Bible Reading Psalm 30:6-10, 1-5,11-12
… I said in my security, “I will never be knocked down.” Lord, in your favor you made strength stand like a mountain for me. Then you hid your face. I was terrified. To you, O Lord, I call. To the Lord I cry for mercy: “What gain is there in shedding my blood, in sending me down to destruction? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your truth? Lord, hear and be merciful to me. Lord, be a helper for me.”
I will exalt you, O Lord, because you lifted me up. You did not let my enemies rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried out to you, and you healed me. Lord, you snatched my life from the grave. You kept me alive so I did not go down into the pit. (EHV)
Message The Comfort of the Grieved and
The Inheritance of the Self-Controlled
The Psalmist David is describing a typical cycle. Things go well, and we begin thinking we have done it on our own. We stop seeking God and lose sight of him. We suffer the consequences of that broken connection with God and all of a sudden, the world becomes a threatening, scary place. We realize we can’t do it without God, we mourn the error of our ways and cry out to God for his mercy. He reaches to us and – whatever the circumstances may be – we gratefully feel our spirits lifted up to restored joy…
I mentioned last week that Jesus’ Beatitudes, the “Blessed are” statements at the beginning of his sermon in Matthew 5 are not commandments nor how-to steps to happiness. They do describe the joyful by-product of God’s ever-growing transformation in those who willingly receive, trust, and follow the ways of Jesus Christ as the Holy Spirit leads them.
The transformation continues to unfold as Jesus teaches:
L: Blessed are those who mourn,
P: for they will be comforted.
L: Blessed are the meek,
P: for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:4-5) (NIV)
The New England Patriots won the Super bowl in 2017. Many expected them to win again last season. They did well to reach the final game but failed against the Eagles. They could have and should have been held responsible for failing to reach their final destination (of winning the Super Bowl). When the game ended they and their fans mourned their loss.
Imagine if we got this church together, put on pads, had a couple practice sessions, and then went out to play the Green Bay Packers. I think it would be safe to say we would be hurt, frustrated, sad, and even humiliated; but there would be no blame or shame or fault for our loss because unlike the Patriots and Packers, football is not Grace’s design nor destiny – it is not who we are or why we have come together. There is no reason to mourn the loss of a game we aren’t expected to win in the first place.
Let’s make that comparison an analogy for life. We are spiritual beings. God loves us and wants us to enjoy a truly victorious life. That doesn’t mean life is smooth and easy. It means that whether our current circumstances are filled with signs of success or signs of struggle -- we will become who God designed us to be and end up where he destines us to be. Unless… something gets in the way.
Mourn our Sin
Last week, Jesus says we are happy and again on our way to God’s destiny for us when we realize that there is something selfishly rebellious inside us that prevents us from reaching that destiny on our own. We were designed to get there on our own, but we can’t. We are destined to get there on our own, but we can’t. That recognition allows us to turn to God and accept his rule (his kingdom) in our life.
Recognizing our poverty of spirit, that we have failed and can’t achieve what is our expected victorious, designed destiny on our own, it causes us to mourn. The word implies we feel an intense sense of loss, helplessness, and despair. When the game is over, the game is over. But the game is not over until Jesus says it is over. Blessed is the person who is intensely sorry for sin, who is brokenhearted for what sin has done to their relationship with God and Christ, to those they have sinned against, as well as what it has done to their own lives. Blessed is the person who brings that brokenness to God. Confessing sins, taking responsibility, admitting fault for failure, mourning our loss. These are not popular in our culture today.
Signs of not mourning
- never apologize
- never seek permission
- others are worse
- It is not me, it is others
On an similar track is the saying that, “It is easier to apologize than to ask for permission” which encourages us to do what we want then speak insincere words to mend any fences with those we violated to get what we want. And when that is done, we still have what we want, and allegedly we can proceed without any down side.”
With an arbitrator about to determine the status of an NBA star, the player expressed remorse for choking his coach during a practice by saying “I'm not another 'OJ Simpson'. (Meaning: I'm not that bad because others are worse than I. (Hitler’s name is invoked a lot in this argument.)
A brawling hockey player said, "We have only one person to blame, and that's each other.”
