by Pastor Jurgen Rausch
Part 2: Losing What is Most Dear.
The Lost Art of Mourning
“Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” Matt.5:4
It’s an interesting paradox to associate ‘blessed’ with those who mourn. Since when would anyone consider someone who mourns, blessed? In fact, since when does anyone ever think about mourning, or even like the idea of mourning?
Let’s face it, the idea of mourning goes against our modern tendencies. We love humor, joy, laughter and we love to be amused.
Like in the olden days we love our court jesters, or their modern day equivalents, the comic. We love to be around those who can make us laugh, far more than those who make us cry.
So this idea of mourning seems from another age altogether; an age of dour peasant women shrouded in their perpetual black mourning garments.
In our modern age we don’t mourn well. The ultimate association of mourning is with death and we have managed pretty well to keep death away from us. The rise of the funeral industry means all is taken care of when it comes to death. Long gone are the days where death is a public spectacle in public view where we knew, really knew, how to mourn and wail.
In the midst of this idea of biblical mourning, it seems otherworldly.
“Christianity has always seemed peculiar because it places sorrow among the resources of life. The rest of the world, on the other hand, doesn't know what to do with sorrow. Modern society tries to cover up its grief, miseries and wounds. Like the ancient Persian kings who forbade upon pain of death bringing anything sorrowful into their courts, so we avoid and repress our griefs. It is rarely mentioned in polite company. And when it is introduced into normal conversation, it usually produces an awkward embarrassment. It is the new 'unmentionable'."
The new unmentionable…. It's almost like a plague.
So this is perhaps the darkest of the beatitudes, with the others such as merciful, meek and pure in heart seen in far more positive light. Who wouldn’t want to be seen as a peacemaker, for example? Any takers on being seen as a mourner? (didn’t think so)
We mourn because we must, because of a great loss we have experienced in life. Beyond that, why mourn?
While we applaud natural peacemakers, or the natural merciful, we wouldn’t do that with a born mourner!
Funerals are attended because of obligation and to express sympathy and support in times of loss. While they can be moving experiences, funerals are not happy occasions. We much rather prefer celebrations, joyful gatherings and parties, to wakes, visitations and funerals.
So we have come to the least understood, the most counterintuitive of all the beatitudes in our postmodern times.
In their days, mourning was a common thing, since loss was everywhere. Apart from the fact that life was perhaps more fragile than today and thus pain, suffering and sorrow were constant realities, there was the bigger sorrow of being kept in spiritual exile.
Occupied by Rome and reduced to the level of serfs, meant that tears flowed easily within a perpetual state of mourning. This is captured best in these immortal words from Psalm 137:1
“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.”
In the midst of the suffering of his day, Jesus says:
“Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” Matt. 5:4.
So what does Jesus mean when he said, 'blessed are those who mourn'?
The Personal Dimension of Mourning
There is a personal dimension to mourning, no doubt about it.
In some ways Jesus meant this personally, in that someone who mourns is a person who can feel, which is far better person than someone who does not feel.
Being able to feel the pain of personal loss, means at least you're alive and in some ways better off then those who are not in touch with their feelings at all.
“Those who are able to feel the pain of the loss of a loved one are better off than those whose feelings are numb. Psychologists now confirm that hearts that never feel sorrow can never feel joy. It is literally true that the happy people are those who can experience the depths as well as the heights of human emotion.”
Being fully alive, means being able to feel the wide range of emotions, from the ugly to the good. There is something about coming out of the crucible of suffering, that makes you a more compassionate being than if the sun is always shining.
Some of the most compassionate people are those who have experienced great loss. An old Arab proverb says, “All sunshine makes a desert”; and besides, sunshine all day long fries your brain J.
“History reminds us that some of the greatest people have been those who have suffered most. They graduated from the school of hard knocks whose colors are black and blue. Time and again God washed their eyes with tears so that they could see straight.” Douglas Bayer
Some of the most insightful, compassionate people on the planet are those, who know close up, something of the pain experienced by others.
The Social Dimension of Mourning
As alluded to earlier, there is a social dimension to mourning as well. This has to do with suffering the sorrow of others and bearing the grief of sinners.
It may be easier to wish 'every man for themselves', where we would be better off if each suffered their own grief and for their own sins; where no one suffers for you, nor you for anyone else.
But on second thought, is that really how we want things to be?
“Would you want to live in a world in which a parent would feel no sense of shame for an immoral son or daughter? Would you want to live in a world in which a wife would shed no tears for a drunken husband, or a husband would not grieve for wayward wife? Like Moses and Jesus, great saints have always suffered the griefs of sinners.”
