Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sermon 2/17/08 The Beatitudes Part 2:"Cry Over Spilled Milk

“Cry Over Spilled Milk”
Matthew 5:3-12 from Tom Wright Matthew for Everyone

Scripture Reading

Wonderful news for poor in spirit! The kingdom of heaven is yours.
Wonderful news for the mourners! You’re going to be comforted.
Wonderful news for the meek! You’re going to inherit the earth.
Wonderful news for people who hunger and thirst for God’s justice! You’re going to be satisfied.
Wonderful news for the merciful! You’ll receive mercy yourself.
Wonderful news for the pure in heart! You will see God.
Wonderful news for the peacemakers! You’ll be called children of God.
Wonderful news for people who are persecuted because of God’s way! The kingdom of heaven belongs to you.
Wonderful news for you, when people slander you and persecute you, and say all kinds of wicked things about you falsely because of me! Celebrate and rejoice: there’s a great reward for you in heaven. That’s how they persecuted the prophets who went before you.

When I was working as a chaplain at a hospital in Lexington, Kentucky one summer, we all took turns being “on call.” This typically meant responding to emergencies as they came up. I carried around a pager with me when I was on call. One day while I was on call, I got a page because one of the nurses had just found out that her brother had died. She was in the lobby of the hospital waiting on her family to come and pick her up. They had asked for a chaplain to visit with her until her family arrived.

I made my way down to the lobby and I immediately saw her because she was crying uncontrollably. She had another nurse with her. I walked up to her and introduced myself, which she seemed not to really notice me. She finally sat down in one of the chairs and continued to cry, so I sat in another chair. Sometimes I have some very intelligent things to say, but those moments are few, so I remained silent. I remember this being one of the most uncomfortable moments of my life. Here was someone in deep mourning and I, as the chaplain, was in no way capable of doing anything to comfort her. As a matter of fact, I was looking for some comfort myself.

There is something strange about being in the presence of people who are suffering. Our first instinct is to give comfort, not so much for the person who is suffering, but for our sake. We think if we can make them feel better, it will bring comfort to us. It seems odd to me that Jesus would tell the crowd gathered around him on the Mountain top. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”[i] It is strikes me as more odd that Luke would record Jesus’ beatitude as saying, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” It also says, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.”[ii] It seems this would be the opposite of what we would think of as “being blessed.”

“Being blessed when we Mourn”

NT Wright in translating the beatitudes uses the phrase “Wonderful news for” when translating the Greek word makarios, which we usually translate as “happy” or “blessed.” The word itself means having self-contained joy. It is ironic that the second beatitude says, “Wonderful news for the mourners! You’re going to be comforted.” There obviously has to be some kind of explanation for why this is wonderful news.

(1) Mourning for our sins

John Wesley believed that each of the beatitudes is contingent on the one above it. So, he suggests, if we are to be poor in spirit, we would recognize our own sin and then we would be mournful of our sins. For Wesley, being mournful was to feel guilty for our sins. Wesley says that it is when we pursue righteousness and see our own sin that we mourn. He goes on to say that in these moments God gives us comfort.[iii]

I am sure we have all experienced times in our own lives when we have be confronted with our sin. Surely our sin is a cause for mourning. I have experienced huge amounts of grief over seeing my sins and then thinking about all that God has done for me. We believe when we come into God’s presence he does give us comfort from our sins and the assurance of forgiveness.

Crying Over Spilled Milk

(2) Mourning for our loses
In Jesus’ day people would mourn in particular ways. When someone died or something tragic would happen, people would often (1) Tear their clothing (2)dress in sackcloth (3) Sometimes cut their beard or hear (4) and wearing ashes. Different mourning periods are mentioned in the Bible and it was common for persons to mourn a year after the death of a parent. This may sound somewhat strange to us because we live in a culture that does every thing we can to hide our emotions. We do not want people to see us in our moments of weakness. We get uncomfortable when people cry and mourn.

I have recently read that crying can actually be healthy. I read an article entitled, Go ahead, Cry over Spilled Milk which basically confirmed my assumption that Crying is not only healthy, but suppressing our grief and tears can be harmful.[iv] The wonderful news that Jesus gives us in the beatitude is that God gives us permission to mourn.

When something bad happens to us and we are deeply hurt it is like having a deep cut on our body. If we do not address the deep cut, the cut will scar up and never properly heal. There will be signs of the hurt that will play out until we enable ourselves to mourn for that hurt in out lives. This beatitude gives us permission to mourn for our loses and to not keep those things bottled up inside. It is OK to allow ourselves to undergo the grieving process.

The Message says, “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the one most dear to you.”[v] This beatitude certainly is telling us that there are going to be times in our own lives when we will need to mourn or weep. We should listen to Jesus and take the time to cry, weep, and mourn our losses.

The Fog Lifted

(3) Mourning for collective sins

The meaning of those who mourn could also best be expressed by Isaiah 61:1-3. It says,

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to 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.
They will be called mighty oaks,
a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah was written to the Jews who were in exile. They were in mourning because they had turned their backs on God and because of this; they were driven from their land. The message of Isaiah is that those who weep, because of Israel’s sin and exile, will be comforted. Their hope was that they would one day be restored to their land and they would live as God’s people again. I am sure this seemed like a long way off.

I went backpacking with some friends on the ridge top of Iron Mountain in Northeastern Tennessee one weekend. When we got up there it was cold, rainy, and foggy. We could not see a thing off the side of the mountain. We were disappointed to say the least because we had gone on this trip to get into nature and see God in the breathtaking views off the side of the mountain. It was the fall and the leaves were turning, but the fog was so bad, we could barely see each other, much less any spectacular view of God’s creation. After a full day of hiking, we stayed in a shelter.

It got down to about 20 degrees that night. But when we woke up, we walked around to the back of the shelter and we could see the sun coming up over the mountain across from us. The fog had lifted and we had one of the most breathtaking view of the sun coming up across the river and the mountains. Just like the fog lifted and we saw a wonderful view, there is a time when God lifts our sadness and we are comforted. This was the hope Isaiah wrote about for the Jewish people in exile and this is the hope of comfort that Jesus offers us the beatitudes.

I believe God’s comfort ultimately gets its hope in the cross of Jesus. In Jesus’ suffering on the cross and his resurrection, we see how our mourning can turn into rejoicing. John Calvin says it like this,

But Christ does not merely affirm that mourners are not unhappy. He shows, that their very mourning contributes to a happy life, by preparing them to receive eternal joy, and by furnishing them with excitements to seek true comfort in God alone.[vi]

I believe Calvin is right that God is able to take all of our mourning and somehow uses it to contribute to a happily life in which we find our comfort in God. One day, when all is said and done and we look back on our lives from the vantage point of redemption, we will be able to see how God used our mourning to bring us the ultimate comfort.

[i] Matthew 5:4
[ii] Luke 6:21 and 25
[iii] John Wesley, “Upon the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discource 1” John Welsey on the Sermon on the Mount: The Standard Sermons in Modern English vol. II, 21-33. Ed. Kenneth Cain Kinghorn (Abington Press:Nashville, 2002) 49-52.
[v] Eugene Peterson, The Message Matthew 5:4

1 comment:

Rev. Keith said...

Glad to see you're posting again. Now we just have to get people other than us to read our blogs!