to be blessed mourners

[Jesus] said…

“Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.”

Matthew 5:2b,4

Jesus taught that those who mourn are blessed. He means what we might call the righteous mourners. Mourning over sin, beginning with their own. Mourning over the brokenness and degradation of the world caused by evil. Mourning over the abject suffering that continues in the world unabated.

Jesus mourned. We see this when he wept over his friend Lazarus who had died, sorrowful over that, but also empathetic with others who were weeping. And he wept over Jerusalem, since they had failed to receive him as their true King. He wanted to bless them, but couldn’t.

There is no end to the sadness of this world. If we in Christ don’t enter that, then we’re not following or becoming like the one we profess.

 

in the air of the word

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Psalm 1

Psalm 1 opens up the book of Psalms on the blessedness of those who meditate on God’s written word. Contrast is set with the wicked. It does seem the division is between “the righteous” and “sinners.” But actually what contrast there is seems more between the one who meditates on God’s word as opposed to the wicked. And since this is one book, the hymnbook of Israel, we would do well to consider the usage of this word in the Psalms (“wicked” and other forms of that word in the NIV).

The one who meditates on God’s law/word is not at home with sinners in the sense of participation with them in their way of life. And this would be especially true of those who are wicked, who while they might be drawn in by the goodness of one who is righteous, nevertheless still engage in wicked deeds.  Or at least scoff at the thought of righteousness, and of God’s law. This reminds me of Jesus’s words not to cast your pearls to pigs.

Jesus did welcome sinners, and ate and drank with them. But he certainly had no part with evil, in fact, those who sat with him either found themselves quite uncomfortable and out of place (I think of Pharisees), or were drawn in to be made whole (tax collectors and sinners).

This psalm speaks of the air in which we live and breathe in contrast to others. And the result. A basic we must first get hold of before we can help others. In and through Jesus.

 

a “poor in spirit” wannabe

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3

If I would choose a passage from Scripture to have on my tombstone, it would be this one. Something I aspire to, actually, not necessarily something I possess. In fact, too often I seem empty of it.

It’s so easy to be full of one’s self, or maybe for us who are further along it can be more subtle in that we see ourselves as full from the Lord, with emphasis on ourselves. That reminds me of people talking about “Spirit-filled churches,” or referring to themselves as Spirit-filled. Emphasis at least too often ends up being on self, or at least so it seems to me.

The really Spirit-filled people, and might I add, churches, are those who are more and more empty of themselves. They are too overcome to imagine that anything good can come out of them at all. So anything good is of God, and all else is suspect and in need of removal through brokenness and repentance.

Does this sound far out, or too severe? Consider the Apostle Paul’s picture he portrays in 2 Corinthians 12. He is tormented by a thorn in the flesh, no less than a messenger of Satan to keep him from being conceited because of the revelations God had given him. And he came to see that it was actually in his weakness that Christ’s strength became evident.

For too many of us, this might seem extreme. We have things pretty well in hand in the Lord, with God’s help. But we need to get past that to where it’s either all God, or nothing at all. We need to be content as those aspiring to be among “the poor in spirit.” And thus among the blessed ones. In and through Jesus.

the first of the “blessed”: the poor in spirit

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:1-3

To be “poor in spirit” doesn’t seem a good place to be. Wouldn’t one want just the exact opposite? Jesus starts out his great Sermon on the Mount with the notice that such people are blessed.

I can well imagine the consternation, or at least wonder when some people read this. I do think most could easily reconcile themselves to the thought that this is a good place to start. But Jesus didn’t exactly say that. He simply said that such are blessed.

Going down the list of what is called the Beatitudes, those who are blessed seems to indicate that this is a present condition Jesus was referring to, even an ever present condition.

I can easily compare myself to the someones who seem brimming over with life, full of joy, always with a ready smile, and praise to God on their tongues. To compare myself with others is the first fallacy. To judge them would be another error.

No. I simply need to accept the obvious reality about myself: I am indeed poor in spirit, poor spiritually in and of myself. And to accept Jesus’s words about that condition, that then I am blessed, because the kingdom of heaven meets me there.

who is blessed according to Jesus?

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:1-12

Jesus’s idea of the blessed life is surely not the norm. We think of certain ideals more in terms of material success, so that at least we are well taken care of, with hopefully the thought of helping others. That’s fine, as long as we don’t make that our main drive in life. After all, we are to provide for our own, and help others.

