SERMON from 10-21-12: ‘Write Your Sorrows in Sand & Your Blessings in Stone’ (from series entitled ‘Bumper Sticker Theology’)

1 Peter 1.3-7

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Bumper Sticker Series: Write Your Sorrows in Sand & Your Blessings in Stone

Emily and I have this habit of ranking the best days we have experienced as a family.  I think we keep a running total of about 3 of the them.

The one that jumps immediately to my mind–mainly, because it was the first one we began to label as our “best day ever”–was a trip we took to the Phoenix Zoo.  We were in Gilbert visiting over the Christmas holiday.  Everyone–from NYC, Indiana and South Dakota–made the trip out for Christmas.  Fourteen people.  Two weeks.  One house.  We needed a day away as a family.  We chose the zoo.  Nate loved feeding the stingrays–mommy, not so much.  Ella had her hand bitten by a horse, thereby scarring her memory of the experience.  Carter was the most popular person in the farm animal exhibit–as he was every time we went to a zoo.  We saw a hippopotamus urinate and a monkey playing with his behind.  It was simply an amazing time that we have always kept locked in our hearts.

Our next discussion of which days were our family’s most memorable or amazing came this past summer.  As you may all remember, our family was fortunate enough to take a long vacation to Ft. Myers, Florida.  My skin has never been so pruny!

July in Florida is a bit schizophrenic.  If you don’t find yourself in a torrential downpour, you are most certainly hopping into a car that has been baking in the 104 degree sun–with 80% humidity–and we loved every minute of it.  However, one day stuck out over all the others.

All we can really think about is getting to the beach, because that was the main objective of the trip.  Now, for parents, you know that going to the beach requires more than just a towel and sunscreen.  Of course, you make sure to cover yourself in sunscreen–at least SPF 105.  Carter’s swim shirt still smells like sunscreen.  You load the vehicle with floatees, sand toys and umbrellas–not to mention plenty of fluids to ensure no one completely withers from dehydration.  We are also making sure to bring an oxygen tank and Carter’s wheelchair.  Once we see that the hatch of the van will close, we are off to the beach.

We didn’t do much planning for this particular excursion, so we played it by ear.  In doing that, we pretty much left ourselves to the mercy of the independent parking lots scattered up and down Estero Blvd in Ft. Myers.  After looking and looking, we found a lot with an opening.  At this point, we were facing unpacking everyone and everything, and hoofing it a block and a half to the beach–anyone remember it’s 104 degrees?

We scout out a perfect spot.  It is secluded enough to ensure we don’t share all our personal conversations with other beach-goers.  We get our things all settled, reapply our sunscreen already, and head into the water.  Of the five of us, 80% had yet to step foot in the ocean.  So, as a family, we walked through 75 feet of washed up shells and did it.  Carter smiled and cried out in joy.  Mommy held him and shed some tears.  Ella and Nate were running into the crashing waves, and daddy was capturing it all on tape.

Once Cater had enough of the water, we took a break to reapply sunscreen, get some fluids and settle in for a great day of soaking up the sun.  The rest of our beach time included naps with the soundtrack of wind coming in from the gulf, sand castle building and general beach laziness.  One of the best feelings is that thin layer of sand that stick to your skin, despite your best efforts to brush it off.

We spent 7 hours on the beach that day.  Once we got hungry for dinner, we packed up our stuff, walked it back to the car, and decided to walk down Estero to find somewhere to eat.  We found this family-owned Italian place and went in.  Seriously, if it was air-conditioned, we would have eaten anywhere.  So–covered in sand and sunscreen–we sat down to deliciously elegant dinner.  It was lovely.

Towards the end of the meal, our waitress struck up a conversation with Emily.  They talked about Carter and shared a little about why we were there.  The waitress, now switching to her mommy mode, spoke to and kissed Carter, and embraced my wife before we left for home.  On the ride home, Emily and I talked about how this day eclipsed our famed trip to the zoo.

Our last day at the beach pretty much rounds out our top 3 days ever.

