Sermon Preached by Rev. Andrew Mintern
Fourth Sunday After Epiphany (Year A) 2017
Imagine you are an alien from outer-space. You may find that easy or hard to imagine!! Anyway, you are here from the planet Zorg, sent to study us crazy earthlings. So you soak up all the modern media and advertising and come up with a list of beatitudes – in other words, a list of those who are truly blessed in our world – those who have really made it – those who are what other humans aspire to be. What would your research uncover? Perhaps something like:-
Blessed are the rich
for they have security and comfortable lifestyles.
Blessed are those who are young and beautiful
for they don’t have to worry about pain and dying.
Blessed are the strong,
for they have control over their lives.
Blessed are those who don’t get too worried about the world’s problems,
they can sleep better at night.
Blessed are those who can use the system to their own benefit,
they don’t have to worry about anyone else.
Blessed are those with bigger and more powerful weapons,
they will have peace.
Blessed are the winners,
they must surely deserve it and can share their wisdom on TV chat shows.
Blessed are the popular,
they’ve got it all together and surely God is with them.
It’s an understandable conclusion to come to isn’t it? Yet I find this an incredibly sad list of statements. There is no hope in them. Because when confronted with such statements we know that, despite the fact that we might secretly, or even openly, aspire to reach them, they are not the stuff of the fullness of life, and they are surely not the stuff of God’s kingdom.
Jesus’ beatitudes were counter-cultural when he said them in his time and they are certainly counter-cultural today. That probably shows that human nature doesn’t ever change that much. We might find Jesus’ beatitudes both liberating and challenging in how they portray those who are blessed in God’s eyes.
- The poor in spirit
- Those who mourn
- The meek
- Those crying out for justice
- The merciful
- The pure in heart
- The peacemakers
- The persecuted.
They certainly don’t sound like a group who has really made it in the world, yet these are the blessed ones in God’s kingdom.
Biblical Commentator Eduard Schweizer (The Good News According to Matthew, P.87) has something helpful to say to us on this point:
… Jesus is not simply a fanatical dreamer, using enthusiastic religiosity to gloss over poverty, misery, and hunger. He is well aware that everything depends on God’s redeeming these pledges. But as Jesus speaks them–because of the quality of his love in speaking –the future Kingdom approaches; therefore his hearers are already “saved,” assured of God’s care. Therefore, of course, everything also depends on the fact that God’s authority stands behind Jesus; without it, he would be ridiculous.
It is our faith, and the centuries of tradition behind it, which enables us to look at these words of Jesus today and say, “Yes, Jesus speaks the truth”. It is right and true that this is how God’s kingdom is.
Perhaps it makes it hard to sell Christianity in the western world – When people are striving for wealth, power and beauty. Here in a country like Australia, where we are able to have so much, how do we offer the truth that you are blessed if you are poor, humble, meek and reviled? Any advertising company would want us to rethink our angle on that one.
I was talking in the week to a young man. He has been living on the streets in various places around Australia. Choosing to do so, trying to find out what life is really all about. He once longed to be a rock star but eventually saw that as a meaningless thing to strive for. He had tried various substances but rejected these too. He has found a truth in the bible, in helping others and living simply and he is still on the journey to understand more. It strikes me that for a young man in today’s society to be on that type of journey, the Gospel of Jesus still has meaning and can offer a life-giving message.
Like that conversation with the young man, Jesus constantly brings me back the question of what is most important. He challenges us all to look again at what we strive for, to look deeper into God’s kingdom and consider how we should live. The Prophet Micah says it beautifully in that most famous of verses: What does the Lord require? Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God. (Micah 6:8)
So let me finish with another look at the Beatitudes. But this time re-worded to help us flesh out their meaning a little more.
You are blessed when you discover a simplicity and poverty of spirit,
for there you will also find the riches of my kingdom.
You are blessed when you mourn,
for in the midst of bearing the painful cross of grief,
I do walk with you, perhaps unrecognised, but always there to comfort you.
You are blessed when you live in humility,
for by doing so become united with all my children and my whole creation
and the earth will be your inheritance.
You are blessed when you long for and cry out for justice to be done,
have faith that the Justice of my kingdom is coming and will not leave you unfulfilled.
You are blessed when your actions show kindness and mercy,
for in living so you will receive kindness and mercy in return,
and if not always from others, you will from me.
You are blessed when you seek me with all your heart,
for I will honour your spiritual searching
and you will see me face to face and heart to heart.
You are blessed when you make peace in the world,
in doing so you become my beloved children.
You are blessed when you suffer in the cause of right,
for each act of justice, no matter how painful or difficult,
helps to build my kingdom.
You are blessed when people revile you, persecute you, hate you
and lie about you falsely because of your belief in me,
they treated my prophets like this, they even treated Jesus like this,
so find joy in the fact that you are in good company,
and my heaven is yours.