31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
September 18, 2022
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
My very favorite scripture passage, the words I turn to when I need hope and inspiration, comes from the prophet Jeremiah. This isn’t it.
These words I read from Jeremiah aren’t terribly hopeful or inspiring. They are actually quite depressing. In this passage, the prophet mourns for God’s people. The prophet weeps for God’s people. The prophet questions whether there is any healing or solace to be found.
Depressing – and I don’t know about you but I have enough depressing in my life these days, so why am I sharing this Bible passage? Because as I read it and came back to read it again, and read commentary about it, I discovered that even in this lament, even in these words of sorrow and grief, there is good news to be heard. There is comfort.
It comforts me to know that we are not the only people to walk through challenging, anxious times. We are not the only people to feel like our joy is gone, that grief is upon us, that our hearts are sick (Jeremiah 8:18).
Sometimes, when we are walking a difficult journey- divorce, a health crisis, anxiety, depression, – we can feel so very alone. We can feel like we are the only ones who have ever felt this way.
We are not alone though. Throughout time, dating back thousands and thousands of years, people have lived through challenging, anxious times. They have mourned. They have lamented. They have asked ‘Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no medicine to make it all better?’ Throughout time, people have struggled. Even right now, in this community, in your wider community of Facebook friends or friends of friends of friends, there is someone who has walked the journey you are walking. You are not alone.
Even as it comforts me to know that there are others who have walked this journey, others who can offer me wisdom and care, it also comforts me to know that God is there. God has been there. God is still there. God will continue to be there, every step of this journey, every breath, every tear, every moment.
In those moments when I feel like my joy is gone, that grief is upon me, and my heart is sick, even in those moments when I am asking ‘Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no comfort or healing to be had?’ Even then, I know God is there, loving me and blessing me.
Like the Psalmist, I remember God’s benefits. I remember that God forgives all of my sin and brokenness. I remember that God heals me from my diseases. God redeems my life from the pit of darkness and sorrow. God crowns me with steadfast love and mercy. Crowns me! God blesses me with good and renews me that I might soar like an eagle.
Even when I am sad, even when I am suffering, even when I am afraid, even when I feel bereft and alone, God is there, loving me, forgiving me, healing me, renewing me, crowning me with steadfast love and mercy. And sometimes, it takes the really challenging, anxious times for us to see that, to see the benefits of God, to talk about why our relationship with God makes a difference in our lives. Sometimes, it takes the darkness to see the light.
So strangely enough, this depressing passage from Jeremiah reminds me that God is always the healing balm, that I live and walk in God’s light, crowned with God’s steadfast love and mercy.
And this depressing passage from Jeremiah also reminds me of my calling from Jesus. Jeremiah isn’t mourning and weeping for himself. He is grieving for God’s people. He sees their pain. He feels their suffering, and while tempting, he doesn’t ignore it. He enters into it. He stands with the people. He brings God’s presence into the midst of this challenging, anxious time.
And that, too, is our calling. To follow Jeremiah’s example. To follow Christ’s example. To be present with those who are suffering and in pain.
Because often healing comes from the hurt being seen, being acknowledged. Often healing comes from knowing you are not alone, that others are willing to walk this journey with you, praying for and with you, being God’s quiet and persistent light in the darkness.
Christian writer and United Church of Christ member, the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin, once wrote:
The stumbling block for most sensitive nonbelievers is not Christ but Christians, not God but suffering and the fact that the church in its hour of prosperity has worked so little for its alleviation. (William Sloane Coffin, Credo, 144)
Sloane Coffin wrote these words more than twenty years ago, and yet, I would still argue that the church, our church, continues to be in its hour of prosperity. We still have abundance: this beautiful building, a generous and well-managed endowment fund, loving, compassionate church members and staff.
The Church, our church, has an abundance of gifts for alleviating, for healing the suffering of our neighbors near and far, and so, when we hear these depressing words from Jeremiah “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” (Jeremiah 8:22), our ears should perk up because we are being called.
We are being called to hear people when they cry for help, for physical help like food and shelter, for spiritual help like forgiveness and welcome.
We are being called to comfort those who mourn.
We are being called to hurt with people when they hurt.
We are being called to help them know God.
Help them find hope and joy in God. Help them know God’s forgiveness, God’s healing, God’s renewal.
We are being called to help them know that God is with them, loving them and crowning them with steadfast love and mercy. Blessing them with good, renewing their soul that they might soar like an eagle.
We are being called to bring God’s light into the suffering darkness of the world.
There is a balm in Gilead. It is God.
And there is a physician. It is each one of us.