Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
This article can be downloaded for use here
19 July 2020
What is your favourite Beatitude?
What does Beatitude mean? The word comes from the Latin beatus and means happy and blessed.
To be beatific is to be saintly, and beatification means being made a saint.
The word felicitation is also closely related to beatitude, and means bestowing blessings or happiness on someone.
The first occurrences of the word blessed in Lukes Gospel is in Chapter 1, for example at verse 48 where we have Mary singing “He has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed”.
Mary is blessed because she gives up the direction of her life to God. She is blessed with a child. It does not mean she lives happily ever after, it means she does not resign herself to fate, lets go of the desire to control all the direction of her life. “Be it unto me according to your will”, she says (Luke 1:38).
Mary, as a teenager, unsure of what was happening around her and to her commits her life into the hands of God, and trusts God to bring her where God wants her to be.
This is not about giving in to fate or a state of resignation. It is about not trying to control what will happen.
This throws some light on what it means to be poor and to be blessed.
From here I discern that the key to understanding the beatitudes is to look for that attitude of young Mary, and where you see it in practice you will see something of what it is to be blessed and a sign of the Kingdom of God.
The first beatitude “blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God” is not therefore promoting or justifying poverty.
Where we read the words “the poor” in the Bible it refers to people who have little control of their lives, but who believe that God is with them, and leads them.
We have to keep in mind people who spend in the wilderness, unsure of their future.
We have to keep in mind people who feel trapped or captive or enslaved in their situation, that other people control their lives.
When Jesus said “blessed are the poor” he had in mind this long history recorded in the Bible. It is the history of a people of God. It is a painful and bewildering history.
The prophets of God constantly call these people to walk closely with God and to have confidence in God.
Their strength in not in might but in returning to God and resting in God.
It is when you have this mind, this attitude that you are blessed.
This first beatitude is not saying be happy that you are economically poor.
It is saying that being blessed is not in being wealthy and prosperous. It is in finding direction and strength for your life in God.
Your happiness does not lie in competing with others, or in having full control in life, relationships and situations.
There is immense blessing in giving up trying to be in control.
My understanding of stress is that stress is rooted in the sense of not being in control.
I’m sure you know that feeling, that you are not in control.
There is so much happening, you feel out of control and overwhelmed.
Experts in stress management say, don’t try to control everything.
Relax. Share responsibility. Work with others.
Do one thing at a time.
Happiness lies in having a more relaxed approach to life.
So, are there people in whom you see this approach to life?
Are there times when you have taken this approach?
Jesus says, that’s a window in to the Kingdom of God.
This is the first attitude you should cultivate.
Let go of trying to control everything, and the Kingdom of God is yours.
Nest week I will look at what Jesus meant when he said, blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
26 July 2020 (actually delivered on 9 August 2020, Nagasaki Day)
I am reflecting on the beatitudes, and calling them the Be Attitudes. They offer wisdom on how to live.
We come to the beatitude, blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Jesus was not seeing poverty as a virtue when he said blessed are the poor, he was saying live in the confidence of God, not money; he was not promoting servitude but service when he said blessed are the meek; he was not justifying hunger and thirst but a commitment to work for righteousness when he said blessed are those who hunger and thirst.
It follows therefore that he was in no way belittling grief when he said blessed are those who mourn, but deepening the meaning. I long to understand what he really meant.
To understand the beatitude blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted, it helps to understand the history of Jesus’ people and his own experience.
Jesus is rooted in the history of the Hebrews. It is a history of hurt and bitter lament.
It is the history of a people who have been in captivity and enslavement, in exile, and decades of wanderings in the wilderness. It is a history of and pain and change.
You only have to read the Psalms to feel this, and hear their lament.
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Hear my voice”. (Psalm 130:1)
There were times when the people felt so overwhelmed in their hurt that they cried to God, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. (Psalm 22:1)
Jesus himself cried out in his agony on the cross using these words of the Psalmist.
Jesus own experience included immense hurt and pain.
He wept (John 11:35) when his friend Lazarus had died.
And Jesus wept when he contemplated Jerusalem and said “If only you knew the things that make for peace”. (Luke 19:42)
When Jesus said blessed are those who mourn, he had in mind the wider grief of people.
The people wept because they felt alone, forsaken, crossing whatever boundaries they had to for life, they hungered for justice and righteousness, and waited for their messiah who would make life better for them.
Sometimes they even mourned the loss of the life they had in the past so much that they even longed to go back to Egypt, forgetting the hardship of those days in slavery. They wanted the old normal, not the new normal.
