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Last week, when Pauline kicked off this sermon series “Blessed: The Be-Attitudes,” what resonated most for you?
Well, for me, I was physically here, so what caught my eye first was the teapot and tea cup on the communion table. And when Pauline spoke about the student who went on and on and on about their achievements, experiences, qualifications, who they studied under and the teacher kept pouring the tea until the tea overflowed, that story resonated. When we are full, we cannot take in new things.
But what happens when we live in a world where the goal is to be rich, to be full, to have a lot and being poor, being empty is considered a failure? When we apply for jobs, we fill our CVs to try and impress our potential employer. When we meet new people, we try to present ourselves in a way to impress them and them like us.
All these behaviours stem from the anxiety that the real us is not good enough. We cannot be truly vulnerable and show our real selves to others. If we are not rich, if we are not full, we pretend to be.
And sometimes we don’t even realise that we are pretending – because the truth is the person we are really trying to fool is ourselves. We are trying to convince ourselves that we are not worthless, empty, or poor.
So the first thing we need to embrace is our blessedness. It is knowing and trusting that God loves us that anchors this blessedness. It is only when we are empty that we can be filled. It is knowing that we have sinned, that we can seek forgiveness. It is knowing that we fall short, that we can accept grace. This knowing and this trust is faith.
But what about the second beatitude? Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted?
I took a peek at Got Questions. Org – a “Christian, Protestant, evangelical, theologically conservative, and non-denominational” website that “seek to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by providing biblical, applicable, and timely answers to spiritually related questions through an internet presence.”
“Jesus seems to indicate that this mourning is due to grief over sin…. An enviable state of blessedness comes to those who mourn over their own sin.”
There are times I do agree with GotQuestions answers – but here, I disagree.
Yes, we should reflect on our sins, and seek forgiveness for them, and work to make amends to those we have sinned against – but I don’t think this is what Jesus was talking about when he said “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” If Jesus was talking about sin, then the beatitude should be “blessed are those who repent for they will be forgiven.”
Here is where a literal read of the Bible is more appropriate.
<M> First – what do you understand as mourning? What is mourning to you?
Grief is the constellation of internal thoughts and feelings we have when experience loss. Mourning is when you take the grief you have on the inside and express it outside yourself.
I suspect that when people read “blessed are those who mourn” and interpret that as Jesus talking about sin, they are actually uncomfortable talking about emotions. When people express negative feelings in church, we get uncomfortable and too often we try to make the negative feelings go away by offering solutions, or telling folks, in a nice way, “to get over it” or “just to trust God” and quickly change the subject.
In a way, we are telling people “It is ok that you grieve – just don’t mourn and express it out in a way that makes everybody else uncomfortable.”
Have you heard coming to church in your Sunday best?
<M> How do you feel about that?
For some, coming to church in their Sunday best means dressing up to honor God. For some, it may be interpreting literally the parable of the banquet from Matthew 22 where the inappropriately dressed was thrown out of the banquet – the king ordered the servants to bind this person and to throw them into the darkness where they will cry and gnash their teeth.
But what has happened is that church becomes this place where people not only put on their Sunday best, they also put on masks and pretend that everything is going well when they come to church. They hide all their grief, their struggles inside thinking that only the deserving can come to church, the deserving can come into God’s presence.
But that’s the opposite of what church should be! Church should be a place where you can come to God authentically, without pretense. At FCC we hope you can be authentic here. You can express what you are going through without fear of being judged, and know that you are God’s beloved.
But what has that got to do with mourning?
We often focus only on positive feelings in church – and we skip over the negative feelings. But who lives a life that only has good moments?
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
There must be space somehow in this sacred space not just to laugh, dance, embrace, celebrate, worship, but also space to weep, mourn and lament.
<M> What do we mourn in our lives?
When we talk about mourning, we usually mourn the death of someone.
But we experience grief in other situations as well. We grieve over endings, change, farewells – because they are different experiences of loss.
Mourning – taking that grief we have inside and expressing it outside – helps us process and journey through our loss, helping us move to acceptance and hope.
But mourning requires vulnerability, and we often see vulnerability as a sign of weakness and avoid being vulnerable. Instead we try to be strong in times of grief and loss.
At almost every wake I have attended, I have seen folks try hold it all together. Wakes and funerals are occasions that are meant for us to mourn, and for folks who come to the wake to grieve with us, comfort and support us – but instead of mourning, we bury and suppress all the emotions so we can do what needs to be done, and then process the grief in private.
We may tell ourselves – let’s not burden other people with our grief, they are going through their own stuff as well. Let’s not trouble other people. But at the call of it, we are unable to be vulnerable and we are afraid of being vulnerable.
Cynthia Bourgeault in her book The Wisdom Jesus, writes:
Essentially, from a wisdom perspective, this second beatitude is talking about vulnerability and flow. When we mourn (and we’re talking about true mourning here, not complaining or self-pity) we are in a state of freefall, our hearts reaching out toward what we have seemingly lost but cannot help loving anyway. To mourn is by definition to live between the realms. . . . Mourning is indeed a brutal form of emptiness. But in this emptiness, if we can remain open, we discover that a mysterious “something” does indeed reach back to comfort us.
If we do not mourn, we do not express the grief within, we are just suppressing it and locking it in.
<M> Are there losses in your life where you still feel stuck over and you have not moved beyond the initial feelings of grief? It could be the end of a relationship, the death of a loved one – especially a sudden one, it could be changes in your life that is beyond your control.
