We begin today’s sermon with the words of Richard J. Foster:
Recently I experienced a special grace which I believe was from God. It is the gift of tears. I had been considering my sin and the sin of God’s people. I had also been meditating on the gospel teaching (and ancient teaching of the Church) on “compunction”–heart sorrow. As I did this, God graciously helped me to enter into a godly mourning in my heart on behalf of the Church, and a deep, tear-filled thanksgiving at God’s patience, love, and mercy toward us. As Micah declares, “Who is a God like thee that pardoneth iniquity?” (Micah 7:18).
I saw that the people most to be pitied are those who go through life with dry eyes and cold hearts. But if we, like those at Pentecost, can be “cut to the heart, then we can enter the liberating shocks of contrition and repentance. And the experience will be not just for ourselves, and not just once in a great while, but as a precious gift given daily, a gift that catapults us into the growing edges of life. Richard J. Foster
As Foster suggests, there are many Christians in our world today who are to be pitied because they, go through life with dry eyes and cold hearts. To see oneself truly and accurately is one thing; to see God’s response is another. And without the sight or vision of a responsive God, there can be no tears and no mourning. There are those whose pride prevents the confession of sins. There are those whose pride allows it but deny God’s answer to it. In both cases man is left alone. His eyes are dry. His heart is cold.
Tears and mourning comprise the subject-matter of today’s Gospel reading. We read, When Jesus was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! (St. Luke xix 41,42) Christ Jesus approaches the city of God’s presence, a place prepared for His coming, a space from which God would begin to make all things new. But he mourns; He weeps. The love of God is expressed to the people of Jerusalem, to God’s chosen nation. They have been called to prepare for God’s coming through repentance and sorrow. The Son of God is in the midst of them. He is God’s approaching answer to their heartfelt spiritual dilemma. He is the Word that was spoken to prepare them. He is the Word that is spoken into their midst now, in Jesus Christ. The Word spoken is the Word of God’s love, the communication of His mercy and forgiveness. The Word spoken is the way back to God. The Word spoken into human flesh, through Jesus Christ, has come to carry men out of sin and death and back into righteousness and life. If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace. But now are they hid from thine eyes. (Idem) John the Baptist called the people to repentance, to mourning over their own sins as preparation for the deeper communication of God’s Word in Jesus Christ. God speaks in Jesus Christ. But the reality is hid from their eyes. They do not hear with their ears. They have not repented and mourned. They could not possibly understand the need to hear God’s speaking in Jesus Christ. Their eyes are dry and their hearts are cold.
Mourning is a virtue. Without mourning there can be no true and ongoing encounter with the living God. What is mourning? We associate it with our reaction to the death of others. We witness it in St. John’s Gospel: Jesus wept. (St. John xi. 35) The occasion was the death of His friend Lazarus; when He was confronted by Mary and other mourners, Jesus wept. (Idem) As the liturgy of the Orthodox Church prays on Lazarus Sunday, Shedding tears by thine own desire, thou hast shown to us thy steadfast love. Jesus takes on the pain of his friends’ loss; Jesus experiences the suffering that endures death. Human life is beautiful, is a gift from God, and any separation which man endures from it is painful. Jesus weeps because He is fully man. Tears can express the love and mercy of God with us and for us. God is with us and for us in Jesus Christ. His eyes are not dry. His heart is not cold.
His eyes are not dry. His heart is not cold. He teaches us in Chapter V of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Blessed are they that mourn…. (St. Matthew v. 4) Jesus is a mourner. He mourns over the sufferings of this present life. He mourns over poverty and disease. He mourns over physical suffering and psychological illness. He mourns over sin and the suffering of those who will not know themselves and search for God. He is mourning. He gives His mourning to His followers. We, His followers, are called to mourn over our own sins. The remembrance of them is grievous unto us. The burden of them is intolerable. (BCP, 1928, p. We are called to mourn over how we have disobeyed God. We are called to mourn over those sins which have hurt and maimed others. We have not loved the Lord our God with all of our hearts, souls, strength and minds. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are called to mourn because holy sorrow is part of repentance. Repentance converts and turns the sinner from his sin. Virtuous action overcomes and conquers sin and yields righteousness, which is the first fruit of infinite and unending joy. Mourning is essential to our spiritual journey. Mourning is an holy habit or virtue. Our eyes must not be dry. Our hearts cannot grow cold.
Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. His immense sadness is expressed over another kind of death. This is not the physical and natural death of his friend Lazarus. This is the spiritual death of a religious people whose eyes are dry and hearts have grown cold. He weeps not over a city full of prodigal sons; the young who have foolishly run away from God to waste their spiritual inheritance. He weeps rather over the religious people, over the good son who is respectable, morally upright, mature and supposedly advanced in piety. He weeps over a city full of men who think that they are religious, chosen, called, and sent. He weeps over those who have deluded themselves into thinking that they are saved because the works of the law have made them good. He weeps over those who speaking to [themselves] thank God that they are not as other men are extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. (St. Luke xviii. 11) They speak to themselves, justify and compliment themselves, and are righteous in their own eyes. Because they talk to themselves, there is no time to speak to God. As they speak to themselves they compare themselves with other men and conclude they are good enough. They promote themselves by condemning, judging, and slandering others. They have no time to confess their sins. They have no time to mourn over their pride and arrogance, their envy, resentment, bitterness, hatred and so on. They think that they mourn over a lost world and a morally corrupt society; they do not. They judge and condemn that world. To mourn over it would require first the vision of their own complicity in it, their own temptations to it, their own shared nature with those whom they have judged. But their eyes are dry and their hearts are cold.
Jesus responds to the religious people of this time. They have made the House of God, the temple, the church, into a den of thieves. (Ibid, 46) What occurs within a space meant to initiate encounter with God, is false commerce, an exchange not enacted between earth and heaven, but between man and man for the purposes of earthly gain and greed. Those buying and selling are the least guilty offenders. They are an outward and visible sign of an inward spiritual sickness which has abandoned God and failed to prepare for his coming in penitence and mourning. So, they cannot respond to Him; He comes, He speaks what he hears from the Father of light, and men prefer darkness. Their eyes are dry and their hearts are cold.
Many so-called Christians have eyes that are dry and hearts that have grown cold. They are little better than the Pharisees for whom Jesus weeps in today’s Gospel. Their eyes are dry and their hearts are cold because they have never discovered their own sin. Not having come to see their own sins, they have nothing over which to mourn. And without that, there is no problem that needs solving- except for other people’s…the sins of bad people. Everyone else is bad and sinful. I thank thee God for making me not as other men…. Such is the sentiment and disposition of good people. Good people do not need God, but they have a funny way of needing the church, in and through which to manipulate, control and talk. –Remember, they talk so much about problems and other people that they have no time to examine themselves, name their sins and mourn!
Our calling today is, indeed, to mourn over our sins. In the words of the writer Gerald Heard:
We must start without delay on the painful, steep, humiliating path of undoing our busy, deliberately deluded selves. So only will the kingdom come, where it must come fully and where we alone can decide whether it shall come – in ourselves. “The Kingdom of God is within you”, Yes, but only if we are prepared to let that powerful germ of eternal life grow. … Indeed we may say that the whole secret of the spiritual life is just this painful struggle to come awake, to become really conscious. And, conversely, the whole process and technique of evil is to do just the reverse to us: to lull us to sleep, to distract us from what is creeping up within us, to tell us that we are busy-workers for the Kingdom when we are absent-mindedly spreading death, not life.
Have we made the House of God into a den of thieves? Are we stealing other peoples’ hearts and souls, interrupting their pursuit of God, distracting them from their goal and end which is Jesus Christ and the journey to His kingdom? Or perhaps we are robbing God of our thoughtful concentration, our love and desire, our hope and expectations? We must repent and start anew-each of us, every day. Let us spread life, Christ’s life. Let our eyes be opened and our hearts softened, that in mourning over sin, we might continue our journey to the Kingdom. May our eyes be wet and our hearts grow warm. Amen.