In the depth of such grief they struggled to find meaning and hope, and could not agree as a people what would give them life.
So, Jesus wept over Jerusalem and the people of Jerusalem: if only you knew the things that make for peace.
It is this public as well as private grief that Jesus had in mind when he said, blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
To capture what Jesus may originally meant, imagine him saying these words in Beirut and Lebanon this morning.
Or perhaps in Nagasaki following the horrors of the atomic bombs there 75 years ago, and Hiroshima.
The people in Lebanon are in the anger which accompanies public grief. People are furious at the carelessness, injustice and corruption which creates national disaster and desolation. There is a national sense of loss and outrage.
The people are out on the streets venting their anger at what has happened in the horrible explosion there this week.
What words can you possibly speak into this situation where whole communities, and a whole nation is in mourning?
The word translated from Greek into English as “comforted” at a time, 400 years ago, was thus tyranslated when the word comfort meant strength.
It should actually read, blessed are those who mourn for they shall be given strength.
But the word translated comfort is profound.
The word translated comfort has roots in a verb that is translated elsewhere in the New Testament as “consolation” (Luke 2:25; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7), and also as “friend” or “advocate” (John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7).
In Luke 2:25 we read that of a Prophet called Simeon, who held the child Jesus when the child was brought for circumcision, and saw in Jesus the “consolation”, or salvation, for which he and others like him had been waiting. See Charles Wesley’s Hymn “Come thou long expected Jesus”, verse 2 and the words “Israel’s hope and consolation hope of all the earth thou art”.
In 2 Corinthians 3-7, the word consolation is used seven times in four verses. Here the writer is encouraging disheartened and weary people by assuring them that God is the “God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God”.
In John’s Gospel, the word translated as comfort refers to the Holy Spirit who is described as a Comforter, or Advocate, a Friend, who stands with you in solidarity in your hour of weakness, giving you strength.
In Panjabi the word comfort is translated as Honsla, which literally means, find the strength in the midst of your grief to live with a big and generous heart and help others to do so too, live with courage.
It is also translated as Dhir, which means composure.
So the word translated as comfort is a rich term.
In its simplest form it means friend.
Jesus does not say there will be no grief. He is not saying wallow in your grief, be miserable, for this is the condition that is essential for you to be blessed.
He does not belittle grief. He acknowledges there is a time for mourning. He knew the tears of grief.
In this situation, Jesus is saying, in your personal grief, your strength will come from not being isolated. You will not be alone. You will not walk alone, you will have company. It will be company from which you will have strength, courage, consolation, composure. This will help you to build your grace, so that you can live with heart, with a generous heart. And remember, your greatest consolation and comfort lies in the fact that God is with you, as a friend. I think this is part at least of what Jesus was saying, whatever else he meant.
What do you think he was saying?
In terms of public grief, as in our times of coronavirus, and in Lebanon, and in any situation in which people grieve publicly, Jesus is saying, resist the temptation to give up, don’t give in to despair, God will not abandon you, God is with you, and God will strengthen you to resist desolation, and to engage with all that is required for the rebuilding and renewal of public life, and your Jerusalem. God’s purpose is always to build hope, to build people, to build justice and peace, to heal broken hearts. Others may walk away from you, God will not. This was certainly Jesus’ faith and spirituality.
Live your life with this Be Attitude.
This is what Jesus was saying when he said, blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.
Thank you and bless you.
2 August 2020
We are looking at the beatitudes.
Or as I call them, the “Be Attitudes”, the attitudes that reveal the Kingdom of God, and the attitude we are called to live by in Jesus’ wisdom.
Today I will look at the third beatitude in Matthew. It is at Chapter 5:5.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
I said that blessed are the poor does not mean rejoice in being poor.
Rather it means, stop competing with others about wealth, or being in control in life, but in giving up wanting to be in control all the time. Let go of trying to be in control and have confidence in God, this is the attitude where we see a window into what the Kingdom of God means.
This helps us to understand what meekness means.
So, what may Jesus have meant when he said blessed are the meek, for the earth belongs to them?
Meekness is a word associated with Jesus.
You may have sung the Hymn:
Gentle Jesus meek and mild, look upon a little child; pity my simplicity, suffer me to come to thee” (Charles Wesley, MHB 842, HP 738).
Jesus was actually angry when he saw people being exploited economically, and when he saw people with debilitating illness or hunger.
What does it mean when Jesus apparently says he is “gentle and meek”? (Matthew 11:29). He says, “come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest”.
