Title: Living Through Loss
Pastor: The Rev. Beth Farabee-Puckett
Scripture: 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Since Thursday night it seems like I have not been able to turn on the TV without hearing another story about Michael Jackson. The death of the "King of Pop" or "Wacko Jacko" depending on your point of view has dominated the news along with mention of Farrah Fawcett's passing on the same day. This seemingly incessant coverage is another reminder of our society's obsession with celebrity and the grief that their deaths unleash. On Friday's Today Show, image after image of persons crying at Jackson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame made me wonder how many of the tears were actually for him and how many of them were falling for other personal losses that had been given a window through which to escape. It was an interesting thought to reflect on as I continued to prepare for this morning's sermon, "Living Through Loss."
The lament recorded in the book of 2 Samuel is a raw, uncensored, public expression of David's grief over the loss of King Saul and his friend Jonathan. In the verses preceding what we just read David is even more demonstrative tearing at his clothes, weeping along with the other men who are with him upon hearing the news. Not quite the dignified, controlled portrait of strength that we might expect from the man who is soon to be crowned the King of Israel. If you were here last week you remember the story of someone who even as a boy showed great courage facing the giant Goliath with nothing more than a slingshot and 5 smooth stones. He prevailed and went on to be a great military leader who bravely and skillfully fought and won many battles over Israel's enemy the Philistines. This is the portrait of David that is painted most often in our minds- a "man's man" if you will, who would go down in Jewish history as Israel's greatest king. And yet this morning we see a very different side of David. A side that's not hidden in the scripture, but many times got left out of the stories we were told as children at Vacation Bible School or overlooked even in some adult studies in an attempt to avoid the perception of weakness in this historic leader. But the truth is, to deny these characteristics of vulnerability, sensitivity and deep feeling would be to deny some of the very things that made David the great man he was.
It's been interesting to notice society's struggle with the emotional side of men. For a long time boys were raised to believe that "real men don't cry," however, over the past several decades, this notion has been challenged. Men have been encouraged to share their feelings more openly not only with the women in their lives, but with other men too. Pop-culture has given deep friendships and connections between men the slang term, "bromance." On the popular sitcom "Scrubs" the characters J.D. and Chris lightheartedly use it to describe their relationship. A recently released movie, "I Love You Man", is a story about a guy who doesn't have any male friends going out on a series of "man dates" looking for someone to be the best man at his upcoming wedding. I remember when I was a camp counselor at the Florida United Methodist youth camp we did a devotion with the campers in our cabins before bed every night. A favorite of the guy counselors was to read the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35, "Jesus wept," followed up with "Guys, it's okay to cry…now be quiet and go to sleep." I'm not sure how impactful this was on middle school boys at the time, but it's interesting for us to note this morning that the reason for Jesus' grief was the death of his dear friend Lazarus.
If you read Pastor Bill's e-news this week you noticed the references he made to the book of 1 Samuel that are helpful in order to get the full context of the relationship between David and Jonathan. However, for the sake of time, I'll give you the cliff notes version. After David killed Goliath, he left his family to be in the service of King Saul. It was then that he met Saul's son, Jonathan and the two began a deep and abiding friendship. The scripture says, Jonathan loved David, "as his own soul," and David loved Jonathan, "as his own life." As King Saul grew more and more jealous of David's success and vowed to have him killed it was Jonathan who helped David escape. Their inspiring friendship was one based on deep loyalty which went beyond societal or family ties. But, we are brought back to the harsh reality of life's pain when we read David's lament and realize their story does not have a happy ending.
It was Alfred Lord Tennyson that penned the famous phrase, "Better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all." Interestingly enough, I found a sight on the internet called "Blurt It" in which people give their opinions on a wide variety of things and this quote was included. In this particular poll the results came out 60% to 40% in support of this idea. But all of us who have loved another person deeply know why it was a fairly close race. Really loving someone else in any kind of relationship whether it be a spouse, partner, friend, child is risky business. It entails ambiguity, sacrifice, loyalty. It means giving instead of grasping and letting go of self-gratification and self-fulfillment as primary goals. Although the rewards can be tremendous so can the pain when the relationship is lost. After being hurt in this way I'm sure many of us can relate to the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel's hit, "I am a Rock," released in 1966. Here are some of them:
"I've built walls, a fortress deep and mighty, that none can penetrate. I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain. It's laughter and it's loving I disdain. I am a rock. I am an island. Don't talk of love, but I've heard the words before. It's sleeping in my memory. I won't disturb the feelings that have died. If I never loved, I never would have cried. I am a rock. I am an island. And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries."
