So on Sunday we opened up a bit of a difficult topic, but a needed one: grief at Christmas.
The truth is that for some people who have experienced loss, whose families are in shambles, or who struggle with debt, Christmas is a really difficult time. While others are celebrating they are seeking to hold it together. And it’s not honestly a topic many people even acknowledge. And this makes it even worse for those who are hurting the feel worse than being ignored, they feel non-existent.
But here is the thing: the first Christmas was coupled with grief too. There is the story in Matthew of violence, and killing initiated by Herod. So the very first Christmas also had times of intense joy for some, and times of intense sadness. But we tend to ignore this part of the story. But if we ignore this part of the story, we tend to ignore those around us with that story. If we don’t acknowledge that the first Christmas had difficulty we don’t acknowledge those with difficult in this Christmas.
So we landed on this main point on Sunday. We cannot ignore the hurting during Christmas. We cannot ignore those struggling with loss, hurt, broken relationships, or deep debt and need. when we ignore the darkness of life, we end up ignoring people trapped in it. But nothing could be further from the meaning of Christmas. Jesus entered the world as light, to bring hope to those in the dark. And we need to do the same.
So we challenged people to actually be like Neal in the end of the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Neal notices that Dell has been hiding his hurt. But he doesn’t ignore him, but invites him into his home and his life – carrying his baggage both metaphorically and literally.
The point isn’t that we lessen the joy we find around Christmas if we are doing well. The point is to invite those struggling into our joy at Christmas. So we closed with this challenge. Reach out to someone this week for whom Christmas might be difficult. Because that’s what Christmas is about, going out to those who are in the dark and hurting and bringing light and love. That’s what Jesus did when he entered our world, may we do that and enter the world’s of those around us.
Big Idea: We can’t ignore the hurting during Christmas.
Christmas isn’t easy for everyone.
The Christmas story has both Light, and beauty, and transcendence and also death, difficulty, darkness, and grief.
We, as a culture, avoid grief, death, and difficulty.
We can’t forget the darkness and hurt in the story.
When we ignore the darkness of life, we end up ignoring people trapped in it.
We can’t ignore the hurting because Jesus didn’t ignore these people.
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? How do we tend to ignore those with struggles in our culture? How can we support those who are struggling? Are there those that you know that you can support? What can you do to “carry their baggage” into your home like Neal?
Discussion Questions / Responses for Young Families
This week talk to your kids about supporting others during Christmas. Ask them if there is anyone you, as a family should support? Kids often have greater eyes to see this than we might.
Challenge for the Week: Reach out to someone this week for whom Christmas might be difficult.
On Sunday we are opening up a bit of a difficult topic. We are actually going to talk about grief. I know not a normal “Christmas” topic. But here is the truth, Christmas can be really difficult for some people. And Christmas is also about hospitality, and welcoming others.
So on Sunday I want to talk about how to welcome, include, and gather those who are hurting. A few weeks ago I talked about fully entering into the joy of Christmas. On Sunday I want to take the flip-side and look at welcoming those who are struggling. And to do this I want to watch one of my favorite movies. Well not the whole thing, but a significant portion of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
So that’s where we are going on Sunday, but before we get there, why not spend sometime thinking if there are those who are hurting who you can reach out to this Christmas. Because one of the biggest things we will learn from the movie, is the power of noticing a need.
On Sunday we looked a song by one of my favourite bands called “The National”. And the song we explored was called “Sorrow”.
The reason we looked at this song was because this was the song that I played on repeat again and again when my dad passed away. It was a song that for me got tied to that dark and difficult time. The singer sings, “I don’t want to get over you” and that was so very true in my life.
He also sings, “Sorrow waited, and sorrow won”. And that was also true in my life; sorrow seemed to be winning.
And that’s really what we wanted to explore on Sunday, how do you move past sorrow? How do you overcome sorrow that grips you? How do you move forward?
And the answer is found in something called the lament.
The lament is really a type of prayer. A brutally honest, bring up the raw stuff within, kind of a prayer. Lament, if it’s about anything, is about honesty. But rather than discuss what it is, we looked at an example of lament in Psalm 39.