These experiences are things that happened on sand, but that I want to etch in stone–to remember for as long as I can.  Our bumper sticker for today–”Write Your Sorrows in Sand & Your Blessings in Stone”–encourages us to make this a way of life.  It’s simple to understand, right?  Those things that break your heart should be forgotten, and the things that bring you joy or comfort should be remembered for as long as we can.  If it were only that easy…

It may not be that easy, but it is something we should strive to do.

Our scripture passage talks about the wonder of God’s great love for us and the hope we can have in the midst of trials.  We are called to rejoice, even in the midst of our trials.  Those trials may be tough–they are compared to a fire–but beyond that fire lies the hope we have in God’s great love.  It doesn’t often feel like God’s love–especially when we are elbow-deep into our problems–but it is.

It’s important to note something about this sentiment from 1 Peter–and our bumper sticker.  It’s not a call to forget our sorrows for the sake of the gospel.  Not at all.

Think about the physical act of going to write something in the sand.  You’re looking out over the beach, beyond the water and to the horizon.  Let’s assume you go barefoot.  As you are walking through the sand, you may step on a shell, rock or other hard object–which causes you to hop awkwardly for a second or two.  Once you reach the place, you reach down with one or two fingers and begin to draw your finger through the course grit–pushing sand up over the edge of either side of the smooth lines.  Once you are done, you stand up to correct your posture, take a step back and look at what you’ve written–and it’s there.

Once you are done, you may realize your hungry.  So you pop off for a bite to eat.  Meanwhile, your sorrow is still there.  What happens to it?  If the wind is blowing, the sand could dry it up and cover it over.  The rising tide could come along and sweep over top of it.  Is it, then, gone?  No.  One wave comes and covers a bit of it.  Then, another comes along to do the same.  Eventually, by wind or water, that thing which you have written in the sand in gone.  It’s not gone immediately–and there is a good chance you will remember slicing your foot on that shell–but that sorrow is eventually gone.

This past Friday, I remembered slicing my foot open on a shell.

It wasn’t too long after Carter’s funeral that I went back to school.  I still have it, but I’m dealing with my grief as it comes.  School has offered my the opportunity for distractions from some of the worst of it.  I’ve been lucky in that regard.

On Friday, I was working on a project for school and was searching through the photos on my computer for something specific.  One picture happened to grasp my attention.  The day before he died, we gave Carter a bath–and Ella wanted to join him.  At that time, I didn’t quite know what to do, so I grabbed the camera.  Ella always liked holding Carter’s head in the bathtub, and I snapped a picture of that.  Even at the age of 4, you could see the knowing look on her face.  After everyone got dried off, Ella curled up with her blanket and snuggled into Carter–like she did so often.  I snapped a picture of that, too.

I have definitely written my sorrows in the sand, but I sobbed pretty hard on Friday.  It’s not washed away immediately, it takes time.

After that, I came across something I liked even more than this passage from 1 Peter.  I knew it from a song before I knew it was a psalm.  The song features a black gospel choir singing a song called “Down by the Riverside.”  As the choir sings, the leader sorta sings over the choir.  Since it’s black gospel, it’s usually a riff on some kind of scripture or theological issue having to do with hope beyond our trials.  Anyway, he says, “Weeping may endure for that night, but how many of y’all know that joy cometh in the morning?!”  He said it the way a very charismatic black preacher would say it.  “How many of y’all know that joy cometh in the morning?!

There are trials.  There are sorrows.  There are things that threaten to tear you down to the very bone.  That’s okay!  It’s even alright if you acknowledge the fact that they still pain you mercilessly.  It’s okay if you are still brought to your knees once in a while.

Yes, that pain may endure for the night, but we know that joy comes in the morning!  That sorrow won’t last always.  The God of heaven and earth has promised a hope beyond our darkest nights.  Not just for the world to come, BUT RIGHT HERE AND RIGHT NOW!  We can and still will experience sorrow and sadness, but there is joy in the Lord.

It isn’t perfect.  But, wouldn’t we–in the midst of our most desolate pain–like to know that that God is always right there with us.

Thanks be to God for that.

AMEN.

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