by Revd. Susan Allman
Bible Readings for the day: Jeremiah 20:7-13, Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39
“I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”
The family of the man who drove his van into a group of muslim worshippers attending to a man who had collapsed in the street outside their mosque are still in shock. How could one of their own have done such a despicable thing?
On the other hand, many years ago a young man we now call Francis of Assisi, who stood to inherit his father’s lucrative clothing business, made a radical decision to renounce his inheritance; to give back everything his father had ever given him, including the expensive clothes he was wearing and walk away naked into the Umbrian countryside to found a new religious order, the Franciscans. Francis rejected his father’s values, choosing instead to identify himself with the poor because the life and teachings of Jesus Christ had shown him that to be poor is to be close to the heart of God.
Two radical decisions which set two men with very different motives apart from their birth families. One chose evil; the other to follow Jesus Christ.
Where do you stand?
Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?
Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?
Do you repent of the sins that separate from God and neighbour?
Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?
These were the questions asked at our baptism. Answering yes to these questions is not for the faint-hearted.
Jesus Christ has died for the sins of the world. He has forgiven us and greets us, risen from the tomb, with the offer of new life. He has overcome death for us.
He has given us the Holy Spirit so that we can carry on the work he began, which is to reconcile the world to God by bringing in God’s reign of peace and love and justice. We speak for him in the world.
To be a Christian is to be radical.
Follow me, he says. There are no half-measures.
We have to stand up and be counted; to speak for him in a world of violence, terror and the exploitation or, even worse, callous disregard for the poor.
We have to speak out against evil in all its forms including the false news and ill-informed prejudice that is bandied around so freely these days; even if that brings us into conflict with our own friends and families.
Those young people, who found themselves particularly targeted in Manchester and in Borough Market have set the gold standard. In the face of terror they joined hands with people of all faiths and backgrounds and sent out a strong message that we are better together.
Perhaps they don’t know much about Jesus but they seem to understand better than some of us what he came to do.
Now is not a time to be self-effacing or timid, or to become so preoccupied with our own housekeeping in the church that we forget our primary purpose.
We have to be prepared to speak and act for Jesus, at the risk of upsetting people, whoever they may be.
Do you turn to Christ?
There are no half-measures.
To follow Jesus does not make for an easy or comfortable life; it is to walk with him in the way of the cross.
And yet, to follow Jesus is to be blessed.
The beatitudes, spoken by Jesus close to the beginning of his ministry, spell out what it means to be truly blessed.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” says Jesus.
This is good news for us because we are not poor. It implies being open to God, being in touch with our own humanity, admitting our needs. Living with enough, rather than wanting more. Living thank fully; receiving life as a gift. Living generously; being open-handed and open-hearted.
“Blessed are those who mourn.”
Living as Christians means being in touch with the pain of the world; recognising that we are part of the problem. Grieving for the brokenness of society and how far things are from God’s loving purposes; refusing to run from pain, whether our own or that of other people.
“Blessed are the meek,” he tells us.
This means entrusting ourselves to God’s eternal providence; not taking things into our own hands but waiting for God’s moment and God’s plans. For those in leadership roles it means exercising life-giving authority, not domineering control; a life of service to others.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
As Christians we are called to share in God’s passion for a just ordering of his world, facing the truth, however uncomfortable, speaking out against violence and injustice; speaking the truth in love.
“Blessed are the merciful,” says the Lord.
It is not for us to demand our pound of flesh; an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Jesus wants us to learn how to forgive, even our enemies; recognising that we are always part of the problem. Our attitude to what is wrong in the world should be neither hostile nor apathetic. Our approach must always be to overcome evil with good.
“Blessed are the pure in heart.”
Looking is not always seeing. We are to see through things to their true value and meaning, having an eye for God in every situation and not being cynical. This enables us to adopt a more generous spirit towards others. We also need to be honest with and about ourselves and our own motives. It can sometimes help to talk things through with a soul friend who will be honest with us.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” he tells us.
This does not mean peace at any price. It means taking part in God’s mission to bring everything into harmony and wholeness; showing by the way we live our lives respect for humanity in all its glorious diversity and for the natural environment in which we live; working for the just and joyful distribution of the world’s resources.
“Finally,” says Jesus, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for their righteousness.”
This is at the heart of what we have been thinking about. It requires courage and tenacity, a willingness to stand out from the crowd. Being a prophetic community, swimming against the tide requires us to dig deep and to be constant in prayer. What we are called to do is risky, even dangerous. If we are doing our job properly as Christians we can expect opposition, whether that be open hostility or simply being laughed at.
Is this asking the impossible? Maybe, but it is what our world needs. And with God all things are possible.
“Take courage,” says Jesus, “For I have overcome the world.”
May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us;
let all the ends of the earth revere him.