Tag Archives: Beatitudes

Wise salt, or foolish? (Epiphany 5A, February 2017)

Reading
Matthew 5.13–20

 

Bread that this house may never know hunger, salt that life may always have flavour. It’s A Wonderful Life, 1946

____________________

 

Now I’m semi-retired, I do quite a bit more of the cooking at home than I used to. I’m not a marvellous cook; my cooking is not cordon bleu. But I do like to experiment a bit.

So I google recipes. I might decide to do chicken, so I’ll google easy chicken recipes. (Oh, the word ‘easy’ is always one of the search terms. Just a hint for fellow L-plate cooks.)

Then I’ll pick a recipe and pop down to Coles to buy what I don’t have at home. I’ve built up quite a list of recipes that way.

Anyway, I’m going to do something today I’ve never done from the pulpit before—that is to share something I’ve recently learnt about cooking. In fact, I’ve never ever publicly shared anything about cooking before. I may crash and burn.

As a very budding cook in very much the second half of my life, it was particularly interesting to me this week that Jesus talks about salt, and salt losing its flavour:

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

‘You are the salt of the earth’—but what about ‘tasteless salt’? So, I started thinking about salt in cooking.

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Blessed are those who… (Epiphany 4A, 29 January 2017)

Readings
Micah 6.1–8
1 Corinthians 1.18–31
Matthew 5.1–12

 

There are three principles for living into the spirit of the Beatitudes: simplicity, hopefulness, and compassion. (Charles James Cook, in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol.1)

 

Today we heard the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…

And so on.

These words are all well known to us. But do we let them penetrate our hearts?

Let’s admit it, on the face of it, they are pretty absurd. ‘Blessed are the meek’? Is that how Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin got where they are today?

‘Blessed are those who mourn’? You don’t feel ‘blessed’ when you are grieving.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’? The arrogant and super-confident are better candidates for blessedness!

So let’s try to get a hold of what ‘blessedness’ is.

Normally, we might say we’re blest if something wonderful happens to us. We are blest when a new baby comes into the family. We are blest if we get good weather for a family wedding.

Or we may say we’re blest by natural gifts and talents, by good looks, a musical gift or high intelligence.

We could say we’re blest to live in Australia.

(I just want to say I’m avoiding the word ‘happy’ here. It’s a misleading translation. I may be blest to live in Australia, whether I’m happy or not. I could be blest with a wonderful singing voice—(I’m not!)—but be unhappy. You can be blest without being happy.)

So, Jesus is not saying you have to put a happy face on when you are mourning for something or someone. But he is saying you are blest.

This is the thing about the Beatitudes:

Normally, we say we are blest because we have a gift or because we live in fortunate circumstances.

The Beatitudes declare people blest when they lack something real and true, or yearn for something real and true, or accept something that is real and true. 

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Honoured are the poor in spirit (Epiphany 5A, 9 February 2014)

Readings
Isaiah 58.1–12
Matthew 5.13–20 

 

Six years ago, I went to Sicily for a conference on liturgy. It was of course wonderful to see a little of Sicily, especially the capital Palermo on the north coast of the island and the beautiful cathedral in Monreale, in the hills above Palermo.

One of my abiding memories of the ten days or so I spent there were the huge banquets we sat down to.

Conferences usually have a formal dinner that people go to and perhaps get dressed up for. But in Sicily, we had three enormous banquets, and each one was bigger and better and brighter than the one before.

The final one was on the last night and was arranged by the President of Sicily. It was astounding. We never did get to coffee, because around 1am, the waiters decided it was time to down tea towels and go home. We breathed massive sighs of relief and got on the buses to go back to bed and sleep.

The first two banquets were organised by the Archbishop of Palermo and the Bishop of Cefalù, about an hour’s drive east of Palermo. So why was each meal bigger and better than the one before?

