May 29, 2022
• Rev. Mindie Moore
We’re in the second week of our series WHAT HOPE MEANS and today, we’re talking about pain, and believing that we can Hold on because Pain Ends.
I have to be honest with you, this is a hard week to preach this message. Objectively, I believe this. I believe that pain can be overcome and hope is always possible, but I have to tell you that this week I really did not FEEL it. As I watched the news out of Texas, just a couple weeks after shootings in New York and California, as I saw pictures of the kids and adults who had died, and as a mother I sent my own children back to school the next day, the pain and grief seemed too loud to even understand.
At one point I said to my husband, “How can I show up and preach about hope at a time like this?”
And as we talked about that, we realized that it all came down to one really simple thing- because we have to. In the moments where everything feels like pain- we can give up, or we can hold on to hope. And we have a faith that TELLS us that hope is always an option, even on the worst days.
Sometimes hope is all we have left.
And so when I tell you today to Hold on, Pain Ends, I don’t say it as a trite mantra. I won’t stand here today and pretend like everything in our world is ok- it's not. There is so much that is very, very broken. But I say Hold On, Pain Ends, because I HAVE to believe it- WE have to believe it so that we can keep going and be the people who God is calling us to be.
So this morning, as we practice holding on to hope, as we listen for God’s voice in our lives, will you pray with me?
The other night, my daughter Hazel and I were sitting on the patio at BRICS eating ice cream, and all of a sudden she looks at me and says, “Mom! We are living in the perfect time.”
Please, go on. Tell me more.
She said, “Well think about it- all the roads are paved....and we have about 2.8 billion years until the sun blows us all up!”
I guess that’s hope!
Look, I first of all have no idea where my child comes up with this stuff, but even more than that, I kind of LOVE that definition of hope. Sometimes, paved roads and not having to worry about being blown up by the sun are about all we have to hang on to. So let’s not deny that- let's lean in to the hope that we DO have, even if it’s that basic.
Because if we want to be people who can really declare that pain isn’t the end of our story, we have to be honest about the ways that pain and hope coexist.
(Slide: Pain and hope coexist)
This is one of the reasons I love the story of Jesus’ ascension, because it brings this messiness right into focus. I don’t know how much you know about the ascension, but it’s this event that happens 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection. And I think the days leading up to the ascension could safely be classified as some of the most confusing ever for the disciples.
In the last month and a half, they have been through it. They’ve watched Jesus be crucified. They’ve tried to understand the resurrection. Then, even though it seemed like their time with Jesus was over, suddenly he’s back with them, again and again...but it’s not QUITE the same. The disciples have to know that something is off, something is different, and my guess is that they haven’t fully processed just how the pain they’ve experienced has impacted them or what it means for them going forward.
I think Jesus knows this too. That’s probably one of the reasons he tells them to stay in Jerusalem. I don’t know if you caught that part of the Scripture reading, but Jerusalem isn’t their home. They’re from Galilee, and at this point in the story, Jerusalem is nothing but the scene of the crime. It’s the place where people turned on Jesus. It’s the place where all their relationships broke down. It’s the place where the pain was most acute and everything changed.
And the disciples might want to go, but Jesus says stay.
Have you ever experienced that? When it would be easier to just deny what happened or cut ties and move on, but you know that’s not what God wants you to do?
Sometimes we have to stick with our pain place longer than we want. Pain can be really demanding for our attention. We try to run away and it just trails behind. It’s like that little sibling who holds their finger half an inch from your arm and says “I’m not touching you.”
Pain is persistent and healing is slow. And even though we don’t want to hear this, the truth is that most of the time, healing has its own timeline.
(slide) Healing has its own timeline.
It can be 40 days or 40 years, but no matter how long it takes pain to heal, I can guarantee we all think it takes too long.
It took me 6 weeks to heal from a C section- and that was too long.
It took 2 weeks to feel back to normal after having Covid- and that was too long.
It took a full day after having a major dental procedure for my mouth to stop hurting and I complained about eating mashed potatoes.
We want to speed up our healing, we want it to take a fraction of the time that it is supposed to- but healing doesn’t work like that!
We WANT it to be that simple, but it just usually isn’t. We want pain to end in our way and on our timeframe, but it won’t. And when we get too caught up in how we think it should go, that’s when we tend to get really disappointed. That’s when we start to feel like (mmm) maybe God isn’t as faithful as we thought. Maybe we can’t really trust what Jesus says. Maybe this faith thing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
When our pain doesn’t end on time, it can pull the faith rug right out from under us. And our disappointment can be a whole lot louder than our hope.
