Blessed Are Those Who Mourn (part 3 of 9) – Matthew 5:4; Luke 6:17-36; Psalm 51

A few weeks ago we began a challenging series of messages on the characteristics or attitudes of people who are maturing in the kingdom of God.  Jesus’ teaching turns the values of our culture and society up-side-down.  As one author wrote: “Reality is stranger than we think.  The good life – happiness, contentment, wholeness, a sense of well-being and shalom with God and people – the really good life doesn’t come from any of the things our culture says will give them.”

We began this study by seeing that Jesus’ life in the 1st 5 chapters of Matthew was parallel to the life of Moses.  Matthew’s audience would have immediately seen this.  Moses took Israel to Mount Sinai after God saved them from the slavery of Egypt.  God gave his law to direct them into becoming a community – his people, the people of Israel.  Jesus sat on a mountainside delivering a message from God – a message about the new kind of community the newly constituted Israel was to become.  This is the way of the truly human community in God’s kingdom.

In God’s community, in God’s kingdom, the values of the world are up-side-down.  We saw two weeks ago that poor in spirit is rich, and today: sad is happy, blessed, meaningful.  As Jesus bluntly said in Luke 6 (the parallel passage) it is not those who laugh (the Greek word actually means to gloat) but those who grieve who know true joy.  Again we need to re-orient our thinking as we did last time.  I know this is not easy for us, but understanding God’s kingdom and our role in it is worth the work of thinking it through.  Maturity and joy in God’s kingdom, for us as God’s people, is being poor in spirit – knowing that all we are and have comes from the Lord as gift.  True transforming power comes from the model of Jesus who suffered and died in self giving love.  True human maturity and blessedness comes from the opposite of the arrogance of self-made people; rather it comes in being poor in spirit.

Now we read, in addition, blessedness, wholeness, true lasting fulfillment come through mourning, through sadness and grief.  Those who mourn appear to be most unhappy.

So what is this godly sorrow?  The word used here is intense – to mourn or grieve like at the death of a loved one.  How can this be related to happiness? Balm? Being healed and comforted?  Just to be clear, this grieving is not about walking around with a long face, not moping, not self-indulgent “poor me”, and not a lack of a sense of humor.  It is ironic, but sadness and joy and not mutually exclusive.  So how does grieving bring us to joy?  Let me share a story about a friend that may help us understand.  He gave me permission to share his story.

I first met John because he occasionally came to our church in Fort Collins.  He attended with his wife and children whenever we had something special.  His wife was the director of youth education.   John made it clear to me that he came for his family and that personally he had no need for religion of any kind or for God.  God was for people who couldn’t handle life.

John taught engineering at Colorado State University.  He was a very pleasant person, enjoyable to be around; yet always distant.  You couldn’t get close to John.  Slowly his story came out.  He flew bombers in the Vietnam War.  When I said that must have been very hard, he laughed and said it was the easiest and best duty out.  You got up, attended briefing, got your targets for the day, flew for several hours, dropped your bombs or napalm, and came back to party until you dropped.  My shocked look just drew a shrug and a dismissive comment, “you never thought about what you did.”

A couple years after I first met John there was a Vietnam memorial week at Colorado State University.  Being a veteran, he was expected to participate.  What he was not prepared for was that he was asked to host a film – a film showing the plight of the Vietnamese people who were on the ground when bombs were falling around them, and perhaps worse, napalm.  The film was very explicit, showing the suffering, maimed, burned, and dead.  John called three days later. He had essentially wept for 3 days over the chaos and suffering he had brought to people’s lives.  The film shattered his denial.  He had been trained to be a technician flying an airplane, and trained only to think about targets – not people.  All of John’s defenses broke down.  He finally broke through his denial to mourn the suffering and condition of the world.  It took awhile, but he began to see how his denial had also prevented him from being close to people.  His defenses had prevented intimacy and deep friendships.  He had worked hard to avoid being a part of a community, especially a church community where people were asked to look inside and confess their brokenness.  Now it all started crashing around him.  He needed a community for hope and healing.

Blessed are those who mourn.

John mourned the suffering of those people on the ground, and that finally allowed him to lament his own loss of innocence, his superficiality, arrogance and pride, failure to value human life, and eventually his loss of relationship with God and people.

