Sermon: “Joy Comes in the Morning” (June 28, 2015)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Joy Comes in the Morning” (Psalm 30:6)
June 28, 2015
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I am going to begin today by juxtaposing two hit songs from the late 1960’s—one Motown song and one classic rock song—both about a topic people do not usually sing about: weeping. The first is the 1967 song “The Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles that was re-released in 1970 and became a number one hit. In his legendary, smooth voice Smokey sings:

Now if there’s a smile on my face
It’s only there trying to fool the public
But when it comes down to fooling you
Now honey that’s quite a different subject

But don’t let my glad expression
Give you the wrong impression
Really I’m sad, oh sadder than sad
You’re gone and I’m hurting so bad
Like a clown I pretend to be glad

Now there’s some sad things known to man
But ain’t too much sadder than
The tears of a clown
When there’s no one around…

Smiling in the public eye
But in my lonely room I cry
The tears of a clown
When there’s no one around
(from the album Make It Happen).

The second song is from the 1968 eponymous album by The Beatles, often referred to as “The White Album,” the haunting gem, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Interspersed with Eric Clapton’s uncredited but epic guitar licks George Harrison sings:

I look at you all, see the love there that’s sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping
Still my guitar gently weeps

I don’t know why nobody told you
How to unfold your love
I don’t know how someone controlled you
They bought and sold you

I look at the world and I notice it’s turning
While my guitar gently weeps
Every mistake, we must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps

I don’t know how you were diverted
You were perverted too
I don’t know how you were inverted
No one alerted you

I look at you all see the love there that’s sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
I look at you all
Still my guitar gently weeps

Two classic songs about, of all things, weeping—and both of these songs are not just beautiful melodically, they also resonate personally, don’t’ they? Have you not had moments when you have shed “the tears of a clown when there’s no one around,” moments when, whether with or without a guitar, you have gently wept?

While it may be done in secret, weeping is a part of life, as the writer of Ecclesiastes put it: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to weep and a time to laugh” (3:1, 4).

To be vulnerable for a moment, I have noticed that the older I have gotten, the more prone I am to weep. This past spring while in Virginia for my daughter Cate’s college graduation I wept in my truck alone (didn’t I just walk her to school with her Barbie backpack and pigtails?), and a couple weeks later I wept again as I held one of our beloved cats as she breathed her last. I suspect you can relate.

In pastoral ministry one of the “tools” I have found most helpful is, of all things, a box of Kleenex, preferably a large box of Kleenex. It is not uncommon for people to weep in my office—maybe it’s because I have that effect on them…probably one more thing I need to unpack with a therapist. Actually, I think everyone needs a safe place to weep, and I think the church is to be such a safe place—as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: “Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

Have you ever seen someone weep that you never pictured doing so—perhaps a parent or friend or someone whom always appeared to be able to keep it all together, someone whom you always pictured as being above weeping? When you see that person weep, you do not forget it.

So as not to get too personal I’ll use an illustration from a television show. In the final season of the acclaimed series Mad Men the main character, advertising executive Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) finds himself at a crossroads in his life. Both of his marriages have fallen apart, and after realizing he is a mere cog in the corporate advertising machine, albeit a very highly compensated cog, he literally walks out in the middle of a board meeting and ends up drifting to California, where he winds up at a New Age retreat center.

Near the end of the final episode he is sitting on the ground by a phone, at the nadir of his existential crisis, staring down. A woman walks up to him and asks, “Are you waiting for a phone call?” Don is annoyed, “What?” She takes a different tack, “Have you taken something?” (He shakes his head no). She suggests, “You know what? Why don’t you come to me to my seminar?” Don remains staring at the ground and slowly shakes his head, “I can’t move.” She steps closer and smiles, “Sure you can. I’m late. I don’t want to walk in by myself.” She stretches out her hand to help him up.

In the next scene Don is in the seminar—the room quiet, ten adults sitting in a circle. One of them, a soft spoken middle aged man wearing gray pants and a light blue sweater, arises, walks across the circle and takes the “hot seat” next to the facilitator. He begins sharing about his life: “My name’s Leonard and I don’t know if there’s anything that complicated about me, which is why I should be happier I guess.” The facilitator interjects, “Do you remember what I said to Daniel about ‘should’?”

“Well, it’s good for him,” Leonard replies, “he’s interesting. But I’ve never been interesting to anybody. I work in an office. People walk right by me and I know they don’t see me. And I go home and I watch my wife and my kids and they don’t look up when I sit down.” The facilitator asks, “How does it feel to say that?” “I don’t know,” Leonard answers, “It’s like no one cares when I’m gone.”

At that moment Don Draper, who has been staring at the floor the entire time, raises his head and looks at Leonard. “They should love me,” Leonard continues, “I mean, maybe they do. I don’t even know what it is. You spend your whole life thinking you’re not getting it; people aren’t giving it to you. And then you realize they’re trying and you don’t even know what it is.”

Don is riveted because Leonard is articulating what he’s been experiencing his whole life. Leonard goes on, “I had a dream I was on a shelf in the refrigerator. Someone closes the door and the light goes off, and I know everyone’s out there eating. And then they open the door and you see them smiling, and they’re happy to see you, but maybe they don’t look right at you—and maybe they don’t pick you. And then the door closes again. The light goes off.”

At that point Leonard stops talking and begins gently weeping, tears falling on his light blue sweater. And at that moment Don Draper—who throughout the entire series was someone who always appeared able to keep it all together, someone his peers considered above weeping—arises. He walks across the circle to Leonard, his eyes filled with empathy. As Leonard continues to weep, Don kneels next to him, embraces him tightly and joins him in weeping. It is the last thing you would have ever expected from Don Draper.

In the sixth verse of today’s psalm, Psalm 30, we get a glimpse of the gospel, a glimpse of the good news for those who weep: “Weeping may spend the night,” the psalmist writes, “but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:6). Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning.

I would guess that some of you have spent many a night gently weeping, perhaps when there’s no one around, even some of you who project an image that you always keep it together and are above weeping. For some of you, perhaps the metaphorical night of weeping has lasted much more than a night, and has been anything but metaphorical.

Scripture tells us that God in Jesus Christ arose from his throne in heaven, and walked across the circle of eternity to embrace and hold a weeping world. And Jesus Christ, the last person people expected to weep, wept for Lazarus individually, wept for Jerusalem corporately, and in his passion, wept for you personally. In his death on the cross Jesus unfolded his love for you, and died to atone for all the ways you have been diverted, perverted, and inverted.

This means that when you think you have been gently weeping the tears of a clown when there’s no one around, there has actually always been Someone around, and Scripture tells us that Someone has put your tears in his bottle (Psalm 56:8).

When life leaves you sitting on the ground, unable to move, Jesus does not walk right by you and not see you—oh no—Jesus walks right up to you, and stretches out his hands to help—and often those hands are the hands of other people.

Last week, like many of you, Steph and I saw the Peach State Summer Theatre production of Les Miserables, a play resonating with gospel that portrays what it looks like for weeping to spend the night but joy to come in the morning. In the closing scene of the play the main character, Jean Valjean, dies and meets in heaven the others from the play who have also died, their night of weeping over and their morning joy begun, and he joins the cast in the final chorus:

Do you hear the people sing?
Lost in the valley of the night
It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light
For the wretched of the earth there is a flame that never dies
Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise
They will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord
They will walk behind the ploughshare, they will put away the sword…
Do you hear the people sing? Say do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!

The good news of the gospel is that the unconditional love of Jesus Christ ensures that tomorrow will indeed come for you, that your night of weeping will end and everlasting joy will come in the morning—and what a morning that will be!

Amen.