Tag Archives: Beatitudes

Going with God’s flow

Readings
Micah 6.1–8
Matthew 5.1–12

 

Unlike offerings, lifelong habits of kindness, justice, and humility are not transactions to dispense and check off, duty done. Rather, they characterise a stance of leaning toward others: extending grace reflexively, without measure, as God has done, not because others deserve it but because they need it; promoting fairness, especially toward those at risk; and certainly not trying to appease and be done with God, but instead humbly keeping hearts open and pliant. What God sought from the Israelites, what faith says God still seeks from us, is to cultivate capabilities we have seen in our Maker, capabilities we who are made in God’s image already possess: a warm heart for all, a passion for fairness, and the flexibility to learn as we go in this complex matter of seeking grace alongside justice. ― Patricia J Tull, Connections Year A, Vol.1

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Today, we’ve heard one of the great Old Testament scriptures. It’s from the prophet Micah (6.8):

[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

It may surprise you to hear that this is part of a courtroom drama. So come with me to court, and see how it all unfolds. 

Ok, let’s see who the characters are in this courtroom drama. Our drama needs a jury; who is the jury? The mountains and the hills, who have been there for millennia and who have seen the ways of the Lord from everlasting. 

Our drama needs a plaintiff, someone to bring an accusation. Who is the plaintiff? God! 

Micah sets it all up at the beginning of chapter 6:

Hear what the Lord says:

   Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the Lord has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.

God had a controversy with the people of Micah’s time. You know, the religion business was going really well. People were flocking to the Temple of Jerusalem. financial offerings were way up. That’s good, right? 

Yet God has a controversy with the people of Israel, a bone to pick with them.

O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. 

God is gathering evidence here, and calling witnesses. The evidence is Israel’s history: God brought them out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 

And there are those willing to testify for God: Moses, Miriam, Aaron. Unimpeachable witnesses. 

It’s an open and shut case, but God reminds them of other events as well. King Balak of Moab wanted a non-Israelite prophet called Balaam to curse Israel, but—so the story says—a talking donkey stopped him. 

And God reminds them about what happened ‘from Shittim to Gilgal’. What happened? Shittim was where the waters of the Jordan parted to allow Joshua to lead the Israelites across the river, and Gilgal was where they entered the Promised Land. 

God is building a pretty impressive case here as the saviour of Israel. 

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Strange wisdom, strange strength (Lent 3, 4 March 2018)

Readings
Exodus 20.1–17
1 Corinthians 1.18–25

Paul sees the judging and saving activity of God as underway in the present moment; he describes the church not as those who have been saved, but as those who are being saved. The distinction is important, because he will continue to insist throughout the letter on the not-yet-completed character of salvation in Christ. — Hays, Richard B, First Corinthians: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (p. 28). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

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While I was down in Tasmania last winter, I was delighted by the little towns and villages that dot the landscape. One of the best is Ross, which is just a short drive north of Hobart. The wool store in Ross is home to this tapestry by John Coburn called Canticle. It depicts The Tree of Life. Isn’t it striking?

http://aumuseums.com/tas/northern/tasmanian-wool-centre

I went there a couple of times last year. I mean, I visit Ross just to stand once more in front of this tapestry for a while.

But there’s a lot more to Ross. Since this is a sermon rather than a travelogue, I’ll tell you about one other thing.

The Uniting Church in Ross is one of those lovely old structures that I at least always associate with ‘church’. It really is a beautiful building. Sadly, it’s no longer used for regular services. I would love to be at a worship service there.  Continue reading

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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

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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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Second Sunday in Lent (Year A, 20 March 2011)

Today, we return to our series on the Beatitudes as we look at the story of Nicodemus.


Blessed are those who hunger for justice

Readings
Romans 4.1-5, 13-17
John 3.1-17

Lament

Many of the psalms are psalms of lament. People cry out to God in their distress, and God hears them.
Let us join in a prayer of lament:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness:
they will be filled.

People suffer, struggle, there seems no end in sight:
where are you, Lord?

Earthquakes and tsunamis rage, radiation levels rise:
where are you, Lord?

Help us find you
in the faces and lives
of the helpless and destitute.

Help us find you
and be ready to welcome you,
whatever your disguise.

And give us compassion
that we might open our hearts to those in need;
and in serving them, be served;
in loving them, find love;
and in knowing them, know you. Amen.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice:
they will be filled.

The Proclamation of the Word

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. They will be filled.

Or, we could say:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. They will be filled.

It’s the same thing. If you are righteous, you are just in your dealings with others. If you are righteous, you want justice for others. So I like the way the Revised English Bible translates this saying:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail; they shall be satisfied.

When you hunger and thirst, you’re thinking about one thing. How to satisfy that need. You’ll eat just about anything; you’ll not care that the water you’ve been given is room temperature, or that the bread is a bit dry. You’ll think of little else until that need is satisfied. I’d suggest it’s the same with hungering and thirsting to see right prevail.

Today, we heard the story of Nicodemus. Was Nicodemus a seeker of righteousness? Did he ‘hunger and thirst’ for the righteousness Jesus talked about? Remember, he said: ‘unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’? I doubt that Nicodemus hungered or thirsted.

He came to Jesus by night; perhaps he was putting himself at risk visiting Jesus. He was after all a member of the ruling council, the Sanhedrin; he had a position to protect. So he came in secret. For a conversation.

I’ve enjoyed thinking of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus as a game of tennis.

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