Faith, Forgiveness, Tears and Laughter
Trinitarian Congregational Church
Anthony S. Kill
June 10, 2018
Texts: James 1:2-6, Mark 4:26-34
Congratulations to our graduates and scholarship recipients, Zoe Lathrop and Stephanie Dunbar. This is your day! This is your week, this is your season. I’ve thought about what I want to say to you, and what I’d like to say to all graduates at this very important crossroads in your life, in the transition from high school to college, from home life to living on your own, from youth into adulthood. And what I’d really like to offer you are some of the gifts that being part of a Christian church can offer you as you step into the future and set out on this new phase of your life’s journey.
What are some of the gifts the Christian church can offer to young adults as you move through the journey of life?
I’d like to suggest four of them: Faith, Forgiveness, Tears and Laughter. Faith, forgiveness, tears and laughter. By faith, I don’t mean believing somethings about God or believing in certain doctrines or creeds Faith is about trust. One of my favorite contemporary theologians, Marcus Borg, used this metaphor for faith: faith is like floating in a deep ocean. If we panic and struggle, Borg says, if we tense up and thrash about, we will eventually sink. But if we relax and trust, we will float, no matter how deep the water.
This is the challenge, isn’t it? Learning to relax in the water, to trust its buoyancy, to let go of our fear – all these are key to staying afloat in deep waters. In the same way, we could say that to have faith is to learn to relax in the waters of life, to trust its buoyancy, to let go of our fear; to trust in God, to believe in God’s ability to sustain us, to hold us up, even in difficult circumstances. Faith helps us to relax and let go, to rest and find peace.
When faith is understood as trust rather than as doctrinal assent, then the opposite of faith is not disbelief, but lack of trust. When we do not trust, we become anxious and fearful. To have faith means to let go of anxiety and fear, and to give ourselves over to God’s grace trusting God’s love and care for us.
“Do not worry about your life,” Jesus tells us, “what you will eat or what you will drink … Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25, 26)
I hope your church and church family have taught you something about that kind of faith. Faith that you are loved unconditionally, Faith that you are being held and upheld. Faith that no matter what happens in your life, what happens to your plans and hopes, whatever obstacles may stand in your way, you can trust that there is a God, a love, a higher power who will help you and hold you and carry you through.
Secondly, Forgiveness. Jesus was all about forgiveness. He forgave blatant public sinners, and people broken and crippled by their private, unspoken sins. He even prayed from the cross that his tormenters and executioners be forgiven. Then he sent his disciples out to offer forgiveness to the world.
So the second gift the church can offer you is the gift of forgiveness, because we are the church of a forgiving God We offer you the gift of being forgiven and forgiving yourself, when you’re feeling guilt or shame for something you’ve done or something you think you should have done, or for something you are or something you think you should have been. To forgive, someone has said, is to give up all hope of having a better past. To forgive is to give up all hope of having a better past. You can’t change the past, but you can forgive it.
Forgiveness will also be a valuable asset to your life in the future. No matter how good your life, how fine your friends, how caring your loved ones, there will inevitably be hurts, or failures, or perceived slights or betrayals. If you’re emotionally open at all, if you’re caring and outgoing and engaged with others – and I certainly hope you will be all of these things – then you will also be, to some extent, vulnerable, and the very definition of vulnerability is that you have the capacity to be hurt.
And, as Jesus knew and taught, the greatest balm for the pain of broken promises or broken hearts or broken dreams or broken relationships is forgiveness. The choice and capacity to let go of any anger or hurt or resentment or bitterness that may be eating away inside you, and move on with your life. As I said a minute ago, to forgive is to give up all hope of a better past. And one more thing: to hold on to a grudge or resentment, and refuse to forgive will hurt you far more than it will hurt the offender. It can become a poisonous toxin within you. Another wise person has said, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison, and then expecting the rat to die.” The capacity for forgiveness is one of the secrets to having a happy, grace-filled life, and not letting life’s obstacles or past hurts overwhelm you. And the reason we as Christians can forgive, of course, is that we have received so much mercy ourselves. Our God is a forgiving God. In every worship service we pray, as Jesus taught us “Forgive us our debts/trespasses/sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
And the third gift the church can offer us is the gift of tears. Why tears? I suspect there have been a lot of tears in this season of your lives: Your parents tears of joy as they watch you process in cap and gown to the chords of Pomp and Circumstance; the tears of farewell with friends and classmates and mentors as you part ways after all these years together. Perhaps even tears of anxiety and doubt as you face decisions about your unknown future. And, I hope, even some tears of laughter as you share stories and memories of the good times and the silly times and even some of the bad times with your friends and classmates. And for those of you who tend not to show your tears on the outside, I suspect there’s been some crying on the inside!
