Sep 19th, 2021, Are You OK? with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski.
A Part of the Series:
Are You OK? with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski.
Did you know that emotional pain stimulates the same part of the brain that is stimulated with physical pain, but physical pain, you know, we can name, accept, get help and it heals. I mean, my knee hurts. I don’t feel ashamed about that. I share with you. My knee hurts and you commiserate with me saying your shoulder hurts.
My knee hurts because I have arthritis. So I go to the doctor, I get a cortisone shot and it feels better. Emotional pain is another story. You know, we tend to avoid suppress, medicate or even deny or emotional pain. It’s not okay to admit were emotionally not OK.
There is shame attached to being in emotional pain. So we put out a brave front and pretend we’re okay. You know, I woke up this past Thursday feeling like I needed a good cry. I don’t know about you, but just sometimes, particularly lately, life just feels too much. The conditioned part of me said, don’t be ridiculous.
Get up, get on with it. There are things to do. A deeper and more tender part of me whispered, take a moment. Listen to what your heart needs. Cry.
I’m afraid if you don’t allow the tears to flow, you’ll leave your heart behind.
I’m sad to say the conditioned part of me won that battle and I went about my day pretending I was okay. If you asked, how are you? I would have said I’m good. How about you without really giving a chance, giving you a chance to tell me how you really are when we are a stranger to our own pain, we’re far more likely to dismiss the pain of others. Now I remember when my dad died, I received lots and lots of cards saying you’re in my thoughts and prayers.
Now those sentiments came from a really good place, but they didn’t reach that place where I was hurting and where I was lost. A friend showed up, looked me in the eyes and said two words, this sucks. The floodgates opened because I was given permission to be real and honest about about how I was feeling. All of it. Devastated, sad, angry, guilty, afraid, helpless. I could feel all of those feelings.
I knew I wasn’t alone. It was okay not to be okay. You know, I think it’s safe to say that pretty much everyone these days is struggling. Everyone is suffering in some way. So let me say it.
Life is really hard in so many ways right now. And there are so many aspects of life where it’s safe to say this really sucks. You know, emotional pain is an energy field that actually wants to move through us the way, you know, the way a storm moves across the summer sky.
But emotional pain can’t move through us unless we give ourselves permission to not be okay unless we give ourselves permission to be real and honest about how we’re feeling. Otherwise, our emotional pain likes to settle into our bones and causes us to sink into that pain. When you feel lost, you can’t be found unless you give yourself prohibition to acknowledge that you’re lost.
Today we’re continuing a new sermon series called I’ve Been Meaning to Ask. You know, there are questions, questions that invite courageous conversations, questions that take us beyond the surface and the superficiality to something deeper.
Questions that connect us at the heart level. Questions. There are questions that heel today’s question, are you okay? You know, that question can start a conversation that can change a life.
How are you? Is a greeting. Are you okay? No, really, really. Are you okay?
That’s an invitation. An invitation to be honest. An invitation to not be okay. September is suicide prevention Month. You know, it’s not our strength that connects us.
It’s our vulnerability. What we share most in common is not our successes, but the salty taste of our own tears and the fact that sometimes, sometimes life hurts. Sometimes life hurts in unbearable ways. There are times for all of us, for all of us when were just not OK. There’s a grief we’re carrying.
There are hidden wounds that that haven’t been healed. Silent screams that aren’t heard, tears that aren’t visible. There are questions that haven’t been answered, futures that are unknown. There are times for all of us when we feel lost and alone. Asking, Are you okay?
Just might start a conversation that can change your life. I mean, asking, are you okay? Says to someone, you matter to me. Your paying. Your struggle matters to me.
Jesus painted an image of God in today’s Bible reading. Jesus said, God is like a shepherd looking for that one. Lost sheep will never give up until that sheep is found. And God is like a woman searching every nook and cranny to find that one lost coin and will not give up until the coin is found. In those images, the overwhelming message is that each one of us matters to God individually.
The shepherd, when he finds the lost sheep says, for my sheep was found. This wasn’t just any old sheep that was found. This was my sheep. And when that sheep was found, a celebration was in order. You know, if I lost my dog in the Woods overnight, I wouldn’t be happy if I found just any old dog.
I want my dog and I wouldn’t stop searching. And I would search. And I would keep searching until I found my dog. And what a celebration it would be when I found my dog.
Jesus is saying that’s the nature of divine love God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love. That’s amazing. The God of the universe, the one who placed each star in the sky says to each one of us, you matter your life, your life matters to me. And if you’re lost, I’m going to keep searching and searching and searching and searching for you and tell you know yourself to be found in my love.
We often talk about seeking God as if God is lost. It is God who is seeking us. You know, I think we’re all feeling a little lost these days. Everything around us feels unsettled and uncertain. Life’s hard, unbearably, hard.
