I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt myself pretty knocked around by the news for quite a while now. The capacity of human beings to harm one another leaves me numb whether it’s the ISIS soldiers who behead captives and post it on the internet…or the Frenchmen who gunned down a room full of cartoonists at a satirical magazine and the employees and customers at a Jewish delicatessen in Paris…or the leader of Syria who continues to use military might to crush the people of his own country. It seems like the list could go on and on and on. Contemplating the brokenness that would cause someone to do these things, the innocence of their victims and the grief of those left to deal with the aftermath sometimes leaves me thinking that my heart will break.
Even as I say this, I find speaking of myself as brokenhearted feels a little melodramatic…even if it’s true. Broken-heartedness is not an emotion we talk about or own very much in our day and age and in our culture. The dictionary defines the term as “crushed by grief.” We’ve been so trained to control our grief that we worry that we might cry at the funeral of someone we love! We translate our grief about the loss of a job, the breakup of a relationship, the limitations that come with aging into what seem to be more socially acceptable feelings like anger and frustration and resignation. When someone asks us how we’re feeling, the socially acceptable response no matter how bad things may be is, “I’m hanging in.” It seems like the raw emotion of a breaking heart just makes us too vulnerable, and we’re afraid to burden the person who was kind enough to ask with the true weight of the grief that is crushing us.
The psalm we read the first part of this morning is the same psalm we read in its entirety on Ash Wednesday. I kind of wish we were reading the whole thing again today because when we reached verse 18 we would hear this: The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. The psalmist tells us that of all the things we have to offer, no offering is more pleasing to God than a troubled spirit, a broken and contrite heart. Now I don’t think that’s because God wants you or and me to suffer that way. I think it’s because it reveals that we’re willing to engage deeply with things that matter.
I have a sneaking suspicion that we who’ve so trained ourselves to translate our truest and deepest feelings into more socially acceptable emotions for one another…I have a sneaking suspicion that we try to do the same thing with God. And I wonder if we don’t do this because we’re afraid that God may feel the same discomfort and impatience with us that we sometimes feel with each other. I even wonder if we aren’t a little afraid that God may be tapping a toe or twiddling thumbs and wishing we’d just get over it.
It seems to me that one way for you and me to move past this embarrassed denial of our own broken-heartedness is to open ourselves to the broken-heartedness of God. I don’t know why you come here week after week except as you choose to share that with me. Often enough, what I hear is that it’s a time and place to replenish yourself for the week to come, a time to have the wounds of the week just past healed or at least cleaned and dressed, a time to have your hope for the future restored. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with these reasons for being here…as far as they go. The problem is that if that’s as far as it goes, it really isn’t nearly far enough.
I read an interesting article a while back. In the article, the author talked about how God works first to create friendship with each of us. But she went on to lament that so often that’s where we want to stop the process. Think about it. If we’re honest, don’t we most often want to be with God when it’s convenient and mainly for the sake of feeling better or trying to fix something? But she contends that what God truly desires is for us to be so transformed by this divine friendship that we begin to see the world as God sees it; to look at each other and observe the whole world with the great aching love which colors God’s view of things.
Friendship, real friendship, always has consequences. We’re hard upon that time in Holy Week when we attend to the costly consequences of God’s friendship for his creation. We live in a time and place when the world needs people of faith, which is just another way of saying friends of God. We live in a time when the world needs the friends of God to risk looking at the world the way God does. This does not necessarily mean that we’ll all be of one mind about what should be done in the world or how it should be done. But it does mean that we’ll seek to see, not with the eyes of Americans, or Democrats or Republicans, or Episcopalians, but with the eyes of God.
I warn you though, the consequences of seeing this way are costly. The consequences of seeing this way are, in fact, a broken heart. Perhaps, if we allow ourselves to feel the crushing grief of a broken heart we’ll finally be moved to action on behalf of the poor and the oppressed, the hungry and the homeless. Perhaps, if we allow ourselves to feel the crushing grief of a broken heart we’ll finally learn that violence always begets more violence whether it’s in a country half way around the world or on the streets of our cities and towns or in the privacy of our own homes. Perhaps, if we allow ourselves to feel the crushing grief of a broken heart, you and I will experience the boundless and healing compassion of God in a profound way, and discover and release that deep well of compassion God has planted in each of us.