Good Mourning

Posted: February 24, 2010 by Matt Horan in ReEmergent Church
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By Matt Horan

I think “Blessed” is a funny word.  I’ll confess that often times I insert the word “Bless” into places where I feel pressure to add some Jesus to a situation.

What I say:  God bless!

What I’m thinking:  Good luck!  Adios!  See ya later!

What I say:  This extra money will be such a blessing!

What I’m thinking:  I’m so glad I got a raise!

What I say:  Your help has been such a blessing!

What I’m thinking:  I’m so glad you’re here so that I have less work to do.

What I say:  I’m blessed.

What I mean:  I’m fine, thanks.  How are you?

It doesn’t help that we use the word in such a variety of ways.  Having a job can be a blessing, but losing a job might be a “blessing in disguise” if you find a better job.  So which is a blessing—employed or unemployed?

I’ve called happy circumstances a blessing, but I’ve heard people in poverty say that they were blessed.  Who is blessed—the one for whom things are going well, or the one for whom they’re not?

Sometimes people volunteer to help me with things, and I say, “You’re such a blessing to me.”  Does that mean that people who say that they can’t help me are not a blessing?  The opposite of bless is “curse,” right?  Next time you ask some people to help you move and someone turns you down, tell them, “You’re such a curse to me.”  See how that goes.

We can bless someone, we can be blessed, we can be a blessing.  An event can be bless-ED.  (I have no idea when it’s proper to say “blessed” vs. “bless-ED.”  Seems “bless-ED” implies that you’re famous, maybe?  Blessed Virgin Mary…)  Men ask for their girlfriends’ fathers’ “blessing” to ask her to marry him.  Then, the relationship is “blessed,” but not “bless-ED.”  Before you eat somebody says the “blessing.”  It can even be veiled profanity.  You can be blessed with good-fortune or blessed with abilities like a home run swing or a great jump shot or naturally curly hair.

And when someone sneezes?  “God bless you.”

(By the way, “Gesundheit” does not mean “God bless you,” so if you’ve ever said that to someone, know that they were not any more blessed after you said it than before.)

So what does this mean?  When are we supposed to use this word?  And why on earth would you be blessed, as the beatitude we’re looking at today says, when you mourn?

It’s translated all kids of different ways, and even the Bible uses it in an inconsistent manner.  It appears as a noun as fathers would pronounce a blessing on their children in the Old Testament as an expectant hope of good things to come.  It’s a verb in Paul’s letter to the Romans when he says in 12:14, “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them.”  It’s an adjective here in Matthew 5, where Jesus declares who is blessed, and declares also what awaits them down the road.

This is not easily answered, I’m afraid.  In fact, there are different Greek words that are translated “bless” or “blessed,” so you could wonder if the writers even intended to communicate the same thing.  However, the use of “bless” here in the Beatitudes does follow the Old Testament pattern of recognizing the personality or character of the person receiving a blessing, and making a pronouncement about their future that is consistent with their trajectory through life.  In this way we can see what Jesus is doing—he is using a traditional pattern, but he uses it to turn the assumptions of his culture upside down.  As we’ll see over the next few weeks—these predictions would make little sense back then, just like they seem to buck the conventional wisdom of today.  But remember that Jesus was not here to endorse the way things had always been.  He was he to change things—to claim territory for the Kingdom of God on the foreign shore of this world, and to watch that territory grow through the power of faith, hope, and love.

Take Matthew 5:4, for example, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  Who in their right mind is going to seek out mourning?  Why would anyone think that you are blessed if you are in mourning?  If anything, it seems like this person might be cursed with misfortune that would lead them to mourning!  So how can this be?

It’s tempting to split the Beatitudes up and make them a series of eight different instructions for how to live so that we can be “blessed,” but that would misuse them.  Instead, lets consider the beatitudes as intended—to be read together, in this particular order.

They begin, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Belonging in the kingdom of heaven is a gift—it is bestowed.  It cannot be earned, it cannot be deserved.  According to verse 3, those who are poor in spirit—those who realize their spiritual poverty and their need for spiritual fulfillment from somewhere other than from themselves, are the ones ready to receive membership in the kingdom.  Clawing our way in on our own never works.  Being pious enough never works.  Being powerful, influential, rich—these can actually send us fleeing from the Kingdom by our reliance on them.  Awareness of our spiritual poverty is the starting point in our journey as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Then we come to verse 4: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Now, there’s a blog article to be written that says that mourning is good for us.  To be in denial over the tragedies or losses that we’ve faced doesn’t help us or anybody.  Repressing our grief merely prolongs it and prevents us from moving on into the hopeful new possibilities that emerge on the other side of mourning.  Teaching our children not to cry is not constructive or wise.

However, that is not what this verse is talking about.  Verse 4 is the logical next step after verse 3.  Aware of our spiritual poverty, sinfulness, brokenness, and inability to do anything about it, the appropriate response is mourning.

So, the question is before us.  I’d imagine that we’re mostly okay admitting that we’ve no been all that we could be.  We’re willing to admit that we sin, make mistakes, bear numerous imperfections, etc.  Now, we don’t want to be specific, of course, J but the average Christian will admit to their fallen condition.  The question is, do we mourn over it?  How much does our sin bother us?  Am I literally saddened by my sin?  Are you?

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty good at making excuses for my sin.

“Oh, I shouldn’t have done that.”

“I intended this, but that happened instead.”

“I would have, but something came up.”

“I’ve always been like that.  I just can’t shake it.”

“Sometimes I just can’t help myself.”

Do you have any lines like that?  There’s a variety of ways available to us to minimize the gravity of our sin.  But the appropriate response to our sin is to mourn over it.  To realize that God is going one way, but I decided to go another.  To realize that God was doing this, but you were doing that.

The reason we need a comforter, the reason we should need hope is because of our mourning.  We like to skip the mourning though and go right for the comfort, don’t we?  I know I do.  I don’t like to mourn, so I avoid thinking about what I’ve done wrong.  I don’t like to confess, to sit with my failures.  But ignoring them doesn’t make them go away.  Pretending that we “didn’t really do anything that bad” doesn’t erase the fact that we have injured ourselves and others and departed from partnership with God.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, recently wrote, the “Christian community doing its job is a community where people expect to be repenting quite a lot, and where the confident calling of others to repentance, which Christians enjoy so much, needs to be silenced by self-scrutiny and self-questioning before God.”  It’s so easy to forget that our redemption, our salvation, came at a cost.  We love the grace, and often toss the word “free” in front of it, but if you were to ask Jesus, he wouldn’t say that it was free.

In order to move along on the discipleship pathway, we have to mourn our shortfall.  Once we do, we are then ready to be encouraged with the hope the Spirit offers for us to grow to new levels of faithfulness, and new heights in being a part of God’s work in this world to being transformation.  We’re tempted to blame someone or something for our sin, or to set ourselves up as the victim.  Father Richard Rohr says in his book Jesus’ Plan for a New World, that mourning “allows us to carry the dark side, to bear the pain of the world without looking for perpetrators or victims, but instead rcognizing the tragic reality that both sides are caught up in.  Tears [that come] from God are for everybody, for our universal exile from home.”

We often forget why we even need the grace or hope or peace or comfort that the Scriptures talk about.  But the authors of Scripture knew that we’ll need encouragement after we have mourned our sin and Spiritual poverty.  When we’ve mourned, we can take heart, for the Scriptures plainly say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

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