And that kind of doubt and disappointment isn’t unique to us- we see it right here in this Scripture. The disciples have a VERY CLEAR PICTURE of what they think it would look like for Jesus to resolve their pain. When they ask him if and when he’s going to restore the Kingdom to Israel, they’re saying that they know what it would look like to clean this mess up. They know what it would mean to heal, and really, Jesus we’re just waiting on you to get to work.
But look at what Jesus says to them, in verses 7-8. I pulled this out of the Message Translation because it is just SO direct: (SLIDE)
He told them, “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business. What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is basically saying: Mind your own business.
And look- I know this is in the Bible but I DO NOT LIKE IT!!
I don’t like it because this is a completely unsatisfying answer to the question. We want to know! We want to know the timing, we want to know the how, and Jesus, I personally would ABSOLUTELY like you to make it my business to understand how this whole healing thing is going to go.
Jesus- in this story and in our lives- doesn't offer certainty or answers. Hope isn’t clear cut or cause and effect. The disciples get hope, but they don’t get what they want. Because what they want is for Jesus to stay and overthrow the Romans- They want something that was never meant for them.
And here’s the hard thing: if the disciples hold on too tightly to THAT vision for what healing looks like, they won’t ever be able to receive the actual hope and healing that Jesus has for them. If they are so caught up in waiting on Jesus to deliver something that isn’t coming, they’ll miss their own call to be the hope they want to see.
Because even if we can’t see hope in the moment, we can create it in the future. (slide):
It seems like we can look and look for hope and still not find what we’re looking for. We scroll on our phones, we tweet, we argue, we grasp on to a political ideology, we look like desperate people...because we are.
But you can only scroll so far on social media, you can only read so many opinion pieces, you can only listen to so much news radio before your brain starts to hurt and you realize that you’re still in the same sad place you were when you started.
We’re kind of like the disciples, just looking up. Wondering- what do we DO now? What comes next? What’s our part to play?
The good news is that the disciples weren’t stuck- they regrouped, received the Holy Spirit, and then got on to the business of being hope in the world.
We aren’t stuck either. If you feel frozen from the terrible news from the past couple of weeks, if you feel overwhelmed by the violence that keeps happening in this country, first of all- you're not alone. Me too. But also, you’re not bound to stay in that state of being.
My teammate and friend Betty Brandt is one of those people who I process the big hard things that happen in the world with. And this week she reminded me- don't make the mistake of not tending to your spiritual self and becoming reactive.
I really needed to hear that this week. I was ready to rant and yell and simultaneously curl up in ball because where in the WORLD did hope go?!
One of the most remarkable (and frustrating) things about this idea that we can Hold On, Pain Ends is that there are a lot of independent, external things that we can’t change. And what’s the temptation when we can’t change the big picture pain? We give up right? We become apathetic, we act like we don’t care. We check out and binge watch whatever streaming service we like best. We drink too much and go numb because that HAS to be preferable than living in the reality of our pain.
Lament- a spiritual practice I’ve been giving more and more attention to lately. And while I’ve taught about this practice in a few of the classes I’ve taught here, I know it’s one that a lot of us might be unfamiliar with. Lament lets us say “the world is hard and God is good.” It doesn’t try and resolve the tension of that statement, it doesn’t even push us toward finding solutions or resolutions.
So for most of us- lament becomes extremely uncomfortable. Rememebr, we like to heal as quickly as possible...but that’s not the function that lament serves. It exposes the edges but it doesn’t smooth them out. One of our young adult leaders calls Lament “the leather biker jacket of spiritual practices”. Maybe something we can aspire to but aren’t really used to trying on.
But Lament lets us tell the truth. In her book ‘This Here Flesh” Cole Arthur Riley says that “Lament is not anti-hope. It’s not even a stepping stone to hope. Lament itself IS a form of hope...our hope can only be as deep as our lament is. And our lament as deep as our hope.”
The point is- it's a faithful and hopeful response to tell the truth about the way things are. It’s a faithful and hopeful response to spend time turning inward so we don’t recklessly react. Sometimes creating hope means first giving energy to our own healing so that we can take the pain we’ve experienced and help someone else heal in the future.
I want to be clear today- I will never stand in front of you and tell you that your pain is part of God’s plan. I simply don’t believe it. I don’t believe that God intended you to be abused. I don’t believe that God intended you to experience that betrayal. I don’t believe that God intended your mom to get sick or for you to lose someone you loved. I don’t believe God intends for people to die from gun violence or war or any other kind of human evil. I don’t think that’s how our good and loving God works.
But here’s what I DO believe about how pain and hope- I do believe that every single thing that happens to us, that causes us to experience pain CAN be used in a restorative way. I do believe that God can work through the darkest parts of our lives to create new sources of light- not just for us, but for people we can’t even imagine.
Let your pain be transformed into someone else’s hope. Because when we can do that, our pain does more than ends- it becomes transformed.