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Blessed Are Those Who Mourn, Matthew 5.1-12, November 5, 2017
Jesus offers us what is akin to an earworm. We can imagine the Beatitudes as lyrical fodder for a pop-hit…
Blessed are the…
Blessed are those…
Blessed are the…
Within this preaching, Christ employs a repetition that will bring to mind for everyone who hears it the litany of blessings – of pronouncements – from the One who carries the heart of God. I remember this…
Jesus takes this technique of rhythmic cadence and repetition, and brings to it the power of the aphorism. An aphorism is a saying that is short and pointed – memorable. And for Jesus, the aphorism is a vehicle for truth that is held within paradox.
Consider the aphorism outside of the beatitudes: “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”
On it’s face it is untrue and foolishness. How can the first be last? How can the last be first? But move into it… with grace and faithfulness, wrestle with it, hold it up to experience, and there is life-giving truth within it. About our priorities, God’s priorities, pride, humility, welcome and hospitality. It’s truth, it’s wisdom.
Hear in the Beatitudes, Christ is utilizing repetition and aphorism to place these life-giving truths held in paradox directly into the mind of the listener – where they will stay… That the listener may hold it and wrestle with it, to discover that truth and beauty within.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “For the simplicity that lies this side of complexity, I would not give a fig, but for the simplicity that lies on the other side of complexity, I would give my life.”
With Christ’s aphorisms, we are invited to move through the complexity to find that beautiful simplicity that is so life-giving.
For us today, the aphorism we encounter is within Matthew 5.4: ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
At first glance, the message within this aphorism would appear to be a promised future comfort to those who have experienced loss and grief. This interpretation is not too far off from the empty words, “you’ll feel better someday.” It’s rather callous and dismissive of one’s pain and grief, and there’s really not much life here, so we have to move into the paradox contained within the aphorism which is really contained in the first few words,
“Blessed are those who mourn…”
And this raises the questions, How are those who are grieving, blessed? How are we – so shaken by the powers of death – in any way, blessed?
The crowds gathered on the mount were likely considering similar questions. In that time, the world was proclaiming a gospel that those who are truly blessed are those who never have to experience pain or loss or suffering. The world proclaimed its own litany of blessings:
Blessed are the rich,
Blessed are those who are full,
Blessed are the victorious.
For God has seen their merit and their virtue – their purity – and granted them the appropriate life free from pain and suffering and loss.
It came from the halls of Rome and from the Temple:
It filtered its way all the was down to the disciples, Who sinned, Jesus? This man or his parents?
As they walked past the blind man… Brokenness is the cost of unfaithfulness… Perfection is the reward of the virtuous. So the rich, the healthy, and everyone without pain are blessed. The poor, unhealthy, and grieving have incurred a divine curse.
It’s not so different from today:
It’s a prosperity gospel and an imperialist doctrine: Blessing is money, power, and an existence free from suffering.
From DC to the Mega Churches, Blessings come as success and wealth, Blessings come as strength – determination – grit. The world has a rather common concept of the blessed life, And it doesn’t include death.
The world fears death, It avoids it, It prevents it, It treats it And when it seems as though death is going to prevail, the world distances itself from the dying to try and lessen the pain.
When death finally happens the world ignores it and forgets it and moves on. And then, so uncomfortable with death and loss and grief is the world that it will encourage everyone who is grieving longer than what is socially normal to “hurry up” and “get over it.” The world fears death and the world fears pain,
And to all of this Jesus says…
Blessed are those who mourn.
It’s not too long before that aphorism begins to turn within us that we begin to see that this worldly image of a blessed life doesn’t really seem to hold much life… and perhaps there is more life to be found when we don’t fear death, when we don’t avoid pain, when we don’t just forget and move on…
We mourn those we loved and have lost. We grieve because we have Loved. And blessed are those who have Loved and Loved deeply.
Grief is the other side of Love – it is the cost of such risk and commitment to Love another; it is the cost exacted for the beauty of a relationship.
And what Jesus seems to be saying through this complex blessing is quite simple:
The reason that the people who mourn are blessed, Is because they have been the people who have Loved – and Loved deeply. They have been the people who have been vulnerable. They have risked pain to establish and honor commitment; They have journeyed with another throughout life – experiencing joy and pain, anger and forgiveness, grace… – Love.
They have lived a life with fullness – of family, friendship, and community. And yes, there is loss and grief at this ending.
But that is not the curse. No, grief is not a curse.
Jesus is speaking to the world that is terrified of death, afraid of pain, afraid of weakness, and unwilling to grieve, That is protective of its self – guarded – that does not easily risk friendship, Love.
And while the priests and prophets of the world keep telling us – don’t feel pain, don’t risk commitment, don’t risk relationship – it’s not worth it.
There’s blessing there. There’s blessing in the grief. There’s life there in the mourning, Because this person has so fully given themselves over to life, it still remains even after death.
Blessed are those who mourn –
Not simply because they will receive the comforting presence of God in their pain and loss; not just because they will be held by others who offer them compassion and care;
Blessed are those who mourn, For they have Loved another, With their heart, and soul, and might.
Church, you know this.
For every name that has been spoken; Every name upon your heart; There is a blessing of a relationship; There is a sacred memory. For every tear that falls upon your cheek, Every sniff that is inhaled, There is a blessing of a relationship;
Yes, grief will hurt – it’ll hurt like Hell – But blessed are you who risk such pain, For another.
Blessed are you, who mourn. For you have loved and loved deeply, and what else is this life for?
May we all have the courage to open our lives to the fullness of relationship – opening ourselves to Love another, despite the risk and the cost. Discovering the presence of God and the blessing of Life throughout it. May we be a part of Christ’s blessing to those who mourn – offering our compassion to comfort. And may we offer thanks and gratitude, That the God who blesses the fullness of life,
Welcomes every beloved child into the fullness of God’s realm – the fullness of Love.