Blessed are those who mourn (23/9/11)
I preached today at the Moffat chapel service on Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
I signed up to speak on this verse about two months ago as a part of the regular roster of staff preaching in chapel. In the month following:
-My parents’ divorce was finalised
-There was a major fire in a Nairobi slum, with over 100 burned to death, including two cousins of a friend of ours, who both died in a hospital from their burns
– A staff member at RVA home in the USA on furlough died unexpectedly of a brain hemorrage, leaving behind 8 children.
-A good friend had a traumatic miscarriage.
-Mardi diagnosed a little girl in a refugee family with Type 1 diabetes, a generous friend donated the money to pay for her medical costs and future insulin supplies, and before this could be given to her family, her parents took her from the hospital under cover of darkness, we think to try more traditional ‘medicine’. We don’t know if we’ll see them again. It is certain the little girl will get very sick again quite soon.
-Numerous little children, each with their own story, promise, and grieving community, passed away in the hospital under Mardi’s care.
As I write this, Mardi is spending the night with Liam are in the Hospital (100 metres from our back door). Liam’s had another asthma episode, and so he’s on a bit of oxygen to stabilise his oxygen levels and so he can be monitored.
This really turned into one of those “I had no idea how real this was going to become for me when I signed up for it” kind of sermons!
Amongst all this grief and mourning, there has also been an extraordinary amount of joy and blessing…but this is not a blog post about that.
It has been the so-real-you-can-touch-it grief which lent a new perspective my preparation and talk on “blessed are those who mourn…”
When Jesus says “…for they will be comforted”, the comfort he is referring to isn’t only a future comfort. It’s not only the comfort we have in knowing that one day, in the age to come, God will set things right again in the restoration of creation. It certainly does have a future component, in which we quite rightly place our hope. But the grief I have experienced in the last few months has brought home to me the truth that if I only have a future hope, this too easily leads me to a worldview along the lines of “I’m just hanging in here by the skin of my teeth until one day, O glory…I’ll fly away…” (to heaven). How can I be grounded in reality, in the inherent goodness of God’s creation and participate with his ongoing work of restoration around me right now, with that kind of outlook?
In the last few months, I’ve discovered through the tears and grief that a future-only hope just isn’t enough for me. While it is ultimately where my hope is based, I find myself wanting more…how do I to connect with the reality of suffering around me in a genuine way, and how am I to reach out effectively to those around me who are suffering?
In the story immediately prior to the discourse in the book of Matthew we call the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, we see Jesus ‘travelling throughout Galilee, teaching, sharing the good news of the Kingdom of God, and healing everyone who was brought to him including casting out numerous demons. As a result, huge crowds followed him wherever he went.’
Picture Jesus, surrounded by huge crowds of people, pressing in around him–and so he climbs up a hillside to sit down and teach.
In the crowd he was speaking to, directly in front of him were people who had just received ‘the good news of the Kingdom of God’ through him: healings, exorcisms, a touch from God himself. Jesus could point out in the crowd an individual who was “blessed” because The Kingdom Among Us had just reached out and touched them with Jesus’ heart and voice and hands. I am struck by the fact that in the stories about Jesus we only find Jesus giving “Beatitudes” such as “Blessed are those who mourn…” from the midst of a crowd of people he had touched and healed.
These aren’t theoretical, philosophical, ivory-tower prognostications from a guru telling people about a nirvana-like existence they will have one day in the future…it’s real, earthy, personal, now.
Jesus’ method of ‘show and tell’ ministry gives me a grid inside of which to align my longing for both a present comfort in the midst of present suffering, and future hope…he demonstrated the power of the Kingdom of God, and then he told the people he had just demonstrated it to how things work now that the Kingdom is at hand.
In the words of Dallas Willard,
Luke refers to them as “the weeping ones” (6:21). But as they see the kingdom in Jesus, enter it, and learn to live in it, they find comfort, and their tears turn to laughter. Yes, they are even better off than they were before their particular disaster. And you don’t have to wait until you’re dead. Jesus offers to all such people as these the present blessedness of the present kingdom—regardless of circumstances. The condition of life sought for by human beings through the ages is attained in the quietly transforming friendship of Jesus. (from The Divine Conspiracy).
I find that Jesus’ words also give me a permission to mourn and freedom to be real: his words presuppose events in this life which cause us to mourn: hence, we are free to mourn, and to acknowledge these events as worth mourning, and not have to pretend that everything’s OK. Jesus validates as genuine the mourning experienced by the people he was speaking to, even after he has ministered to them in power. He doesn’t say, ‘You were mourning, but now that I’ve touched you I want you to never speak of it again. Your daughter who died of leprosy? Pretend it doesn’t still cause you grief, cause you’ll be in heaven one day.”
Validation, permission, to mourn. Freedom to not sweep suffering under the rug, like an uncomfortable bit of conversation that comes up and you really don’t know what to do with it so you just avoid the topic. “Me? Yeah, I’m good. How’re you?”
This gives me great peace tonight, as I go to sleep with Riley in my bed (it took her two hours to fall asleep because she ‘wanted to go into the Hospital to see Liam’s xray and his bones and lungs’), my son and wife in Hospital, and friends whose Facebook status reads something along the lines of, ‘Lord, come quickly, and have mercy on us’.
I am learning that in some ways, we can’t properly understand life on earth now if we don’t have clarity as to the reality/validity of suffering and mourning, and yet that because of the in-breaking, present availability of the Kingdom of God, we can still be blessed in the middle of it.
For now, though, I’m going to do the dishes and go to bed.