Facing Fear, Grief, and Loss

Facing Fear, Grief, and Loss

Watch Pastor Kelly deliver this sermon or read the text below

Jonah Tries to Run Away from God
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. The captain came and said to him, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.”

The sailors said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” “I am a Hebrew,” he replied. “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.

Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

A Psalm of Thanksgiving
Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,

“I called to the Lord out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
You cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
how shall I look again
upon your holy temple?’
The waters closed in over me;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped around my head
at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the Pit,
O Lord my God.
As my life was ebbing away,
I remembered the Lord;
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
Those who worship vain idols
forsake their true loyalty.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Deliverance belongs to the Lord!”

Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.

Conversion of Nineveh
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across.

Jonah 1-3:3 (NRSV)

In our scripture reading today, we heard the story of Jonah who received a call from God, but instead of following that call, Jonah decided to run away. I wonder, have you ever felt like Jonah, when you just felt like running away? Unfortunately, I think we all feel like that sometimes, don’t we? Usually, because we are afraid, or overwhelmed, or tired of the way things are going in our lives.

I imagine that Jonah was afraid and overwhelmed by God’s call. After all, God asked Jonah to go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because it was so wicked and displeasing to God. Can you imagine? Even the thought of it must have been terrifying, don’t you think? To go to a place that was so wicked and displeasing to God and to preach repentance, encouraging the city to turn away from their evil ways and to turn to God? How do you think the people would have treated Jonah? I imagine, not very well. So, in fear, Jonah ran the other way, getting on a ship and attempting to sail to the city of Tarshish, which was on the absolute opposite side of the Mediterranean Sea from Nineveh.

The truth is, my friends, sometimes we are just like Jonah, aren’t we? Sometimes we think it is easier to avoid the difficult things in our lives instead of facing them, don’t we? So, we run away, and we avoid the situation, or the conflict, or the difficult conversation. But pretending that the difficulty does not exist does not make it go away. On the contrary, it usually makes matters worse because it is often the unknown that brings us the most fear. It is the hidden secrets that eat away at us until we cannot hold onto them anymore. And eventually, we learn that by facing our problems or our difficulties or our conflicts, we can work through them little by little instead of allowing them to consume us.

On this All Saints Sunday, we remember those who have died–friends, family members, and loved ones. At one time, our lives were blessed because of them, but now a hole is left within us because of our loss. Unfortunately, as human beings, because of our fear of death, and the sadness and grief that loss brings. We don’t like to talk about it because we aren’t totally sure what we believe. We don’t know what to say, and we don’t know how we will get through another day–let alone another holiday–without our loved ones. So, the easiest thing to do is to try to run away, to sweep our pain under the rug, to appear on the outside that everything is okay when on the inside we are broken and hurting and in need of healing.

Friends, that is why, personally, I love All Saints Sunday, because it is a day to help us heal, and it is a day to help us remember. Remembering the people who meant so much to us, it is also a day to help us realize that it is okay to feel emotional when we think about loved ones that we have lost whether they died last week, last year, or twenty or more years ago.

Friends, if when you think of a friend or loved one, tears come to your eyes, know that that is not something to hide or to run away from, but on the contrary, that is a gift! Your body is physically reminding you how important that person was in your life. Folks, we only get emotional in response to things that really matter to us.

In the church, we know how important remembering the stories of our lives are. We know how important relationships are, and we know that it is in our reminiscing, our storytelling, and our true witness that we reconnect with the saints who have gone before and with God who loves us unconditionally!

On this All Saints Sunday, when we may be feeling a little sad or empty or lonely, Jesus invites us to join him at the table that he has set before us. He invites us to come, as broken as we are, that we might find healing. He says, “If you are hungry, come and be fed. If you thirst for righteousness, come that you might be filled. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, come that you might find peace.”

My friends, through the sacrament of communion, we experience the mystery of our faith. Through remembering the story of Jesus, we are reminded of the love and grace that he poured out for each and every one of us. And through the bread and the cup, we get a beautiful glimpse of the heavenly banquet, sharing a meal with those who have gone before and those who will someday be.

Friends, at the table that night, Jesus taught all of us about the importance of true community and the connection that we have beyond our earthly lives. In the sharing of a simple meal, we are reminded that love is vaster than the limits of our understanding. It’s not something we can prove; all we can do is simply believe.

Folks, that night as Jesus gathered in the upper room with his friends, the disciples, not only did Jesus offer abundant gifts of grace and hope, but Jesus also made the ordinary extraordinary. It was not fancy or crisp or clean or sterile, but in the messiness of that night, in the midst of grief and fear and uncertainty, Jesus simply took what was right in front of him, a piece of bread–something simple, something every day, something ordinary. Because what it was, was not as important as what it stood for. Scripture tells us that he blessed it and broke it and gave it to them saying, “Take and eat, for this is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

And likewise, after supper, he took a cup, a cup that was on the table in front of him. Again, something simple, something everyday, and something ordinary. He gave thanks and then shared it with them, saying “This is my blood, of the new covenant poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this as often as you drink of it, in remembrance of me.” Now, scripture says it was wine. But again, what it is was, was not as important as what it stood for.

(THE SHARING OF COMMUNION)

Friends, on this All Saints Sunday, I invite you to take a few minutes to think about the loved ones that you have lost. Think about the things they taught you, and the quirky things they did that made you laugh. Try to remember the sound of their voice and the way they made you feel. And remember, if tears come to your eyes, or if you feel a pit in your stomach, don’t be afraid and don’t run away from it because it is your body reminding you of how important that person was to you. So, take some time to remember them and share a story or two with those around you, because that is how we honor our loved ones and keep their memories alive.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, as you go out into your week ahead, remember that you don’t need to run away from anything, because God is always with you, and you never have to face anything alone. On this All Saints Sunday, if you are grieving the loss of a loved one, may you find grace and peace in your faith, and may the act of remembering their story bring you peace and comfort, so that your heart might be filled to overflowing.

May it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen.

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