If Bible heroes had followed these confused cultural values rather than their faith values, some bible passages would sound a whole lot different:
Mourn - Not Mourn
Peter in Luke 5:4-11
Give more - Give away
If Peter was a product of our culture, when Jesus granted him a miraculous catch, he may have said, “What a coincidence that I deserved, why didn’t you give me more?" But Peter recognized how undeserved and miraculous was this gift, fell to his knees in front of Jesus and said, "Go away for I am a sinful man.” (I don’t deserve to be in your presence.)
Mourn - Not Mourn
Daniel in Daniel 9:3-19
Why, God? - We sinned
If Daniel had been a product or our culture, when in exile he may have prayed, “God, but why are you doing this to us?” But Daniel prayed, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and rebelled, turning away from your commands… we have been scattered because of our unfaithfulness. Even though you are forgiving, we have been disobedient -- therefore (the consequences for disobedience have been justly fulfilled and it is why we are living in disaster – Now we ask your help not because we are right or good, but because of your great mercy.
Mourn - Not Mourn
Paul in Romans 7:14-25
False guilt - Rescue me
Paul, if a child of our culture, may have written: "I'm conflicted within, but I'm sure it is just false guilt put on me by others because my preferences don’t line up with theirs.” But he instead writes about how he knows what good he wants to do but can't seem to do it, and how he knows what bad he should not be doing, but can't seem to stop; and concludes that he is a prisoner of war to the evil that battles within him. He wonders who will rescue him...
Mourn - Not Mourn
Jesus in Matthew 4:17
Celebrate - Repent
This is why, as Jesus begins his minis-try his first words are not "God's king-dom is here: Celebrate!" They are. "The kingdom of heaven is at hand! Repent!” Open the soul, see and name the mess within and seek to let God realign your life to embrace new ways and new attitudes.”
Comfort from sin comes to those who
- take own sins seriously
- not just consequences
Understand that this is not about beating ourselves up for every word or action that didn’t come out just right. It is about taking sin's presence and power and temptation seriously. It is easy to take everyone else’s sins seriously but receiving the comfort of God’s salvation is offered for we who take our own sins seriously (and not just their discomforting consequences).
To explain the difference in a humorous way: a zoo attendant sat crying quietly. A visitor asked another attendant about him, who replied that one of the elephants had died. The visitor was touched, “Then he was really fond of the elephant?” Came the reply, "No, he’s upset because he’s the one who has to dig the grave!" We need to regret the cause and not just how that cause negatively impacts us.
This is the difference between the culture’s mourning of consequences; and the faithful’s mourning of their failings (See 2 Corinthians 7:8 ff). Paul calls it “worldly sorrow” versus "godly sorrow." Worldly sorrow over consequences – brings only misery and death. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regrets, inspires earnestness, eagerness, alarm, longing, concern, and readiness to see justice done.
If we feel we have no mess to confess, if we feel we have born nothing to mourn, if we fret no regret, then we will not seek the comfort God offers, and if we don’t seek it, we will not find it. Comfort comes because we heed the feelings of real guilt, we regret the wrong actions themselves. We are motivated to leave the sin behind and cast our cares on Christ. We will find him waiting for us in the midst of our storms, our consequences, and our sins; ready to still the tumultuous waves of our spirits and maturing us forward to a new and better life, and that is what we call comfort.
David could have easily buried away from the public the Bathsheba-Uriah scandal. But once Nathan mentioned it to him, he did not excuse, justify, or explain it away. Instead he bore the guilt of his fault and brought his broken heart to God and confessed. It was then that the joy of his salvation began to be restored... (See Psalm 51:1-13)
We realize we are unable to save ourselves, (poor in spirit). We enter relationship with God as ruler of our life (ours is his kingdom). We regret not just the consequences, but begin to hate the sin itself (we mourn) – and we discover the comfort that comes from a different way of living (shall be comforted); and this leads us to approach life with more humility,
search for an inner strength that will help us not give into these harmful actions in the first place – we surrender control to God.
This inner strength is called meekness. Meekness is often confused with weakness, which we try to overcome by building formidable exteriors. We look and act tough on the outside to hide the weakness within. There is a joke about a preacher who wrote in his sermon notes how to deliver his sermon. When the content was weak, he wrote to increase his volume. When it was especially weak, he wrote to shout and pound the pulpit.
