Mourning to Comfort

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

’Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.’
— Matthew 5:1-6

1. Good News in Your Life

A friend of mine posted recently on her Facebook page a question: "Hey y'all. I want to hear some good news. What's going on in your life that is dope?"

Seventy people responded to her with news about flowers blooming in Chicago, a dance party at Drew University, celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Puebla, Mexico, a new niece being born, a vacation in Virginia, a sunrise hike, a sister’s graduation, an apple cider vinegar hair rinse, a great deal on a new quilted bedspread, an Art Fair and an African Film festival in Manhattan.  

Art, music, nieces and nephews, sunny days, flowers, quilted bedspreads, a new rug: All of these can be part of the comfort of God. Self care is a Christian value. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Take care of yourself. Seek the comfort of God. Jesus teaches, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Particularly in difficult and uncertain times, particularly when we are grieving the death of a loved one last month or last year, or 10 years ago,  it is important for us to care of ourselves and one another. Our Social Media team is working on a self care compendium to be added to our web site that includes suggestions of good, spiritually nourishing books, recipes, meditation, and other self-care practices.  

The teachings of Jesus overturn conventional wisdom. Sometimes we are afraid to mourn for fear that we’ll never emerge from the sadness. Jesus invites us to go ahead and mourn, and seek out God’s comfort. He says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Sometimes we’re afraid to hunger for justice and righteousness, for fear that we’ll just be disappointed again and again, until we become cynical. Jesus says, "Go ahead and hunger, and thirst for justice and righteousness, for you shall be filled." The movement of God is toward comforting those who mourn and filling those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

II.  Edwards, Sterling, Crawford

These are not easy words to believe in times like these. These days, we are subject not only to the tragedies that may befall people we know. In this social media age, we’re aware of daily tragedies across the country and around the world. We can be overwhelmed with compassion fatigue.  

When I heard last week about the police shooting of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards in a town just outside Dallas, Texas, my first reaction was to turn away. We can become numb to the violence.  

Also, last week, the news came down that the U.S. Justice Department would not be filing charges against police officers in the shooting of another black man, Alton Sterling, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana last year while he was selling CDs outside a Triple S Food Mart. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made clear his desire to reduce government oversight over law enforcement, giving police a freer hand.

On top of that, we learned this week that Edward Crawford was found in his car shot to death. He was one of the leaders of protests in Ferguson, Missouri after the killing of Michael Brown. Police said his death was a suicide, but Crawford’s father said that doesn’t make any sense. Edward Crawford was 27 years old, the father of four young children, had just gotten a new apartment, and was training for a warehouse job. He is the third Ferguson protestor that has been found dead in a car.  

When you add those three pieces together– police shooting and killing an unarmed 15 year old black teen, officers not being convicted of previous killings, and those who are protesting these killings winding up dead in the back of their cars– it begins to paint a chilling picture of where we are politically, culturally, and racially in this country.  

Jesus also lived in chilling times, when a prophet who heals common people, crosses social boundaries, and confronts social injustice can end up executed on a Roman cross. The gospel is tailor-made for times like these. Jesus speaks from the front lines in Nazareth and Ferguson, Capernaum and Baltimore, Baton Rouge and the Bronx; Jerusalem and Dallas, Texas; Allepo, Manila, Kinshasa, and Port Au Prince. The gospel speaks truth into our lives and the lives of people around the world who are mourning, grieving, hungering, and thirsting for justice and righteousness.  

III.  Mourning and Comfort

Jesus speaks a word of comfort for all who mourn. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall find comfort. It’s important to treat our grief, even as we would a physical injury. We must give it attention and treatment for healing. Mourning is an external expression of our grief. It takes the internal grieving and expresses it in rituals like a funeral service and also stories, community conversations, art, journaling, and more. Without mourning, grieving can sometimes drive people to substance abuse, self-injury, risk taking behaviors, fighting, and other attempts to escape the overwhelming feelings that come with grief.  