Jesus’ words here are about his whole lifestyle which was about being welcoming.
Come to me, he said, to those who were weary and disheartened, isolated and rejected. I know what it is to be like that, he was saying.
Far from claiming any status or title, Jesus was in utter openness and humility portraying a spirit of solidarity, openness and welcome.
For Jesus the opposite of poverty is not wealth but to give up control, the opposite of meekness is not might or majesty but giving up power.
Jesus was aware that the world is a tough place to be.
Life is exhausting. We don’t have economic wealth. We don’t have social power.
Don’t look to wealthy and powerful lifestyles to fashion your life. These may be the values of empires and kingdoms on earth, but they are not the values of the Kingdom of God.
We can’t change the world.
We don’t have the power to do this.
But we can play our part to make the world a better place, by helping to create more open and welcoming communities and spaces.
This is something we can reflect and create, openness and welcome.
This is one of the fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23.
So, meekness does not mean doing nothing, or being ineffectual. It does mean we are not in rivalry for control or power. We recognise we need others, because we are weary and tired when we are alone, and invite other to be community with us, and build communities in which we are gifts to each other, and find rest in each other.
Rest is best understood as being refreshed and renewed.
Where you can be like this you “inherit the earth”.
So there is a be-attitude for you.
Give up the desire for power. Be welcoming to others, work with others to make the world where you are open and welcoming. You will help to make the world a better place, and you will inherit the earth.
Where have you seen such qualities?
Get close to those places and people because that is where you will find revelations of the Kingdom of God.
2 August 2020
Good morning. Today we will look at the Beatitude:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
We are familiar with these words about hunger and thirst. But how familiar are we with what it means to be hungry and thirsty?
Hunger and thirst make a person vulnerable and weak. To be hungry and thirsty is basic, it means you don’t have what it takes to survive and to live.
Have you talked with anyone who says he or she is hungry or thirsty?
Many people sit in streets and shop doorways with words about being hungry and homeless before them.
Hunger and thirst is the measure by which you are to know your commitment to righteousness. You are so committed to it you are hungry and thirsty.
There is only one person in the New Testament who says “I am thirsty”, and that is Jesus.
He askes a woman for water at a well because he is hungry.
He says when I was thirsty you gave me a drink.
As he hangs on the Cross, he cries out, “I thirst”.
He is thirsty and hungry for righteousness. He longs for human love and good relationships.
In other words:
- He is not thirsty because he has neglected himself, or forgotten to take out water for himself
- He is thirsty because he has been concerned about the welfare of others
What makes us less human is our selfishness.
What makes us truly human is our love for others.
This is what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness.
I hunger and I thirst for righteousness says Christ because I am famished by the lack of justice.
Our life is under-nourished when others are hungry and thirsty.
What matters is not personal gain, but communal welfare.
To say blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness is to express the belief that God blesses and promises resources to replenish devastated communities.
In what ways are you desperate for the welfare of others?
God will quench your hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Thank you and bless you.
15 August 2020
India/Pakistan Independence Day
Good morning and welcome.
I have been reflecting on the beatitudes, seeing in them the Be Attitudes, how to be, how to live.
This morning we come to the fifth beatitude.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Mercy is the most highly rated quality in the Bible.
Mercy is a key value of the Kingdom of God.
Mercy typifies Jesus.
Mercy defines God.
In Micah 6:8 we read:
What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God?
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, in the mind of Jesus, the one who shows mercy is the one whose behaviour his followers are to emulate. Go and do likewise, he said.
Mercy is the pinnacle of human qualities.
Mercy is condition for eternal life.
Elsewhere, in Luke 6:36 we read the words of Jesus: Be merciful, just as God is merciful.
You are at the pinnacle of being human, you are closest to the image and likeness of God when you are merciful. Mercy shows the heart and character of God.
There is no Christianity without mercy.
Pope Francis has made mercy a top priority.
He says that the fifth beatitude is the only one in which the cause and effect of fulfilment coincide: The fruit of mercy is mercy.
Show mercy and you will receive mercy.
We can see this in the Lord’s prayer where we say, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Forgiveness results from forgiveness. Mercy follows mercy.
Pope Francis says “mercy is the air that we must breathe”.
Pope Francis has a book called The Name of God is Mercy.
In an interview about the book he told the story of a Priest who came to him and said he was being too generous in being forgiving towards those who sin. Pope Francis replied to him, “When I feel like that I go to the Chapel and the blessed sacrament and tell Jesus, It’s all your fault. You have set a bad example forgiving all those who asked you for mercy. You even shed your blood for them. At least you are not asking me to do that!”.
