#2:  Blessed are those who mourn

The Beatitudes Sermon Series:  “The Life God Blesses”
#2:  “Blessed are those who mourn…”
Matthew 5:4;  Matthew 11:28-29 (NRSV)

This morning, we are continuing our look at the Beatitudes that we find at the beginning of the Sermon the Mount – Jesus’ eight keys to the blessed life.  Last week we looked at the first Beatitude:  “Blessed (or happy) are the poor in spirit.”  As you may recall, we were struck by how strange these words sounded to our ears.  Well, the next thing Jesus says is equally as perplexing: “Blessed are they who mourn…”

We are all different in many ways. We come from unique backgrounds and different ethnic origins.  Some of us are well off financially, others not so well-off.  Some have lots of “book learning,” others have practical knowledge that comes from rich life experiences.  Among us are many different talents, skills, interests, and career choices.

As different as we are, there are ways we are all alike.  We share certain basic human needs – physical, emotional, and spiritual. We long for meaningful relationships with others.  And of course, we are all sinners in need of the saving grace of God.

In this Beatitude, Jesus is speaking to a common experience everyone shares.  Grief is a universal experience.  It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO of IBM, or a beggar on the streets of Titusville, everyone knows grief and sorrow in life.  As the saying goes, “Into every life, a little rain must fall.”

While grief IS common to us all, we mourn for many different reasons.  Most often our mourning is associated with grief due to the death of a loved one or friend, but we can grieve for countless other reasons: divorce, the loss of a job, failing health, past sins, and more.  What is your grief?  No matter what the source, all grief brings feelings of hopelessness, isolation, fear of the future, and anger at God.

When tragedy and loss come into our lives, we can experience a crisis of faith, causing us to ask lots of questions, especially the question of “Why?”.  Years ago, a Jewish Rabbi named Harold Kushner wrote a little book called, When Bad Things Happen to Good People  – the same issue, by the way, raised by the Book of Job in the Bible.  Both books attempt to come up with a satisfactory answer to the question of suffering.

Job resolves this question by concluding that human beings can’t comprehend the workings of God, and shouldn’t second-guess God.  The way Kushner answers the question is by pointing out that God is not to be blamed because he isn’t responsible, so we should just learn to trust that God loves us and will care for us.  Unfortunately, neither conclusion is really an adequate answer as to, “Why bad things happen to good people.”

Robert Schuller wrote a book entitled, “The Be-Happy Attitudes.”  In it he says that we are asking the wrong question.  The question, “Why do bad things happen…”  will never yield an answer that satisfies us (Schuler says) – it only provokes argument and debate that calls into question the goodness of God.  It is a mystery God will never reveal in this life.

The question I think we should be asking is not “Why do bad things happen to good people,” but “What happens to good people when bad things happen to them.”  We can answer THAT question because we know from experience the answer.  In fact, that is precisely the question Jesus is answering in this Beatitude:  “When bad things happen to good people,” Jesus is saying, “they will receive comfort from God.”

Last week, we were struck by how odd Jesus’ prescription for happiness sounded.  It’s no different this morning.  “Blessed (or “happy,” as some Bibles translate the word) are, not only the poor in spirit, but those who mourn!”  That doesn’t make sense.  I’ve mourned in my life – and I can’t say I was ever “happy” or felt “blessed.”

Yet Jesus would have us believe that, in the midst of our sorrow and grief, we can know joy!  As David put it in Psalm 30:11, “You have turned my mourning into dancing, you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”

So for the rest of our time together this morning, I’d like for us to focus on just how God “turns our mourning into dancing.”

The good news for those who mourn is that we don’t face our grief on our own.  When we have faith in God, he gives us all the resources we need to turn our mourning into dancing.

According to the scriptures, there are at least six things God gives us to help us cope with our grief, each of which begin with the letter “C.”

First of all, God gives us…

1)  Consolation in our Pain.

Our text says that those who mourn will be comforted.  One of the meanings of “comfort” is to “console” or to alleviate grief and our sense of loss.

God understands our grief better than we know.  His heart was broken on Good Friday, when he ‘loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten Son’ on the cross of Calvary.  As Romans 8:31-32 puts it:  “If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?”  Because God shares our grief, we have a special place in his heart.

Psalm 34:18 offers these words of consolation:  “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.”

Or, in the words of Sir Thomas Moore:  “Earth has no sorrows that heaven cannot heal.”

So the first “C”  – God gives us consolation in our pain.  Secondly, God grants us

2)  Courage for the Future.

We have seen that one meaning of the word comfort is “to console.”  But there is another connotation of the word, “comfort.”  And that is:  “to strengthen or fortify.”

In other words, the Spirit of God gives us the courage to move forward in life without fear.  Psalm 46:1-2 assures us that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore, we will not fear…”

No matter what happens to us in this life, God holds our future in the palm of his hand.  As we love to sing in a favorite hymn, “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow, because he lives all fear is gone, because I know he holds the future;  and life is worth the living just because he lives.”

He gives us courage and assurance. And with that assurance, God grant us

3)  Calm for the Heart.

As you are probably aware from personal experience, grief can often produce a sense of chaos and panic that can cause us distress and despair.

