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The Passionate Jesus

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The Rev. Dr. Thomas Lane Butts The Rev. Dr. Thomas Lane Butts

The Rev. Dr. Thomas Lane Butts is minister emeritus of First United Methodist Church in Monroeville, AL.

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United Methodist Church

Representative of:

First United Methodist Church, Monroeville, AL


Weeping With One Eye

John 11:28-44; Luke 19:41; Luke 10:25-37

March 17, 1996

I remember times in which I have chosen to run rather than weep because I did not want to get involved. I have even watched whole communities run to keep from weeping. It is all too easy to look the other way when the scenery gets sad.

Frederick Buechner once said that it would help us all if we would keep track of the times and events in our lives that bring tears to our eyes. They may be happy or sad moments. It may be the occasion of a funeral or wedding or a patriotic event, when the flag goes by or "Taps" is played. It may be at an unexpected time or place. But, whenever you are stirred to such depths, these are times that God is at work in your life. These are the emotional hot spots in our lives, when something breaks through the veneer of hardness in which we tend to entomb ourselves. These occasions are like windows through which the light of God's love gets in to us. How quickly most of us close those windows of weeping for fear someone will see us when we are not in control. But, when we slam those shutters back over the windows we cut off God himself. Check times and places where you weep, said Buechner, and you will see the places where God was getting through to you.

There was a country preacher who was reporting to a shut­in member of his congregation about last Sunday's service. He said, "It was a wonderful service ~ everybody cried." There is a sense in which you can measure the effectiveness of a religious event by the tears shed or not shed.

We should weep at church: Weep for the death of Jesus, weep for the love of God, weep for our sins, weep for our salvation, weep for the poor, weep for the dead, weep for the dying, weep for the frightened, the lonely, the lost and the oppressed. When we do not weep I worry that we have not heard the Word, or we have left our feelings at home, or they are so deeply buried that prayer and scripture and song and sermon will not reach them.

Sometimes we are so solidly sophisticated that we are like the banker of whom I heard. He had one glass eye and one good eye, and you could scarcely tell which was which. One of the tellers said, "If you go ask for a loan and you see a glimmer of sympathy in one of his eyes, you can know it is his glass eye."

But there is something that concerns me almost as much, sometimes even more than our failure to weep. It is when we weep with one eye. It is when we just half­ care. It is when our weeping is so little and so superficial that it is like a vaccination against weeping with both eyes. When we politely dab our eyes at a patriotic service when the flag goes by, or become a little misty on Mothers' Day, or feel a lump in our throat for a passing second on Easter or Christmas ~ when we open our hearts for a split­ second and then close them ~ perhaps that is worse than not weeping at all. It is as if we let God in for just a second and then put him out.

It is a matter of interest to note that those who do not weep do not laugh much. Those who weep with one eye tend to have a low grade sense of humor. It seems that weeping and laughing lie close together in the human psyche. When you turn off one of these emotions, the other seems to be equally suppressed.

I suppose my caveat in this sermon is that there are conditions, even whole vocations, that are so saturated with sorrow, that to expose ourselves to them with no protection can be devastating. For instance, how does an emergency room doctor (or nurse) or a hospice volunteer or the family of a person who has a lingering illness survive without being overwhelmed by the pain of others? There is only so much suffering any of us may take before becoming emotionally paralyzed.

Over the years I have ministered to parishioners who have died slowly of debilitating illnesses. As pastor, I would be in and out of those homes or hospital rooms daily. My visits were brief, but family members were in the presence of gradual death day in and day out, with little or no respite. One could see the use of protective emotional devices by the caretakers that were obviously designed to shield them from overwhelming sorrow. Sometimes they joked. Sometimes they did things that did not necessarily need to be done for the patient, but which gave the caregiver the feeling of helping. Sometimes, in the middle of a conversation, you could sense that the sorrow-­soaked family member was not really there at the moment. They just shut it all out.

We cannot sit on the mourning bench for long periods of time. There are circumstances in which those who suffer with others become casualties of their own acts of compassion. If "weeping with one eye" means a purposeful and protective act to keep them from being overwhelmed by the sorrow of others, it is good. I want my doctor to care, but I do not want him to get emotionally caught up in my suffering to the extent that he cannot properly treat me. Sometimes it is necessary to weep with one eye.

