Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Happy and Wealthy and Fortunate

This was an interesting sermon to write. It is based on the Beatitudes, found in Matthew 5:1-11.  I knew I needed it to be about how Christ's Beatitudes speech was to do with flipping the established norms, and I even needed to attempt to get across the offensiveness of what Christ said ('Blessed are those who mourn'?!). 'Blessed' has become a religious word, but this is not how it was used originally; it was used of the wealthy and powerful - it carries connotations of luck, and happiness, and wealth. It is striking, then, that Christ's 'blessed' people are those who would never be considered as such.

I spent some time re-investigating some of the characters involved in the speech. Three of the more interesting subjects were the 'poor in spirit', the 'meek' and those who hunger after 'righteousness'.

Much that I found mentioned how the 'poor in spirit' were those who recognised their spiritual bankruptcy before God. This left me unsatisfied, however. None of us, after all, are righteous, not even one of us, and Christ does not say 'those who recognise they are poor in spirit are blessed'. There is a uniqueness about the 'poor in spirit' that separates them from the rest of humanity. Given Luke's treatment of the passage, I believe the operative word here is 'poor', with Matthew making some spiritual connection to poverty here I don't pretend yet to understand....

Equally, I was unsatisfied with standard definitions of 'the meek', with many commentators choosing to interpret it as people having power, but not exercising it, pointing to its original meaning of 'meek' referring to a colt, bridled for work. I am not convinced by this interpretation, coming as it is from a position of power (albeit unexcercised), whilst all other people referred to in the passage are in a position of weakness. Instead, I see the image of the bridled colt as one of slavery and servitude, rather than one of power kept in check. I hope that comes across in my sermon.

The last subject that seemed interesting was the distinction between 'righteousness' and 'justice'. The word translated as 'righteousness' in this passage is elsewhere translated 'justice'. I thought it very interesting that we had made this, over time, an issue divorced from rule and government, and wanted to put this emphasis back in the passage.


As an aside, I found it very interesting that there was no stipulation, for any of the 'blessed' groups, to have a faith in God, or the same God that Christ himself believed in, let alone having made a commitment to believing in Christ... Make of that what you will!


Sister Act. Ace.















Happy and wealthy and fortunate are those who depend on benefits and welfare hand-outs to survive; those who have no option but to use payday loan companies, who live from paycheque to paycheque, accounting for every penny, fearing for each rent-day, and dreading each morning’s post; those who squat in abandoned buildings, who sleep in department store doorways or live in tents in the centre of the city; those who sell the Big Issue; those who beg. Happy and wealthy and fortunate are they, because though very little else – if anything – belongs to them,  the kingdom of heaven is theirs. The banquet is prepared for them, the oxen and the fat calves have been roasted, and the poor will fill the hall.

Happy and wealthy and fortunate are those who grieve  for the loss of a loved one, or a life once known. Happy and wealthy and fortunate are those who suffer from depression, who are lost in the pits of despair, or who are numb to all feeling. Happy and wealthy and fortunate are those who have lost everything; those who are filled with regret and sadness and those who can see no brighter days ahead. Happy and wealthy and fortunate are they, because they will be comforted. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, and neither shall there be any more pain; these former things will pass away.

Happy and wealthy and fortunate are those who are at the mercy of others; those who are bidden to the command of their employers; those who have been beaten down by years of servitude and those who can no longer look up or look a fellow human-being in the eye; happy and wealthy and fortunate are those who are powerless, who are forced to bend to the whim of society; those who are voiceless, who are not able to make themselves or their plight heard; those who are invisible, who are passed-by in the street, ignored – sometimes purposefully, sometimes subconsciously – by those who walk passed; those who have fallen through the cracks of society, who are no longer missed, or thought of, or noticed. Happy and wealthy and fortunate are they, because the earth will be theirs, the powerless; they will have power over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

Happy and wealthy and fortunate are those who are hungry for justice; those who incessantly write to their MPs and the news-papers; those who attend demonstrations, demanding their voice be heard; those who annoy the life out of the rest of us with their petitions and sharing of stories of corruption and injustice on social media; those who will not just Let It Lie; those who can foresee a better way or a better life for themselves and others and insist their voice is heard; Happy and wealthy and fortunate are those who are the victims of miscarriages of justice; those who have wrongly been imprisoned, or falsely accused; those where there is smoke without fire, and slung mud has stuck. Happy and wealthy and fortunate are they because their hunger for justice will be filled. They will feast at the banquet, where justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Happy and wealthy and fortunate are those who do not let justice get in the way of mercy; those who keep forgiving, 70 times 7; those who believe showing compassion is more important than being right; those who will always give a second chance, and who will never be successful because of it; Happy and wealthy and fortunate are they, because they will be treated the same as they treat others; they will have done unto them as they do to others. For the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.

Happy and wealthy and fortunate are those whose motives are good; those who ‘mean well’, though still get it wrong. Happy and wealthy and fortunate are those who are na├»ve and too trusting by far, those who are taken advantage of, who fall for scams and share the latest fake warnings of faulty and dangerous products on the internet with their friends, ‘just in case’; happy and wealthy and fortunate are they who see only the good in others, because they will see God – in his creation, in others and face-to-face.

Happy and wealthy and fortunate are those who desire peace, who long for us all to Just Get Along; those who try to mediate in situations, who interfere in the hope that they can make things better; happy and wealthy and fortunate are those who do not retaliate, who do not return wrong for wrong, those who purposefully lose a battle or an argument in order for the situation to be resolved well; those who make peace, and not just keep it– happy and wealthy and fortunate are they, because they will be known as God’s children; what love has the Father given them, that they should be called children of God!

Happy and wealthy and fortunate are those who are persecuted for the sake of doing what is right; the whistleblowers sacked for speaking out; those ostracised from family and friends for trying to turn their life around, or for giving evidence to the police; those who have struggled for freedom and justice for themselves and others. Happy and wealthy and fortunate are they, for though they have lost much, they have sold it and bought the field holding treasure that is the kingdom of heaven; it is theirs.

Happy and wealthy and fortunate are you when you are persecuted for the sake of Christ – when you are persecuted for doing what is right, when you make peace, when your motives are pure, when you are merciful, when you hunger for justice, when you do not cling to authority, when you do not cling to riches. Happy and wealthy and fortunate are you – your reward is great in heaven, where neither moth, nor rust consumes, and where thieves do not break in and steal. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Amen.

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