Friday, February 26, 2010

Jerks in the Kingdom of God

Twenty-seven years ago my father died after a three-year battle with cancer. In one year I lost both grandfathers and my father. I was the eldest male in the family at the ripe old age of thirty-three. My soul ached. I clung to scripture for comfort. I opened the Bible to Romans 5 and tried to persevere to find meaning and hope in my suffering. But mostly what I felt was grief.

I think grief is the most difficult experience in life. I find it worse than physical pain or illness. It is an aching void in the soul that nothing can fill. No words will comfort. Yet Jesus says that mourning is one of the blessings of the spiritual life. "Blessed are those who mourn."

I don't think he is speaking about losing a loved one, or a job or a home. I think he is talking about losing everything when we choose God.

During WWII Kamikaze pilots used to cut their hair and fingernails before their suicide mission so that their family would have something to bury. They considered themselves dead from that moment on. Likewise Christians are dead when they give their lives to Christ. The apostle Paul stressed this repeatedly. "You died with Christ, died to the world."  "We died to the world, crucified with Christ, and were buried."  "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."

When we die, we lose everything. We can take nothing with us through the portal of death - neither loved ones, nor possessions nor egos. So it is when we decide to follow Jesus. We have to leave it all behind. That is why we mourn. The reason why most Christians do not mourn, and consequently do not experience the comfort that Jesus promises in this beatitude, is because we have not left it behind. We try to take it with us.

There is a bittersweet moment at the end of the movie "The Jerk" with Steve Martin. Martin's character has lost everything in bankruptcy.  He is leaving his mansion a broken man, yet desperately clinging to the remnants of his former life. As he departs, be begins to grab bits of stuff. He says sobbing, "I don't need anything... except this. All I need is this ashtray. That's all I need. And this chair. All I need is this chair and this ashtray. That's all I need. And this remote control, and this paddle game, and this lamp...."

We say that all we need is Jesus, but we try to bring all sorts of stuff from our former life into our new life in Christ. It won't fit. According to Jesus, entering the kingdom is like going through the eye of a needle. We can't take anything with us.

That is why we mourn. And it is proper to mourn. In fact it is absolutely necessary to mourn. Those who are blessed will mourn, and then they will be comforted. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

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