Amos 5:21-24; Matthew 5:1-12
12th Sunday after Trinity
10.9.17 St Barbara’s 8am Service
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Last week we began a series on the beatitudes, these eight great statements about Christian living.
We looked at blessed are the poor in spirit for they will inherit the kingdom of God – in other words, blessed, happy, you are in a good place, when you acknowledge your total need and dependence on God for when you do, you will find strength in him. We saw how Jesus modelled this for us, expressing his dependence on his Father through retreating from the crowds to pray, and seeking God’s help in the garden of Gethsemane.
We also looked at blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. We looked at how this can mean a number of things. Firstly, blessed are those who grieve the loss of others, for in the midst of their grief they will find that God can offer comfort and meaning that in the normal course of life one is not open to receiving. We also saw how it could also mean blessed are those who mourn for their sinfulness and failings, for the hurt they cause others, for in such contrition and remorse they come to appreciate the wonderful gift of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
There is a third way in which blessed are those who mourn can be understood. And that is, blessed are those who mourn for the suffering and pain of the world, who mourn that the world is not how it should be or how God intended.
Twice in the Bible we are told that Jesus wept. He wept at the tomb of Lazarus, deeply affected by the grief of Mary, Lazarus’ sister, and by the grief of the other mourners. His grief is one of both of sadness and anger – this is not how things should be.
He also wept over Jerusalem as he foresees the destruction that is likely to come its way, how its sin and failings will lead it to being destroyed, its people, even its children, killed. He weeps over the suffering and the tragedy the city will face.
A mark of a Christian is that we care about the suffering/ we care about bad things in our world. We don’t just shrug our shoulders and think, “It doesn’t affect me, so I don’t need to worry.”
It is a mark of our love for God when we do cry, because it shows that we are beginning to care like he does.
Charities sometimes talk of compassion fatigue. We become immune to things we hear. The news stories wash over us and leave us unmoved. I remember as a teenager watching the news the night the Belgrano was sunk in the Falklands War and crying myself to sleep. I rarely feel such emotions now even though the news events are no less tragic.
God calls us to mourn/ to be sad for the suffering in the world, not to become immune, but rather to long for a better world. When we do so we will be comforted, because we catch sight of a greater hope, a hope of a kingdom that is to come, where every tear will be wiped away and suffering will end.
That links us to our next beatitude – blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Jesus was speaking to a people who knew what it meant to hunger and thirst – where hunger was just a poor harvest away; where journeys often involved travelling through parched and arid lands.
I remember as a child going for an all-day walk in the south of France in the heat of summer. Our water ran out early on in the day, and I remember being absolutely parched when we got back to the campsite. I just couldn’t drink enough water – I kept drinking and drinking – such was my thirst.
Well that is only moderately what Jesus means here to thirst or to hunger. It is to be absolutely desperate, for it to fill our whole focus.
And that is how we are to be about righteousness, right relationships, justice. We are to long for this with our whole beings.
Once again, we see such an attitude in Jesus. When he arrived at the Temple in Jerusalem and found it a “place of thieves, a den of robbers”, he overturned the money tables, he set the sacrificial animals loose. Jesus knew that he would make lots of enemies by clearing out the Temple, he knew it was dangerous, but he is driven by a passion for justice, for right relationships – for God’s Temple to be treated properly, for people to be in right relationship with God, and for the poor not to be exploited by the rich – and so he acts. He is passionate for justice.
I wonder where we can help to build right relationships, to stand up for justice? Maybe at work if people are being treated unfairly, or the company is acting badly towards others. Or in the community. Are there situations taking place in Earlsdon or Coventry which are not right? Or nationally or internationally?
When we hunger and thirst for righteousness we will be filled, we will discover that there is one who is always just, always fair, one who is longing to establish right relationships in his world, and that one day his kingdom, his rule will come.
And our third beatitude is “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.”
If you have spent anytime around young children you will have heard the cry at some point, “Its not fair!” Rarely is that cry heard on behalf of someone else – it is a cry that they have been unfairly treated, not someone else. As adults we may say “I demand my rights” or “You can’t treat me like that.”
Meekness nowadays conjures up images of allowing yourself to be bullied, being a pushover, a doormat. But that is not the meaning here. In the ancient world, around the time of Jesus, meekness was seen as the virtue between two extremes: those of excessive anger and of excessive passivity. In other words, it was about standing strong on things that mattered, but not insisting on things that mattered less.
It is about being gentle and humble about our own rights. We can be confident and secure in knowing that we are incredibly loved by God. As a result, we don’t need to demand special treatment from others or to put our energies into being treated as equally as everyone else. We can stand up on behalf of others, because we already know God has stood up on behalf of us.
Again, the example of Jesus:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
and became obedient to death –even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.
Meekness and hungering for righteousness mean that when we cry out “Its not fair!” we are doing so on behalf of others, not for ourselves.
May God help us to be compassionate – to mourn for the suffering of his world; to be passionate about justice and right relationships – to stand up for what is right; and to be humble and secure in being a child of God – so that we have no need to assert ourselves and demand our rights but are free to think of others.