What does mercy mean?
The Oxford Dictionary says mercy is the abstention from the affliction of suffering on the part of one who has the power to inflict it.
In other words, mercy is shown by not acting with cruelty.
That is important, and needed in our world of cruelty.
In daily life we hear people using terms like “those deserving” or “not deserving” beneficiaries of help and mercy.
God does not make that distinction.
We are all beneficiaries of the mercy of God.
But Biblically mercy is not seen in what is not done, but in what is done.
For example, all Jesus’ miracles are rooted in mercy.
When people are harassed or hungry or hurting in any way, Jesus is angry at their condition and responds with actions of mercy.
In English, we read that moved by “pity” he takes action.
But the word translated as pity in English is the Greek verb splagchnizomai, which comes from the noun splagchnon which means “belly or heart”.
Pity is the word used in English to describe what Jesus felt in the pit of his stomach, or in the depth of his heart.
What did he feel when he saw people hurting in any way?
Let me give you just one example, by referring to his first recorded public healing.
A leper came to him and pleaded for mercy.
We read that “moved with pity” Jesus healed the man (Mark 1:40-41).
The word translated pity is splaghchnistheis. That word is used in classical Greek to refer to the snorting of horses.
Jesus’ pity or mercy is rooted in his anger at horrible disease, or hunger.
In his anger at exploitation and disease Jesus was so furious that he snorted like horses, and acted to remedy it.
On at least four occasions he performs a miracle on hearing the words, have mercy on me (Matthew 20:29-34; 15:21-28; 17:14029; Luke 17:11-19).
He saw people exploited economically in the Temple, and in his anger at such exploitation he overturned the table and drove out people whom he called robbers.
Jesus was deeply moved by people’s pain to respond. His mercy is not an avoidance of action, or simply an action, rather it is a response to a real situation of suffering.
It is no surprise that his definition of a fully human person, a faith-based person, a follower of Jesus, is that such a person is moved with mercy to take action. This is what we see in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:37).
Where have you acted with mercy like that?
Have you seen mercy, mercy where you least expected it?
I remember Nelson Mandela visiting Britain following his freedom from 27 years in prison by the apartheid government in South Africa. He was vilified by Britain as a terrorist.
When he came to Britain, I expected him to really hammer this country for his vilification.
However, he came here with an attitude of mercy and forgiveness.
He now has a statue to him in Parliament Square, and he is honoured as a strong and true leader.
Mercy is so often seen as a weakness.
Mandela showed the strength that is reflected in mercy.
Everything turns on mercy.
You are being callous and careless when you turn away from mercy.
When you show mercy, you are acting at one with God, and in tune with God.
On mercy is judged, and on mercy depends, our life now and in the world to come (Matthew 25: 31-45).
So this is a Be Attitude for daily life.
To be merciful is to be Christ-like, and to reflect the likeness of God.
Blessed are the merciful, they will receive mercy.
Let mercy define you as a follower of Jesus.
Thank you and bless you.
23 August 2020
The focus here is not on those who are pure, but on the pure in heart.
It is illuminating to consider this beatitude in times of coronavirus, and all the issues we have in the contemporary world about cleanness.
Purity is defined as cleanness. To purify is to make clean, to make things free of pollution.
So, we have water purifiers, for example.
A purist or puritan is a person who is a stickler for correctness, and going by the rules in religion and morals.
Rules are created to define purity.
Keep social distance, wash hands, wear masks in public places.
It is amazing how quickly rules have emerged around coronavirus.
The danger in the world today is that certain groups of people as being more prone to disease, and therefore to be avoided, people of particular communities, or age, and people living with poverty.
Disease quickly comes to be associated with certain kinds of people.
Lines can quickly come to be drawn between people, and it is amazing how quickly some people come to be seen as dirty, and therefore a danger.
I think it is really helpful to understand the environment in which the Bible was written around 4000 years ago.
This would be a time before the kind of modern medication.
Even with all the medication that exists now, there is no protection from coronavirus.
So we observe the rules: wash hands, keep the distance, wear the mask.
Just imagine the approach to tackling deadly disease 4 thousand years ago.
There were strict rules about hygiene and cleanliness, and social distance and even covering the face to prevent contamination and spreading disease.
The role religion came to play in this environment was to speak about purity.
Purity was about distance, and maintained by keeping away from others to stop becoming contaminated yourself.
