You don’t know the half of it. A sermon for Lent 2

Texts are Genesis 15:1-18 and Luke 13:31-35

Now in the life of a Rector, you can have bad days. Low days – just like we all do. In my job I often get exposed to people who are feeling bad, feeling low, grieving, hurting, and my job, along with all of us as Christians, in fact, is to feel compassion for those people. Compassion means “with pain” literally, and so when we share the pain of others, we can feel a little low.

And that’s okay, it’s important. It’s nothing to be frightened of. It’s never pleasant, but it’s cope-able with. We all have our low days.

But the thing I really really couldn’t cope with, in a previous church was one person, a retired priest, who was the most well intentioned and kindly of people, but whose response to me feeling low was to try and “laugh” me out of it. If he saw I was feeling down, or low, he would crack jokes, on the assumption that my grief and sadness would magically disappear. He was lucky to get out alive. He used to say ““come on, give me a hug”. A hug was not what I wanted to give him at that point, but I am a man of peace, so I did. “all better now?” he said, and of course in order not to be subjected to any more cheering up techniques, I said I was.

There was one day, though, the day I’d just buried one of my dear friends, a singer in the choir, he saw me in the church office, and I was feeling low, as you can imagine. And he said, rather idiotically, “cheer up, it may never happen”, and to myself I said, “you know what, it just has”. But all I managed to say out loud was “sorry, you don’t know the half of it. You don’t know the half of it”.

Which is pretty much how Jesus was feeling in our Gospel. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you. How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not”. He says it to himself, because his apostles are always trying to cheer him up, saying “don’t worry, it’ll never happen to you, nothing bad will happen.” It is with true sadness, that Jesus says to them, “you don’t know the half of it.”

And it’s a mood he shares with Abraham, in our first reading, from the book of Genesis. Abraham has just won a great battle, and he’s become a very rich man – in those days, unlike the bankers of our day, you only got your bonus if you succeeded. And Abraham had succeeded. But he had no children. And he was old, very old, and so was his wife. And he’s down. What is the point of all this, all this battle, all this striving, if he had no-one to pass it on to? There was something missing. And now he was old. He was grieving for the children he never had.

And this time, along comes God, all hail fellow well met, the inveterate smiley faced cheery man, and he says to him, “Fear not, Abraham! Everything’s going to turn out really well! ”.

And Abraham, rather like me, only just manages to keep his temper. You don’t know the half of it. I have no children, he said. You have not blessed me. What is all this wealth to me, if I have no one to give it to? I am grieving.

Because the real problem about people trying to cheer us up, is that it feels as though they don’t care about us enough to be sad with us. When we are grieving, when we are in deep sadness, someone saying “cheer up!” feels like they’re ignoring our situation, ignoring who we are, as though we’re not acceptable to them when we are weary and sad.

Certainly that was something Jesus had to face with his disciples. They were frightened by his sorrow, frightened by the fact he kept telling them what was going to happen to them. “No” they said, “don’t you worry, we’ll not let it happen! Everything’s going to be alright” But they didn’t know the half of it. They were frightened of his sorrow, wanted to wipe it away.

It is God that turns that on it’s head. Because when we grieve, when we sorrow, we can sometimes not see anything but sorrow, it surrounds us, suffocates us, blinds us to everything else, so that it feels as though the world is nothing but sorrow, nothing but grief and pain. That’s where Abraham was. That was the whole of it to Abraham, just as it can be with us. The whole of our world looks dark and profitless.

 

Never has there been a more beautiful, heart-wrenching exposition of this than in Hamlet, where Hamlet is deep in grief, torment and hurt.

 

Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,

Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,

Or that the Everlasting had not fixed

His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter!

 

Hamlet you see wants to commit suicide.

 

O God, God!

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable

Seem to me all the uses of this world!

Fie on ’t, ah fie! ‘Tis an unweeded garden

That grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature

Possess it merely. That it should come to this.

 

And God understands us when we feel like that. God, and his religion is no “wipe away the pain” sort of God. God’s grace does not seek to diminish the reality of loss or of hurt, as we so often do. God’s grace does not seek to hide it and suppress it, as so very very often happens in our world.

 

God understood Abraham, just as he understands us, and didn’t try and take away his pain, didn’t try and wipe it off, or ignore it. He took him gently by the hand, and led him out into the stars, led him so gently, out of his enclosed grief and his set-in sorrow. He led him out into the vast majesty of creation and said, “Don’t be afraid. It is you, who don’t know the half of it.”

As Lent progresses, we walk into the darkest parts of humanity. Greed, jealousy, spite, cruelty, malice, all are given free reign. It feels, during holy week, as we approach the horror of what happened to Jesus, as though everything is black, as though everything turns to suffering. And we get there too, on occasion, locked into sorrow and grief, unable to see anything good or beautiful in the world.

When we are there, if we can but look, we find God, not trying to take away our pain, not trying to ignore our sorrow, but taking us gently by the hand, and saying to us “It’s okay. It’s okay. Because there is so much more than this. You don’t know the half of it. And the half that you don’t see, is so wonderful, so beautiful.”

When we are there, if we can but look, we find God, not trying to take away our pain, not trying to ignore our sorrow, but taking us gently by the hand, and saying to us “It’s okay. It’s okay. Because there is so much more than this. You don’t know the half of it. And the half that you don’t see, is so wonderful, so beautiful.”

And there will come a time when God will do for us what he did for Abraham, and lead us by the hand, and show us the stars, and show us the half of it that we don’t’ know, and we will know him as fully as he knows us. And in that, is our hope.

Amen.

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About frpip

Priest, Dad, A long way away. You can call me Father Father Father.
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