prophet Jeremiah felt when he looked at his world and wrote, “If only my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night for the wounds of my people.” (Jeremiah 9:1)

Read the headlines or watch the evening news and we know why Jesus wept over Jerusalem saying, “If they only knew the things that make for peace.” (Luke 19:42)

We weep for residents of Tel Aviv fleeing to bomb shelters and for Palestinians who have nowhere to hide from the attacks that are destroying their homes in Gaza.

We weep for thousands of children making their way across our border only to be caught up in our hopelessly confused and politicized immigration system.

We weep for millions of people who are homeless refugees because of the conflicts in Ukraine, in parts of Africa, and as a result of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We weep for the lives that have been lost in jets that have been blown out of the sky.

And we weep — the way Jesus wept beside the grave of his friend, Lazarus – for the deeply personal wounds, hurts, disappointments that sooner or late come crashing in on every one of us.

With Jeremiah, we ask, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” (Jeremiah 8:22)

I also know how Jeremiah felt when he said: “If only I could flee for shelter in the desert/to leave my people and forget them.” (Jeremiah 9:2)

I’d probably not choose the desert. I might take a house on the beach or a cabin in the mountains. I might just turn off the television, cancel the newspaper, go to a movie and stop paying attention to the pain and suffering around me. Sometimes we’d all like to flee.

Weep or flee? Which will it be? The truth is that there are times for both. There are times when I need to weep for the wounds of the world around me. And there are times when I need to accept Jesus’ invitation, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)

So, where is God in all of this? It may be when Jeremiah hears God say, “I am going to refine them, for what else can I do with my people?” (Jeremiah 9:7)

I’m not suggesting that God causes the terrible things that happen in order to teach us a lesson. I’m a Wesleyan, not a Calvinist. Most of the things that make us weep are a direct result of human decisions that are an outright contradiction of the will of God. Our sinful choices are enough to make God cry.

Although God does not cause everything that happens, God is able to use anything that happens to refine us, the way gold and silver are refined. Instead of making us bitter, it can make us better.

The Spirit of God is present in our tears to break our hearts with the things that break the heart of God, to show us the ways in which we contribute to the pain of the world, to form us more fully into the likeness of Christ, and to enable us to participate in God’s healing work in this world. If there is a “balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul” it will be found in the hearts, lives and actions of faithful people who become the agents of God’s love in the lives of others.

Perhaps the Christ-shaped alternative is not just to weep or to flee, but to become God’s healing presence in the world. At least it’s worth praying for.

************
Prayer: End Our Madness © 2015 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Jesus, The Hen: when it’s time to weep

Detail from Descent from the Cross by the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden

Detail from Descent from the Cross by the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden

Matthew 23:27; Luke 13:34 NRSV
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

The tears which flow from our eyes from time to time are illustrations of the tears which Jesus shed as he looked down upon Jerusalem and lamented, “How often I would have gathered you to myself as a hen gathers her chicks, but you would not”. They are signs of the pain in God’s heart when even one sheep goes astray. Tears are an acknowledgement of the Fall, but as they flow from a truly-repentant heart, they are also the first signs of hope. The dam of sinful resistance has collapsed and the Water of Life can now flow. – Steve Harper, The Water of Repentance

In Christian symbolism Jerusalem is everyplace and the ultimate place. Jerusalem is the conflicted city within our hearts and the hoped for heavenly city of promise. Jerusalem is Earth herself. We lament over the world and our continual warfare and our ongoing destruction of land and seas and air. We are the holy place that kills prophets, healers, sages and innocents in the complex chaos of our passions.
– Suzanne Guthrie, Lament Over Jerusalem

Click here for a deep reflection and call to lament by Steve Garnaas-Holmes entitled For the Hurt of my People.

Extended quote by Barbara Brown Taylor from The Christian Century (2/25/86)
If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world –wings spread, breast exposed –but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand. …

… Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first; which he does, as it turns out. He slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakens them, they scatter.

She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her — wings spread, breast exposed — without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart . . . but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.

Extended quote by Jim Harnish from It’s Enough to Make You Cry
Take a good look; a look that penetrates the self-protective shields of social acceptability; a look that goes deeply into the heart; a look that is a finite expression of the infinite love with which God looks out on our world, and it’s enough to make anyone with a heart cry.

It’s what the prophet Jeremiah felt when he looked at his world and wrote, “If only my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night for the wounds of my people.” (Jeremiah 9:1)

Read the headlines or watch the evening news and we know why Jesus wept over Jerusalem saying, “If they only knew the things that make for peace.” (Luke 19:42)

We weep for residents of Tel Aviv fleeing to bomb shelters and for Palestinians who have nowhere to hide from the attacks that are destroying their homes in Gaza.

We weep for thousands of children making their way across our border only to be caught up in our hopelessly confused and politicized immigration system.

We weep for millions of people who are homeless refugees because of the conflicts in Ukraine, in parts of Africa, and as a result of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We weep for the lives that have been lost in jets that have been blown out of the sky.

And we weep — the way Jesus wept beside the grave of his friend, Lazarus – for the deeply personal wounds, hurts, disappointments that sooner or late come crashing in on every one of us.

With Jeremiah, we ask, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” (Jeremiah 8:22)

I also know how Jeremiah felt when he said: “If only I could flee for shelter in the desert/to leave my people and forget them.” (Jeremiah 9:2)

I’d probably not choose the desert. I might take a house on the beach or a cabin in the mountains. I might just turn off the television, cancel the newspaper, go to a movie and stop paying attention to the pain and suffering around me. Sometimes we’d all like to flee.

Weep or flee? Which will it be? The truth is that there are times for both. There are times when I need to weep for the wounds of the world around me. And there are times when I need to accept Jesus’ invitation, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)

So, where is God in all of this? It may be when Jeremiah hears God say, “I am going to refine them, for what else can I do with my people?” (Jeremiah 9:7)

I’m not suggesting that God causes the terrible things that happen in order to teach us a lesson. I’m a Wesleyan, not a Calvinist. Most of the things that make us weep are a direct result of human decisions that are an outright contradiction of the will of God. Our sinful choices are enough to make God cry.

Although God does not cause everything that happens, God is able to use anything that happens to refine us, the way gold and silver are refined. Instead of making us bitter, it can make us better.

The Spirit of God is present in our tears to break our hearts with the things that break the heart of God, to show us the ways in which we contribute to the pain of the world, to form us more fully into the likeness of Christ, and to enable us to participate in God’s healing work in this world. If there is a “balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul” it will be found in the hearts, lives and actions of faithful people who become the agents of God’s love in the lives of others.

Perhaps the Christ-shaped alternative is not just to weep or to flee, but to become God’s healing presence in the world. At least it’s worth praying for.

************
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