Religious leaders began to develop the theology that the purest one is God, and God’s purity is defined and maintained by God’s distance from people.
The religious name for purity came to be holiness.
God is holy.
People were called to be holy.
God is holy by keeping a distance from people.
Holiness, or purity, was achieved by washing and by keeping social distance, and if you can cover or veil your face, that will help.
All the world’s main religions, rooted in stories of the Bible (Jewish, Christian and Muslim, and Sikhism too) teach this.
Holiness is seen as cleanliness, and keeping apart, and the practice of face covering too is now commonly practiced.
In this theological reasoning, God lives far away from people.
Be holy, for I am holy, says God according to Leviticus 11:44.
This line is followed throughout the Bible.
Some people and animals and things and places are holy, other people, animals, things and places are unholy.
The holy becomes unholy, impure, or defiled, or contaminated by being associated with unholiness and impurity.
In Biblical times leprosy was seen to be the most contagious ailment.
Lepers were treated as outcasts and people you should not be close to. They were dirty. Leprosy was even seen as a punishment by God (Numbers 11).
You become contaminated by mixing with those defined as dirty and therefore as outcasts.
This is dangerously close to where we are now in our contemporary world.
This is why it is illuminating to reflect on holiness and purity in the midst of all the concerns around coronavirus and contamination.
So what do we learn from Jesus? How did he live in the world demarcated by what is seen to be holy and unholy?
Jesus’ table fellowship with those considered to be social outcasts is the frame through which Jesus’ life and ministry is best understood.
He spent time with, and ate with, the outcasts of his day.
He was willing to risk danger and contamination, and to challenge rules, in order to enhance and protect life.
This infuriated the purists and religious leaders of his day.
Jesus’ most subversive activity was seen to be his practice of eating with the social outcasts of his day.
To include the outsider was objectionable, and it led to Jesus himself being ostracised and ridiculed.
Blessed are the merciful, he said. The best sign of mercy was to include outsiders.
Purity for Jesus was not cleanness but clarity, clarity of thought and focus and purpose.
He refused to regard people or certain foods as impure.
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus defined the behaviour of the Samaritan as the example to follow.
This was scandalous, because in Jesus’s time Samaritans were outsiders.
Jesus’ mercy and inclusion embraced everyone, especially those considered to be outsiders. His kindness knew no limits.
This is why I find inspiration in Jesus, and why I am his follower.
I know what it is to be an outsider.
The holiness of God in Jesus’ proclamation is not defined by remoteness and social distance or social discrimination, but by intimacy and closeness, not by distance from those who are different but by loving the stranger, loving your enemies, by loving your neighbour as yourself.
Jesus’ clarity and focus lies in this that he saw the image of God in all people. In this he was consistent with the teachings in the scriptures he observed.
This is what purity of heart means in Jesus’ mind, not cleanness but clarity; clarity of focus, clarity of motive, a clarity that reveals the image and likeness of God in all people.
The pure in heart are not purists, they are not the puritans, not those considered to be clean or pious, but people who have such clarity of mind and vision that they see God in all people. They see the image of God in those who are marginalised, or maligned, or messy.
The pure in heart see God in others all around them, and God sees this purity of heart.
Purity of heart looks inwards, but always turns outwards to others.
Purity of heart seeks to eradicate impurities within.
Purity of heart achieves healing through hospitality without fear of being defiled.
Purity of heart hears God saying “do not call unclean what I have made clean” (Acts 10:15; 11:9).
Do not discriminate against particular people calling them dirty.
See the image of God in all people. Jesus proclaimed this as a blessing.
To see the image of God in others is also a way to remove fear of those who are different.
This is a good Be Attitude for your daily life and life style.
This is what Jesus meant when he said “blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Holiness is not cleanness, but it is certainly messy. It is symbolised in Jesus on a cross executed on a hill outside the city walls among the criminals and the unclean ones of his day.
Thank you, and bless you.
BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 7
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9)
30 August 2020
Essential to the things that make for peace are peacemakers. Peacemakers are blessed by Jesus. Their blessing is that Jesus calls them “children of God”.
Neither the title “peacemakers” nor the title “children of God” are self-designations. However, you can choose to be a peacemaker. Every follower of Jesus, and that includes you and me, is called to be a peacemaker. Peacemakers strive and aim for healing, not harming, and will always seek non-violent solutions to conflict.
The beatitude about peacemakers follows from “purity” of heart, and precedes persecution. Purity of heart is about the clarity with which people see the Image of God in others. Think about the great peacemakers, they all had this in common, that they see the image of God in all people.