But Jesus’s words on who is blessed, or truly happy don’t touch that. It’s not at all about finding the good life as most people think of that. Instead it’s about supreme or perfect blessedness or happiness in terms of something much more. But it involves living in a world in which death awaits us sooner or later, and many troubles before that. And this is all magnified and especially pointed for those who follow Christ.

And so to be blessed according to Jesus is paradoxical. It won’t make sense to the world, and only makes sense to us as we seek to follow Jesus. But make no mistake, it won’t be easy, unless I’m missing something.

It is of a different realm and kingdom present in this world, a world which at its heart is not aligned with God’s will, and is suffering the consequent curse of that. And yet a world in which the blessed are present to help everyone enter into the same blessed realm with them. In and through Jesus.

blessed routine

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

There is something it seems like our society wants to get away from, to escape as much as possible, which I actually should be appreciated, if it was recognized for the blessing it is. That is, routine. I’m thinking in terms of regular responsibility, which actually is a privilege to be involved in, and carry on. Instead nowadays, it seems like people want as much freedom and free time as possible. I’m not at all suggesting that there might be better ways to do work, or that we always have to do things the same way. Or that we should work long hours and long weeks, with little time off. No. And there may be new approaches to work that are different and fresh, indeed, helpful.

Usually trouble follows us wherever we go, not just because we’re creating it ourselves hopefully, though that reality exists from which we can learn, even if just from being finite beings. But simply because we live in a broken, fallen world. It seems like if something can “so south,” it will, being hard to keep everything pointed to “the true north” (these sayings from the compass). Due to imperfections everywhere, from nearly every direction, there will be trouble. And that simply becomes a part of the normal routine we have to work on, and live with.

We’re to find satisfaction in all of that, no less, and even, no more. Ecclesiastes suggests that if wealth is added to that, then that’s all well and good, people occupied with gladness of heart, I suppose being able to do this and that, to enjoy life. Whereas those financially strapped, or living in relative poverty may be limited, yet hopefully blessed with a job to make ends meet. Though sadly here in the United States, a living wage is not guaranteed for any forty hour job. One should be able to live in humble quarters, and provide well enough for themselves with a full time job. Life isn’t easy, although some pieces are dropping in to many places, for example in Africa, to help societies and families have work, and provide for their own. The free enterprise system and capitalism are regularly beaten up by many progressives, but in my opinion, are not evil in and of themselves. Any system can become wrong, or more accurately have many wrongs because of the people who are in charge and in place in them.

Continuing on in the blessed routine, in whatever God gives us, should be something we learn to appreciate. For some of us, retirement age is approaching. If God gives us health, that can be a step into another blessed routine, of day in and day out, doing much the same things, hopefully to our own enjoyment, and even delight, and for the blessing of others. As we continue on as witnesses in all of this, to the truth and power of the good news of God in Jesus.

 

the true blessedness

[Jesus] said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:2b-12

Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount explaining to his disciples and the crowd who really is blessed which was in marked contrast to the ideals held among the Jews and Gentiles(/Romans) at that time. Jesus begins to reveal both the counter-cultural aspect of God’s kingdom come in him, how it would run against the grain of the world, a hint to where he was going, what we might call the cross culture, which at that time was not only avoided, but even despised. Only the lowest of the low were nailed to crosses.

Of course, what we call the Beatitudes gets specific enough and is interesting.  According to the Collins Dictionary, beatitude means “perfect blessedness or happiness.” There has been debate on precisely how to translate the Koine Greek word transliterated makarios. What is meant is more than just happiness, but that is certainly a part of it. It would go much deeper though, than what the world often seems to mean by the word, happiness, which is often superficial at best, and deceptive at worst. It is definitely a blessing and resultant happiness that is again, in contrast to what the world holds dear. And yet often admired by the world, with the attempt to emulate such, which apart from Jesus cannot fulfill what Jesus is getting at, and cannot be Christian.

We do well to remain in them for a time, so that they can get into our mind, our heart, and out into our bones in how we live. It is definitely part of the lifelong ongoing process to which we’re called in this life, a kind of goal. But more apt, this is really a description of Jesus’s followers, those who are part of God’s kingdom come under the Savior and Lord, King Jesus.

This helps us to see what the Spirit is working in us, and what we’re to work out of that as believers and followers of Jesus. In and through him.

In Luke there is a parallel “Sermon on the Plain” (Luke 6:17-49), good to read along with the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

sadness is good for the heart

A good name is better than fine perfume,
    and the day of death better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person
    than to listen to the song of fools.
Like the crackling of thorns under the pot,
    so is the laughter of fools.
    This too is meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 7

Back to one of my personal favorite books of the Bible; it’s there for a reason, and not just for its ending. I like to think that Jesus could laugh with the best of them, but was more given to being with those who suffered, entering into their world and suffering empathetically with them, and relieving that suffering so that ultimately they could take up their cross and follow.