But how can tears be a Christian gift to you? I’m thinking of two ways. One way has to do with the forgiveness that I just spoke of. Because forgiveness doesn’t come quick or easy. If it does, either there isn’t much to forgive, or it isn’t real forgiveness. To forgive a real hurt or offence, one has to re-enter the wound, and feel again the pain of it. You can’t just wall it off in some emotional dark corner, cement it over and call that forgiveness. So often, before forgiveness there are tears, and those tears can be a fountain of grace, what Jesus calls ‘Living Water, welling up to eternal life.’ The transforming flow from cold stone to moist, flowing liquid, from arid desert to thirst-quenching stream, is a wonderful metaphor for what the grace of God continues to do in our souls, not once, but repeatedly in our lives, if we are only open to letting it.
What was hard and inflexible becomes fluid and healing. What was hostile and cynical becomes hopeful and engaging. What was brittle and immovable becomes flexible and responsive. What was distant and untouchable and withholding becomes affected, feeling, moistened with tears of joy and of sorrow. Then forgiveness can happen. Then new life can begin. There is another important function for tears in a Christian’s life. Just as Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem, and wept when his friend Lazarus died, there are times when it is important and necessary for us to weep.
When Pope Francis visited the Philippines in 1915, a little girl in Manila asked him why God lets children suffer. “Terrible things happen to children,” she told him through tears. “It’s not their fault. Why does God permit it?”
The Pope didn’t correct her theology or otherwise attempt to pacify Glyzelle Palomar who, had just told him in front of a million people, that she scrounged food from the garbage and slept outside on a cardboard mat.
The Pope enfolded the sobbing child in his arms. Then he admonished everyone to pay close attention because, he said, “She has just asked the one question with no answer.” To her he said, “Only when we are able to weep about the things you have lived will we understand anything and be able to answer you.” Then he taught the crowd, “The world needs to weep. The marginalized weep, the scorned weep, but we who are more or less without needs, we don’t know how. We must learn. There are realities in this life you can see only with eyes cleansed and clarified by tears… If you don’t learn to weep, you’re not a good Christian!”
The Pope went on: “Whenever we’re asked the question with no answer, our answer must first be silence, and then a word born of tears.”
So I offer you the gift of tears. May you never lose the capacity and the compassion to weep for the injustices and brokenness of our world.
Faith, forgiveness, tears. And finally, laughter. Of course, we wish you joy in your life. And one of the ways we can cultivate joy is keeping the capacity to laugh. Not to laugh at other’s foibles or misfortunes, but to laugh at our own, and laugh with each other.
The great theologian Karl Barth said “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.” And Charlie Chaplin has said “Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain.”
Laughter is a vital part of life. Not that life should be a laugh a minute. There is tragic suffering and hardship in the world that can overwhelm a person; but laughter makes life sweet. And life should be sweet. With all life’s challenges and difficulties, laughter is a balm, a balancing mechanism to keep us steady.
And laughter is social, communal. It is a shared joy. Laughter can be healing, connecting, and healthful. “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.” Grace is not something we can control, but we can cultivate our lives to recognize and welcome grace when it comes. So it is with laughter
The Christian author Anne LaMott says, “Laughter is carbonated holiness.” Laughter does not end the trouble and turmoil of life. Laughter does not stop depression or grief. Laughter is not an end to sadness and sorrow – only to seriousness. When we look for laughter in our lives, it is the gravity of it all that fades, the solemnity and seriousness that dwindles. Laughter can help us frame our outlook on the events and circumstances of our lives. Laughter is born of faith, laughter can foster forgiveness and laughter is often the companion of tears. It is one of the gifts that the church can offer you.
I want to close by reading the poem by Kate Compston that I included as the Thought for Reflection in today’s bulletin. “I dream of a church.” I dream of a church that joins in with God’s laughing as she rocks in her rapture enjoying her art: she’s glad of her world, in its risking and growing: ’tis the child she has borne and holds close to her heart.
I dream of a church that joins in with God’s weeping as she crouches, weighed down by the sorrow she sees: she cries for the hostile, the cold and no hoping, for she bears in herself our despair and disease.
I dream of a church that joins in with God’s dancing as she moves like the wind and the wave and the fire: a church that can pick up its skirts, pirouetting, with the steps that can signal God’s deepest desire.
I dream of a church that joins in with God’s loving as she bends to embrace the unlovely and lost, a church that can free, by its sharing and daring, the imprisoned and poor, and then shoulder the cost.
God, make us a church that joins in with your living, as you cherish and challenge, rein in and release, a church that is winsome, impassioned, inspiring: lioness of your justice, and lamb of your peace.
Graduates, I hope this is the church you will carry with you, and I hope this is the church you find in your future.