What a powerful song for us as we worship together today. And songs like this, I love them because they challenge us to ask the question- how might God be at work, no matter where I find myself? What new thing might be able to come out of whatever situation comes my way? Where might there be hope and new life?
And you know, talking about new life, new beginnings, possibility- it makes sense on Mother’s Day. It’s a day when we can celebrate the women who gave us life, who nurtured us, who give us guidance and love for the journey.
And as we celebrate these things, these things which are blessings and so important to make space FOR, here’s what I know that is true at the same time- I know that of all the days in the year, Mother’s Day can be one of the more painful days for so many people- especially in the church. If you, like me, have experienced the death of a mother, or if you’ve walked through the pain of estrangement from a parent- this day is a hard one. If you’ve walked the long road of infertility and feel that deep longing to be mother- this day can feel like salt in the wound. If you’ve lost a child, or if children haven’t been part of your story- this day can make you feel like an outsider. There’s something about THIS day...it can be hard and painful. It can remind us of parts of our story that feel like they might be over. It reminds us of things and people and dreams that we’ve lost.
And honestly, even if none of those things are your story, and Mother’s Day is usually the best day ever! ...we can’t deny that this year is different. The visits, the brunch, my family’s tradition of going to the zoo and then out to dinner...it’s not happening today.
But today, even if we find ourselves missing people and places and traditions, we also find ourselves in a space that even though it is uncomfortable, can be incredibly sacred and transformative. We find ourselves in the space where grief and pain and possibility collide (Slide).
And so today as we hear our text, from the book of John, which is admittedly read by one of my favorite first grade scripture readers, we’ll be reminded that we’re not the first people to find ourselves in this place. We’ll be reminded that people of faith have found themselves here before- and that Jesus was right in the middle of it all. We’ll be reminded that Jesus is with us, right here and right now. So let’s hear our Scripture text now:
You know, the truth is, whether we’re disciples who are huddled in fear in an upper room, or we’re here today trying to navigate a pandemic or we’re just trying to make it through an emotionally loaded day- no matter who are, we are people whose lives hold joy and pain side by side. We’re people who will experience our own failures or the failures of others, we will be let down, we will have loss.
So no matter where you are today, no matter what this day is like for you, no matter what you’re feeling weighed down by, this story that we just heard read has something important to teach us.
It teaches us that:
Sometimes the best stories are born from broken places. (Slide)
Sometimes the best stories are born from broken places. And we have the opportunity to create these new stories out of brokenness, even during the hardest times of our lives.
Even in the moments where we don’t think we’re going to get through, or we can’t see WHAT redemption could look like- that fracture in our family; the conflict with a dear friend; the loneliness of being alone in our home for six weeks; the pain of losing our jobs after years of faithful work. None of it is easy, none of it feels quite right...but these hard and painful things...they don’t have to be easy or good to be able to give birth to a new and healing story.
You know, I mentioned earlier that I am someone who lost a mom, and I lost my mom early- I was two years old. Now I won’t sugarcoat it- growing up without a mom was HARD. It was painful, it was lonely, and it shaped me in some incredibly significant ways.
But this hard and sad and painful thing- do you know what it did? It opened the door for me to experience community in a radical way. I grew up in this tiny town called Mohawk, Indiana. The kind of town where not a lot happens, but when something DOES happen, you FEEL it.
And this small town, when this hard thing happened, when my mom died after a long fight with brain cancer, this town COULD have pulled away from us. They COULD have left my dad to fend on his own as a single parent and kept to themselves. This story was sad and hard and complicated and they could have left it alone.
They could have done that. But remember- they created a new story from a broken place.
And this town that I lived in until I was 9, this town SHOWED UP for me. There was this network of women who were always ready to give out snacks and advice and teen magazines and attention.
I was still the kid in the small town who didn’t have a mom. That didn’t change. But the way that this community showed up and loved our family? It stands out as one of the most important things about my childhood. The way that town loved us laid the foundation for the way I live my life and the relationships I want to fill it with. Their love for us- it didn’t erase the pain, but it DID make space for transformation to happen.