It was Moses who shows us this in Ex. 32: 30, 31,32
“The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”
And it was Jesus who wept over the sins of Jerusalem.
The story is told of a little girl whose mom sent her to the store for a loaf of bread and was gone a long time. When she finally got home her mother asked why she was late. She explained that a friend of hers, down the street, had broken her doll and that she had to help her.
"Help her?" her mother asked. "What could you do?" The little girl said, "I sat down and helped her cry."
This is just like Job’s friends who wept with Job over his great loss:
“When Job’s three friends heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”
Job 2:11; 13.
Blessed are those who know how to sit down and help someone cry. Blessed are those who mourn for the sorrows of others.
Those who can do that the best, have learned to mourn for their own sorrows first.
I love the way Paul flips this on its ear when he says that the comfort they received, was not so that they can be comfortable, but so that they can be comforters of others:
“The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. II Cor. 1:3,4
The Spiritual Dimension of Mourning
Carrying the sorrows and bearing the sins of self and others, brings me to the heart of what it means, to “Blessed are those who mourn”. At the end of the day, all sorrow has to do with the ravages of sin in our world.
This is a fallen world. This is a broken world, where most are lost in sin and those who are not, deeply struggle with the consequences of sin, in their own lives along with the lives of others and in this wider world.
While there is a mourning associated with a personal loss, all loss in life has a larger connection, in that all loss is a direct consequence to the ravages of sin. Sin let loose in our natural world and society.
Just think, prior to the Fall of Man there was no loss. Imagine a life with no loss and no sin. Just try to imagine! You can’t. We have only known the life soaked in sin, and sin causes loss everywhere around us.
This brings us back to Jesus weeping over the consequences of sin, either at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, or over the spiritual wasteland that was Jerusalem.
So every time we mourn, we do so for the specific loss incurred, but we also do so for the reasons behind the particular loss.
We know that behind every brokenness stands a devil, as it says in the Scriptures:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” Jn 10:10.
Yes, it may be the death of a loved one, but death comes only because of the broken world we live in.
Yes, it may be a broken down relationship, but shattered relationships happen only because of the broken world we live in.
Yes, we may call it addiction, or emotional immaturity, or cancer, or financial ruin; but all of it happens because of the broken world we live in.
And all of it is sponsored by the devil, who comes as a thief looking to steal, kill and destroy!
Therefore, this kind of mourning is the mourning associated with the loss of God’s blessing upon this world.
It wasn’t Bony M, but the people of God living in a land of exile, who wrote “By The Rivers of Babylon” and did so, as they reflected on how their misery was the result of sin:
“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” Ps. 137:1-3
Instead of merry making, they hung up their harps and said:
“How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land”?
The Promise of Comfort
It wouldn’t be until Jesus arrived on the scene and overturned the misery of sin, that tears would be wiped away and joy returned; at least in the hearts and lives of those who came to him.
Even though its ravages can still be felt among those who choose not to, and felt in the wider natural world as seen in the reality of disasters and diseases.
We know that Jesus came specifically to:
“comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in
Zion.” Is. 61:1,2
So we yearn for that comfort, we cry with the hymn writer: “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.”
We cling to the promise that the tables will be turned, that He would do away with the ravages of sin once and for all and that He would in the words of Isaiah:
“bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”
'So for mourning to be “in the faith,” it will be likewise be a mourning not just for the suffering and sadness of life, but for the sinfulness that causes it. They understand that their grieving is ultimately for a world that is lost and ruined, in which God and his will do not prevail. But in their mourning the disciples of Jesus have opened their heavy hearts to the Lord, and they know that their grieving is not without hope. They know that their weeping and grieving is but for a time only. They know that death does not have the final victory, for the dead in Christ will be raised incorruptible. They know that the Messiah will turn all that away someday. And that hope brings them comfort'.
Only those who mourn this way will be able to open their heavy hearts to the Lord and find comfort in the hope that a better day will soon dawn.
Aren’t you glad you are not past 'feeling'; that what your sins and what the sins of others have done in this world, trouble you deeply?
A man whose feet had been frozen and later amputated said: “As long as I could feel the pain, I was happy.” As long as we can feel the pain of sin, we have good reason to be happy!
The world prefers the psychologists' couch and the comics' arena to the mourners’ bench! But we know that comfort is found only at the mourners’ bench.
The comfort of God’s presence is in the here and now, for how often have we found God’s nearness in times of despair, to be the balm of Gilead; and the comfort of God’s promise in a future, where tables are turned and a new day has dawned.
“So the promise is that they will be comforted. They will be consoled above all when God wipes away all tears, and death will be no more, nor grief nor tribulation. This is what citizens of his kingdom can expect.”
