THE GIFT OF THE DARK WOOD
TEARS

    by Passtor Martha-Jean Fitch

March 25, 2018
TEXT:   Luke 19:28-44

 

 

The story is told of an angel who was sent by God to earth with orders to “bring back the most precious thing in the world.”   Searching everywhere, she visited forests, mountaintops, and soft green meadows. But although she saw bright butterflies and flowers, nothing seemed quite right.   Then, peeking through a window, she saw a mother holding her baby. As she gazed down at her child, the mother’s smile was full of love and tenderness. The angel thought, “This mother’s smile must be the most precious thing in the world. I will take it to God.” Gently, the angel took the mother’s smile, but the mother didn’t even notice; she had so many smiles left that she would never miss just one! With great excitement, the angel showed the smile to God, who answered, “This is indeed wonderful—the smile of love that a mother gives her child—but it is not the very most precious thing in the world.” 

 

The angel went back to earth and heard a nightingale singing a beautiful song – this has to be the most precious thing.   She took the song to God and He said, “This indeed is a beautiful song, but it is not the most precious thing in the world.”

 

            The angel was getting tired, but she knew she could never give up, so again she flew back to earth. This time she watched a young girl go out of her way to help an old man who was trying to cross a very busy intersection.     The angel watched and was so happy.   “This really must be the most precious thing in the world – a kind deed – a helping hand.  If we can help each other, we can have a peaceful world.  I will take this story of kindness to God – it must be what I have been looking for all this time.”

 

            God heard the story of the kind deed and answered, “This is indeed important.   Still, it is not quite what I have been waiting for. Go once more, dear angel. You are on the right track, and I feel sure that this time you will find what we seek. Look everywhere—in cities, forests, schools, and homes—but especially look into the hearts of people.”

 

Sighing with disappointment, the angel again winged her way to earth. And she looked in so many places! Still, she could not find the precious thing. “Maybe I should give up! But how could I fail my God? There must be an answer or God would not have asked me to do this.” Tired from her ceaseless searching, she sat down on a rock, to rest and think. As she sat there, she heard something—the sound of someone crying! It was not a little child crying, but a grown man! He was walking through the woods with tears rolling down his cheeks. The man was praying to God – telling Him about his struggles and asking God to help him and forgive him.   Another tear rolled down the man’s cheek.

 

Then angel felt that she had found the answer. Being an angel, she was invisible, so she flew up to the grieving man and gently caught one of the tears that were falling from his eyes. Then she flew away to God. In a small tiny bottle, she held the one tear that she had collected. She held it up to God...and God smiled at the angel. The radiance of that smile filled the whole world like the sun coming out suddenly from behind dark clouds.   Then God spoke: “My faithful angel, this is indeed the most precious thing in the whole world—the tear of someone who is praying and is truly sorry. For it is a tear from the heart, and it will bring peace into the world.”1

 

Today we conclude our Lenten series, the Gifts of the Dark Wood. Over the past 6 weeks, we have looked at those times when we feel uncertain, empty, lost, tempted and thunderstruck – walking in the dark woods.   What we have discovered is that it is in these dark wood times we can meet God there.   God is already there, in those dark wood times – redeeming what could be bad into something that actually is a blessing.

 

Today we come to the gift of tears.   Now some of you may think that is a very strange gift.   How in the world could tears be a gift…or how is God at work in the midst of our tears?

 

            For some of you, the mention of tears makes you very uncomfortable.   You don’t want to be seen crying in public – we associate it with a sign of weakness.  So, we stiffen up – fight back the emotions or stuff them so no one will see them.  Some of you have dry eyes – and so it is hard to cry: while others have cried so much, buckets and buckets of tears, you have cried yourself dry.   And then there are those who cry deep within their spirits – without shedding an actual watery tear that flows down your cheeks.    Crying, for most people, is just something we like to avoid – or we just want to hide from others.