We see that same thing play out in our text today. Here, we see people who are in pain. The disciples, they are huddled together, in the thick of brokenness- in the middle of grief and pain- when Jesus appears to them in that upper room.
Pay attention to how the text starts: “It was still the first day of the week.” This means that they have JUST FOUND OUT THAT JESUS IS ALIVE! It has been- to put it mildly- a FULL few days. They watched their friend die, they thought it was all over, but wait, there’s more? I mean, these people are REELING from this new reality they find themselves in.
And in the midst of that new reality and in the midst of their chaos. Jesus does what he does best. Jesus shows up. (Slide: Jesus shows up in the middle of our chaos)
And you know what I love the most, the absolute MOST, about this part of the story? Jesus shows up...and the hard stuff is still hard.
Now you might think that’s a weird thing to LOVE about an encounter with Jesus, and that’s fair, but here’s why it means so much to me. Because the pain was present, but the disciples felt JOY. Joy and pain are not mutually exclusive and thank God for that! Because if all we had to do was wait around until our lives were void of pain so that we could experience something like joy, so that we could create a new story, I promise you not a single one of us would ever get there.
But Jesus doesn’t wait until the wounds are healed to show up, right? And when he says “peace be with you” he doesn’t even really fix the things that feel broken .
Make sure you hear this part- the joy doesn’t erase the pain. If you ask any woman who has had a baby, she will tell you that birthing that child did not feel great! If you talk to any couple who has journeyed through adoption, they will tell you that beyond the exciting homecoming and deep joy of welcoming a child into their family, there is pain and some element of a broken story.
But he shows them his sides. He shows them his hands. He turns their attention back to the pain...and it is in that moment when they are confronted with the pain, when they have to really face that hard things that has happened to them, it’s THEN that the disciples SEE him, really SEE him, the Lord, and they feel joy.
And joy, for the disciples then, and for us now, joy isn’t cheap. Deep joy, real transformation from pain to something new, it’s hard won. And I’m not naive enough to think that every one of our painful experiences automatically leads to this joy and transformation. I’m not foolish enough to tell you that all of the hard things you go through are going to automatically birth some new and beautiful thing. I think probably our default- and we’ve talked a lot about default settings in this series- I think our default when it comes to pain and when we go through these experiences is to wall up. To give into bitterness. To put on our armor and say NEVER AGAIN!
But then there’s Jesus. And Jesus shows them his wounds. There’s no pretense that everything is fine; there’s no pretending that that hard, terrible thing didn’t happen. Jesus doesn’t show up smooth and unharmed, but Jesus does show up with an invitation to turn fear into peace. Jesus shows up with an invitation to transform sorrow into joy.
My bible reading right now in this season has been really focused around the Psalms- and if you feel like you’re carrying some heavy things, if you’re feeling grief and loss, if you just don’t know what in the world to pray- the Psalms are a pretty great place to start.
And as I was writing this message, it made me think of a passage out of Psalm 9. It says:
“But you are the one who brings me back from the very gates of death so I can declare all your praises, so I can rejoice in your salvation in the gates of Daughter Zion.” (Slide: Psalm 9:13b-14)
Maybe we find ourselves in these places of grief and loss and pain so that we can be shaped in a way that lets us tell a better story. Maybe the goodness that comes out of moments of sorrow is even better because of the struggle. Maybe these hard things- that we wouldn’t ask for, we would never seek out- maybe those things give us a new place to create from.
One of the places I’ve been seeing this creativity on display is through quarantine birthdays. I know lots of people, myself included, who have had birthdays during this very strange and isolating season. And on the surface, it’s kind of a bummer. No party, no big dinner out, no time with friends.
But what I’ve noticed is that people keep showing up to make these quarantine birthdays be a little less lame. I saw this on my own birthday with a surprise Zoom call with friends, and I saw it with my next door neighbor Taylor and her birthday parade.
