4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
“Those who mourn” took on a new meaning for me as I prepared for this week’s message. I have to admit that prior to this point, I had always read this verse in a self-centered way. “Those who mourn” has been code for “me” as I bemoan the various circumstances around me, both present and past, which brought “mournful” thoughts to mind. Now, don’t misunderstand – I don’t “bemoan” often, but whenever I read that verse, I tend (quite naturally in fact) to take on the honorable title of mourner. I would puff myself up as a martyr, “doing without” for the cause of Christ.
The angle taken by the book is to bring attention to the “nationalist” heart of the typical Israelite – their tendency to tie their national identity so close to their own identities. When Jesus walked the earth, they were once again under captivity – this time to the Romans. While Roman rule was generally aloof, crossing them brought harsh retaliation – something they had experienced very recently (the Maccabees). This occupation was a source of national mourning – akin to the kind of thing we see in many of the prophets, and perhaps a glimmer of with Isaiah in the Isaiah 6:5 scene.
I decided to do the experiment that suggests sending a gift of some sort to some soldiers as a way of recognizing our nation’s fallen-ness. I decided, however, that what was in the book wasn’t good enough. I wanted to do something that felt less cliche to me. So I struggled with it. Sitting in my favorite restaurant, I discovered two very unlikely people there – two soldiers. This is not typical of my part of the country. I could not help but to eavesdrop some on their conversation and caught them talking about how people act different to them than they used to. These were officers, and older, so they had been around the block. They talked about how people used to eagerly engage in conversation with them, but since the war started, people seem to avoid them. “Whether you agree with the war or not, we are duty-bound to go because that is what we signed up for – to do what our nation requires.”
My heart mourns for our broken nation that is so divided ideologically that we can’t even seem to unite in support of those who chose to put their lives on the line so that ALL OF US have the right to disagree with one another. We all talk a good talk, saying how we support our troops no matter what we think of the wars going on. But do we really support them? If so, how could they feel the ways these two did? Yes, we have the right to disagree, but you know something else? We also have the right to agree with one another. Let’s agree to keep our troops safe from our ideological cross-fire.
Listening to them, I’ve come to realize is that I’ve been so self-centered and self-righteous – two characteristics that I hate to think that I exhibit. What right have I to wear the martyr mantle? What have I done to earn “martyr” on my business card? I discover that I’m spoiled rotten and oblivious to that which actually deserves to be mourned. It’s not like I am unaware of how undeserving of God’s grace I really am. Every time that passage where Isaiah stumbles upon God in His temple, I am moved as one of unclean lips, of a people of unclean lips, who finds himself in the presence of GOD. But, Isaiah’s grief was not only over His own condition, but also over that of his people – the whole nation! In the presence of God, suddenly the unholiness of everything is made so clear.
I felt petty about my self-martyrdom, and repented. The problem is that anything I thought of doing for my experiment now seemed a meager pittance. I bought their lunch, anonymously.
In His grip!Herb Halstead, Pastor