Friday, July 29, 2016

29 July 2016
Those Who Mourn
            “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Matthew 5:5, NRSV). Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart write, in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (2003, Zondervan) “Unique interpretations are usually wrong…The aim of good interpretation is simple: to get to the ‘plain meaning of the text’” (p.18). These words were on my mind as I considered today’s post, particularly what Jesus might have meant by ‘those who mourn’, and how we might apply it to our task of reaching out. Most commentators tend to group vs.4 & 5 together, seeing a progression from realizing one’s spiritual bankruptcy to mourning one’s sinfulness in preparation for receiving God’s saving faith. And indeed, Jesus may have had that very thing in mind; He was consistent if not relentless in pointing out the need for repentance.
            However, I’m thinking there may have been another component to the idea of mourning; the actual ability, the inclination, to mourn with and for others. Jesus himself mourned over broken humanity on several occasions- at the death of Lazarus (John 11:33-36); the unwillingness of Jerusalem to recognize and heed the prophets (Matthew 23:37); in Gethsemane where He fought to reconcile Himself to The Father’s will and came face to face with the horror that would result (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:40-46).
             Ezra mourns for Israel (Ezra 9-10) which leads to a national revival and this is one way we might reach out, having spent time in God’s presence-a private reaching out in a corporate sort of way. A word of caution at this point. We must be careful here to seek our Lord’s guidance if we are to pray for corporate sin, otherwise we risk falling into the trap of thinking ‘I thank you God that I am not like the rest of the (fill in the blank). I actually felt led to pray for our country in that way one time-and one time only. I believe I was changed more by the experience than the country was.
            But there is another way to reach out in mourning on a more personal level. This has to do with empathy. Here is a personal example. My wife, who enjoys being active, doing things-around the house, around the yard, walking the dog, stuff like that-suffers from chronic, sometimes debilitating back pain. Any treatments we have tried have been temporary at best; relief has proven elusive. The situation is compounded by her absolute refusal to give in-surrender, as she puts it. She is afraid one act of surrender, no matter how small, will start a downward slide from which there will be no recovery.
            Most of the time she handles it well; but, you know, we all have our bad days. One way I can reach out to her, to mourn with her, so to speak, is simply to let her do, to honor her desire to not surrender. Bit of a stretch? Maybe (I never said this would be easy). But I can try, as God allows, to enter into her pain and in some way be a source of comfort and stability (not that I am-but, hey, I’m working on it). I have also found, the more consistent I am in prayer for her-specifically for restful sleep and some relief at night-well, I don’t want to say it works better, but it does seem that way. It almost seems as though I learned perseverance at her expense.
            I volunteer at a soup kitchen my church runs every Friday, for the homeless and the poor. On the months that have five Fridays (today) an outside group comes in, brings the food and serves. Today one member of that group had a mini stroke. The response was immediate-the rest of the group gathered in the kitchen for prayer while he was being taken to the hospital. The concern was obvious-they were mourning for their friend and comforting one another as they prayed. Which leads me to my final point.
            Our Lord promises those who mourn will be comforted. Comforted by whom? By us, as we demonstrate The Lord’s presence by reaching out to those in need. Now, I’m not talking about stuff like ‘I’ll pray for you’ (although we certainly should) or ‘it must have been the Lord’s will’ (maybe it was, but there are times when that is just a totally inappropriate thing to say). I’m thinking more along the lines of cooking a meal, doing laundry, cleaning up the house, simple everyday things grieving people can’t-or won’t-find the energy or desire to do. The practical, day to day stuff life is made up of. Like listening-listening is huge. There are times when silence is not only appropriate but essential. By the way, Paul addresses this idea of comforting-and in a back door kind of way, suffering-in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; and of course we have the example of our Lord Himself in Hebrews 4:14-16.
            So there it is. As you spend time in God’s presence, ask Him if there is anyone He would want you to mourn for, or with. Offer yourself up as a source of comfort. And then pay attention. He just may surprise you.

May the Lord bless you and keep you this day. JRG 

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