Peace-making is not a popular task, nor is it an easy or a soft option. Peacemakers often attract hostility. Peace making is tough, and more difficult than making conflict or inflicting violence. We know from history that peacemakers are themselves hated and persecuted by others. Mahatma Gandhi was disliked by many people of his nation because he was seen as weak. He was criticised for even calling on the police to be non-violent.
Jesus was a peacemaker and is the Christian pattern and example to follow. He is described as “our peace”, making peace by breaking down dividing walls of segregation and hostility (Ephesians 2:14). He taught his followers to love their neighbours, to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44, 45).
Twice in Matthew Chapter 5, those who work for peace are called “children” of God. What this means is that you most closely reflect the nature and character of God, the great Peacemaker, when you are a peacemaker. God is the God of peace. All the great religions of the world teach this be they Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs or Zoroastrians. Children of God will treat all people as children of God.
God could have had an easier life if God had chosen to make all people the same, of the same nature and character, same appearance and language, same hopes and aspirations, same likes and dislikes, same language and cultures. In God’s wisdom human beings are made in “the Image and likeness of God”, but not the same. Human beings are made in the Image of God but are marked by their immense differences.
This is what makes us beautiful, but herein also lies the route to our brokenness. Brokenness and conflict arise when Instead of valuing differences as gift and strength, they are seen as things to be feared and generate hostility. We can see this in all conflict in the world. Conflict arises when differences of appearance or opinions are seen as a problem rather than an enrichment.
Peace-making is essentially about valuing differences and diversity of opinions, facilitating deep and respectful listening to all views without rubbishing or humiliating anyone. Peace-making is rooted in seeing and valuing the Image of God in all people, including those who may revile or persecute you, and who may see you as their enemy.
Peace-making means you listen and enable listening however much you dislike what is being said, and asking questions that seek greater clarity in what is being said, and often this helps to see strengths and weaknesses in points raised. This is frequently the way to achieving shared strategic wisdom and ways forward.
Maya Angelou, the African American writer and poet says, that parents should teach children early that there is a beauty and strength in diversity. The Rev Dr Martin Luther King, whose famous dream speech has been invoked much recently, was often heard saying “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of it’s creed that all people are made equal”. Not same, equal.
For all their peace-making words and actions people like Dr King and Mahatma Gandhi were assassinated, though their wisdom continues to inspire millions.
Saint Oscar Romero, who was Archbishop of El Salvador, at the height of the civil war in his country used to tell the soldiers in his country not to kill people because they were only killing their own brothers and sisters. He was seen as such a threat for preaching peace that he was assassinated, shot dead in March 1980 as he lifted the bread and wine at a service of Holy Communion.
Some years ago, I visited El Salvador. I visited the Jesuit University there. Six of their staff had also been shot dead in November 1989 for sharing stories of witnesses to atrocities.
I was shown a portrait of Oscar Romero hanging in the University. It had been shot at by the assassins of the staff. Clearly there was a feeling that the wisdom of the Archbishop, now sainted, continued to inspire people, and this was seen as dangerous too.
The one who most closely portrays God, according to the New Testament, is Jesus who is “our peace”.
How does Jesus make peace? By removing dividing walls of hatred. By bringing hostile people together. He paid for this by his life (Ephesians 2:13). He practised what he preached. He lives on and continues to inspire millions all around the world today.
The word translated “peacemaker” means being active in holding people together. Peacemakers see the Image of God in all people, they live on a larger map, see the bigger picture, treat all people equally, and so they reflect the nature and character of God.
The world needs more peacemakers. Be a Peacemaker, in your congregation, in your school and community, in your home, in your work place and playground, in your neighbourhood, in your nation, in the world.
Peacemakers are ordinary, vulnerable people. They try to live with a purity of heart, which most importantly means, with a capacity to see the Image of God in all people, not least in those who look, and think, and speak differently. This requirement goes deep into the need for honesty, humility and integrity in relationships, and clarity and focus in thought and being. It calls on you to pray for others, including your enemies and those who revile you or persecute you. It calls on you to always strive, do your uttermost, to aim at healing, never at harming.
Make sure that your morality and ethics are not defined by those who see some people as less than human, but by the values of God seen in the life and teachings of Christ and all he called “children of God”.
BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 8
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12)
7 September 2020
The beatitudes are enclosed with the words “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3,10).
To say “blessed are you when people persecute you” suggests that there is a danger that some people may actually seek persecution, or martyrdom, for therein lies blessing, and the reward of the kingdom of heaven.