Have you mourned these losses? Have you taken that grief we have inside and expressing it outside? It could be as simple as allowing yourself to be vulnerable and sharing that experience with someone else.
And here – even though you are sharing this anonymously – is the first step you are taking to mourn.
Don’t let the grief be trapped inside you. It will find ways – often unhealthy ways – to be released. I have seen folks whose grief gets released only when they are drunk. They drink and drink, and it reaches a point when they are no longer in control and all the grief gets poured out.
There are many ways we mourn in church – we held World AIDS Day services, Transgender Day of Remembrance services to commemorate and mourn and lament as a community and envision a different world – where the former things have passed away – where there is no more discrimination – where people living with HIV, transgender people are loved and accepted as who they are everywhere.
We also find ways to say goodbye and express our love for people and bid them farewell as they leave Singapore and move overseas to another phase of their lives.
This is a place, a community for all seasons under the heavens, and not just a place to come in your Sunday best. This is a place for where you can come as you are – where you can weep, laugh, mourn, dance, gather, search, even to give up, throw away, a place for silence, and a place to speak.
I now want to move to the second part of the beatitude. We often focus on the first part of this beatitude “Blessed are those who mourn,” and don’t pay attention at “for they will be comforted” because we assume God will do the work of comforting.
We may point to the promise of a new heaven and a new earth from Revelations 21:4 – where “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes,’ and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.”
But that is the world to come – in the Beatitudes, Jesus is telling us how to be in the here and now to establish the kin-dom now. The Kin-dom of God is not far away nor far, far in the future – the kin-dom of God is within you, amongst you. (Luke 17:21)
So if the kin-dom of God is within us, amongst us (some people argue one translation is more accurate – I think why not both?) then how does God wipe away every tear through this kin-dom? How does God comfort through this kin-dom?
I was packing my old room in my parents place – they are going to renovate and merge 2 rooms together, and so my room will “disappear.” I lived in that room for 30 years. I was surprised at the emotions that surfaced as I packed things, and chose what to keep, what to give away and what to throw away. And then I came across old photographs – and photos of my grandmother and a few friends who have passed away – and the feelings of grief and sadness bubbled up. There was even a lot of feelings looking at my younger self.
I shared my thoughts and reflections – and my grief – with a few friends and as I shared, I felt comforted. I didn’t feel alone in my grief. Grief is a very lonely feeling because it comes from within us, and it is very personal because it connects to our experiences and memories of a person, a place or a thing. But when I found a way to express that grief – I found comfort. The people who I shared my feelings with comforted me – God comforted me through them.
For those of you who are new to FCC, you often hear us say “the kin-dom of God” instead of the “Kingdom of God.” But this place that Jesus talked about, doesn’t look much like a kingdom. I mean, have you seen a kingdom where the first shall be last and the last shall be first?
I was introduced to this idea in seminary – and this was in turn borrowed from liberation theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz as being more inclusive and less hierarchical alternative to “kingdom.”
A kingdom suggests one that is patriarchal, hierarchical, and centered around power. That doesn’t sound like the place Jesus talked about. But kin-dom – kin-dom suggests a place that is relational centered around family. Is that more like what Jesus spoke about? “Whosoever does the will of God is my brother, and my sister, and mother.”
And when we think about kin-dom, then we connect to understand how we are called to comfort each other when we are mourning.
We may not be there yet. Recently, as some of you are aware, Ben’s mom passed away 3 months ago. It slipped my mind to share the information with the rest of the church, and few people caught the information on Facebook, so only 3 of us from FCC turned up for the wake. Ben was very broken hearted because he felt as though he didn’t matter.
We failed to show up. We failed to comfort him in his mourning. Ben was heartbroken because FCC means a lot to him, and we disappointed him.
We are on this journey as an imperfect community striving to live out what it means to be the kin-dom of God, to love one another. Oh, it is a tall order and we will fail, and we will try again.
In the Wisdom Jesus, Cynthia Bourgeault introduces the idea that Jesus as a teacher in the wisdom tradition and invites us to think about Jesus’ teaching as seeking wisdom and inner transformation. The Wisdom path is how we live and love God and our neighbour here, right now. The kin-dom of God is at hand, right here, right now. In order to be a follower of Jesus, see ye first the kin-dom. The kin-dom where we are whole, where we are transformed, where we are one with God and with one another, where the commandments to love God and our neighbours as ourselves as fulfilled.
Because of what happened with Ben, some of you were very moved. A group of you approached Geoffrey who is on the council leading the community life stream to discuss what we could do as a community. And you came up with the idea CARE (Can rely on everyone) I am very heartened by such initiative – that’s what the kin-dom looks like – a family.
We would be piloting some initiatives so that we are all equipped to CARE – because often we are afraid of stepping up because we have no idea what to do.
I want to offer a very good example of how we can care and love for someone who is mourning. When Job lost almost everything – his herds and flocks, his children and was afflicted, his friends came to support him and sat with him for 7 days and 7 nights in silence.
11 When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. 12 When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.
We don’t have to offer answers, solutions, or what we think to comfort someone in their mourning. Our presence is enough. While Job’s friends really showed up, once they started talking and offering their perspectives why Job was going through so much, everything started going downhill.
There are of course practical things we can do for someone mourning – like getting food (many people who are grieving have no appetite and forget to eat) but the most important thing is our presence and that connection we have, and our willingness to sit with their suffering, pain and grief and hold them in love.
<M> How do you want to be part and participate in the kin-dom of God to comfort those who mourn?
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.