We need to be reminded that at the very beginning of the Old Testament, in the act of creation God’s Spirit hovers over the primordial waters of chaos, and God brings order out of chaos. The New Testament also reminds us that God can bring order out of the chaos of our lives.  In the midst of a storm, Jesus calmed the sea.  So, take heart!  He can calm the turbulence of your life, as well.

In John, chapter 14 (v. 27) Jesus speaks directly to us, when he says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.   I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  And again, in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”

So God gives us consolation, courage, and calm.

God also offers us

4)  Companionship for the Journey.

We need to be reminded, as the song declares, that “when we walk through a storm” we “never walk alone.”

When we walk the lonely path of grief, we are not alone at all.  God walks by our side, and even carries us when we are too weary to take another step.  Like that familiar poem, Footprints, says –  God is our unseen companion, and we can lean on him until we can walk again on our own.

We experience this constant presence and support as the gift of the Holy Spirit, this “companion” – offering consolation and strength in the face of our grief.  Jesus tells us this himself – in John 14:16&18, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another comforter to be with you forever…I will not leave you comfortless.”  And as Jesus departed this earth, his final words to you and me were a reminder of his constant companionship, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mat. 28:20).  So, we are not alone in our journey through sorrow.  God is our companion.

Fifth, through our grief, God can give us

5) Compassion for others.

There’s something about experiencing loss in our life that helps our compassion for others grow.  Because we have experienced God’s compassion toward us, we are to turn around and show the same kind of compassion to others.

In John 13:34, Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” And the Apostle Paul, in Galatians, writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Without God’s grace, the death of a loved one could harden your heart toward God and others.  But once you have known God’s compassion for you in your time of loss, your heart becomes more tender, and you begin to reflect God’s love and compassion onto others in their time of grief.

Grief helps you grow in your compassion.

Which brings us to the sixth and final gift God gives us to cope with our grief – a new

6) Commitment for Ministry.

Finally, scripture challenges us to turn our experience of loss into an asset for the Kingdom of God.

The Bible tells us that “All things work together for good…”  But that doesn’t mean that all things that happen are God’s will, or that bad things are somehow good for us, like bitter medicine – that we should just “grin and bear it.”  No.  It means that, no matter what happens in life, God can bring good out of it.

You may not feel “blessed” by your mourning, but if you will allow him to, God can use your tragic experiences of loss and grief – for his glory.  If you have ever lost someone dear to you, I’d be willing to bet that the person whose comfort and encouragement meant the most to you in your time of grief, was someone who had also lost a loved one – someone who had walked that valley of the shadow of death and come out the other side.

2 Cor. 1:34 says, “Blessed be the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction so thatwe may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.”

How might God be calling you to transform your grief into grace for others?  How can you take the “lemons” life has thrown at you, and make lemonade?

I believe this is what Jesus means when he says that those who mourn are “blessed.”  They receive all six “C” – they are blessed with the consolation and strength God offers them, and then find ways to turn their loss into victory.

Art Linkletter was no stranger to tragedy.  His daughter died due to drug addiction, and his son was killed in a car accident.  Art struggled for years with questions and doubts about his faith, constantly asking “Why?”  He didn’t ever get any answer.  But he ultimately came to understand the meaning of this Beatitude of Jesus.  When someone asked, “Art, how do you turn a tragedy into a personal triumph?” this is what he said:

“The most difficult thing to do is admit the tragedy – to accept it.  It is something in your life over which you had no control, and God’s plan for us, as we all know, is more than we can fathom.  It’s part of the pattern of life – life and death. Having once admitted and accepted the deep, deep pain of the wound, then you begin to realize that you have expanded your own capability of loving and caring for others.  Until you are hurt you can never truly understand the hurts of others.  Until you have failed, you cannot truly achieve success.  In my own case, the pain in my life started me on a crusade against drug abuse – trying to help young people and families.”

Art Linkletter never got an answer as to “Why bad things happen…”  He finally stopped asking the unanswerable question.  Instead, he opened himself up to the healing power of God, and discovered the “blessing” in the midst of mourning.  And in the process, he found “happiness” – “blessedness” – in helping others.

Friends, grief is a part of life – and we must all pass through that dark valley. There is no escaping it. But Jesus says that, even in our mourning we may find comfort and peace and purpose.  Through God’s grace, God can turn our tragedy into a personal triumph!  Through our grief, God can bring healing and hope – to our lives, and to others.

Then we will be able to sing, along with the Psalmist, “You have turned my mourning into dancing, you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”

So, as Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

All those experiencing a time of mourning are invited to stand, as the pastor shares “A Prayer for Mourners:”

Father of all mercies and God of all consolation,
you pursue us with untiring love
and dispel the shadow of death
with the bright dawn of life.
Give courage to these families in their loss and sorrow.
Be their refuge and strength, O Lord,
reassure them of your continuing love
and lift them from the depths of grief
into the peace and light of your presence.
Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
by dying has destroyed our death,
and by rising, restored our life.
Your Holy Spirit, our comforter,
speaks for us in groans too deep for words.
Come alongside your people,
remind them of your eternal presence
and give them your comfort and strength.
Amen.*

 

* http://www.prayer-and-prayers.info/funeral-prayers/prayer-for-mourners.htm