To read this from the eighth beatitude is to completely misunderstand it.
No one in their right mind seeks or wishes to attract persecution.
This beatitude cannot be read on its own.
None of the beatitudes is a stand-alone guide or pathway for life. All eight beatitudes are steps along the way. None of them can be removed without the whole foundation and structure becoming hollow and incomplete and misunderstood.
The pathway of faith that Jesus lays out in the beatitudes is made up of a life centred on God, not money; grief that is real, not ignored, but which illuminates strength and wisdom in all we mourn; selfless service without accepting enslavement or losing dignity; hungering and thirsting for justice and righteousness; upholding mercy; seeing the image of God in all people; peace-making without violence.
Jesus’ honesty acknowledges in the eight beatitude that this path, and such a life, can expect persecution.
Persecution is not sought or attracted or desired. No one can feel smug or self-righteous or brag about being persecuted.
The eighth beatitude does not ask anyone to seek persecution. Rather, it tells us why people are persecuted. People are persecuted for “righteousness’ sake”. Seeking “righteousness” is twice highlighted in the beatitudes. Righteousness is not about being right, or doing things the right way, but about doing the right thing, always. This will mark you out, and you can expect opposition and persecution.
Persecution is the pathway of the prophets. It is not coveted by followers of Christ, it follows them (Mark 10:30).
There is nothing positive in persecution. Neither persecution nor martyrdom can be explained as a badge of faith or be seen as a reward for faith.
Persecution is infliction of hurt and harassment aimed at preventing you from living out your faith and commitment to righteousness.
The worst persecution that can come your way will come from people close to you, often close colleagues, or friends. This can dissipate faith and resilience. It can easily bring you to give up.
The worst thing that happened to Jesus was that he was betrayed and denied and let down by his own friends.
Jesus said his followers can expect the same fate as him.
People will hate you for being m y followers, he said (John 15:19).
In the explanation of the parable of the sower, a person who easily gives up in the face of persecution is described as the seed that falls on rocks and does not take root, and quickly withers and disappears (Mark 4:17). A plant that has not taken root cannot last long.
What Jesus was saying in the eighth beatitude was that if you live a life based on the beatitudes, don’t expect a pat on your back, you can expect persecution.
If you stick your neck out, if you put your light on a lampstand, you are like a well flavoured meal, and a city set on a hill. Your light will shine, though some will try to blow out your candle.
You may not see rewards, or much change, but if you stay within your faith track and moral framework, you will help to keep righteousness alive.
Stand firm. Be realistic, but don’t be deterred that all you get is persecution.
“Blessed are you”, he goes on to say, “when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11).
If you are deeply rooted in faith, and truly committed to a life based on the beatitudes, – when the inevitable persecution comes, do not resist persecution with persecution, or evil with evil.
Rather, says Jesus, “rejoice and be glad” (Matthew 5:12). Not happy, nor full of euphoria at the sate of affairs, but retain gladness and joyfulness, which will help to sustain and energise you.
There is cost and joy in following Christ.
We do not serve God miserably, but joyfully.
Don’t lose your hope, and don’t lose your joy.
People of faith should not be characterised by their miserableness, but by an infectious positivity and joy.
We rejoice that God is with us, that all we mourn also opens new vistas and avenues, selfless service, mercy, and seeing the image of God in all people, keeping us committed to pursuing righteousness and making peace.
This is the life of faith for prophets of God.
This is your Be Attitude for life.
BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 9
YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH
25 October 2020
This is what Jesus says to his disciples at the end of the Beatitudes.
Effectively, the Beatitudes lay out what may be termed some key characteristics of Christian behaviour, and of the church
At the conclusion Jesus says – in effect – where you reflect these qualities you are salt, the salt of the earth, and you are like light set on a hill for all to see.
Let’s focus on the words “You are the salt of the earth”.
You are salt.
This affirmation comes with the warning that if salt loses its taste, its taste cannot be restored!
It has no value.
You may have heard the words said to someone, “don’t lose your salt”.
This effectively is saying, don’t lose your essential being, don’t lose your humanity and dignity.
It is not easy for salt to lose its taste, but it can happen.
The key to salt is taste, though the taste of salt is not universally liked, and we are now advised to use salt sparingly or not at all in our diet.
But taste is so important.
I like to read the work of Sheffield’s John Ruskin, the radical Victorian writer, theologian and art critic. I recommend to you the lecture entitled “Traffic”, he delivered in Bradford on 11th April 1864.
