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.

 

heart

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

Matthew 5:4

I wrote this on our board at our work, and it got me to thinking. We look at this as applying only to Jesus’s disciples. And we can well argue for that in its context. After all, in his great Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is laying out the difference between those who build their house on the rock, as opposed to others who build their house on sand.

But it also got me to thinking. And by and by I’m guessing God’s revelation moved me to the realization that God’s heart goes out to all who mourn. I think the pages of Scripture support that. Certainly the words that God reached out in love to us when we were still sinners, Christ dying for us.

This means we ought to have a heart for all who are mourning. Christians should be known as people with the largest, most tender hearts. As we hopefully become more and more people “after God’s own heart.” In and through Jesus.

weeping willows and violins

I’m fond of violins, maybe not so much fond of weeping willow trees, though they have their own unique beauty. I’m not sure why there’s either an ambivalence or even abhorrence toward sorrow. It seems as if you can’t be a Christian and be down at any time.

Violins are one of the most beautiful of in fact many wonderful instruments. Jews and Russians are especially known for violin playing. It seems that those from backgrounds or ethnicities that have experienced profound suffering are especially proficient at the violin.

I can’t understand why Christians shouldn’t enter into the suffering of the world. I’m not at all saying that our traditions say we shouldn’t; it’s just that too often our Christianity is more attuned to the sound of celebration rather than lament. But scripture includes both. Certainly praise of God, but sorrow as well. Certainly over our own sin, and over the brokenness we experience. But also over the plight of others. In fact we ought to be present when others suffer, so that somehow we can empathize and enter into their suffering, and be a support for them. And in seeking to be a “faithful presence,” Christ can be present.

God’s grace helps us to be always rejoicing, even when sorrowful. But it also helps us to grieve over the loss of others, over the problems, indeed crises of the world. It is certainly true that we can only bear so much. That we have to cast our cares on God. But it’s not like we are then removed from the sorrow around us, or our own.

We look forward to the day when there will be no more sorrow, suffering and pain, when God wipes away every tear from our eyes. But now by grace we want to remain in the pain of the world, sharing in its suffering, knowing that through Christ’s suffering even now great help can come. To love others and find God’s comfort in our own sorrows, that in turn we might comfort others in their sorrow in and through Jesus.

someday all the brokenness gone

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Revelation 21:3-5a

It is hard to imagine an existence where there isn’t at least regular great struggle. And actually to cry in this life, and mourn with others is a blessing. We are given empathy through our humanity, or by the Spirit with our humanity, so that we can enter at least sympathetically, and hopefully with empathy somehow sharing their sufferings if by nothing else more than groaning and prayers, which itself is a great gift. And as Jesus tells us in his Sermon on the Mount:

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

Matthew 5:4

And in his Sermon on the Plain:

Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

And:

Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:21b, 25b

So living fully in this present existence with all its pain and suffering is actually a blessing. That is where the Lord promises to be with us. Not in some safe existence free from all suffering and harm, or apart from the suffering of others.

And yet someday, blessed some Day, it will all be over. All the hurt, pain, wounds, brokenness, disappointment, sorrow, heartfelt grief, loss will be gone. “…no more death or mourning or crying or pain…” That is written to us in Revelation to be a comfort to us. We catch a glimpse of that now through the peace the Holy Spirit gives, and the help we receive in this life. But it is peace and help most often in the midst of adversity, suffering, and pain, and the inevitable trouble that accompanies this life. In the end, death.

Someday that will all be gone in and through Jesus.

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 with unresolved tensions

Life is not only downright messy, but sometimes fraught with issues which may never be completely resolved. We would like to make everything as neat and tidy as possible, live without a care in the world, relax and enjoy. But what if we’re to learn to live content and at peace with unresolved tensions? And what if within that mix, we find empathy for the countless people who live day to day in difficult circumstances? Add to that the reality that even when all seems well, we know little of what might be under the surface. Tragedy is no respecter of persons.

We seek and try to apply wisdom to every situation which confronts us, doing the best we can, but realizing there just might be some tensions we’ll have to learn to live with. As we await the day when somehow all of that will be gone, and life will be a fulfillment of what we have begun to imagine here, but can’t completely envision, certainly beyond our experience. In and through Jesus.

the grace of trouble

The last thing any one of us wants is trouble. We would like a trouble free existence. But a healthy acceptance that each day will come with its own set of problems, and that there will come some major issues along the way, is surely a part of growth in maturity. It is almost certain that we will shrink back from what we perceive to be major trouble. That is when we purposefully need to apply our faith, all the more.

And that is at the heart of what I’m calling (and probably heard/read somewhere, as) the grace of trouble. There is no question that the challenges of life can help us grow. We hone our skills, and do what we have to do, not only to survive, but hopefully even to thrive. But it doesn’t come without a cost. The cost often is pain, and sometimes having to work through certain limitations so that we are stronger, or know better how to cope with the difficulties which come our way. This can be part of the “common grace” God bestows on the human race, a gift to help people through their troubles. But we need to not only acknowledge “the Giver of all good things,” but come to that Giver to receive help in our time of need.

The Bible, and I think particularly of the psalms is loaded with passages pertaining to the faithful believing being hard pressed in this life with all kinds of trouble coming their way, sometimes self-inflicted, oftentimes suffered from the hands of others. When trouble comes our way, especially the kind which can be debilitating to us in the fear and anxiety which set in, we need to avail ourselves of prayer and the word of God. And we need to do so in the communion of the church, our regular participation in that, which might call for our request for special prayer and counsel.

It is just as important to have a healthy acceptance that trouble is part and parcel of life, as it is to come to God again and again with our trouble. We don’t want to live as those who are taken up all the time with our own problems. But we have to deal with them, and after doing so, yes, even in the midst of that, we can find that God’s help for us can extend into the lives of others. Each one ordinarily is having their own trouble. As God gives us help and relief even if that might be unbeknownst to us, we can end up being a blessing to others in similar trouble. Even if that blessing is in nothing more than an empathetic sigh and tear, and an offering to God in prayer concerning their plight, along with a plea for their blessing. As we look forward to the day when all the troubles of this world will be past in and through Jesus our Lord.

sharing in the sufferings of this world

There is much grief, suffering and pain worldwide, found in nearly every corner. Live long enough and you will be touched with something which will not leave you unchanged, at least in bearing something of the scars from it, for life.

We need to be those who simply seek to be near to those who are suffering and are in pain. And the pain we experience ourselves can help us not only accept the pain of others, not despising it, but it can also help us to empathize more fully with them, something not far removed from the way the Lord can emphathize with us since he partook of our humble humanity (apart from sin) and knows full well what it means to be human, tempted in every way as we are, in his case (unlike ours) without sin.

Just because we’ve not experienced the same thing, doesn’t mean that we can’t seek to identify with those who are hurting and in whatever way possible be present with them. We need to do so with our entire being and doing, with good works which accompany our concern. Perhaps we’re caught up short, not knowing what we can do, but we can always pray, which after all, ought to be our first response. And when we don’t know what or how to pray, the Spirit’s help can be all the more evident, since we’re promised his help when we are at a loss to know what to say (Romans 8:26-27).

In following Jesus we’re to be present with others in their joys, in the every day mundaneness of life, and especially in their griefs. Even as our God by the Spirit in and through Jesus is always with us. Seeking to help others know and experience something of the comfort and help we’ve received in Jesus.

 

the need for empathy and a listening ear

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Romans 12

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that those who fail to listen to others fail also to listen to God. To help others, or receive help ourselves then, it would be the prerogative of the helper to listen well both to the one in pain and to God. Instead Bonhoeffer wrote that the cleric can go on and on in pious condescension with religious speak, having failed to hear anyone but themselves (my paraphrase).

When something good happens to someone which makes them happy, we should celebrate with them. That is especially true of those who belong to Christ and are thus in God’s family with us. When someone is mourning or in much pain, we need to listen well and make it evident that we empathize with them, even insofar as we can, sharing in their pain. As we hear not only their words, but also their heart, we can then be open to hear something of the heart and counsel of God for them, at least something of God’s heart, even if we don’t have much if any words to share.

If we do have some difficult words to share with them, they need to see that it comes from a loving, empathetic heart. God is not harsh, and if we’re going to speak for God, neither can we be either. It is all love, even if it is indeed hard words that must be spoken. Of course in all of this we need God’s wisdom. We may need to help them be ready to receive all that we would say. Or perhaps we need to test the waters by asking questions which can help draw out issues which need to be addressed. What we must avoid doing is simply writing off what they say as if it is nothing, while having our own ready answer. Our answer may (or may not) be spot on, but the one we are sharing it to may end up being repulsed so as not to receive it. God’s voice is different than that, and we need to reflect and speak from that insofar as we possibly can.

the upside of down

Writing this post for me is not easy since I am prone to being down in ways which are not helpful. Although even during those times much good can result as I listen to my wife’s counsel and receive her prayers, along with the counsel and prayers of any others, such as one of our pastors, or someone like a spiritual director, and experience God’s grace anew. But there is a downness which indeed is healthy and helpful which scripture speaks of. A broken and contrite heart we read, God does not despise. God indeed dwells with such. And indeed exalts the humble, or those who humble themselves before him.

It is not easy walking through a situation in which you feel all but caved in, and your faith inactive and weak, not seeming to matter. That is when and where we need to look to God all the more, when all seems troubled, and we remain baffled, not knowing what to do, or being tempted to do something we should not–as in taking a matter in our own hands.

The upside of these down times can be that we grow in the depths of our trust in God. That we learn to live more settled in his Peace and Presence, all the while knowing that this Life is not of us at all. And that we can empathize much more with others in their weakness, something said of both human priests, and of our Great High Priest, Jesus, in the Book of Hebrews.

The only problem with this upside is that there is the down, which remains something of what we must continue to experience, it seems, during our remaining time in this life. There really seems to be no escape from it. I am amazed really at how God keeps me going day after day, week after week, and on to year after year. It is truly a working of his grace, so that I can come to realize that as God has been faithful in the past, and shows himself faithful in the present, so I can count on God’s faithfulness in Jesus to the very end.  All in and by his grace in Jesus. And part of his kingdom working in Jesus in and for this world. By and into the new creation in Jesus.