 

            But, I read somewhere this week, that “there is a sacredness in tears.   They are not the mark of weakness, but of power.   They speak more eloquently than 10,000 tongues.   They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and unspeakable love.”  (anonymous).    And tears are prayers that travel to God when we can’t speak.

 

            Now, you probably didn’t come today expecting or wanting to hear about tears and weeping.   It is Palm Sunday – a day of celebration, the day of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.   A day when we wave palm branches and sing joyful songs of praise and Hosannas to King Jesus!  But I believe that this day is also a day of tears.   Jesus is walking into the dark wood and will face many times of tears this week – this week, we call Holy Week.   And those tears of Jesus, weren’t a sign of weakness on His part – but a sign of great love for you and for me.

 

            Let’s look at our text today from Luke 19 and see how Luke describes Palm Sunday.   You will find Luke in the New Testament, the third gospel – Matthew, Mark and Luke.   Turn to chapter 19 and let’s start reading at verse 35.   Right before this verse, we hear how Jesus has told the disciples go to a village and get a colt for Him to ride down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem.  And so, we read at verse 35, that they took the colt and …:

 

35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

 

What’s interesting is that Luke doesn’t mention anything about the people waving palm branches – only people spreading their cloaks on the road.  

37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus,

“Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

 

Notice – there is singing and praising God – but in Luke’s gospel, there is no mention of the word “Hosanna!”

 

            Can you picture the whole scene in you mind?   There is great celebration in the city as Jesus makes His way through town.   The people are full of cheers of joy – the Pharisees are full of frowns, wanting the people to be quiet.   But what about Jesus?   What are His emotions?  Was He laughing – smiling and waving at the crowd? Look at verses 41-44.

 

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize  the time of God’s coming to you.”

 

            Jesus was weeping…weeping over His people.   When He looked at them He saw them as lost sheep – people who had turned cold and callous, who didn’t know the ways what would bring them peace.   He knew as He heard them singing shouts of praise that ultimately, by the end of the week, they would reject Him – and shout “Crucify Him”!  Jesus is also grieving over the future of Jerusalem.   40 years later – in 70 AD, Jerusalem would be hemmed in on every side by the enemy Rome and more than 1 million residents of Jerusalem would die as Jerusalem was destroyed.  Oh – if they had only known what had brought peace – if only they had recognized the time of Jesus’ coming.

 

            He wanted so much to draw the people to Him.   Earlier, in Luke 13, we hear Jesus crying out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers!   How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me!”  His heart was breaking as he contemplated what would happen to these lost sheep!  Oh, how He wanted them to turn back to Him.  I wonder if He still weeps over Jerusalem – over places like Syria and Korea – over places like Chicago and Galesburg.   And what of us – are we weeping?

 

            The story is told of a preacher who had just been called to a pulpit in a large downtown city.   On his first Sunday, the time came for him to preach and he wasn’t there in the sanctuary.  An elder was sent to find him.   When the elder found him, the preacher was standing at the window in his study that overlooked a vast slum area in the city.   As the new pastor stood there, he was crying.   The elder said, “Pastor, we’ve been looking for you.   The service is waiting and time has come for you to preach.”   The pastor replied, “I was just caught up in the sorrows and the poverty – the broken-heartedness – the helplessness and hopelessness of the people.   Just look!   Just look!”   “Yes sir, I know.   But you’ll soon get used to it.   The time has come to preach.”   Oh my – I think that is what I am afraid of in myself – in the church and in all churches everywhere.   There are lost people everywhere – and we just get used to it.   We hear about it all the time in the news - all the pain and suffering -  all the hatred and division.   And are we weeping?  Do we have the gift of tears to reach out to people?

 

            In April of 2016, Pope Francis went to Greece to see firsthand the plight of the Syrian refugees.   He said that seeing their situation – what they experienced getting to Greece and how they were living in the refugee came made him weep.

