On Our Side: Blessed are Those Who Mourn

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[From the 4/19/20 sermon at Avenue United Methodist Church]

A 2017 article in Men’s Health told the story of Conrad Anker, a world-class mountain climber who, at the time, was one of four people on earth to summit Mt. Everest without supplemental oxygen. He is a tremendous athlete. On this particular trip, he was climbing another Himalayan mountain when he could feel his heart tire out. He turned to his climbing partner and said, “This is not good.” The climbing team turned around to return to base camp. Once there, Anker felt much better, but his partner made a decisive call for assistance. It was a good thing because Anker had a heart attack.

Five months earlier, Anker had been on another climb on a 26,000 ft. peak. The climb had a somber tone as Anker and the team were there to retrieve his friend’s body, who had died on the mountain in an avalanche.  Anker had seen his friend swept away by the crashing snow. They were so close that Anker married his friend’s widow and raised her children as his own. On this most recent trip, Anker was there to carry his friend’s body down the mountain.

Anker told National Geographic, “Going back up there and seeing everything was super emotional. I was stressed, and I felt my heart.”

At some point, we all feel our heart. Perhaps it’s asking a girl out on a first date in college; kneeling down to propose; standing at the free-throw line with 1 second left with no time remaining; watching your wife-to-be radiantly walk down the aisle; being present for the birth of your children; watching a parent or loved one die.  The 17th-century British physician William Harvey noted, “Every affection of the mind that is attended with either pain or pleasure, hope or fear, is the cause of an agitation whose influence extends to the heart.”[1]

Anker was so overcome with grief for his friend as he went to retrieve his body that he could “feel his heart.” This is what it is like for many of our emotions- we feel it in our heart. But the emotion we “feel our heart” the most is when we mourn.

The Beatitudes are an introduction to Jesus’ master class on Kingdom Living that we call The Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus begins by saying “Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Several weeks ago when we began this series, we said that the poor in Spirit are not those in financial poverty, but those who are living in spiritual poverty. The reality of the human condition is that everyone is spiritually poor apart from God. We are blessed when we realize our poverty and our total dependence upon God- that is when we can inherit the Kingdom of God.

In the second beatitude, Jesus builds on this saying:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Matthew 5:4

Andrea and I have had many conversations over the last two years because we have come to the age when our loved ones have become chronically ill and have died. Andrea lost her father and Aunt. We have had many friends who have lost a parent. We grieve and mourn our own losses and the losses of our friends and our community. Like you, we feel these losses in our heart.

When we read Jesus’ words here in the beatitude, the idea of someone who mourns is pretty broad. Jesus doesn’t specifically say what it is we are to mourn. We could certainly read this that God will comfort those who grieve the loss of a spouse, a child, or a friend. When we look at the story of Lazarus in the Gospel of John, Jesus cries at the death of his friend and the grief that he sees in Mary and Martha. In grieving the loss of his friend, Jesus gives us permission to mourn and cry over the losses that we experience in life.

Like much of Jesus’ teachings throughout the Gospels, we can read and apply his teaching on multiple levels. If grieving over the loss of a loved one is one level, let’s say surface level- then another level for us to understand this beatitude is that God will bless those who grieve the brokenness and sinfulness that we see in the world. The context of the passage, what comes before and what comes after, is important for us to understand the text.

In the first beatitude, we are told, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” We said that the reality is that each of us is poor in spirit apart from God. We are spiritually bankrupt. When we realize that, we can receive the kingdom. This is the foundation of our spiritual life. We cannot have life with God until we realize that we are utterly dependent upon God.

Jesus builds on this by saying “Blessed are those who mourn…” The situation that brings us to mourn or grieve is the spiritual poverty, the sinfulness, and the brokenness that we see in the world and in ourselves. The mourning that is blessed is deeper than our individual grief (though it is not excluded), but in context it is the way that we mourn our world that is in need of redemption. It is the grief that we feel in our heart when we see a world apart from God- and that doesn’t realize it. It is the mourning we should feel when we see peoples who are oppressed and victims of injustices.

Several weeks ago, Pastor Wendy preached on the beatitude stating, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” There is a progression in the beatitudes. When we recognize our spiritual poverty and the spiritual poverty of the world, we mourn both our condition and the world’s condition. Our mourning will lead us to repentance while our grieving the world should cause us to hunger and thirst for righteousness- the justice in the world.

When we mourn, we mourn the suffering, the sinfulness, the brokenness in our own lives and that we see in the world. We look at the world through God’s eyes- our heart breaking for the things that break God’s heart. God’s heart breaks for the spiritual lost, the marginalized, the abused, those in poverty, those exploited, and the list could go on and on. Do we mourn those things as well? Do we practice worldly grief or Godly grief?

Here is an important distinction for us to make between Godly grief and Worldly Grief. Worldly grief quickly centers our thoughts, empathy and energy on ourselves. Worldly grief laments our own loss- while this is not always bad, it can turn into self-pity that paralyzes us from our relationships with God and with others. Grieving our own losses is necessary, but it also must be kept in check.

Mitch Albom wrote about his meetings with his mentor, Morrie Schwartz who had Lou Gerhig’s Disease (ALS). Albom asked Morrie if he ever felt bad for himself. Morrie answered,

“Sometimes, in the mornings,” he said. “That’s when I mourn. I feel around my body, I move my fingers and my hands- whatever I can still move- and I mourn what I’ve lost. I mourn the slow, insidious way in which I’m dying. But then I stop mourning.”

 Morrie went on to say that he would begin to count his blessings and that allowed him to not dwell too long on self-pity.

Worldly grief is focused on ourselves whereas Godly grief looks to God. When we see the brokenness and sinfulness in our own life and in the world, our mourning should point us back to God in repentance for healing. Paul writes,

“yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.[2]

 Paul caused sorrow in the church in Corinth by addressing the sin and brokenness he saw in the church. This caused grief in the church. Rather than walking away, rather than isolating themselves or running away from the church, the people of the Corinthian church turned back to God. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation. When we grieve our own sin, it should lead us back to repentance.

Mourning that leads us to God is cause for joy. It is a cause for joy because God promises to comfort those who mourn. God comforts those who mourn the loss of life as Jesus grieved the death of Lazarus. He also comforts those who are moved by the brokenness in the world.  Maxie Dunham and Kim Reisman write,

“Could the blessing for those who mourn after the poor in Spirit be because when all seems lost and our own efforts are utterly useless- God has a treasury of comfort waiting for us?”[3]

When you look out of your kitchen window; when you watch the news on TV or on your tablet; when you drive around town- what breaks your heart? Do we see the world through the eyes of God? Does our heart break and mourn for the things that break God’s heart? Do we practice Godly sorrow that leads us back to God through repentance?

This morning, as we consider God’s word, let us practice sorrow and mourning that leads to repentance in our own lives. Our own sin breaks God’s heart. As we look at the world, let our mourning move us to comfort the afflicted and to give mercy to the oppressed.

 

[1] Retrieved from https://www.menshealth.com/health/a19545600/hearts-and-minds/

(April 15, 2020).

[2] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 2 Co 7:9–10.

[3] Dunham, Maxie; Reisman, Kim, The Workbook on the Beatitudes

About Steve LaMotte

Husband of Andrea and father of four amazing children. Pastor at Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford, Delaware.
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