One of the TV shows I’ve watched recently is the critically-acclaimed show “Fleabag.”
If you’ve seen Fleabag, you know the main character in many ways the embodiment of today’s reading from Romans: “For I know that nothing good dwells within me…For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” – she’s got some issues, and indulges in some pretty destructive behavior.
We learn later on in the series that part of this is due to the fact that she has a lot of grief she hasn’t dealt with – especially over the death of her mother.
In one scene, as she is being forced to confront this grief that she’s stuffed away for so long, she finds herself sitting alone, in a church, lost in her thoughts, and we see a quick flashback to a conversation she had with her best friend right after her mother’s funeral.
It’s gotta go somewhere.
You don’t have to be a psychologist to know that when it comes to any kind of human emotion, we don’t do well when we keep it to ourselves and are forced to stuff it away.
There’s something in us that, when we feel anything – excitement over good news, grief over a loss -we need to share it with other people.
This holiday weekend is a great example.
Even though we’re supposed to be holding off on celebrations and parties, we’ve entered into this weekend with warnings about how to gather safely – because people want to be together for a holiday celebration, and basically, they know we’re going to do it anyway.
That’s why we have old proverbs like “joy shared is joy doubled; grief shared is grief halved.”
It’s gotta go somewhere.
And that’s true for both individuals, and communities.
It’s gotta go somewhere.
But where? Where does grief go when there’s no one who will alleviate your burden?
Where does joy go when there’s no one to witness it?
Where do pain and suffering go when your cries for relief are not heard?
Jesus said to the crowd, “To what will I compare this generation?
It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
What Jesus is lamenting here is their indifference.
He is saying, “This generation just doesn’t care about what other people are going through.”
But maybe that’s because that generation didn’t know what the invitation to care looked like.
Listen again to the example Jesus gives: “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
In other words, the sound of someone else’s joy or grief isn’t just theirs; it is implicitly an invitation for you to join them.
Any time we are witness to another’s grief or joy, we are receiving an invitation to care about what they’re going through – an invitation to stand in solidarity with them.
When the music is playing, we are invited to dance along.
When wailing fills our ears, we are invited to mourn. and what I hear Jesus saying is, please, don’t just walk on by.
I know it’s tempting to.
It’s so alluring to prioritize your own comfort, to find a million reasons not to accept the invitation to dance along to the music, or mourn along with the tears.
And just like St. Paul says, we so often do the opposite of what we know we should.
But please, Jesus is saying, don’t just walk on by.
Walking on by is why this country celebrated independence and freedom for almost a century before that freedom could be celebrated by its black citizens.
Freedom for some was celebrated while others remained in shackles.
Frederick Douglass spoke eloquently about this tension in his 1852 speech, when he said:
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?
I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.
To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.
There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”
This weekend, as we celebrate the precarious and precious freedom our nation enjoys, we are still grappling with the fact that not all of us are truly free yet.
Many children of God still don’t have the same access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
And it will take a monumental shift in every corner of our national life for freedom to truly be enjoyed by all people.
It’s probably enough to make many of us want to just walk on by.
The systemic ills are almost too much to bear. The music is so loud we just cover our ears instead of dance.
The wailing is so deep that we are afraid we might never feel joy again if we get too close.
Christians know what it is that God calls us to do. And we want to do good. We want to be good neighbors, we want to be good friends, we want to be good citizens.
But so often, too much gets in the way.
The problems feel too big to solve.
But If the problem is that we are intertwined in a system of sin, then the solution is for us, through Jesus, to be intertwined in a system of salvation and solidarity.
In Christ, we have a system of grace and salvation in which we are all connected. We are Christ’s body, the power of hope and life and salvation arrayed against the death-dealing principalities of this world. We do not have to face those principalities alone.
The cries for freedom, for justice, for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, are loud and clear.
And they are inviting us.
Inviting us to hear the cry of our neighbor and say, “I’ll take it. because It’s gotta go somewhere.”
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
These aren’t just Jesus’ words to a crowd 2,000 years ago;
and they aren’t just his words to us now.
They are the words he teaches us to say to one another.
There is transformative power in these words.
Come to me, and I will give you rest.
Let me double your joy, let me halve your grief.
I’ll take it, because it’s gotta go somewhere.