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Happy? Try Weeping
January 29, 1995

LUKE 6:21, JAMES 4:7-10

Jesus certainly said some of the strangest things. Curious. Odd. I'm preaching a series of sermons on some of Jesus' radical teachings. Last time, we looked at poverty. To be a happy disciple, try poverty. Renounce, relinquish all your possessions like Mother Teresa, or be among those who serve the poor, help provide food, clothing, and housing, who champion their cause, who speak for the poor because the poor are politically voiceless.

This morning, we look at another curious teaching. Are you happy? Are you as happy as you'd like to be? Then, try weeping. Happy are you who weep, said Jesus. What did he mean? Aren't weeping and happiness mutually exclusive? Matthew phrased it differently. Happy are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew seemed to feel the need to interpret Jesus' teachings. When you allow yourself to mourn, to grieve, you will be comforted. Those who don't mourn their losses or the death of a loved one; those who repress their grief, stifle it, indeed will not find comfort. Instead, they will probably find bitterness and heart trouble! No doubt one half the world will mourn this afternoon when the Chargers lose the Super Bowl. But, most will probably not weep; they will mourn the loss of the Super Bowl ring by drowning in alcohol, which is far more dangerous, and much less satisfying, than a good cry!

But, in Luke's version of the beatitudes, Jesus did not restrict weeping to mourning. Happy are you who weep, period. What did Jesus mean?

One of the first rules of Bible study is to read the context. Don't isolate verses to make them mean whatever you want them to mean. When we look at the context of Happy are you who weep, we discover that it is a further elaboration of Jesus' words to the poor. The poor--those who are impoverished, who are hungry, who know tears and sorrow--will be happy in the kingdom of God. Their tears will turn to laughter when God reigns.

And, as we discovered in the previous sermon, the term poor in Hebrew came to include not only those who are physically impoverished, but those who are spiritually impoverished as well. Those who know their need for God, who are poor in spirit; those who hunger and thirst for God; those whose desperate need for God drives them to tears, drives them to weeping, are those who are blessed, who are happy.

There is something cleansing about tears. A good cry cleans out the spiritual pipes, and allows grace to flow freely. There are several different kinds of weeping. There are different kinds of tears. Those who feel that nobody knows the troubles they see, but Jesus, weep tears of pain and loneliness. There are tears of manipulation. Children know how to turn on the tears, and throw tantrums to manipulate their parents. I'm talking in particular this morning about two kinds of tears: tears of mourning, and tears of repentance.

Repentance means to feel sorry enough to change. Feeling sorry for what you have done or not done, knowing you have hurt those who trust in you, knowing you have hurt yourself, asking for forgiveness, and the power to change yourself, begins with tears, tears of penitence. The passage from James which was read this morning says, cleanse your hands and purify your hearts by lamenting, mourning, and weeping. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves.

Have you felt so badly about your behavior, or lack of behavior, that you have wept? Have you ever wanted to change so much you cried about it? Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you, wrote James. Drawing near to God, developing a deep relationship with God, experiencing what the Bible calls salvation or redemption, often involves tears. What keeps us from drawing near to God is sin. Sin is what separates us from God. Overcoming sin begins with repentance, and repentance begins with tears. Tears of penitence turn into tears of joy when you experience God's forgiveness, and deepen your personal relationship with Jesus.

Some men have difficulty weeping. They feel it is not manly. Our culture teaches men not to weep. "Boys don't cry," we are told at young ages. Keep a stiff upper lip. Control yourself. Only sissies and girls cry. Before the time of Christ in Greece, the Stoics taught, "Don't mourn. Self control is the answer to sorrow." The philosopher, Epictetus, taught men, "Love your wife and children, but not so much that you will be hurt when they die!" Many men today imitate the Stoics: Don't love too deeply. Don't be emotional. Don't let others see when you hurt. Don't lose control. And, above all, never cry. So, men bottle up their tears and repress them, where they let themselves out in self-destructive ways. Some men withdraw and hide in their caves, while their wives batter on the wall, hoping for some interaction. Sometimes the repressed emotions come out through the body in physical illness. I have a theory. I can't prove it, but I suspect one reason that women live longer than men is because women know how to cry, and are not ashamed to cry.

Many times I have experienced the cleansing, healing power of weeping. I remember kneeling at the altar of the Upper Room in Nashville, Tennessee, where I made a tearful surrender of my life to the Holy Spirit. I remember many times I have wept in frustration and powerlessness, crying to God, "Lord, what am I to do? Show me how to serve you." I remember sitting on the beach at the ocean, watching the waves pound on the rocks, hearing the sound of the surf drown out my wail as I mourned the death of my aunt. Today is my mother's birthday. I especially feel close to her today as our son was married two weeks ago with none of his grandparents present. They have all died; yet were present in spirit and in tears.

Jesus teaches us to weep, to mourn, to grieve, to cry. Jesus himself wept. When he was told his friend Lazarus had died, Jesus wept tears of mourning. Jesus loved deeply, which made him vulnerable to hurting. Are you as happy as you would like to be? If not, perhaps there is a blockage, something in the way you are living or thinking, some block between you and God, between you and others. Do you need to repent and change some things in your life? Try weeping.

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris