Sunday, October 1, 2017

Deliverance: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

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. (Matthew 5:1–4 NRSV)
What does it mean to “mourn”? Mourning is kind of like “poor in spirit” that we talked about last week. It has a double meaning. Mourning can mean grief, the sadness that comes from losing something or someone we love. But mourning can also mean repentance. Sinners mourn for their own sins and sins of their community. They mourn because they long for the day when their sin and the sins of their community will end. They long for God to intervene.

Did you know that the prophet Amos, from the Old Testament, pronounces judgment on people who do not mourn! The people there were oppressing the poor. Amos said, “They see all of these things and then they say to their husbands, ‘Bring wine that we may drink!’” They sin. Then they bring sacrifices to the temple, thinking the sacrifices will cover their sins, but they just continue to practice injustice. They never repent. And God says, “Woe on those who do not mourn.” Amos writes:
Woe to those who are at ease in Zion… (Amos 6:1)
Woe to those who lie upon beds of ivory… (Amos 6:4)
Woe to those who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp … but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! (Amos 6:6)
Surely, I will never forget any of their deeds. Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who dwells in it? (Amos 8:8)
I will turn their feasts in mourning! (Amos 9:5)
When Jesus called for mourning, He meant the mourning of repentance. Mourning and repentance go hand in hand. And both of these require action. In other words, you are not really mourning if you say:
Sure the world’s in a mess…
I guess I’m just as guilty as anyone else…
But what can I do about it?
What that person is really saying is that they are not concerned enough about themselves or the world to look for anything to do about it! They are not grieved; they do not mourn. The best part of this beatitude is the second part! In God’s Kingdom, people who mourn will be comforted. Why? Because God has come to right all of the wrongs in the world! God has come to bring forgiveness and deliverance! It is tempting to say:
The problems of this world are too severe!
The racial injustice is too widespread.
The hatred people spew at each other on social media will always be there!
There will always be poverty.
There will always be bullies in this world
Why get involved?
The reason you get involved is because God’s Spirit has entered the world. And through God’s Spirit, a power has come into this world. A power strong enough to combat any injustice we see. A power strong enough to bring comfort to mourners. Let’s celebrate the coming of God’s Kingdom.

Clarence Jordan was a brilliant scholar of the New Testament. He is probably best known for his translation of the New Testament, The Cotton Patch Gospel. This series of books was written by Jordan in the 1960s. Galilee becomes his native South Georgia! Jerusalem becomes Atlanta. The language is home-spun and reflects the deep South. But Jordan is lesser known for something else.

He had an undergraduate degree in agriculture. He believed he could make a difference in this world teaching poor white and black farmers how to make a significantly better living. So, instead of teaching New Testament at a prestigious university or seminary, he became an “agricultural missionary”! He began a cooperative farm near Americus and Plains, Georgia. He enlisted the help of whites and blacks to share in experimenting with crops and farming methods. They developed a successful pecan-growing business. Those who farmed with him became co-owners. He modeled his farm after Acts 2, where the earliest Christians shared everything. They named the farm “koinonia,” the Greek word meaning “fellowship” or “community.” Through the work of this farm, they began sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. They talked about and modeled the repentance that was necessary in the face of the sin of racism. They talked openly about the healing needed in their culture of slavery and discrimination. They talked about love for your neighbors.

The most fascinating part of this story, the farm opened in 1942! Twelve years before Brown v. Board of Education, the case with which the Supreme Court mandated the desegregation of public schools, twenty years before the height of the Civil Rights Movement. In Georgia! This was cotton plantation country! But Jordan believed in the power of the gospel, and he took following Jesus seriously.

There is typically a great cost that comes with taking Jesus seriously. The community at Koinonia was boycotted by the seed and feed store. They had to develop their own marketing networks. They were shot at by drive-by racists. They were expelled from the local Southern Baptist Church. But they survived, and in fact, they thrived. Koinonia Farm still exists. They spawned Habitat for Humanity. They inspired generations of Christians to make their faith active. They inspired former President Jimmy Carter to become intricately involved with their efforts.

