Sermon for April 19th, 2015
1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
20Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
Beautiful Attitudes: The Brokenhearted
- Clip from A League of Their Own
There is no crying in baseball. There is, however, plenty of crying in the Bible. Jacob, the founder of the nation of Israel cries. Rachel cries. Joseph cries. Moses cries. And when Moses dies, ALL of the children of Israel cry in the desert for 30 days. Samson cries. Delilah cries. Hannah cries. Her son, Samuel, cries. Ruth cries. Naomi cries. King David cries...often. King Solomon cries. Job cries. Jeremiah is known as the "weeping prophet." John the Baptist cries, the Apostle Paul cries, and of course everyone knows the shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept. So Jesus cries, too. That's a lot of crying.
In fact, in the New Testament, there are six different words that we translate as "cry" or "weep" that all express different shades of meaning: δακρύω (dakruo) means to shed tears silently, while κλαίω (klaio) means to weep audibly so others can hear you. ὀδύρομαι (hoduromai) means to cry through your words, while θρηνέω (threneo) is to cry through song or singing. My favorite, ἀλαλάζω (halaladzo) is exactly what it sounds like: to "holler," wail, or howl in grief, while στενάζω (stenadzo) is the opposite: To groan, moan, or express grief through inarticulate or semi-articulate crying.
Needless to say, in the Bible there is a lot of crying, and a lot of different ways to do it. If there had been baseball in first century Israel, I think Tom Hanks' head would have exploded.
Before we get to today's beatitude, I want to look at just two of those different types of crying in the New Testament; specifically the two times where we read that Jesus himself cried. The one we all know is in John, chapter 11. When Jesus receives news that his friend Lazarus has died, his immediate reaction is to cry--"Jesus wept." The Greek word used here is δακρύω (dakruo), or the quiet, silent shedding of tears. This is a very personal, spontaneous expression of grief and love for his friend, and it's touching. For those of us who have experienced the loss of a friend or loved one, it is comforting to know that Jesus experienced this, too. Of course, after he is through weeping, Jesus goes to the tomb of Lazarus and raises him from the dead. Problem solved, hapiness restored.
But the other time we read of Jesus crying is in the gospel of Luke, chapter 19. Ten chapters before this, we read that Jesus "set his face toward Jerusalem." This wandering preacher from Galilee--Northern Israel--turns his heart, his thoughts, his focus, to the south, to the great capital city of Israel, the city of David and the home of the great temple. By the time he arrives, ten chapters later, Jerusalem has been on his mind for some time. We read in Luke 19:
"As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, 'If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.'"
When Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem, it is the Greek word κλαίω (klaio)--to weep audibly so others can hear you. It is a public weeping that seeks a response, that seeks to arouse the empathy of others. It is weeping that begs to be comforted.
Jesus weeps silently for Lazarus, because no one needs to hear him. It is a personal expression of grief, and Jesus knows what he is going to do. He weeps, and then he saves his friend. But for Jerusalem, there is no immediate salvation. 40 years after Jesus speaks these words, the Roman army marches into Jerusalem and brutally slaughters everyone, tearing down the temple and burning the city to its foundations.
We don't like to admit it, but life is kind of like that, isn't it? We cry out to God in prayer and desperation--sometimes God rescues us, but sometimes we get the Roman army. We can't for the life of us understand why God won't work according to our formulas, and so sometimes we get angry and blame God. Sometimes we blame ourselves. Sometimes we blame each other. And none of that ultimately helps us much. In fact, sometimes it backfires.
One day a little girl was sitting and watching her mother cooking in the kitchen. She suddenly realized that her mother had several strands of white hair sticking out in contrast on her brunette head. She looked at her mother and inquisitively asked, "Why are some of your hairs white, Mom?" Her mother replied, "Well, every time that you do something wrong and make me cry or unhappy, one of my hairs turns white." The little girl thought about this revelation for a while and then said,"Mommy, how come ALL of grandma's hair are white?"
Rather than blaming ourselves, each other, or God, I think Jesus points us in a new direction.
Up to this point in our study of the beatitudes, I have told you that the beatitudes are not (contrary to popular belief) a magic formula that tells us what to do, or what attitude to have, so that God will bless us. I have said that the beatitudes are a reflection of God's beautiful attitude toward all of us, and especially those described by Jesus in these passages.
But that doesn't mean there is no action required (or requested) on our part. It's just that we tend to get confused about who is supposed to do what. We think that if we have the right attitude, God will take the action: If we become poor, God will bless us with his kingdom. If we become hungry God will fill us up. If we cry and mourn, God will comfort us. But I think we need to flip that around--God has the beautiful attitude that compells us to action: Poor people matter to God, so we need to welcome them into the kingdom. Hungry people matter to God...so we need to go feed them. Brokenhearted people matter to God...so we need to comfort them.
When Jesus says blessed are those who weep, it's not the quiet or silent, personal tears like the ones he sheds for Lazarus, the ones where we are sad, but we know the solution, we know what to do.
The word he uses in the beatitudes is κλαίω (klaio) -- public, out-loud crying that begs to be heard, to be comforted, because there is no solution, no comfort to be had on our own.
The good news of the gospel is that we are not on our own, we don't have to go it alone. Jesus gathered a community of people to himself, and taught them how to love each other, how to take care of each other. At our best, that's what the church does, that's what the church is. It's God's kingdom here on earth.
Some of you may be bothered by the fact that, in Luke, after Jesus says "blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh" later on he says "Woe to you who laugh now, for you will weep." I don't think he's saying that those who are unhappy in this life will be happy in the next life, and those who are happy in this life will be unhappy in the next. I don't think that Jesus, for one, was always weeping, always unhappy, never laughing. This is, after all, the guy who rode into town on a donkey, and said that before you tell your brother about the splinter in his eye, take the log out of your own eye. The one who said the pharisees would strain a gnat out of their water while drinking a camel!
I think what Jesus is trying to say is more along the lines of what Ecclesiastes chapter 3 says: "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to dance."
In other words, those who are laughing today will find themselves crying at some point, and those who are crying today will someday laugh again. We all laugh. We all cry, over and over again. Sometimes it's your turn to comfort, and sometimes it's your turn to be comforted. But laughing or crying, we all need each other.
We are God's kingdom. We are the ones whom God calls blessed, and we are also the ones whom God calls to be the blessing for the world.