Public Lament

Public Lament
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Draft of a sermon from 1 July 2012 at Briarwood Presbyterian Church

I wonder how many of us remember the funeral of Jack Layton. It was quite an affair. People lining the streets in Toronto. Canadian forces escorts. The RCMP. Dignitaries paying their respects. And a black hearse moving slowly, followed, very publicly, by his wife, and family members. It is a hard image to get out of your mind, family members dressed in black walking arm in arm, sometimes in tears, past the crowds, in front of the cameras; it was very much a public lament.

Whatever you thought of the event, carefully planned and executed, the funeral of Jack Layton was a reminder of the place of lament in the public square. Not hidden or in private. But an event with emotions, feelings, and upset dreams were displayed for others to see, and to share.

In this story, David, the one who slayed the giant Goliath and experienced all the accolades associated with freeing his country from that grip; David, in this story, is faced with something entirely different. If defeating Goliath was a high and a victory, then in this story David experiences a defeat. His good and best friend, his BFF to use the language of grade 3ers, David’s best friend forever, Jonathan, and Jonathan’s father, the king, are dead. And in this story, David mourns their loss.

How the mighty have fallen.

Tell this not in Gath.

Let there be no dew or rain on the mountains of Gilboa, where they died.

Saul and Jonathan are lovely and in death they are not divided.

O daughters of Israel, weep.

Jonathan lies slain.

How the might have fallen.

David’s whole song here, is a song of lament.
And it is quite simply, a public funeral.
David sings while others look on.

It’s quite possible that today the ability to lament is a lost art. I’m not talking about a funeral. We can still do those. I’m talking about the practice that David has here, of lamenting, in words, very honestly and with others, over something or someone. I wonder if it is a lost art for us because to lament properly, like David does here, to lament properly, means that we first have to be people who have lost something we truly love. And to love something truly, among all the other options we have, takes time and takes focus.

It is so easy for us to go through life, without ever sitting down and saying, “I love these things”, or “these people”, and in them I will invest what I have. Purity of heart, says Kirkegaard, is to will one thing. But unless we allow ourselves to focus on what we truly love and on whom we truly love, we will never be able to lament when they’re gone. Unless we allow ourselves to commit, to really commit to a course or decision, or person, lament is lost to us.

It is this bitter-sweet pill that David swallows in this story. He’s an example to us of one who has truly loved a friend and a king, allowed himself that commitment and that focus; and when they die he says their love to me was wonderful. Lament is hard because it means we’ve given our lives, our souls, over, and shared them with another human being in this universe. And it’s very easy to live our lives without truly doing that. To live at a distance.

True story. An elderly farming couple was out for breakfast one morning. The waiter asked the man how he would like his eggs. Before he could answer, his wife said, he’ll take them sunny side up. The man said, actually, I like my eggs over easy. His wife just about lost it, and said, I’ve been cooking your eggs sunny side up every morning for 40 years, and you actually like them over easy. Why didn’t you say anything? And the man answered, well, you never asked!

The eggs are trivial, but it’s true, isn’t, that we can go through life without ever asking, inquiring, truly focusing on those people we love. It’s all to easy, to live a distance.

And it’s all to easy to believe that God does too.

This Tuesday five youth from Briarwood will be going to the triennial national Presbyterian youth conference in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, called, Canada Youth 2012. Over 500 youth from across Canada will be there. I was telling someone this week about the largest study ever done on youth in the mainline church in North America. The National Survey on Youth and Religion. One of the questions put to high school students who had grown up in a mainline church, in that survey, was, what does it mean for you to be a Christian. The answers that came back were consistent and a little staggering. The researchers narrowed it down to the acronym M.T.D. Which is to say most youth answered the question by saying that being a Christian is about moralistic (doing good), therapeutic (because it feels good), deism (God is wallpaper). Nothing a whole lot wrong with doing good, feeling good or believing God exists; but what’s staggering, is that for many youth, they’ve experienced God, not close, but deistically, or at a distance.

What about us? Is God somewhere out there for us. At a distance. Like the letters chart at the optometrist, which keep getting smaller and harder to see the closer we look. The more we commit.

Friends, for David and for us, there is a reality in the world that is a living God. Wonderful, and sometimes unbelievable. And it is in moments of great highs and great lows, the limits of life, that David experiences and that we do, that we are put face to face with this higher reality.

The God we know in Jesus isn’t the one who has stayed at a distance. David’s God, and ours, is the one who is closer to us than our hands and feet, nearer than breathing. The God we know in Jesus Christ, this is the God who’s become vulnerable, who has truly loved us; this is the God whose heart is broken for the broken hearted, the God who weeps for the bruised; the God we know in Jesus is the God who suffers, and who laments. Why? Because this is the God who, by some miraculous love, has focused and created a universe in goodness, and shown other-worldly commitment in sending a son to die on a cross, for us.

And this is a God who promises great things. Among them is this living hope that we see around us is not the end. That sadness, that lament for lost things, for lost places, for lost countries, for lost friends and families, that lament is not the last song. That’s David’s tune will someday die out. That mourning may come for a night, but that rejoicing comes in the morning.

It’s an almost insane hope in which we live. Yet, we do. In Jesus we do. That lament will be replaced finally one day with laughter. That loss will be once and for all replaced with love. That this world, in all its brokenness and joy; that our lives in all we are, will one day be fully caught up in God. Who will wipe away every tear. And make all things new.

Another dreamer, like David, is John. Here’s the vision of a healed world that God gave him:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. One either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

Now may the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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