Compassion alone, however, is not enough. What will we do when we have wept both eyes dry and the situation is still the same? Our tears do not mean much unless they are supported by meaningful action. In Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, I am sure that the priest and the Levite who passed by on the other side must have felt some compassion. Perhaps they even wept some tears ~ out of one eye ~ but they did not care enough to get involved. They did not care enough to take time. There is no way to take away the suffering of others without entering into it. People who really care not only cry, they also get their hands dirty and they spend money.

Deep in the Old Testament there is piece of writing called Lamentations. It is traditionally thought to have been written by Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. It is a funeral song written about the destruction of Jerusalem. In 597 BC, the Babylonian army destroyed the city of Jerusalem. They deported all the able bodied people to Babylonia where they remained in exile for almost fifty years. Surveying the obvious tragedy of the situation, Jeremiah cries out: "Is this nothing to you, all you who pass by?" [Lam. 1:12] There are times in which the sorrow and tragedy in us or around us is so palpable, that we become distressed when others to not see and feel it as we do. I do not know what touches you to turn your tears to anger. It may be the senseless ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the wars of religious hatred, starvation in a world of plenty, or the homeless people who sleep in the doorways of churches and businesses in your city. There does come a time, however, to act in the tradition of Jeremiah: to quit crying long enough to grab the world by the coattails and scream in the ears of the indifferent masses: "Is this nothing to you, all you who pass by?" If you care you cannot remain dry-­eyed and silent.

In the slums of Calcutta, India, thousands live on the streets. If they own a ragged blanket to spread over the place where they sleep, they feel lucky. Early each morning trucks come by to pick up the bodies of those who die in the night. Babies are born on the sidewalk and left in cardboard boxes. In the midst of this abject poverty and unspeakable suffering a tiny, little woman can be seen moving among the sick, homeless, and hungry, giving help wherever and however she can. She is an Albanian nun who is lovingly called Mother Teresa. She walks among these homeless, hurting people. She bends low to touch many of them, whispering a word of comfort and encouragement to them. She lifts the dying in her arms to hold them as they die. She is not afraid of them. She weeps and works and walks and begs for them. She is a proper model for what to do beyond tears.

There are some situations that lie beyond our power to help. There are circumstances in which we are as helpless as those who suffer, and the most and the best we can do is to weep.

A little girl stayed out at play much longer than she was supposed to stay. When she got home her mother scolded her and asked where she had been. The child said that one of her playmates had broken her doll and she stopped and helped her fix it ~ for two hours. Her mother asked her how in the world she could help fix a broken doll. And, in all of the innocence of a child, she said, "I could not fix the doll, but I sat down with her and helped her cry." There are some things beyond our fixing. There is some brokenness we cannot repair no matter how much time, money, or talent we have. All we can do is weep with those who weep. When this is all we can do, it is enough.

Finally, this phrase caused me to remember: that "Jesus wept." He wept over the death of his friend, Lazarus. He wept over the collective obtuseness and ignorance of the human mind and heart when he wept over Jerusalem. He wept with individual people and for individual people; Jesus wept because God cares. In I Peter 5:7 the writer is speaking to the first generation of Christians who are being systematically persecuted. He said to them: "Give God your worries and your burdens, for he cares about you." Sometimes we wonder if anybody cares. Does anybody understand? The tears of Jesus remind us that God cares.

One day a child was running down the hall at church on the last day of Bible School. He had in his hand a little ceramic tray that he had made for his mother. He had worked on it all week. As he ran down the hall to give it to her, he dropped and broke it into a thousand pieces. The child began to cry. Everybody was trying to comfort him. They said, "It was just a tray." But the child was inconsolable. Finally, his mother came on the scene. She said to the child, "Let's pick up all of the pieces, and we will take them home and put it together and see what we can make out of it."

That is what God is like! He is like a good mother. He understands when and how it hurts. When our lives are shattered, he helps us pick up the pieces, and make something out of what is left. God cares about you. Weep for joy. Weep with both eyes.


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