We also see it in the animal world. Consider the butting order in a flock of sheep. A young, contented sheep is laying in the pasture minding its own business. A mature ewe arches her neck, tilts her head, dilates her eyes and charges with a stiff-legged gait. The message is clear, “Back down and away or else!” And if the lamb does not immediately leap to her feet and run, she will be head-butted unmercifully. If she does rise to the challenge, one or two strong thrusts from the matriarch would soon send her scurrying for safety. The flock follows that top dog’s example. The entire flock seeks its self-assertive status and is filled with rivalry, tension, and competition as it establishes and continually re-establishes its butting order from top to bottom. No sheep can lie down and rest. Discontent becomes a way of life where one has to be forever "standing up" for self, for rights, to get ahead of the crowd and “rule our personal world” thinking that if we can climb to the top we will ascend above all threats and insecurity. But it never happens. There is always someone wanting to pull you down so they can be on top.
A legend from India tells of a mouse who was terrified of cats until a magician agreed to transform him into a cat. This resolved his fear [and restored his control and security over his world] - until he met a dog. So, the magician turned him into a dog. The mouse-turned-cat-turned dog was restored to contentment -- until he met a tiger. So once again the magician changed him into what he feared. But when the tiger came complaining that he had met a hunter, the magician refused to help. "I will
make you a mouse again, for though you have the body of a tiger, you still have the heart of a mouse."
Meekness is not weakness, it is not being someone's floor mat - always to be stepped and wiped on by more aggressive people. It is an inner strength and courage that comes as an outgrowth of who we are becoming as we trust in Christ. Exterior supports may temporarily sustain, but it is relying on God’s transformation of our character that creates inner courage that allows us to stand up for truth and for people with gentleness, humility and self-control -- because we don’t live by the values of our butting order world, our bullies win world.
To illustrate it in overly simplistic terms, A waitress makes a mistake on the bill. You have three choices: (1) You can be the doormat and pay because you don’t want to “start a conflict”. (2) You can get hopping mad about the injustice that has been done you and destroy the waitress, or at least her day. (3) Or, with humility (for we all make mistakes we have had to mourn) and with self-control you can gently work to correct the mistake with the server.
Inherit the earth
As we follow king Jesus to whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, those who find Christ’s calm inner strength and rule, (and its resulting gentle self-control) will also inherit the earth – not as we currently experience it, but how it will be when Christ returns to establish his universal rule. In his hands we can have courage, for no longer shall the earth and its fears dominate us, for while it can do things to our physical being, there is nothing it can do to our spirit. (See Matthew 16:23-27, John 16:33) God’s answer to the head butting order in which we currently live is expressed through his prophet Ezekiel through whom he says: I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down... I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak… I will shepherd the flock with justice. [Then he speaks to the bullies in the pasture]: Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet? Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered [oppressed, taken advantage of.] (Ezekiel 34:15-16, 18, 21-22 (NIV))
Through David in Psalm 23 God gives us a glimpse of what that will look like. His people lie down in contentment. The Shepherd's Presence puts an end to rivalry. He makes them lay down (instead of attacking each other); thus creating peace. When we become acutely aware of being in the presence of Christ, foolish fighting competitions end. It is the humble heart walking quietly and contentedly in the close and intimate companionship of Christ whose hearts are at rest, that relax, that are simply glad to lie down because they can trust in the shepherd. (Psalm 23:1-2 ff) Or to put in today's context: Blessed are the meek, outwardly gentle, inwardly strong... for the good shepherd will lead them to fresh pastures; they shall inherit the [new] earth. Let’s pray…
Closing Prayer and Blessing
Lord, we are thankful that you have granted us the opportunity to find the joy of escaping the powerful entrapments of the sins we mourn, if we only recognize our need of your help and we rely on you. Then we can humbly move out of our worship to a community that is deep need of healing, help and hope. Let our lives meekly move to make your world a better place and expand your loving rule wherever we step in your name.
Everything good comes from God’s hand. He fills your minds and hearts with his love. Love him above all things. Desire to please him. Receive the joy he has prepared for you. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 337 (vv 1,3) Only Trust Him