“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!’ ” Rev. 21:4-5
Part 1- At The End of Your Rope (Matt. 5:3)
1. A New Way Of Living
One of the most amazing things of Jesus’ ministry, was the kind of resonance his teaching had among his peers. It was like the times were tailor- made for the message he brought.
Times were desperate and most people were desperately poor. The brutal occupation by Rome had taken its toll with people reduced to serfs (forced laborer) with only a bleak future ahead of them.
Many, were literally at the end of their ropes, desperate for any shred of good news. What made it worse, is that most understood that this was misery of their own making. That because of their own disobedience, they had come to this place of spiritual exile and misery.
Very similar to the remarkable scene of the classic 'It’s A Wonderful Life' where Jimmy Stewart, playing the role of George Bailey, breaks down in a pub, crying out to God in utter despair: “God...God...dear Father in heaven, I'm not a praying man, but if You're up there and You can hear me, show me the way, I'm at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God".
Similarly at this place of 'at the end of their rope', Jesus arrives with an offer to a new way of life.
So Jesus spends the first chapters in Mathew's Gospel, announcing that a 'New Kingdom' was going to dawn, a new way of living, and that repentance, or turning away from one’s sins, and turning toward God; would allow this new way of living to emerge.
“From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matt. 4:17
He begins to invite people, who knew only spiritual wretchedness and misery, to experience this new way of living with astounding results:
“ Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases... Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” Matt. 4:23-25
With such a response, it became quickly obvious, that all these 'new lifers' or 'followers of the way' as they would become known, would need to understand what living in this newly dawned kingdom, would look like for them.
So he gives them the ABC’s of this new way of living, in what we now call, the Sermon on the Mount. It ends up as this incredible manifesto of what characterizes life in this new kingdom, when He talks about:
This is what this new way of living would be all about.
'In what has been described as the manifesto of His kingdom, Jesus unveils the foundations and character of life in that kingdom. Here He teaches the ethical guidelines for life in His kingdom; and the guidelines point to the quality of righteousness that characterizes life in the kingdom' Alan Ross from Beeson Divinity School
2. A Happy State of Mind
And what a delightful reality this place is. Notice the frequency of the word “blessed”.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are the meek… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… Blessed are the merciful…Blessed are the pure in heart… Blessed are the peacemakers… Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness”
There is a delightfulness to the word “blessed” that simply eludes us.
The word “blessed” has fallen away in our modern use of language and thus, for most it creates a puzzling reaction, with some veiled hint of an ancient saint-like status, that most do not relate to.
Some have suggested that “happy” might be a more modern equivalent; and though happiness is implied, it’s more than that:
'This term is an exclamation of the inner joy and peace that comes with being right with God. Happiness may indeed be a part of it; but it is a happiness that transcends what happens in the world around us, a happiness that comes to the soul from being favored by God'. Alan Ross
Which would explain, how this happy state of mind can be associated with, what would appear to be some rather negative aspects in these attributes, including the very first one, references to the 'poor in spirit'.
Those, in the kingdom, are among the most contended, fulfilled and serene people in the world; characterized by a way of life that is endearing to most.
By the way, while this is not the intend, but a delightful side affect; this way of living will serve as a huge attraction to others, who also want to experience this incredible quality of life and live their lives this way.
Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a fulfilled life of peace, serenity and blissful existence AND have it be absolutely independent of life’s circumstances?
In an age of dictators, egomaniacs and despots (tyrants), who can resist an offer for the kind of life suggested in these verses?
3. The Poor in Spirit
So who are these people and what is their way of life? The surprising thing is that it appears that they are 'the poor in spirit'.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”
'The poor in spirit' – are you kidding me? Who are the poor in spirit?
While some of the poor of this world may be among them, the 'poor in spirit' is not just the poor, but includes many others.
While there is economic poverty in this world (which many of you older ones have experienced firsthand), there is another kind of poverty that cuts through all kinds of socio-economic lines.
This is a spiritual kind of bankruptcy, that many of great means have, along with many of those who have nothing.
While it's true that those who have precious little may be quicker to connect the dots to their spiritual poverty, since wealth tends to mask poverty of any kind; but to assume that 'the poor in spirit' refers to the poor of this world is naïve at best.
I have known some desperately poor people, who have never seen their spiritual poverty, who carry with them a sense of entitlement and display attitude and are embittered & crass.
I have also known some incredibly wealthy people who were more than aware of how empty and bankrupt their spiritual lives were.
However, by and large, wealth tends to numb us to the deeper poverty beyond the material, which definitely gives an edge to the poor among us. Besides, the God of heaven is on the side of the dispossessed, the weak and the powerless.