How did David say it in Psalm 51 that we read earlier? “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  What do the people in God’s community grieve?  Why are they sad?  What do the blessed mourn?  We grieve the condition of the world.  We grieve the sin and brokenness and distorted priorities and values that create untold suffering.  This is not about being obsessed, but it is about being aware.  It is about grieving the reality that 25,000 people die each day from hunger and hunger related causes, while our world produces enough food to feed everyone.  It is about grieving about 350 million children who are hungry.  It is about grieving about 2.6 billion people who live on less than $2 a day, and 1 billion who live on less than $1.  By contrast we each use about $105 a day.  We grieve because malaria kills a child every 30 seconds – a disease that could be controlled.  We grieve when we leave our comfort zone to encounter the pain of peole in this world like Albert was sharing with us.  We grieve a world where there is spouse abuse and child abuse and crime and racial hatred.  We grieve a world where there is greed that is overwhelming: greed for money, greed for power, greed for control at the expense of anyone in the way.   The Apostle Paul said it in Philippians 3:18-21:

“For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.  Their mind is on earthy things.  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

            And Godly sorrow takes us to another level.  We grieve over our own sin.  The community of God, the kingdom of God, comes here to worship, and a part of that is honest self-awareness and grief.

We come each week with the words of David:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

            David’s confession is filled with the pain of grief.  He wants to open himself up completely: “blot out”… “wash away”… “cleanse” all my transgressions, my iniquity, my sin.  Take away everything that is evil in God’s sight.  Here we come to God confessing our dark side, our selfishness, our feelings of arrogance, our stereotyping judgments about other people, our impurity, our lack of caring and concern, our defensiveness that keeps us from being God’s kingdom community.

Blessed are those who mourn, (for the world, for themselves) for they will be comforted.  How does that work?  Listen to the dynamic in Romans 7:21-25:

“So I find this law at work:  When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from the body of death?  Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Our mourning, our honest sadness, our grief about sin and alienation and brokenness in our world is necessary in order for us to find balm, healing, joy and the laughter of blessedness.  The analogy of our bodies is this: wounds must be opened and cleaned otherwise they fester, get infected, and eventually kill us.  The analogy of our psychology is that hatred, resentment, fear, false pride, self-judgment etc. must be exposed in the context of acceptance and trust in order to be healed.  In terms of our relationship with God and each other, our sins need the grief of contrition, confession, cleansing, so that we can be healed, renewed and comforted.

How are we comforted?

Jesus comforts us first with the joy of salvation.

Our tears are turned to laughter when we see the wonder of his love.  We look at Calvary and grieve because of the cost to cover our sin, then we laugh with the joy of those who are freed from bondage, who are cleansed from disease, who are released from the pit of guilt and fear into eternal life with God beginning now.  We laugh with a new a new identity as God’s children, God’s ambassadors, and God’s ministers.  Life is not limited to what we see, but is full of what we hope for.  It is not bound by our weaknesses, but is the stuff of God’s dream for us to be all we can be.  This is the laughter of true joy.

How are we comforted?

Jesus calls us into a new community – his kingdom, his body on earth, his church, his people. 

That is what the beatitudes are all about – a new community with values that are radically different from those of this world and of our culture.  These are characteristics of a people who are redeemed and transformed by God.  These are the attitudes we strive for so we can look like our Lord.  This is the community of acceptance, accepting each other because we all have known the acceptance we have received from God in Jesus Christ in spite of all our brokenness.  This is a community of forgiveness and reconciliation because we have been forgiven and reconciled to God.  This is a community of love because we have been loved.  We are now called to be imitators of God and to love one another.  This is a truly human community – with the goal of being human the way God intended humanity.  Here we are comforted by one another, even as in the first comfort of salvation we are comforted by God.

How are we comforted?

We are called to be on God’s team, and so we are joyful for the right reasons. 

The laughter that is referred to in Luke 6 is another word for gloating, the laughter of looking down at someone else.  We are laughing not at but with each other.  We are called to work together to make a difference in the world for God as his stewards.  We do this in community, each one doing a small part that God promises to receive and bless and use because he sees it as each act of love as a gift to himself.  That is the reason we have the Peter Fish offering today – a small act for those who are hungry, given to God.  Many of us have been dreaming about what our ministry focus looks like.  What if we as a community each contributed a small part to produce a well for fresh water for people who are dying without it? Or perhaps we could work with a small congregation in some 3rd world country to enable them to do more effective ministry.  There are many possibilities.  It just seems that God is so clearly calling us to refocus our ministry in order to make our individual and community ministries concrete.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  A couple years ago I got a phone call from John.  He told me about his family – boys grown now, and that he was an elder in the Presbyterian Church.  He struggled with his guilt, trying to do it by himself for a long time, but finally he turned it over to the Lord.  He found comfort and joy.  What about us?  Are we willing to grieve for our world and for ourselves so that God can comfort us and use us to build his kingdom?

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  This is Jesus’ teaching about people in the kingdom of God.  We would never put it together like this.  I wouldn’t even think of it.  This is the characteristic and attitude of truly human people in God’s kingdom.  Is this who we are?  Let’s have the courage not to just dismiss it because it is not our idea.  It is God’s idea.  Will we reflect on it this week?  Act on it?