Monthly Archives: February 2011

Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A: 27 February 2011)

Blessed are…the meek

Reading
Isaiah 49.8-16a
Matthew 6.24-34

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.

Today, we’re attending to a section of the Sermon on the Mount in partnership with the people Jesus calls ‘the meek’.

I expect that many of us have heard of these words by Charles Wesley at some time:

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
look upon a little child;
pity my simplicity,
suffer me to come to thee.

Jesus was meek, they say. And not only ‘they’ say it. Jesus says it too in these well-known words from Matthew 11.28-30:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle [meek] and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

What does ‘meek’ mean to you? The Australian Oxford Dictionary has ‘humble and submissive; suffering injury etc. tamely’. Or, if you prefer, ‘piously gentle in nature’. And it doesn’t help that ‘meek’ rhymes with ‘weak’.

Hmm, not sure I wanna be meek any more…

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Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A, 20 February 2011)

Blessed are…the enemy-lovers

Readings
Leviticus 19.1-2, 9-18
Matthew 5.38-48

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Remember our theme in this sermon series? It’s this: the Sermon on the Mount is addressed to people who ‘get it’. They are the people of the Beatitudes: the poor in spirit; the mourners; the meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; the merciful; the pure in heart; the peacemakers; the persecuted.

The persecuted. Many people are being persecuted today, for their faith, for political reasons, for their sexuality. Christians are leaving Middle Eastern countries today because it’s just so difficult to live there; there are places in which Christians don’t have full civil rights. We really aren’t persecuted for their faith here in Australia; none of us is liable to personal harm or even lack of professional advancement purely because we belong to a church.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake’. This is surely the hardest beatitude. How can people who are persecuted be ‘blessed’ in any way, shape or form? What sense could it make to say that?

Let’s look at how those who were being persecuted for their faith might have responded to what Jesus is saying here.

We need to remember again that Jesus lived in a different time and place to us. His culture was based on ‘honour’ and ‘shame’. A person with honour could hold his head up anywhere, and be highly regarded. A person without honour felt a sense of shame, and could not command any respect at all. Think of the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee prays with a sense of honour:

God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.

The tax-collector takes the place of the shameful: he stands far off, beats his breast and says,

God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

If we look at those who are persecuted in such a society, we see they know what shame is; they have no honour. The people who persecute them have honour; but they have none in their eyes.

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Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A, 13 February 2011)

Blessed are…the peacemakers

Reading
Matthew 5.21-37

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

You may be starting to detect a theme in the sermons of late. It’s this: the Sermon on the Mount is addressed to the people of the Beatitudes: the poor in spirit; the mourners; the meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; the merciful; the pure in heart; the peacemakers; the persecuted.

These are the people who have a chance of ‘getting it’.

In the Monty Python film Life of Brian, Brian is standing at the edge of the crowd listening to Jesus proclaiming the Beatitudes. Brian and his companions are too far away to hear properly, so when Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, what they hear is:

‘Blessed are the cheesemakers.’

One of them is confused, and asks,

Aha, what’s so special about the cheesemakers?

Another in the group is obviously very knowledgeable, and adds:

Well, obviously it’s not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.

This bloke thinks he understands, but he doesn’t get it. I think he must have written some of the bible commentaries that I have read.

So who may understand the Beatitudes? Who ‘gets’ what they mean? And who then can ‘get’ what the Sermon on the Mount is about? It’s the meek, the pure in heart and those who seek for justice for others. Oh, and the cheesemakers peacemakers. In this series on the Beatitudes, we’re trying to hear their voices and read the Sermon on the Mount in partnership with them.

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Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A, 6 February 2011)

Blessed are…the salt of the earth

Reading
Matthew 5.13-20

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In my early years, growing up in the north of England, I was conscious of something about myself that my kids have never had to think about.

I was part of the working class.

Above me were the middle class and above them there were people in the upper class. Below us were the unemployed and the homeless, but our family was near the bottom. That was where we fitted; as working class people, we didn’t count as much as middle class people.

Once upon a time, working class people were meant to stay working class. My dad did have aspirations to get us into the middle class; and we lived at a time in which kids like me, kids with the ability to pass exams, were at a great advantage because we were given a grammar school education.

If I were living in England now, I would have made it all the way up to the middle class by now.

We talk about the ‘middle class’ in Australia, but ‘working class’ is a phrase you don’t hear too often. Don’t be fooled; it still exists! We do talk about people who live in ‘low socio-economic areas’. That’s a whole mouthful of intelligent-sounding words. It sounds kinder than ‘working class’. Possibly it is—it feels that it should be easier to escape a ‘low socio-economic area’ than it would be to get out of the ‘working class’. But really, I have my doubts about that. People who are on the bottom tend to get ‘stuck’. They tend not to be noticed as much as the people who make ‘the news’.

In the first century, they didn’t talk about the working class, or about people living in low socio-economic areas. They spoke of ‘the poor’.

The Greek word Matthew uses for ‘poor’ is ptochos. The ptochoi were the lowest of the low. Much lower than English working class people. They were expendable (Rohr). They didn’t count. Jesus says, ‘theirs is the kingdom of heaven’. It’s here and it’s now, because they get it.

So when Jesus says,

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,

it comes as a shock.

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Cyclone Yasi—a terrifying prospect

We have just come out of severe flooding in southern Queensland, and now North Queensland is bracing for Cyclone Yasi, with a destructive power greater than that of Hurricane Katrina. Aussies will recall Cyclones Tracey (1974) and Larry (2006); they are dwarfed by Yasi. Here’s a comparison:

If you pray, please pray for the people of North Queensland.

 

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