At times. In these stories, Jesus takes a picture of a God who says, you know, your struggle matters. Your pain matters. You matter. You’re not alone.
And the question, are you okay? Is the expression of the kind of love that says it’s okay not to be okay? You don’t have to meet me out here in the light. I’m willing to search for you in the darkness and let you know in the darkness that you are loved.
Jesus goes on to tell a story of a son who runs away and how his father responds. This morning, I want to invite us to hear the story of the prodigal son through a different lens. What if the sun in the story, one of the sun represents the way we all tend to run away from our pain, the way we pretend we’re okay. We don’t need any help. We can manage life on our own, Thank you very much.
What if the son in the story represents represents the shame we sometimes feel because we’re not okay? And we think we should be.
And what if the father’s love represents the kind of healing and unconditional love we’re called to extend to one another? So to try to hear the story that I know many of you have heard a thousand times to try to hear the story in a new way. I’m going to try to tell the story from the first person, as if I am a Ranch hand witnessing this amazing love of the father firsthand. So I invite you to go on a little journey of the imagination with me.
I can’t believe it.
I still can’t believe it. My boss actually hiked up his robe and ran like a giddy child to greet his long lost son. Then he threw a party. I’m Ezra. You know, I’ve worked this land as a hired hand for more years than I can count since this Rascal of a lad whose just returned home was knee high to a grasshopper.
I’m still shocked at what I just saw. Let me back up a little, give you a little history. So you might understand how shocking this day has been. This lost son who has just come home. You know, he’s always been a bit stubborn, an independent. Thinking he had all the answers. He didn’t need anybody’s help. He asked for his inheritance early. What I don’t understand is that my boss, his dad, gave it to him.
You know, I know it broke his heart, knowing how hard and painful the road ahead for his son would be.
But he understood he had to let go. Let his son travel his own road, make his own mistakes, suffer his own wounds. And you could guess what happened. That boy takes off to a far away country and life was hard, really hard for him. And rumor has it, the boy squandered all the money inherited, trying to make the pain go away.
He was down to his last few coins when a severe famine hit and this boy is forced to do at no self respecting Jew could ever imagine. He had to take a job feeding the pigs. But he himself was starving. But that kid’s a survivor. He always has been.
He figured that maybe if he crawled back in shame, he could work as a Ranch hand like me, maybe even earn enough to eat. He knew he likely never, ever get back into the house again. But his father might have a little mercy. Let him sleep in the servants quarters.
What he didn’t know what he didn’t know is there wasn’t a day since he left that his father wasn’t scanning the horizon for hours, hoping that this was the day. This was the day that his son would come home. He never gave up hope. You know, his son might have left, but he never left his father’s heart. We all gave up hope on.
We turned our back on that kid the day he left, but not his father. His father watched and watched and watched. Never gave up by his son. Then today, today, while the boy was still far off in the distance, his father saw him. Now I was working in the field nearby.
I was startled when he yelled, I mean, he’s a soft spoken man, never raises his voice, but he let out the spine curdling shell for joy, calling his son’s name. But this, I think tears were streaming down his face.
Then I couldn’t believe my eyes. I couldn’t believe it. He hiked up his robes. He hiked him up almost to his waist, and he sprinted towards his son. I mean, Middle Eastern noblemen land owners like this man, my boss.
They never run. They wear long flowing robes. They walk with a slow stately dignity. I mean, they would never humiliate themselves like that. But my boss didn’t care about his dignity or his reputation.
All of us in the field. We were all watching as he hiked up his robes and he ran as fast as his bare legs could carry him. He didn’t even notice our stairs. All he saw was his son. All he wanted to do was to get to that boy.
Hold him love on him. Welcome him home. Now you could tell this boy was hurting. You could tell he was carrying a heavy weight inside the way he walked with his with his shoulder slouched.
You could see the shame he felt with his eyes cast down, not even able to look at his father.
But before this boy could even open his mouth and say I’m sorry. Before he even uttered one word, his father wrapped his arms around him, kissed him and said, welcome home. My boss called out to me and said, Ezra, go and get a robe and ring and sandals. Those are symbols of a beloved child. And he cried out to all of his servants.
Come and celebrate for this son of mine was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.
Friends, we don’t need to run away from our own pain.
It’s okay not to be okay. We don’t need to be ashamed if we’re struggling. It like feels hard.
Jesus paints a picture of a divine love that searches for us when we feel lost. I love that meets us right where we are. A love that says your pain matters to me. Your life matters. You matter.
A love that reminds us that even though we’re not okay, it will be okay somehow. Someway someday it will be okay. Did you notice in the stories Jesus told Divine love is seeking one sheep, one coin, one son. Who is that one person who needs you to seek them out today? Who is the one person who’s hurting and needs to know that they are loved, that they are loved, unconditionally that they matter to you and that they matter to God?
Reach out. Have the courage to ask, are you okay?
It just might change a life.