31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
March 18, 2018
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
God needed another angel.
You have a family history of cancer, right?
It was just business for the company to lay you off. Nothing personal.
They have a drug to manage that. Don’t they?
They lived a long life.
At least you had your husband until you were 65, I was widowed in my 40’s.
Those are all answers to, “What is the most unhelpful thing you can say to someone who is grieving?”
Have you heard them before? Have you said them before? The last one was actually said to someone after her husband of over forty years dropped dead in front of her due to an aneurism. “At least you had your husband until you were 65, I was widowed in my 40’s.”
Were these words supposed to make the grieving widow feel better? Was she supposed to package up her sadness and say, “You’re right. How silly of me. My loss cannot compare to your loss. Thank you. I’m good now.”
I can’t help but wonder – was the person trying to comfort the widow or trying to comfort themselves?
Sometimes, in our anxiety, in our fear, in our desire to escape or shield ourselves from others’ grief and sadness, we say and do things that we think are comforting, when all we really want is to comfort ourselves.
I think that is what is happening in our passage from Mark this morning. Peter isn’t trying to be evil. He isn’t trying to be Satan. He isn’t even trying to be insensitive. Peter is scared. He doesn’t want to think about Jesus suffering and dying. He’s in full reactive, fight or flight mode. And instead of managing his fear and anxiety, Peter fights. He rebukes Jesus.
Rebuke sounds and feels harsh, and that is exactly its English definition. “To express sharp, stern disapproval of, to reprimand.” In Greek, the word is even more serious because it is used for exorcising demons. Essentially, Peter is saying Jesus is crazy; Jesus is possessed.
In the first century, a student, a disciple would never ever speak this way to his teacher. Even in the twenty-first century, to treat someone like they are out of their mind would be a pretty big insult, so Peter’s fear and anxiety must have been pretty high for him to have reacted this way.
We can understand though how Peter must have been feeling. When we hear about someone being laid off, losing their spouse, when they have a miscarriage, or are diagnosed with cancer, fibromyalgia, MS, Alzheimer’s – when someone else’s boat is being rocked by the storms of life, we, too, feel their sorrow, anxiety, and fear. We can’t help it. Emotions are contagious. We cannot help feeling their sorrow, anxiety, and fear, and we do not like those feelings, so we say or do whatever we can to make that sorrow and discomfort go away – even when it means offering empty platitudes or even walking away from someone in need.
Every self-protective instinct we have resists the idea of walking through hardship, and still Jesus calls us to love our neighbor and walk with them through great suffering, through the storms of life, maybe even to their deaths.
So we need to learn how to manage our anxiety and fear. We need to learn how to manage it in the face of someone else’s anxiety and fear. We need to learn how to manage it so we can pick up our cross and follow Jesus.
We need to figure out how to peacefully hold that hot potato of anxiety when someone reaches out to us to be an anchor in the storm, a reminder of God’s deep and abiding love and presence.
We need to take a deep breath when we hear their devastating news. Take a few deep breaths. We can use one of the meditation exercises I have been teaching you. Picture your candle, your hot chocolate, your favorite color, and breathe whenever someone trusts you with their sorrow.
Keep a worry stone, a pocket cross, or your lavender heart sachet in your pocket for exactly those moments when the rocking of someone else’s boat threatens to overturn your own. Let the object center you in God’s love so you can be the calm in their storm.
Recite scripture. Memorize scripture; hum a hymn so God’s Word can live in you and God’s peace can live through you.
We have been called to walk the way of the cross. We have been called to a ministry of presence, walking with others in times of joy and in times of sorrow and hardship. And it will not be easy. It is not easy. We will at times fail. We will at times offer someone one of those “comforting” platitudes that only comforts us, as we flee from their sorrow.
And then, hopefully without Jesus calling us “Satan”, we will take a deep breath and do better. We will breath, mentally recite scripture, find our center, remind ourselves that it is not about us, and manage our own feelings so we can be fully present to our neighbor, embodying the unconditional love and peace of Jesus Christ.
Our lives need more peace. Our world needs more peace. God is calling us to be those instruments of peace, a calm in the storm, a reminder to others that they are not alone, ministering with our presence, and transforming the world, moment by moment, person by person, always with Christ’s peace.