Now Taylor was turning 8, and if I think back to when I was 8, I know that my birthday party was a pretty big deal. Even as I parent a six and three year old, I feel like I am receiving birthday party suggestions at least once a month, all year long!
So this birthday for my 8 year old neighbor, Taylor, it could have felt like a major loss. It could have been a pretty terrible day.
(Taylor birthday parade video)
But then the birthday parade showed up. Dozens of cars full of friends and family drove past her house, waving, cheering, with signs and presents and decorations and JOY!
And guess what? We were still living in isolation. There was still no bounce house or party rental. Things were still HARD- but there was joy. There was joy that never would have been created if we hadn’t had this really hard reality to navigate through.
And the thing that is awesome, is that you’ve heard this kind of story before I even told it to you. It might not have been your 8 year old neighbor named Taylor, but maybe it was the yard signs for the high school senior. Maybe it was the teacher appreciation chalk drawings. There are SO many stories of people finding creative ways to celebrate and have joy right now.
And I just wonder if the reason we are so drawn to these kinds of stories, and I wonder if the reason we are putting so much of our energy into making them happen is because as people we were created to CREATE. See, new life isn’t just limited to babies being born, and it is certainly not only to be celebrated on one Sunday in May. No, our God, who we trust and worship and follow, is a God who was and is fully in the business of creating new ways of being alive in each of us all the time. This is why the resurrection story is so powerful- it’s why the disciples even as they are huddled together with fear in that room, are able to be filled with joy. Because when it comes to Jesus- new stories, new life, and new hope can’t be stopped.
And whatever we can let rise up from those places- whatever healing we can experience- it’s not just us. It’s not just about having an individual experience of transformation. After all, the disciples, the experience they had in that upper room with Jesus, it changed them individually, sure. But it changed THEM as a community too. And when you and I can experience healing and live fully out of it, it changes the people we share life with and places we inhabit.
I’m currently going through the book “Miracles and Other Reasonable Things” by Sarah Bessey with the Wednesday Morning Pastor Book Study group. And as she talks about parenting her kids, she reminds us why it matters that we let Jesus in and transform us. She says:
One part of mothering as I have experienced it, as both a receiver and as a provider, is that it isn’t private, no matter how personal it is to us. Our experience being mothered by God isn’t any different in that respect. Shalom doesn’t end at the false boundary of our own business. We are part of the communal renewal of all things...I want to raise these amazing, beautiful, frustrating children to become wise and strong, kind and generous, loving and whole individuals who love God and love their neighbors well. And just as I mother my children with that endgame in mind, I do believe the Holy Spirit mothers us with an endgame. It’s not only our wholeness, it is also for the wholeness of the world.
I think the worst thing that can happen to us when we have these places of pain isn’t the thing that we experienced are the thing that was done to us it’s a lie that we believe that this is all there ever will be that we’re at a dead end that God can’t possibly do anything with this painful and broken situation. Because here’s the truth: we were created to create. And we were created by a God who is infinitely creative by God who’s not bound by any of the pain or the bad things or the tragedies or the losses or the grief but a God who would even rise from the dead to go visit his friends in a room and show them his wounds and tell them that joy is still possible for them.
No matter what your story has looked like- no matter where you are now, this is what I truly believe: JOY IS STILL POSSIBLE FOR YOU.
We can’t avoid pain. Life is going to throw us loss and longing- and there’s not much we can do to stop it. BUT- we were created to create. And our Jesus, who shows up with wounds and scars and all, our Jesus invites us to create joy out of pain.
We’re so glad that you joined us for online worship today.
And so my question for us today, is this-
What is the broken place that Jesus is inviting you to create something new from? Maybe it is from the past 8 weeks, or maybe it’s an old hurt your holding onto. Where is God calling you to create something new?
You were created to create. And some of our best work comes out of those broken places. So in the name of the Father and the son and the holy spirit,