There's been a lot of loss in both our global world and our personal worlds lately. Globally, things like deadly force being used to put down the protests in Iran, violence escalating in Iraq, the defiance of North Korea. Personally, things like unemployment, underemployment, financial security, foreclosure that indirectly and sometimes very directly adversely affect our personal relationships. Too often it is times like these when we go into "rock" or "island" mode and begin to cut ourselves off from others because the pain or embarrassment of dealing with a situation. The tragic news last week from Altamonte Springs of a father killing himself and his family reportedly because the stress of their crumbling finances was too much to bear. I can't imagine the utter hopelessness and sense of isolation that would lead to such an unspeakable act. And so I return to the title of today's sermon, "Living Through Loss" and conclude with what we can learn from the characteristics of King David found in his heartbreaking lament to find comfort and connection.
One thing is David's willingness to be open and honest about his feelings and pain in the context of community. His willingness to do this benefits not only himself but the entire Israelite nation who is grieving this loss as well. Many times there is nothing more unifying for a nation than the communal experience of a tragic event. We've had several of those in our recent history, Pearl Harbor, the assassination of JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember Tom Brokaw being unable to hold back his tears at the end of the nightly news broadcast on September 11th, 2001. It was helpful during those heart-wrenching times for us to be together, to cry, to be angry, to ask "why?" All things that were very real. This authenticity is one of the reasons why I like the Psalms so much, most of them attributed to none other than King David. The Psalms have been used over the centuries as both a personal prayer book as well as songs to sing in community worship lifting up the highs and lows of the human experience to God. I'll never forget the Sept. 11th service held here at St. Luke's. The sanctuary was packed and Bill acknowledged his own anger, fear and disbelief about what had just happened. He also lifted up the vows that each of us reaffirm upon joining the church, that "we will resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves." The service ended with the cracking of glow sticks signifying the breaking of these bonds through the love of Jesus Christ. It was awesome to hear hundreds of cracks coming from all over the sanctuary and then to see the lights dispel the darkness. Although the pain was still very fresh I believe each of us walked away from that gathering with a renewed sense of purpose and hope- better equipped to live through the loss we had all experienced.
Another way that David models living through personal loss is by his unwillingness to give up on the future God has called him too. We all know by this point that he is brokenhearted by the loss of Saul and especially his dear friend Jonathan, but even in the midst of his grief David knows that God is not through with him yet. He has an important part to play in the life of Israel and he accepts the challenge by moving forward. When we face times of tremendous personal loss we want to "stop the world and get off." It's impossible to go back and going forward can seem to take a will and energy that is beyond us. During my second field education experience in seminary I was placed in a small United Methodist Church in Robinsville, NC and I met a couple, Selman and Dorothy. They had been married over 50 years and Selman was in the last phase of terminal cancer. Selman died just a couple weeks into my 10 week internship and Dorothy was devastated. But, despite the difficult state she was in her church friends and her family did not give up and neither did she. Although there were many tears she continued her quilting ministry with her United Methodist Women's Circle, she spent hours out in her garden and by the time I headed back to school Dorothy had begun, albeit slowly to live again through her loss.
If you are trying to find your way through loss today, whatever that loss might be, I hope you will not try and do it alone. As a Christian community we are called to be there for each other in facing losses that affect all of us and in facing losses that affect one of us. As people formed in the image of a loving God who exists in the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit we too are made to live in relationship with others. We know in those relationships there will be joy, pain, peace, conflict, love and loss, but we also know we were not made to be rocks or islands, we were made to love and be loved because God first loved us.