 

            Getting back into the plane where the media were seated, the pope carried some of the drawings the refugee children had given him. He explained the trauma the children had experienced and showed one picture a child had drawn, showing a sinking boat and five refugees crying for help as the boat sank behind them.  In the sky a sun was drawn that was crying.    “If the sun is able to cry – we should be able to shed at least one tear,” the Pope said.   “A tear would do us good!”  In the Pope’s teaching, tears and the suffering that causes them – can be a step toward renewed faith and clarity about the love of God.   He says:  “You see, sometimes in our lives, the glasses we need to see Jesus – are tears.   All of us in our lives have gone through moments of joy, pain, sadness – we’ve all experienced these things.   In the darkest moments, did we cry?   Have we received that gift of tears that prepares our eyes to see the Lord?”2   Are we weeping for our world that is lost – so that we can reach out and love the neighbors we have in Christ – seeing the Lord in the face of our neighbor?

 

            Jesus wept over the city on Palm Sunday.   And He wept over you and me – on Maundy Thursday – that night He went to the Garden of Gethsemane.   Hebrews 5:7 tells us that “When Jesus was here on earth, He offered up prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the One who could rescue Him from death.   And God heard His prayers because of His deep reverence for God.” When He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, He suffered so much in agony that in crying out to God in prayer, His sweat looked like great drops of blood falling to the ground.   He knew the stress and pain of suffering.  And those tears continued on as He hung on the cross that Good Friday – crying out in anguish “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  All this He suffered for you and for me that we might be saved and be in heaven with Him.   All because of His great love for you and for me.

 

Do you ever feel when you are walking in those dark woods – filled with tears of pain – of anxiety or sorrow – that you are walking all alone – that no one can understand?   Well, I am here to tell you that you are NOT alone.   Jesus is here – He understands those tears.   He has walked that lonesome valley.   We don’t have a God that doesn’t understand our pain – our trials and tears.   We have a personal God who loves us deeply.  He mourns as we mourn, because He knows what it means to mourn.   He weeps as we weep, because He knows what it is to weep.  We can run to Him for strength and help in time of need.

 

            And not only does God understand – He actually catches every tear we shed.   In Psalm 56, we hear how David found comfort that God saw everything he was going through and caught every single tear that he shed.   God never misses any problems, any tears, any heartaches.  

 

            Psalm 56:8 says:  “You keep track of all my sorrows.   You have collected all my tears in your bottle.   You have recorded each one in your book.”   

 

            Back in Biblical times, when someone died, the mourners would collect their tears in a tear bottle or tear catcher.  These tear bottles would then be buried with the dead as a symbol of respect.

 

            During the Victorian period, in the 19th century, tear bottles were used again, but weren’t always buried with the dead.   People would place their tears in a bottle with porous stoppers… which allowed the tears to evaporate.   Once all the tears were evaporated completely, the period of mourning would be over.3

 

            Just imagine – God sees every tear we cry and keeps track of each one.  He keeps them in a bottle with our names on them and writes down the reason we were crying in His book.   No sorrow – no pain – no worry – no fear goes unnoticed.   He is treasuring our tears – and understanding our pain – and giving us the strength to endure.

 

            And what’s more – just like those tear catchers of the Victorian era – all of our tears will one day evaporate – wiped away by the hand if our compassionate and loving Savior.   Revelation 21:4 says that one day: “He will wipe every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain!   All these things will be gone forever.”  The time of crying and mourning will be over!

 

            Thanks be to God!

 

PRAYER

 

INVITATION

 

 

 

 

RESOURCES

 

1Rabbi Ed Bernstein. “The Most Precious Thing in the World.”  Paraphrase.

https://rabbiedbernstein.com/2013/09/07/the-most-precious-thing-in-the-world/

 

2http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3543076/Pope-Francis-visits-refugee-camp-Lesbos-plans-TEN-migrants-Rome-leaves.html#ixzz5Aj0hdGZG 

 

3“Tear Catcher” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tear_catcher

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