Clarence Jordan said in 1958: “Segregation is a dying horse.” A dying horse may kick compulsively now and then, it can still do some damage to those who oppose it. But, its time is over. It really is dying. Clarence Jordan mourned the sin of racism in his world. And his mourning moved him to act. He was deeply saddened to the point of action. Jesus says those kinds of people will be comforted. Why? Because God’s Kingdom has come into the world. And sin and injustice are dying horses, they are still dangerous, they still do damage to those who oppose them, but their time is over. They really are dying. Blessed are those who mourn. For they will be comforted.

46 Million people are held in slavery today. Did you know that? There are more people held in slavery today than in any other time in human history. Some of the poorest people in our world. Some are held illegally in brick factories. Others are made to work in rock quarries or fishing boats. Some still work on plantations around the world. Perhaps the darkest form of slavery in our modern world is child sex trafficking. This is literally a global business of child rape for profit.

A little over a decade ago, ground zero for child sex trafficking in our world was the small Asian nation of Cambodia. Ten years ago, you could walk through the streets of Cambodia’s major cities and you would see hundreds of children on sale out in the open. No one was doing a thing about it. It was too big a problem to tackle. It was too dangerous. There was too much money involved! Every evening, these hundreds of children would be lined up on the streets, and foreign and local pedophiles and sex tourists would “shop.”

Gary Haugen, the CEO and founder of International Justice Mission, tells a story about his experience there. He and his team found a dozen children in a locked closet in the back of a brothel. The children were between the ages of 5-10 years old! So, how should the people of God respond to such darkness? Should we avert our eyes? Should we race back to our homes to protect our own children? It is tempting to do both of those things! Christians in Cambodia mourned the lives of these children, and that means they were grieved to the point of action. They invited International Justice Mission to their country to help. The IJM teams began working on the legal side of the issue and they brought in hundreds of experts to help. Then, these Christians in Cambodia began rescuing hundreds of these children from sex trafficking. They literally went to these big cities and took them off the streets. They rescued them in every sense of that word. They risked violence to themselves. They risked being attacked or even killed by those making significant profit from these children. IJM went to work and sent hundreds of sex traffickers to jail.

Once the children left the streets, they found another problem. There were not enough good facilities to help bring these kids to restoration. So Christians from around the world began to partner with Christians in Cambodia. They built state of the art after-care facilities for children. Now, those facilities have become the standard for the rest of the world! 10 years ago, Cambodia was the darkest area of our entire world when it comes to sex trafficking! Now, there are people in the world who are writing about the absolute collapse of the sex trafficking industry in Cambodia. The cover story of Christianity Today recently showed the cleaned up streets of a Cambodian city with the headline: “Cambodia Rising” The story didn’t center on the darkness that covers this small nation. Rather the story centers on the Light. Even the cover picture shows sunshine dawning on this nation. And the subtitle of that article: "A thriving church and a crumbling sex trafficking industry!" This is the people of God, through the power of the Spirit of God, mourning the darkness of this world and seeing the great comfort of God’s Light!
“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” (Matthew 21:28–31a NRSV)
God expects us to do something. Mourning is not just about tears. Mourning is about repentance and action. Yes, action against darkness is dangerous. Yes, action against sin always brings chaos. Yes, action against injustice always brings division. So why would we even bother acting against the sin and darkness in our world? Because the Kingdom of God has arrived. And now, where there is mourning, God promises to bring comfort!

What are you mourning in this world? Where is the darkness around you? Is there something so daunting, so dark, so big, that our world says: “There is no way that will ever change!” Brothers and sisters, what if we believed it could change? What if we really did believe Jesus when He said He brings comfort to those who mourn? What if we dreamed dreams so big that when they are accomplished only God could possible get the credit? Where is God calling us to go?

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