Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Jesus Guide To Happiness (2)... Blessed Are Those Who Mourn (Matt 5:4 Haggai 2:1-9)

When my mother died I became very aware of the truth of Jesus saying blessing are those who mourn for they will be comforted. She was 86 and had fallen and broken her hip and while recuperating from a hip replacement operation had suffered a massive stroke and  about twelve days after that she died.  I had gone to attend the general assembly. We’d just  had the opening worship service when I got the news that mum had died. I was standing between three very close friends. One who, from Titirangi days, who knew my mother very well. The other two I had come to value as friends and colleagues from my time at the School of Ministry in Dunedin.  A set of car keys were trust into my hand and I was lent a flash  4 WD Toyota land cruiser to head from St Kent’s to the Waitakarei hospital, to be with my Mum.

The next  Sunday, the day before her funeral,  we’d gone to church as a family at Massey Presbyterian Church and it is one of the only times I have ever walked into a Church and experienced God waiting there and speaking to me through the sermon.  The minister was away and so an elder who just happened to be an old friend of mine was preaching. He spoke of only two weeks before having had to speak at his father’s funeral and how he was working through the grief and sorrow of that and preached on a psalm, that showed David working through similar grief and coming to a stage of trust and comfort because of the presence of God.  I was a mess, tears pouring down my face, but God meet me in a special way. The pain was still there it didn’t miraculously go away, but I was comforted.

Christopher Serber says that “blessed are those who mourn” is probably Jesus most paradoxical saying. “Even if I will be comforted” he says, and lets be real we live in a world where not all who mourn are comforted, “how is my mourning, in anyway blessing?”  It does seem to be totally at odds it’s like saying happy are you when you are sad.

 Equally Seber says” it just may be one of the most weighty sayings of Jesus as well.”

“Life is filled with sorrow and joy, God’s love is not defined by how much He lavishes us with joy. God’s love is perfect because God is perfect, not because we are always perfectly happy. “

We’re on a journey this year looking at the Sermon on the Mount in  Matthew’s gospel… looking at Jesus first teaching to his first disciples, because this teaching and our putting it into practice in our lives is, I believe, of paramount importance to what it means to be the church and follow Jesus.  

As I mentioned last week  Dietrich Bonheoffer said…”The restoration of the church will surely come from a new kind of community, which will have nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ. I believe the time has come to rally people together for this.”

We are starting our look at the Sermon on the Mount , by looking at what are called the beatitudes.  A series of statements Jesus makes about who in the kingdom of heaven are Blessed.  The kingdom of Heaven has often been called God’s upside down kingdom, because it goes counter to the world we live in where we consider the rich and those who  have an easy life, those who have all they need, who receive public acclaim; the beautiful, rich and famous as blessed, they have it all made. But just maybe, Jesus simply tells of the world the right way up and we’ve been used to standing on our head so long we don’t see. In fact says Jesus it’s great news that it’s not if you try hard or work at it, but rather if you already like this, poor of spirit, mourning, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, because you’ve almost there, you’re in the right place to encounter God’s goodness.

I love cricket so this week while I was preparing for today I had the radio on in the back ground to listen to the test match from Hamilton. And let’s face it  Blessed are those who mourn’ is a great motto for black caps fans. Right! On Thursday afternoon it started raining on and off and the players went off the field. It was only light rain and Talk back host Darcy Watergraves, went off. He suggested that the cricketers should get out there and play, not because it was an important game between two nations, a fierce combat, but rather that the cricketers were professionals and they were paid to entertain and amuse us and they’d better get out there on the pitch and amuse us. It exemplified for me the way in which the western world seeks to entertain and amuse ourselves. To the point of distraction. to Avoid pain and sorrow. It’s a multibillion dollar industry. With the advent of reality TV, even the real life personal struggles and woes of others has become little more than fodder for our amusement and material to plug the gaps between adds offering us stuff that will make us happy and instantaneously solve all our problems. Even Christianity has been portrayed in some quarters as a fix all… come to Jesus and it will be all right.  Christopher Seber says

 “The social and religious Schizophrenia of our age astounds me. On the one hand we run at a near fevered pace in our constant pursuit of present entertainment and happiness, on the other hand we ignore the reality of the brokenness of life. Is it really surprising that so many people are filled with anxiety and depression when they are bombarded by the incessant lie that they are supposed to be always happy? There are things in this life which bring us to our knees. There are thing pains in this life that crush us to the core of our being. Outward happiness often masks broken hearts which have never been allowed to grieve.”

If we are prepared to mourn it means that we are willing to face sadness and sorrow and pain and wrong and be open to the possibility, in Christ, of comfort and a way through.

If we are prepared to mourn and grieve over the wrongs in our lives, our sins, and turn to God knowing our spiritual poverty, we open ourselves up to knowing the forgiveness of God. Of being reconciled with God through Christ’s death on the cross, we open ourselves to the possibility of reconciliation with one another as we face and seek to set right what we have done wrong in the past. I remember Andrew Dunn, a Presbyterian Minister who was central to the establishing of Spirit Growth Ministries in New Zealand saying ‘he was finding it hard to have his sin forgiven lately’, he was refereeing of course to the lack of prayers of confession in public worship, that there was a trend to forget this as part of our churches liturgy.  Maybe we were not taking the problem of sin seriously, we wanted to sweep it under the carpet. And as I often tell people, all that happens when you sweep things under the carpet is that there ends up being a big lump that you’ll trip over eventually. Or maybe we just didn’t want people to feel bad. But notice he said having your sins forgiven… because along with our confession and mourning over what we had done wrong is the great affirmation, that I always use in public prayers, the great comfort from John 1:9 “if we say we are without sin we call God a liar, but if we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteous”. Our comfort as we confront the falleness and brokenness of our lives comes from knowing the very character of God. God is faithful, God is just and will forgive us our sins.