In the series at the church we’ve been attending, taking our grandchildren, and may become a part of, we’re in the midst of a new series on the book of Philippians called “Choosing Joy Under Pressure.” It seems to me that this deep joy thrives in the midst of pain and sadness, yes indeed- pressure. So that what the writer of Ecclesiastes might be getting at is how superficial people can be, so that their thoughts and lives do not at all rise to any level beyond the absurd.

Maybe this is in part why Jesus said the poor and poor in spirit are blessed, while the rich are not, at least not necessarily so, but open to woe and rebuke, and a cursed existence. I for one have lived with a lot of internal pain most all of my life. But I am also more and more realizing the joy of seeking to follow the Lord in the midst of it. Grace and peace from God accompanies all of our life in Jesus, including our pain.

In following Jesus, we are not living it up with partying and laughter, though that is a part of life as God created it to be, and can be a way to get to understand where people live, Jesus himself eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. The very heart of God is what we look for, and that is a heart of love, giving everything for others, for the world, in and through Jesus. And to do that, we must enter into the depths of what it means to be human, both in the enjoyment and appreciation of life, and in the difficulties, even death, which accompanies all of that. In and through Jesus.

living in identification with the poor

It is wonderful to hear of those who are wealthy pouring a sizeable part of their fortune into helping those who are poor and in need. And I find it encouraging that Pope Francis turned down an invitation to a meal with members of the US Congress to instead eat with the homeless.

We all live in varying economic situations. Most of us in the United States and in other first world countries are wealthy in comparison to the rest of the world. Although many of us live from paycheck to paycheck with sizeable debt. Yet our standard of living is something billions of others could not imagine.

I found it striking to see that a psalm attributed to David, which may have been a Davidic psalm in a sense other than him having actually written it, that the writer saw themselves as “poor and needy” (Psalm 86). If one sees their true state, then instead of thinking they are well off just because they are materially wealthy, they will learn to see that they are indeed, “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3). Jesus called both the poor and the poor in spirit blessed, while he pronounced a woe on the rich. And stated that it is impossible for the rich to enter into the kingdom of God. But that what is impossible with humans is possible with God (Matthew 5; Luke 6; Matthew 19).

When we understand how everything is a gift and how utterly dependent we are on God for all of life including each breath that we breathe, we can begin to see ourselves as no different than those who live in abject poverty or conditions much  different than our own. But with that insight comes responsibility. In love we need to reach out and help those in need. And be sure that our hearts are not tied to material wealth rather than God.

We are poor in and of ourselves. Everything is a gift. With whatever we are blessed with we’re meant to bless others, especially with the true riches that last forever in and through Jesus.

living at peace with everyone

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Romans 12

I have lived long enough in this world to realize that sometimes for rather understandable reasons and sometimes perhaps not, not everyone is going to like me. I’m not sure why this dynamic regularly occurs among people, although there’s a multitude of possible reasons why. No matter what we do, that seemingly doesn’t seem to change at least for the time being with some. Though perhaps over the long haul by grace it will.

Even pastors will be disliked by someone or another, and usually not just one. Oftentimes no matter what they do they won’t measure up to whatever standard someone has given them. Some will put up with them from the start. But this can end up being not only good training for godliness for the pastor, who is to be an example to the church/the flock, but it could be used of the Lord to lead the recalcitrant, stubborn one to change. Sadly that is not always the case. Some will have their barbs ready when the occasion is right, or ways of inflicting hurt.

I have come to the place where I realize that no matter what, I just can’t make some people like me. I have walked on egg shells trying to make people like me. And that one is especially hard in a church setting in which we’re to love each other to the place where I really think we should learn to like each other. Though love isn’t necessarily about like; we can love someone without actually liking them, or more specifically what they do. But I believe that if you take time to get to know anyone, you will come to actually like them over time. After all, we’re all made in God’s image.

It is striking in scripture, and specifically in the New Testament the priority peace is to have. I know that depends on what one means. The gospel itself causes division. But we’re to pursue peace and make it a priority (Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 3:8-12). Our Lord’s words about the blessedness of peace makers are echoed by his half brother James in talking about the priority and indispensability of peace in wisdom or for wise living.

We can’t make someone like us, but we do need to make peace with them a priority. We must refuse returning dislike for dislike. We can pray and love as best we can, even against the grain of someone’s dislike. Part of our calling together in our Lord Jesus.