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God of Our Tears

July 16, 2019
Originally presented as a sermon at Spring Mount Mennonite Church on Sunday, July 14 2019.

This summer we’re looking at Bible passages that speak of water, to reflect on how the image of water can guide us into deeper relationship with God.1 Today’s water image is tears2, and I believe we find one of the most beautiful pictures of God in this passage. Let’s think about what this passage might reveal about God and how God relates to us through water.

Photo by Chris Nickels

Tears are a part of life. It’s how we were created. This week I read some articles that noted several benefits to crying/shedding tears: it has a soothing effect, it can help relieve pain and stress, tears keep our eyes clean and help improve vision. Showing our tears publicly can be a way to break some of the stigma our society has about crying, and can help us become emotionally healthier.

So there are physical and emotional benefits to our tears. But let’s also think about tears from a spiritual and theological angle. All together, I think we can discover that beautiful picture of God I mentioned earlier.

The writer says,

You have kept count of my tossings;
 put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record? (Ps 56:8)

The writer of this psalm envisions God as one who carries around a bottle filled with our tears. I wonder how the writer got that sense that God knew about their tears, that God was present as they cried?

One reason we put things in bottles is to protect or to preserve them. That means the contents are valued. So when I hear about this bottle, it tells me that God values our tears and our experiences, and that God wants—or even needs—to remember those experiences too.

And when I think about how God acts, I’m reminded that God validates our tears, too.

We believe that Jesus was God, in the flesh, the fullest revelation of who God is. While Jesus didn’t show up carrying a big bottle of tears, he did demonstrate that God cared about specific details of our lives, including our tears.

Sometimes Jesus used different images to show this care, like when he told his followers that God knows all about the tiny sparrows and doesn’t forget them, and that God even knows how many hairs are on your head.3

But perhaps the most powerful image is that Jesus cried his own tears. When Jesus wept, for me it feels like God was acting in solidarity with us, being aware of why we cry and shedding tears as well. Jesus shed tears at the death of his friend Lazarus, as he joined his friends in grief. And later, when he approached Jerusalem, Jesus wept over the city because they refused to embody the things that make for peace.4

I’m also reminded of the tears Mary Magdalene cried at Jesus’ tomb.5 Mary, this dedicated disciple of Jesus and the Apostle to the apostles, she experienced first hand the God who values us, who holds space for our crying, and who keeps our tears.

Mary discovered the empty tomb and imagined the worst. She was still reeling from the state execution of her teacher and friend, and now the trauma was compounded by a mysterious empty tomb. So very understandably, she wept.

But there at the tomb she sees two angels—messengers from God—who ask, “why are you weeping?” Now, they don’t say, “Stop crying!” (which is sometimes the response in our society). Instead, they compassionately held space for her tears.

So she answered them, and when she turned around she met Jesus in her tears. Jesus also said, “why are you weeping?” Jesus held space for her and gave her room to share her grief and her tears.

And I think that in that moment when Jesus listens (and in all the ones like it, ours included), that tears were being added to God’s bottle.

Jesus validates our tears, because God values our tears, and God values every single inch of our being.

Unfortunately, when people experience pain and suffering, sometimes they are met with a lack of compassion, empathy, mercy, or even respect. This is a disturbing trend that I’ve noticed in our society, and it almost feels like people will find any excuse not to care. But when we behave this way—toward people who are vulnerable and suffering—I think we end up becoming like the “enemies” named in the psalm who caused so much distress for the writer.

When we read a psalm like this, we may see ourselves in its words, or may feel sympathy for the writer. It’s interesting that we often are willing identify with ancient psalm writers, who’s identity we may not actually know. We will give the writer the benefit of the doubt and trust their experience. But we may be less willing to hear the cry or trust the experience of our actual neighbors that we do know.

So, as a response to this scripture text, can we also open ourselves up to identify with the people who are crying out today, whose tears flow without relief, and who could write this same psalm out of their own experience?

Can we see the tears of Black men, women, and children harmed by police brutality? Their cries may be ignored by many, but their tears are in God’s bottle.

The Border Patrol and the White House doesn’t want us to see the tears and the abuse being inflicted in their concentration camps, but the tears of these refugee children and parents are in God’s bottle.

The tears we shed at the loss of loved ones, they are in God’s bottle.

I have personally witnessed the tears of friends in the LGBTQ community, and their tears are in God’s bottle.

Can we hold space for the tears of struggling veterans, because God puts their tears in the bottle.

When times are tough and it’s hard to get through the day, our tears are in God’s bottle.

When we are afraid, or frustrated, or stressed out, our tears are in God’s bottle.

And when we experience joys that bring us to tears, I think those are in God’s bottle too.

This psalm speaks of trust in God. A God who can be trusted is one who hears our cries, and carries our tears, and is with us, moving us toward abundant life for all.

God doesn’t say “Stop crying!” Instead, God listens and holds space for our tears. Your tears are valued, and respected, and validated by God.

So may we do the same for each other, and for our neighbors, and for this world that God loves. AMEN.

  1. Our summer series is based on my friend Rev. Sandy Drescher-Lehman’s book, Waters of Reflection: Meditations for Everyday
  2. Each Sunday members of the congregation are invited to bring a water sample in a small jar (from the ocean, a stream, rainwater, etc) and share a reflection of how that water reminds them of God or their faith. It has been a powerful experience. This past week our area endured some of the worst flash flooding in its history, and members of our church family were affected. A church member collected a bit of the leftover floodwater from her children’s home and shared a tearful testimony with us-lamenting the terrible damage, but thankful that her family members were able to escape the currents. 
  3. Luke 12:4-7. 
  4. Luke 19:41-44. I recently felt this way when experiencing an angry Trump supporter who was trying to disrupt our local Lights For Liberty candlelight vigil. It was incredibly sad to see and hear someone so enveloped in fear, racism, and xenophobic hatred, who refused to listen to any other perspective as he shouted the administration’s talking points at us. 
  5. John 20. 

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