It does not mean that we don’t have to deal with the consequences and damage those things have done to us and others, but we know God has forgiven us and is with us as we work through restoration and renewal. I mentioned the first steps in the twelve step programme for dealing with addictions was acknowledging powerlessness in the face of our addiction and our need for a higher power, for God to free us… The next steps deal with taking an honest and often painful look at where we are at. What we have done to harm others and ourselves, to grieve over them, seek forgiveness and make amends. It’s the same as we deal with our sin addiction, It’s the process of repentance, sorrow over the wrong direction we have gone and are still going and with God’s forgiveness and grace, turning round to live in a new and different way… following Jesus.
Being willing to mourn also means that we are willing to face the pain and suffering in this world and allow it to affect us, allow ourselves to face it and respond. Sadly we’ve have become afflicted by what writer Susan Moeller calls Compassion Fatigue, the way the news and media works we are confronted with a diet of disaster after disaster after human tragedy by the media… the pain and suffering of the world makes great TV pictures. We are bombarded with images of despair and death, devastation and depravation, all of which are designed to trigger an emotional reaction within us, but leave us with no real avenue to respond, or if we do we find ourselves worn out by the next one, the next night, the next news cycle and it wears down our ability to mourn and to seek comfort.

But to mourn for injustice and the suffering of others in the kingdom of Heaven says Jesus, is to find comfort. To know God’s presence with us… to enable us to be lead by our comforter the Holy Spirit to react and act.  The genocide in Rwanda in 1994 was and is an open saw on the soul of that nation and on the world. Many were locked down and captive to an unhealthy sorrow, a sorrow that could easily have lead to more hatred more violence more death. World Vision was involved in the after math of the killing fields and ran seminars to help people deal with the pain and suffering they were going through, to process their grief in a healthy way. Forgiveness and reconciliation was the only way forward. One women who attended there seminar had had 50 of her close family members killed, beaten to death by mobs of people who had been her neighbours. Her next door neighbour  who had participated in the killings was in prison for them. She wrote to him to say that she forgave him and then prepared a meal for the man’s father. The meal was full of good food and many tears. But for this woman, whose story I have only seen in a world vision video, she found comfort in putting into action the words of Jesus. It also shows I think that fact that we too as followers of Jesuc can become part of God’s comfort for those who mourn. It’s our calling as people of the kingdom, as Paul says in Romans 12 “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”

I want to deal with a specific kind of mourning, that I think is relevant for the church today. Specifically many mainline, or as some have taken to calling us lameline churches. There is a lot of sorrow and mourning round as people look back and remember, the way it used to be. We all have an idealised past… be it when the church was full and everyone came in their Sunday best and sang those wonderful old hymns with great gusto, and ministers even dressed right… right. The kids would all sit still and be quite. By the way can I say I love to have kids at worship, and if they make some noise well it’s a sign of life. Maybe the charismatic movement in the 1980’s… there are people who sing one line of Majesty and it’s like an acid flashback. Maybe it was the way it was back home in the Islands, I’ve read a book that says if you want to know what church was like in Samoa in the 1950’s don’t go the islands go to Auckland. Now people see things changing and growing smaller and where have our children gone. They mourn. It’s not like it was back then, its not like it was in those faded photos on the Sunday school hall.
This is the situation that the Old Testament passage this morning was from. The Jews had come back from captivity in Babylon, Haggai the prophet had encouraged them to not just focus on their own economic prosperity but to rebuild the temple as a symbol of God and their faith being at the central to their lives. They’d cleared off the rubble and rebuilt the altar and now at the dedication as they re to give a festive shout, many were crying instead… how could it be like it used to be. How could this temple being built, by a rag tag group of returnees be anything like the temple built at the height of Israel’s power as an empire. Haggai’s words come as comfort for that mourning. Not to always look back but to take courage and to work to rebuild and restore. He says to the leaders and the people to take courage. Why because God is with them. God is for them. God is with us so we should take courage and build… I’m not proposing a new building program, but we work with Christ to bring living stones, using the metaphor the book of Peter uses for those called in Christ, together to build the dwelling place of God.

Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted. In Jesus Kingdom if we have surrendered ourselves to Jesus and know our need for God as we face the grief and sorrow of life we have Jesus word that there will be comfort. That comfort does not come like some sort of get out of jail free card. It comes from the promise that God is with, even in the midst of the pain and suffering of life. That God is for us, that comfort comes from his direct presence and in John’s gospel the Holy Spirit is called a word which has been translated into English as our comforter, and also present in the love and care of fellows Christians who are willing to laugh with those who  laugh  and weep with those who weep. Blessed are you when you mourn, for you will be comforted.

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