Psalm 39 is where David wrestles with maintaining silence before God, and expressing his hurt, anger, and accusation at God. David begins with maintaining silence, in fear that he might sin in what he says (v 1). But this doesn’t last for long because silence can’t last forever. And instead, out comes a torrent of expectations, longings, and hurt.
Listen to some of the raw stuff he says,
Rescue me from my rebellion. Do not let fools mock me. I am silent before you; I won’t say a word, for my punishment is from you. But please stop striking me! I am exhausted by the blows from your hand. (v. 7-9)
Leave me alone so I can smile again before I am gone and exist no more.
These are some brutally honest lines. David accuses God of punishing him, ignoring him, or not rescuing him when he should. And he ends with this line, that if God doesn’t help, at least leave him alone so that he can smile again. Being left alone by God is better than being rejected and punished by God. Or so David thinks.
Now do I believe that God is the one punishing David, or that God “strikes people”? No. But that’s not the point. The point is that David brings all that he feels, right or wrong, and brings it openly and brutally honestly before God. David’s reaction isn’t to avoid God, but to bring his accusation towards God. And this in itself is an act of faith, and hope. That even in bringing his desperation, hurt, and anger that God might hear and act.
This is lament. Being brutally honest with yourself and with God about what you feel and where you are at.
And this is what we need to learn. We do not lament. We hide, we paper over pain, we bury pain. We do not address pain and loss. But the truth is that if we want to learn to ever heal or move forward in sorrow, we need to learn to lament. We need to learn to be brutally honest with God and ourselves. And this is something that not only does the Bible authorize, but suggests. One third of the Psalms are complaints, laments, or Psalms of disorientation. Their very existence says that we can come to God with all that’s within us.
So we ended with the main point on Sunday, that we need to learn to lament. And for some of us this might take some really practical points. We might need to journal and let the hurt out. We might need to let a song speak for us (like “Sorrow” which is a modern day lament). We might need to lament with others either in a structured group, or with close friends. Or the best way is maybe to just read the Psalms and let them express our feelings to God.
The point is that if sorrow, grief, or difficulty ever grip and grab you, the way out isn’t to pretend it’s not there. The way out begins with one step. It begins with lament. And life and healing might be a long way off, but lament is the step that begins a journey. And it’s one we need to be okay to take.
Big Idea: We need to learn to lament.
You are never ready for grief.
“I don’t want to get over you” – The National
Lament, if it is about anything, is about honesty.
David brings what he feels, not just what he knows, to God.
Within lament, even when you accuse God, You are still hoping in God.
To the extent we have not learned to lament, we deal superficially with the world’s brokenness, offering quick and easy fixes that do not require our conversion. Chris Rice, Emmanuel Katongole
We need to learn to lament.
Learning to lament has helped me find healing.
Lamenting can be journaling, sharing with others, having a song express your heart, or reading Psalms to lament.
We all take each other too much for granted. The routines of life distract us; our own pursuits make us oblivious; our anxieties and sorrows, unmindful. The beauties of the familiar go unremarked. We do not treasure each other enough. Nicholas Wolterstorff
I have been . . . grievously wounded. So I shall look at the world through tears. Perhaps I shall see things that dry-eyed I could not see. Nicholas Wolterstorff
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? Was it awkward for you to talk about grief and sorrow? Have you ever experienced sorrow? What was it like for you? Have you ever “lamented”? What might lament look like in your life?
Discussion Questions for Young Families
Today let your kids teach you. Ask them what they do when they are hurt, and angry, and in sorrow. Kids are much more open and we can learn from them.
Challenge for the Week: Learn and practice the art of lament.
On Sunday we talked about death. We opened up a dialogue on an important topic that affects us all but is so foreign to us at the same time. After I shared on Sunday, a friend came up to me and said death is supposed to be foreign to us because death was never to be.
This is so true but is so often misunderstood. So often people think of death as part of God’s will and plan. But death has never been, and won’t ever be part of the plan of God. Jesus died to conquer death. Death is an enemy and not an agent or activity of God.