We wondered about it, let me tell you. The answer is in this one word: honour. Oh, and the opposite of honour: shame. Continue reading

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The life of faith: Reign of Christ/Christ the King (Year A, 20 November, 2011)

The life of faith

Readings
Ephesians 1.15-23
Matthew 25.31-46

For the last few weeks, we’ve been hearing parables about the ‘coming’ or parousia of Jesus. We heard the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins; the bridegroom was delayed, and five bridesmaids missed his coming because they’d ran out of oil. We heard the Parable of the Talents, and of the third slave whose fear of the master kept him from the risky adventure of faith that he was being invited into.

Today, we reach the pinnacle of Matthew’s teaching: the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.

Remember, parousia means ‘being alongside’; the parousia of Jesus is the ‘being alongside’ us of Jesus. This parable teaches how Jesus is alongside us right now. We don’t have to wait to meet him! Isn’t that good news!?

Let me just offer one warning when we’re reading parables: when we interpret a parable, we are meant to find its central theme—and then we are meant be surprised or even disturbed by it. We are not meant to look at every detail and make each detail have a meaning.

So this parable is about how Jesus comes to us now, and how the judgement happens here and now in the events of our lives. It’s not about ‘getting to heaven’; it not about ‘who goes to heaven and who goes to hell’.

This parable is about how we should live by faith now, since Jesus is coming to us every single day of our lives. It shows us that people of faith have a responsibility for the world. Jesus comes to us incognito, hidden, unknown: he comes hungry and thirsty, he comes a stranger, or naked, or sick or in prison. Christ the King comes to us in rags, and bids us to serve him by faith.

In some ways this is a frightening parable. Nobody knows when they have met Jesus, neither the sheep nor the goats!

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Fifth Sunday in Lent (Year A, 10 April 2011)

Blessed are those who mourn

Readings
Ezekiel 37.1-14
John 11.1-45

Blessed are those who mourn, 
for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5.4

Our community has mourned lately, and we’ve seen grief. We’ve mourned the damage done by the floods, and we see people continuing to grieve at the slowness of action to help them repair their homes. We’ve seen people mourning because of the damage done by Cyclone Yasi, in Christchurch and in Japan.

Yet Aussies are still not all that attuned to mourning. We seem to see it simply as a problem to be solved. We expect to be able to fix things up, or replace them. We want to keep moving forward.

A widow went to her doctor. She said she’d been told by her friends she was grieving too much for her late husband, and that she should be getting over it. The GP asked how long since he had died…her reply was Six weeks ago.

He was barely cold, and her friends wanted her to ‘move on’.

Blessed are those who mourn, 
for they will be comforted.

I don’t know about you, but ‘they will be comforted’ sounds like a very modest promise to me. It reminds me of Sigmund Freud’s rather unassuming aims in psychoanalysis, which were

to transform neurotic misery into common unhappiness.

Now that’s a promise even a pessimist could trust!

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’ is a message that would never get Jesus a gig in one of the big mega-churches these days. If he were there, I think his message would have to be less modest, more like this:

Never mourn again!
You can be happy all the time!!
Your life will be wonderful every day!!!

Just come to our church, accept what we say, and put your money in the plate!

To be ‘comforted’ in a future time seems a little anaemic really. Yet it is Jesus’ promise to those who mourn. We shall be comforted. And this is the kind of world we live in, a world of hope and a world of promise, grounded in God’s word. The comfort may come in the future, or in the next life, but it is assured.

That said, it is a future promise. The Beatitude doesn’t claim that those who mourn are comforted now. As I said, it seems to be a modest kind of promise. Those who mourn, whatever they mourn for—

their own brokenness and sin;
the state of the world as it is;
or the loss of someone dear to them—

they will be comforted.

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Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year A, 3 April 2011)

Blessed are ‘us and us and us’


Readings
Ephesians 5.8-14
John 9.1-41

Our beatitude today is:

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will receive mercy.

And we’re looking at the person we know as ‘the man born blind’.

One thing is clear: there was no mercy from the disciples for this man born blind. They had a question that was a theological hand grenade for Jesus. It was this:

Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?