Current losses sometimes reactivate old losses. If you find yourself grieving in a way that seems beyond what’s reasonable for the current loss, you could be tapping into and reliving old losses. Give yourself permission to heal. Be gentle with yourself. The prescription Jesus offers for grieve is to actively mourn and seek the comfort of God.

A big part of mourning is telling our stories. Tell the stories of your uncle, your father, your sister, your spouse. Remember who they are and what they did and how they loved us. Who is someone who you grieve for today? Can you see their face with the eyes of your heart? Can you remember their touch? What do you remember about them? The way they cooked? The stories they told? The way they listened to you? A hobby they had? A love for music, for dancing?  

Sometimes, when we’re with family, we don’t want to bring up their name because we know it’s going to change the mood. But don’t be afraid of mourning. And mourning together is a beautiful experience. Don’t be afraid to call their name and change the mood and share stories together. Set up special days for mourning after 3 months, after 6 months, after a year, after 2 years. Every year on their birthday, rituals of mourning are healing.  

Blessed, Jesus says, are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Yesterday, 800 people joined the family of Jordan Edwards, who mourned their 15-year-old son at the Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church. Brother, nephew, grandson. They remembered that he was a straight-A student. They remembered that he was a valued member of the football team. That he was a beloved brother, son, nephew, grandson, and friend. They told the stories of Jordan Edwards.  

Storytelling is an important part of mourning. This past week at our Growing in Faith 201 class, David was sharing about his ministry plan which centers around storytelling. He said that we must tell our stories– especially queer folks and people of color. The powerful are trying to reshape our stories; we must continue to tell them. Immediately after the shooting of Jordan, the police department began retelling the story. "The car was driving at the officer aggressively." "He felt threatened." But the officer’s body cam gave lie to that tale, and the police chief retracted it.

We live in an era of alternative facts, where words like justice and righteousness have no meaning.  

IV.  Hungering for Righteousness

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled. All of these teachings go together. Mourning and comfort is part of the process. Hungering and thirsting for justice and righteousness is also part of the process.

Sometimes it feels like dinner is never going to be served. We might be tempted to snack on something less than righteousness: a diversion, a false promise. Mourning is painful, hungering and thirsting is draining. But comfort and filling are coming.  

Faith community is a place where we celebrate and mourn together, a place where we feast together, and where we hunger and thirst together for justice and righteousness. We don’t trust in the ways of the world, but the promises of God.

Macy had a rough childhood. Her parents had a volatile relationship; there was abuse directed at her. There was a time when she went to live with her grandmother for a while and then went back. A lot of her childhood was turbulent. She has deep anger, fear and sadness connected with a lot of her childhood. And it is good for her to mourn the loss of her childhood. To forgive those who hurt her and to forgive herself. Even though she didn't do anything wrong, forgiveness is a part of the healing process, gradually let go of resentment and healing. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus reminds us that forgiveness is a regular process of healing.

Macy is also thirsting and hungering for justice and righteousness. She is studying psychology. She wants to work to make the world a better place for other children than it was for her. She is imagining her calling to set up a shelter, to counsel with families, to advocate for children in difficult situations.

What is the particular justice and righteousness you are hungering for? Is there a particular way you are involved in seeking justice and righteousness in your life, in your school, at the job, in your community? Is there some particular way that you practice this hunger?

Jesus assures us that mourning is a blessed act, that God will comfort us. Don’t hide in your grieving. Share your stories with someone, enact some ritual or other way to mourn the losses you experience. Don’t be afraid to hunger and thirst for righteousness, for our passions lead to our fulfillment.

Freedom from Death

April 16, 2017 - At the heart of the gospel is the story of Jesus facing death and his distraught disciples fleeing the scene. But then something mysterious happened, and the disciples were no longer afraid. Soon, the early Christian community was living in great power and faith. What happened? Is freedom from death possible? What was this Resurrection Power? And how could it change our lives?