Salt of the earth: Part 7

Because of everything Christ did, you have been given the perfect perspective on mourning and rejoicing.

Aaron H. Goetzinger

Joe was a young officer assigned to the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum in northern New York. Joe’s move there turned his world upside down. He understood that his orders could change suddenly. He knew he faced the possibility of deployment. But life at his previous duty station had been really good. He had gained some success as a young officer. He got along with his superiors, and his subordinates respected him. He also was becoming more serious with his girlfriend.

But Fort Drum changed all of that. He was ordered to go to Fort Drum. It wasn’t on his short list. In fact, it wasn’t even close to being on the short list. He knew no one within hundreds of miles. The area has long winters and shorter summers. He liked having access to shows and live music, but northern New York is not a hot bed for culture. When he arrived at his new unit, it was not what he expected. To compound matters, his superiors had a hard time understanding his perspective. And to make matters worse, his girlfriend dumped him.

When Joe put on his uniform in the morning, he also put on a good face. But once he got home and the uniform came off, he mourned. As a result of his mourning, he started to become skeptical of authority. He could only see what was wrong with his unit. He convinced himself he had been dealt a bad hand. He even began to shut himself off to anyone who could possibly help. He wasn’t fun to be around; matter-of-fact it was downright difficult to be around him.

Our sinful nature objects

How willing would you be to be around Joe and mourn with him? Or if you were Joe, how willing would you be to rejoice in the success of someone else?

On the surface, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” is a nice passage. To borrow words from Solomon, we probably agree that there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). We all have those times in life. Yet Paul challenges us to consider someone else’s rejoicing and mourning.

Our sinful nature objects: “Sure, rejoicing and mourning have their proper time . . . as long as each is within my time.” We know how difficult it is to rejoice when we don’t feel like it and to mourn when we want to rejoice.

Ever encounter someone who is down in the dumps when you are high on life? It can be hard to relate, can’t it? Why would a person who is loving life and rejoicing in its blessings want to get down into a pit of mourning? Not many of us want to because we’re so focused on the happiness and joy we feel. We don’t want anyone to bring us down.

Consider the opposite, rejoicing when it seems you can only mourn. Ever encounter someone who, in your estimation, is unrealistically chipper when all you want to do is wallow? It can be hard not to see that kind of joy and optimism as grating. When the darkness of life comes creeping in, it’s easy to see darkness as our only reality and the light of rejoicing to far away to be realistic.

Both mourners and rejoicers have their excuses. The rejoicer might say, “The mourner just needs to suck it up and get on with his life.” Whereas the mourner might say, “Why does the rejoicer get all the happiness?”

God’s mercy moves us

But the apostle encourages us to see things differently. He simply says, “Rejoice! Mourn!” If we struggle with mourning and rejoicing along with others when it doesn’t fit within our timeframe, then all we can say is that we fail at it because considering the needs of other people in addition to ourselves is so foreign to us.

Earlier in Romans chapter 12, Paul focuses his readers’ attention on God’s mercy. That’s what moves God’s people to action: “In view of God’s mercy” (v. 1). Those words point to the source of our Christian life. In his mercy God not only consoles us, but he also gets down into the pit of life with us.

In mercy God saw our sin-filled situation, wept with us, and then entered into our world. He thought of us. In mercy he sent Jesus, who took on our selfishness and our tears and went to a cross with them. In mercy he gave us his righteousness so that we may rejoice in the heights of heaven. Jesus come to mourn and rejoice with us in order to save us. He came to turn our tears to joy, to take our broken hearts and fill them with his love, to remove our sorrow and give us eternal happiness, and to one day permanently change our mourning to rejoicing.

Because of everything Christ did, you have been given the perfect perspective on mourning and rejoicing. Because of Christ’s mercy you can see a person as a soul loved by God, and then you are enabled to either mourn or rejoice with them. You can help

them see life’s highs and lows for what they are: opportunities to help, to share, to witness. The sooner your eyes focus on God’s mercy for you, the sooner you will make yourself available to others and be present in their lives.

When the Spirit breathed spiritual life into us, one result is that we become compelled to live for others. In 1 Corinthians, Paul reminded Christians that each of us, with our unique gifts and abilities, serve as irreplaceable parts within the church. He wrote, “Its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (12:25,26). Any one of us can provide this kind concern for others.

And notice when Paul said, “Mourn and rejoice,” he said simply that. It doesn’t mean that you have to solve the situation. It doesn’t mean that you have to fix the person. Just mourn. Just be with them. Likewise, rejoicing doesn’t mean that you have to be the emcee at the party. It doesn’t mean you have to be the lead cheerleader. Just rejoice. Just support them.

Because Christ’s mercy is so rich, deep, high, and free we look for opportunities to rejoice and mourn not only with people in our congregations but also with everyone in our lives. Rejoicing and mourning with others then always have their proper time. Each and every time is a proper time to show someone the love and mercy that is theirs in Christ. We can be salt in this world and provide help, compassion, love, and a Christian witness to others who need what we possess—Christ.

Aaron Goetzinger is pastor at Redemption, Watertown, New York.

This is the seventh article in a 12-part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.


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Author: Aaron H. Goetzinger
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

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