'The words that describe the poor in the Bible include these aspects, for the poor in Jesus’ day had few possessions, were usually oppressed, had little power and less hope. They had no resources to fall back on; they had to depend on others for survival. Isaiah brought the people of his day good news--they would be delivered from bondage. But Jesus fulfilled that promise of bringing good news by proclaiming the gospel, the “good news” of God. He did not make them rich in earthly possessions and power; but he fulfilled their greatest need.' Ross
Repentance and spiritual poverty go hand in hand. One causes the other. Spiritual poverty causes repentance and repentance unmasks and stirs up the true state of our poverty. Not sure which comes first – the chicken or the egg – but both go hand in hand.
'Blissful oblivion' means that things are masked. Most of us are near spiritual bankruptcy, but most don't realize it. Wealth masks it, as does the illusion of power, popularity and ease of life.
Yet, at our core, we are wretchedly empty, pitiful beings, just like George Bailey in 'It’s a Wonderful Life' or Ebenezer Scrooge in 'The Christmas Carol'.
4. The Turning Point
So here is a question for us this morning: have you ever come to the end of your rope? Ever come to a place where you know you are a scoundrel and that little good dwells in you? The place where you no longer have any excuses, options, plan B’s or escape routes?
This is usually the place of the turning point for most. Addicts will tell you, that unless they come to the end of themselves and see how wretchedly poor they are, they will not cry out for help and intervention.
Coming to the end of your rope is absolutely key, since everything from God is a gift; nothing can be bought, influenced, leveraged or obtained by any other means. There are no excuses, no justifications and no defenses!
“They have afflicted their souls, meaning that they have humbled themselves and repented with deep contrition; and they have come to the king as helpless and hopeless sinners. There is no arrogance in them, no self-righteousness, no self-sufficiency. They are free from their own pretensions, and therefore they are free for God. Everyone who wishes to enter the kingdom must be 'spiritually poor', for salvation is a gift from God.” Ross
Coming to that place in life is absolutely critical. Some come to this place of recognizing their spiritual poverty rather naturally and easily, while for others it’s a struggle and sometimes requires a major intervention-type of life event, such as bankruptcy, divorce, disaster or being found out.
These are the turning points of life that literally turn someone around, 180 degrees away from pride, haughtiness, self sufficiency and toward the place of self emptiness and spiritual poverty.
Coming to the place where no one can boast or be a braggart; the place of “not by works, so that no one can boast”.
'It is the poor in spirit, those who have humbled themselves and become dependent on God--they have the kingdom of heaven. In fact, everyone who is in the kingdom had to become poor in spirit. They all come with a broken heart and a contrite spirit seeking the Savior.'
5. WHERE HEAVEN MEETS EARTH
This is precisely the place where divine grace meets human need and opens up the riches of the Kingdom of God!
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Eph. 2:8-9
Hear me this morning: I am not advocating camping in the wasteland of spiritual poverty; it may be a necessary place to come to, but not a place to make your home to call your own.
Instead, it is the place where divine grace meets human need and is the gateway, to the untold riches of the Kingdom life.
For it is at that place where everything that is in the Kingdom of God becomes yours. Salvation, blessings, divine favor, assurance – you name it, all the spiritual blessings – the content of the Kingdom of God becomes yours. It is THE place you need to come to in life!
The place is the kingdom of God. The gate into it is “not by works”, (not by money, not by charm, not by influence, not by power, not by pulling strings, not by calling in favors) but by having nothing.
6. THE KINGDOM OF GOD
As we close this morning, please realize that spiritual poverty is not where we camp, but the place where we find the door to the blessings of the Kingdom!
If all you ever see is your poverty and near bankruptcy, then you have missed the point. If so, you are as guilty of missing out on the riches and blessings of the Kingdom, as much as those who are arrogant and have need of nothing.
Poverty of spirit can no more be your final destination and choice, then being a braggart and full of pride can be. The theme needs to be, that the Kingdom of God is mine!
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God”
So where are you this morning?
Some of you may still be in the place of self-importance; you will never enjoy the benefits of the Kingdom in that place!
Others of you may be in the place of self-emptiness; and while that is the gate into the Kingdom it is only the gate. Don’t stay at the place of self-emptiness
The place you and I need to be is the Promised Land of the Kingdom of God!
Find your way to the place where the blessings of the Kingdom of God become yours.
How do you find you way there? By laying aside entitlement, pride and power so as to see your poverty and in your poverty reach out to Jesus so that instead of poverty and emptiness you realize the infilling of all the Kingdom of God has to give to you.
Find your way to the foot of the cross today!
Here you can find several messages. Feel free to write your thoughts or questions in the comment section.