“Blessed are the Poor Mourners”
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
All Saints Day
November 5, 2017
University Baptist Church
We are beginning a month of looking at the Beatitudes that begin the Sermon on the Mount. There are nine of them and we’ll look at two of them each week during November. The last Sunday, we’ll look at three. Clarence Jordan said that they are stepping stones and that the later ones cannot be understood aside from the earlier ones. It culminates with “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” So, if we are to be the children of God, the peacemakers, we first need to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful and to be pure in heart. That’s the journey we are on. That’s the ladder or mountain we’re climbing. So, appropriately, we start in the valley, clawing our way upwards with bloody fingers holding on for dear life.
Jesus starts out by saying, “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the commonwealth of heaven.” And he follows it with “blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” That sounds like a good combination for All Saints Day. Many of us are poor in spirit and many of us mourn, so today, we say blessed are the poor mourners.
You know that Luke’s gospel has a version of the beatitudes, but his include curses. Luke was more economically minded and he said blessed are you who are poor and woe to you who are rich. Seems like a reversal of the President’s tax policy. But that’s a different sermon for a different day.
Matthew is less concerned about economics and more concerned about how we approach the Gospel message. Blessed are the poor in spirit. How many of you have felt that way—poor in spirit? I’m not talking about depression. That’s a clinical definition that is beyond the scripture. Blessed are the poor in spirit. These are people who have emptied themselves. They are ready to be filled. These are people who have exhaled and are ready to be filled with something new.
Contrast this with someone who is rich in spirit. If you are rich in spirit, then you don’t need God. Heck, you may even act like God. That’s not the way to start a spiritual journey. We need to reverse ourselves. The disciples were outwardly ready to conquer the world, but inside they were a mess. Jesus is saying you need to recognize that you are a mess before you can do anything worthwhile. It’s like the first two steps in AA. I recognize that I am powerless over alcohol/drugs/sex/gambling and my life has become unmanageable. And I recognize that only a power greater than myself can restore me to sanity. This is someone who is poor in spirit. They shall see the commonwealth of heaven.
The God who brought Israel out of bondage is not a God who supports the powerful or founds empires. Salvation comes to the lowly, the suffering, those who turn to God as their only hope. The Beatitudes speak against self-serving, pride, arrogance and injustice for they are all about selfishness. The beatitudes are beautiful attitudes that Christians ought to embrace.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the commonwealth of heaven.”
Once we recognize our own spiritual poverty, it ought to make us mourn. Not necessarily just for ourselves, but for the state of the world. Seeing the spiritual poverty of our world must make us mourn, and it must make us want to do something about it. Luke contrasts those who weep and those who laugh. “Blessed are those who weep for they shall laugh.” But Matthew speaks about mourning. It’s deeper than simply being happy or sad, those fleeting emotions. Mourners see the discomfort, the disconnect and will not rest until something has been set aright. That’s what real comfort shall be.
Mourners carry signs that say Black Lives Matter, Native Lives Matter, Water Protectors Matter, Women’s Lives Matter, LGBTQI Lives Matter. They refuse to be placated, but long to be comforted. Being comforted means being taken seriously. Being comforted means taking concrete action toward a better world. We can only see this if we recognize that the state of our world is so broken that it causes us to mourn. The poor in spirit are those who can truly mourn, for they both need God. They both long for a reversal. They can’t rest until they are comforted. And they cannot be comforted until they join others on the right side of God’s plan.
Blessed are the poor in spirit and blessed are the mourners. I don’t know about you, but when I’m poor in spirit or mourning, I don’t feel blessed by God. In fact, it feels more like a curse from God. And I’m tempted to curse right back. We feel like poor wayfaring strangers traveling through this world of woe.
Oh, when we are in the midst of our own mourning, we can barely see straight.
And then I look across the room and remember that the people who share a pew with me have been through something similar. Not the same, for we can never know the depth of love nor sadness that some of us share. But all of us have gotten through the worst days. We have made it through. We are living on the other side of grief. And for those of us entering grief or in the midst of it, that is immensely comforting. For we often can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. We need someone else to show us the secret light switches. We feel lost and confused and we need someone to remind us to eat, take our meds, turn off the computer, sometimes just to breathe. We are poor wayfaring strangers traveling through this world of woe.
My brother’s family have adopted a mantra. 100%. It means that they have gotten through 100% of their worst days. In their deepest grief, they look at each other with knowing, moist, tired eyes and acknowledge 100%.
Many of you know that this is the first All Saints Sunday since my nephew took his own life. We are nearing the end of the year of firsts. First Christmas, first Easter, First Thanksgiving. Soon we’ll be at first birthday, followed five days later with first death day. And so today, we add his name to this banner, right next to his grandfather. I imagine them together somehow, in a way they couldn’t be in this life. They are looking at us, weeping with us, and ready to cheer us on. I can almost hear them. Can you? We’ll have a chance to call out the names of others who have passed on in just a few moments.
There are stories of pain associated with each of these bells. There are also stories of triumph and gratitude. All of us have felt like poor wayfaring strangers as we have lost these people.
Blessed are you, says Jesus. For as we feel this deep pain, we are in touch with our humanity, our vulnerability, our passion. We feel deeply because we love deeply. And we find a way to move on. I find when I mourn, the sadness does not go away. Instead it becomes a companion. It accompanies me and points me in the direction of what is truly important. What is worth my time, my energy? That’s the kind of comfort that I need.
They say that scar tissue is the strongest of cells. Some of us are a sea of scars. And they make us strong. Our deepest wisdom comes from our scar tissue. Our greatest hopes, our most audacious dreams. They all start because once we mourned and the way we put our lives back together was a sign of the comfort that comes from God who joins us on the journey and points us to where the bells toll, reminding us of the beauty that lies ahead.
Blessed are the poor mourners for you shall be comforted and yours is the commonwealth of heaven.