Posted by: Philip Rushton | June 4, 2013

Blessed With The Gift Of Tears

While participating in the summer institute at Duke Divinity School I was continually blessed with the gift of tears. At times I experienced the tears of joy that come from hearing words of truth. It was beautiful to hear the holistic vision of the gospel put forward by Paul in 2 Corinthians. Here Paul writes:

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

This theme of reconciliation expands the scope of our gospel. Paul presents for us a gospel that weaves together personal conversion with social engagement, that calls us to work for peace, and that causes us to replace hostility with a radical hospitality towards others.

These words were a welcome replacement to our usual diet of half-truths and easy answers that leave our souls malnourished. They expose the principalities and powers behind our modern culture warriors, who persist in promoting dangerous stereotypes that build walls rather then bridges between people at odds. This week the hostility that dominates so much of our public discourse was put on trial and brought to justice. This caused me to shed tears of relief.

Perhaps these words were so powerful to me this week because they were not just words. All week I encountered people who were embodying this vision of new creation. I heard the stories of people who were seeking to build bridges with their Muslim neighbors through creative acts of hospitality. I met people who were seeking to create beloved communities among the poor. I met pastors from war torn regions of Africa who were working towards peace in hostile territory.

As I spent a week with these beautiful people I was given a glimpse of new creation. Their stories bear witness to the reality that God’s kingdom is intersecting with our world. Their lives function like sign posts to the new creation we are longing for. I was reminded again that the new creation will be a place where rich and poor, black and white, Jew and Gentile will live together in a spirit of mutuality and respect. It is a place where organ music will be accompanied by a tambourine, and a teenage Latino rock band will be the prelude to the liturgy of the Eucharist.

I think I might still cry after God wipes away every tear from our eyes in the New Jerusalem. Not tears of sorrow but tears of deep joy that come when we realize that God has reconciled all things to Himself. For in the New Jerusalem people of all nations will be living together in harmony, no one will be undocumented, and there will be peace. The very thought of God personally wiping away all of our tears is enough to make one weep.

184433_10151395082901302_2064766767_n This past week I also experienced the tears of lament. These are the tears that leak through the spaces between hope and reality, between the already and the not-yet of the kingdom of God. While we long for new creation we also live in a time between times. This week brought to light the reality of suffering in our world. I heard stories of war, stories of prejudice, and stories of oppression. I wept for the ways in which hatred and division continue to play themselves out in our world and in our churches. I wept over my own wounded idealism that has had to come to terms with the reality of brokenness in our world. I wept as the Holy Spirit convicted me of my own sin. Like Pilate we would like to wash our hands of the problem of hostility, but before we can talk about reconciliation on a grand scale we must seek repentance for our own contribution to the problems in our world.

Dr. Ellen Davis spoke to us about the place of lament in the Christian life. One of the most profound moments for me came when Dr. Davis said; “Jeremiah’s laments disabuse us of the notion that if we experience agony within our vocation we have missed our calling.” I was reminded that agony and lament are part of the journey of faith. This realization normalizes our struggles and inspires us to remain faithful to our call even when things are hard. The tears of lament that I shed this week helped to wash away some of the debris of despair and angst that was clouding my vision. Lament is not cynicism or despair. Lament is an honest confession of reality that provides a foundation for the recovery of hope.

Therefore, in the midst of the tears of lament there were also tears of hope. These tears were brought upon by the fresh realization that God is with us on this journey through the time between times. These were experienced as tears of relief. I discovered again that God continues to be a very present help in trouble. He is a God that provides a song of hope to peace activists who stand in solidarity with the Iraqi people in the midst of the bombing of Bahgdad, a supportive companion to an undocumented worker in a deportation prison, or a bridge out of poverty through the ministry of a local church. This call to the ministry of reconciliation is sustained by the presence of the power of God. Thanks be to God!

These tears of hope gave me the courage to reclaim some of the un-discarded dreams that have been lying dormant in my heart. Seeing the many stories of God’s reconciliation in our world gave me the audacity to hope that God will continue to work in my community as well. God reminded me that he has not given me a spirit of timidity but one of power, love, and self-control. I was renewed in my sense of call to equip the saints of Longview Community Church for the work of ministry. I was encouraged to continue leading our congregation towards a deeper love of God and neighbor. I was inspired to find ways for our church to practice a radical hospitality towards those outside of our walls.

In the midst of this recovery of God’s call on my life, I also experienced the relief of knowing that I am just one part of a very large puzzle. Part of the gift of this past week was the renewed realization that God is at work all around our globe. This set me free to attend to the small part of the kingdom that I am a part of. We do not have to bear the burden of reconciling the world, for we are simply co-laborers with God and the millions of saints around the world. I found rest, then, in our closing prayer from Oscar Romero, which reads:

We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders;
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future that is not our own.

(The picture in this post is of the sculpture at Duke Divinity School titled “Reconciliation.” It tells the story of the prodigal son. The younger son clings to the father, while the father seeks to console the angry older brother. This picture was taken by my new friend Nicole Gibson. You can view more of her photography at www.nicolegibsonphotography.com

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Responses

  1. Wow. You encouraged me greatly, Philip, through this message of hope. It is exactly what I needed to hear today.

    From: Intersect To: soaringblocks@yahoo.com Sent: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 10:14 AM Subject: [New post] Blessed With The Gift Of Tears

    Philip Rushton posted: “While participating in the summer institute at Duke Divinity School I was continually blessed with the gift of tears. At times I experienced the tears of joy that come from hearing words of truth. It was beautiful to hear the holistic vision of the gosp” Respond to this post by replying above this line New post on Intersect Blessed With The Gift Of Tearsby Philip Rushton Whi

    • Thanks for sharing Victoria. Blessings to you on the journey toward reconciliation!

  2. Well written sir. So glad you got that week to reflect, renew, rejoice! I like to think of God weaving a beautiful tapistry that some day we will fully see, but for now we just see threads. -Darryl

    • “I like to think of God weaving a beautiful tapistry that some day we will fully see, but for now we just see threads.” Beautiful thoughts Darryl. Thanks for commenting!

  3. In the second paragraph before the Romero prayer, you write, “undiscarded” dreams… I think we should have an “undiscarded dream think tank” somehow. I know I have laments about my community as well, and I know I haven’t done what I could to help. Maybe strength in numbers would work here.

    • Thanks for sharing Eric. Yes, one of the major conversations we had at Duke was the importance of bringing different voices to the table so as to allow for the diversity of dreams to be explored within a community. The challenge is how to do this with a community of 350 people! I think we have a few think tanks in place – like our boards, committees, and smaller groups. I think small groups are a good venue to give people a voice too. Perhaps the question we should ask is, what aspects of the church could use some more space for collaboration? (worship, mission, fellowship, outreach? ect.)

      Why don’t we grab coffee some time and share some dreams!

  4. From reading your post, I thought you might be interested in a music video we have produced on Archbishop Oscar Romero. You may view the video on YouTube, or on our website http://www.TheMartyrsProject.com The singer is Michael Glen Bell and the film maker is Owen M. Thomas. Feel free to share or embed the video or to comment upon the song or The Project.


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