There’s only one way this kind of thing can happen as far as the disciples are concerned: sin. That’s already decided. The only questions on their lips are: Which sin? Whose sin? His, or his parents’ sin? Was it passed down from parent to child? To them, the man born blind is an ‘object’ of theological speculation. His disability must the result of some kind of sin; in other words, there’s ‘something wrong’ with him.

But you know, there are others in this story who lack mercy; it’s not only the disciples, wanting to know which ‘category’ of sin caused the blindness. We also have the Pharisees, who are divided about whether Jesus is doing God’s work; and the man born blind’s parents who cower before the authorities in fear, unable to stand up for him. Not one can see that God is at work, and so they show themselves to be spiritually blind in their lack of mercy.

By the time we get to the end of this story, there are only two who see it all: Jesus, the Light of the world; and the man born blind.

What did Jesus say the purpose of this man’s blindness was? It was

so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

In other words, we can reveal God by the way we respond to people in need. We can work God’s work. Or, we can hide God’s presence by the way we respond. Which do we want it to be?

These days, we would say that ‘the man born blind’ has a disability. If we can say, ‘Blessed are the merciful’, then I am convinced that a ‘merciful theology of disability’ will reveal God’s work. What I’d like to know in the light of our Gospel reading and today’s Beatitude is: how does ‘mercy’ apply to our relationships with people who have a disability? Could my attitude and yours be called ‘merciful’?

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Third Sunday in Lent (Year A, 27 March 2011)

I’m on an ill-deserved weekend away at Coolum with Karen. (Having a fabulous time, wish you were here etc etc.) Here is some evidential proof of just how fab it is here:

 

 

I am grateful to the Rev Dr David Pitman for preaching this weekend, and continuing our series on the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the pure in heart

 

Readings
Exodus 17.1-7
John 4.1-41

 

Jesus said, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God

(Matthew 5:8)

The phrase, a “pure heart”, occurs only 5 times in the Bible. We can read about having a “clean heart” on three other occasions. The various contexts in which these passages can be found suggest that the words “pure” and “clean” can be used interchangeably…..except for the time Jesus uses it in the Beatitudes.

This is very interesting because, as we might expect, the use of these words is linked in Scripture to those personal qualities and behaviour we associate with living lives pleasing to God…honesty, integrity, love for others, sincere faith, avoiding controversy and quarrels, obedience.

Jesus, however, makes no attempt in this particular beatitude to define the significance of “pure”, nor what it means in reality to “see God”. We have to look elsewhere for clues as to the message he wanted to convey.

To that end, we turn to the story in today’s reading from John’s Gospel…the encounter Jesus had with a Samaritan woman.

One of my teachers at University 45 years ago was a Professor of Philosophy. I attended his first lecture for the year as a raw and somewhat naïve 18-year-old, and hardly understood a thing that was said. I went away from that lecture with a poor opinion of philosophy and an even lower opinion of the lecturer.

The following Saturday I was playing cricket for Teacher’s College against Adelaide University, and guess who was playing for the Uni team?

In that totally different context I discovered that the Professor was a friendly and engaging person, and I went to the next philosophy lecture in a completely different frame of mind. The lecturer was now my friend. Meeting him as a person had made all the difference, though it still took me most of the year to come to terms with the language and content of the course.

This story from reminds me of that experience. In her meeting with Jesus at the well, the Samaritan woman hardly understood anything that Jesus said. The theology was a mystery to her. But her face-to-face encounter with Jesus changed her life. It was his response to her as a person that made the difference in the first instance. She may, in time, as I did with my introduction to philosophy, have come to understand the deeper meaning and significance of what she heard, but it was the way Jesus treated her and the manner in which he spoke to her that really mattered.

From our perspective, that is an important insight. When we read the gospel records it is abundantly clear that people mattered far more to Jesus than correct theology; relationship always had priority over orthodox doctrine. We need to remember that in the life of the church!

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