So on Sunday I shared from 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul writes that death is an enemy. And yes it is true that death is the last enemy as Paul put it, but death is not an enemy that lasts. There is a future rushing forward to meet us where death will be swallowed up whole (Is. 28:5), where every tear will be wiped away (Rev. 21:4), where all will be restored (Acts 3:21). This is the future that needs to shape us. But how do we do that? Well I have two suggestions. First, don’t let death count the time and second, we get through it together.
My dad died two years ago on Sunday. It feels as if I’ve lost him for two years. But this is counting time through the lens of death, rather than the future that is before me. Because in reality, I am now two years closer to being reunited with him. God’s future is two years closer to becoming a reality. And yes, the loss I feel is real, and it is deep. But the loss isn’t permanent. So while I wait I will remember that a future is coming where all will be restored.
But how do you get through the “waiting” or the space between now and the future? Well I believe you get through it together. Andrew Root writes this, “God is present when death is shared, when suffering is joined”. So we get through to the future God has for us together. We share in the lives of each other refusing to let death have the last word. We remember memories, events, and people together.
So my sermon in one sentence was this: Death is wrong, death won’t last, and we get to the future promised to us together.
But sermons aren’t meant to just be heard, but to be lived. So this week why not go and join someone in their loss. Ask them about a loved one, send them a prayer, or mark a memory. Go and join someone and bring God with you…
Questions for Adults: How have you viewed death growing up? What part struck you most about the sermon today? Is there anyone that you’ve been separated from because of death? How does today’s sermon help you in that separation? How can you help others who have recently experienced the separation of death?
Questions for Young Families: Why is do you think that death is hard? Are you scared of death at all? Share how Jesus promises that death will never win, and that he gives us life.
Challenge for this Week: Walk with others in your community and neighborhood who have experienced loss
On Sunday I’m going to be preaching about death. In preperation for Sunday I thought I’d write a brilliant series of blog posts on death. But the reality is I’m struggling to simply write just this one…
Eberhard Jüngel wrote, “Death is mute, and renders us speechless.” That’s what I’m feeling. I’m feeling speechless, drained, and unsure of what to say. This is why I hate death; it simply takes too much…
So why write at all? Why preach on death? Why not just talk about something else?
Well, because then death would win. When we refuse to talk about it, to enter into it, or to journey with people struggling with it, death wins because it separates us, it isolates us, and leaves us speechless. So on Sunday I’m not going to let death win and together we are going to talk about death. We are going to explore why death happens, what death really is, how you get through it, and how you can face it.
I know for some in our congregation this topic will hit very close to home. It will for me as well, because Sunday is the anniversary of my dad’s death 2 years ago. Krista asked me, wouldn’t I rather just take the Sunday off and be by myself? And the anwser is no. I won’t let death stop me from doing what I love – preaching. I won’t let death stop me from following my calling. And I won’t let death separate me on a hard day from the family and church that I love. Death has already taken too much, and I won’t let it take anymore.
So Sunday we will stop death from rendering us speechless. We will talk about it, heal through it, and discover that death is the last enemy, but it is not an enemy that lasts…
And who knows maybe next week I’ll have something brilliant to write. Being honest and open will have to do for today…
Last night I participated in a funeral. It was a mixture of beauty and sadness. Community, friends, and family gave such love in such a difficult time.
When I got home I reflected on one thought from the service with my wife: that love is never wasted.
Sometimes when you love, give, and care and the result isn’t what you hoped for we feel like it was in vain. When we give love and someone passes, or they don’t change, or toss it aside we wonder if it had any meaning…But I believe that love that is given always has meaning.
Love that is given can’t be wasted.
As Paul says love is what will truly last, everything else will fade away. 1 John reminds us that love is all that matters. And Jesus most of all demonstrates that love is meant to be given even if the results or reception aren’t what we would have wanted; because that is what he has done with us. He gives love to each of us because we matter to him regardless of how it is used or its outcome.
But when you give love in this way, you run the risk of experiencing pain and hurt. That’s what happened last night. People loved deeply and so they felt the hurt deeply. But even when you feel hurt, or the outcome isn’t what we would hope: love still remains. Love still matters. Love still lasts. Despite the up and downs of our lives, love can steady us.
So today go out and love. Give love. Be love. Show love.