Tears, an invitation to God
“If in doubt, burst into tears!” Of course, not for all situations, especially if you are being goaded – but often it takes tears to show how much we are hurting. And often people need to know. It was vicar-evangelist David Watson who taught me this some 40 years ago. His church in York was leading the way in charismatic renewal as well as large-scale evangelism. He was a key player for the Kingdom until cancer took him in 1984, as it happens my first Sunday as a vicar. No doubt the pressures of leading St Michael le Belfrey took its toll as he pushed out the boundaries of being church. Watson was reaching breaking point until finally at a meeting with church members this self-contained, public school-educated man broke down in tears. Only then did his fellow Christians realise the damage they were doing as they each fought their corner. “There is a sacredness in tears,” observes author Washington Irving. “They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love. You may have seen on the BBC news last night a follow up to their memorable piece two weeks ago by Ed Thomas on how the current pandemic is taking its toll on the poor. It’s worth watching Poverty and the Pandemic: Burnley's Front Line: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000qtq7/poverty-and-the-pandemic-burnleys-front-line Two very different church leaders, Pastor Mick Fleming and Father Alex Frost are featured working in partnership to feed and clothe the poor in Burnley, one of the most deprived local authority districts in England. We’re introduced to Pastor Mick first. In fact, the clip begins with him saying, in a very matter-of-fact way: “I'm a broken recovering drug addict that got a second chance and, ah, I love the poor.” His is quite a story. Once a dangerous and violent drug dealer, he was the man others would ring to clear drug debts. It all changed when approaching one of his targets he was blinded by a intense light emanating from the hands of their young child. “It was like looking into the sun and I was paralysed by it." At that point he sensed God and pleaded for help. No doubt it was God at work when in despair he then tried to use his gun on himself – and it jammed. Step-by-step God reassembled Mick’s life so that today he leads the Church on the Street Ministries. In the clip the voice of this battle-hardened pastor begins to falter as he recounts the effects of poverty on children. "And it's not alright that, and it wasn't as bad as that before the virus." We then have a back view of Mick sitting on a wall, clearly deeply upset. Father Alex Frost, his colleague, likewise is deeply affected by the suffering he is witnessing. On camera he begins to openly weep as he recounts how one family has fallen through the cracks. “I’m sorry talking about it. I'm sorry about getting upset. You carry people's burdens, you try to tell them it's alright. It's so upsetting." However, these tears are the measure of the suffering caused to the poor and vulnerable by this terrible pandemic. And those watching this package on the BBC news were deeply affected. Pastor Mick and Fr Alex were revisited in yesterday’s broadcast. It seems that many people were moved by their work, and since then they have received more than £250,000 in donations. It wasn’t that these two church leaders were in any way successful in meeting the need. The very opposite: their tears showed their powerlessness, the total inadequacy of their response. No way were they on top of the problem. But their tears showed their complete commitment to the suffering around them – and more, their reliance on God. “For when I am weak, then I am strong,” the apostle Paul wrote to the church causing him so much heartache (2 Corinthians 12:10). God is at his best, so to speak, when we are at our weakest. Paul knew, like David Watson, the power of tears in showing our love. “As it turned out, there was pain enough just in writing that letter, more tears than ink on the parchment. But I didn’t write it to cause pain; I wrote it so you would know how much I care—oh, more than care—love you!” (2 Corinthians 2:4 Message translation) This pandemic has exposed racial health inequalities, poor housing, and the digital divide, and it has worsened school performance and income inequality. People throughout the world are suffering, many terribly.
We have a choice – to put this at the back of our minds or like Pastor Mick and Fr Alex resolve to confront this reality. And shedding a tear is an important first step – to weep with Jesus. (John 11:35). It’s how we invite God into the suffering.