He reflects on decency, dignity and creativity in a world obsessed with money. He calls for “good taste” which he defines as “essentially a moral quality”.
Be led by taste he argues.
“Tell me what you like and I’ll tell you what you are”.
We all have our “likes” or what is to our taste.
Ruskin argued that so much that passes for design in buildings or architecture in not in good taste.
We are not required just to do the right thing he wrote, “it is not only about being just, but to hunger and thirst after justice”.
As the Psalmist wrote, “taste, and see that God is good”.
We can judge goodness by good taste.
We talk of people’s taste in food, but also, we say to people, “I like your taste in fashion…or furniture” and so on.
I don’t partake of alcohol.
Most of family enjoy a tipple.
They take wine.
When they pour out wine for themselves, I take a glass of water.
My comment to them is, “You will drink your wine and change it into water. I will drink this water – it will become for me the finest wine”.
Seriously, I don’t drink wine, but I am a connoisseur of wine, and enjoy the five element of wine tasting, namely sight, smell, air, swill and spit.
I have learned the art of wine tasting.
Salvador Dali writes that those who know how to taste wine will not drink it.
It’s all about taste…what happens in the mouth, not taking it into your stomach. //
I learned the art of cooking from my father.
He cooked a fabulous Karahi Lamb dish.
I noted that he never measured ingredients.
He added each of the seasoning spices a bit at a time, and kept tasting the food all the time he cooked it.
And he would put a little in a bowl for me and say, “here, check the taste”.
Hmm…a bit more salt…a bit more masala.
Its all about the taste.
Do whatever you are doing with and in good taste.
If your food is not seasoned well – it will be incomplete, unless your diet or allergy requires that.
The food will be there.
It will be eaten.
But you will not think “Wow – that tastes good”.
Jesus said, “you are the salt – but salt can lose its taste – and it is not possible to restore the taste”.
Salt has many uses.
It adds taste.
It is a preservative.
It is antiseptic.
It is good for gargling, and cleaning the throat.
When I was young, living in Kenya, we used salt to brush our teeth. A bit of salt on a finger, and a good rub on all the teeth!
It has been used as currency.
The word salary comes from salt, and some people were worth their salt!
In Indian cultures salt is so precious that it is said if you waste it or spill it or throw it away you will be required to pick it up with your eyes after you have died as a punishment.
Salzburg City is famous for music but gets its name from the salt in the rock below it.
The British Empire grew on the strength of salt sold to the huge population of India.
Mahatma Gandhi told Indians to make their own salt as a way of hitting the British economy.
He led the famous “salt march”, walking to the sea, and urged people to make their own salt. //
There are many uses and stories of salt.
When Jesus refers to salt in the Sermon on the Mount – he spoke of it only in relation to taste.
Salt is salt.
Can it lose its taste?
Is it not an impossibility?
One danger is increase in salinity.
This is a danger facing the Sea of Galilee.
The Sea of Galilee, following five years of drought, has sunk to a hundred year low. In 2018 the level of the lake dropped close to a black line, the level at which it loses its freshwater body.
Overuse has taken its toll.
As the levels drop the lake cannot wash away salt fast enough. Its salinity rises, affecting flora and fauna which begin to die.
Once the lake becomes saline, it will be irreversible.
Apart from climate change war does not help.
The waters of the lake affect rivers in Israel, Syria and Jordan. Water is one source of conflict in the region.
The river Jordan is shared by Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, Jordan and Syria, all of which use its depleting reserves. Because of war, each territory wants to take all the water.
In the mean-time the waters of the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee are polluted, and diminished.
And it is difficult for Christians who want to be baptised in the holy waters there and to venture to the site where John the Baptist is said to have led Jesus into the water, and where Jesus walked on water.
So, many issues are raised by salt around health, economics, and ecology.
Salt can be contaminated, and salt can be spoilt to the point that you want to throw it away.
Salt is contaminated by being mixed with dirty or damp items. //
So what is Jesus talking about when he says that salt can lose its taste, its saltiness cannot be restored, it has to be thrown away? //
Lets be clear what Jesus is not saying about us being salt.
- He is not saying you are salt in a container. Stay in the bottle and don’t get contaminated by engaging with the dirt and dampness and mess of the world around you.
You don’t light a candle and put it under a cover to hide it. Light has to do its part – shine a light.
Likewise, salt is not for keeping tucked away in a container. It has to be mixed with other ingredients – and do its part – add seasoning and flavouring and taste.
Salt in a container is a bit like Christians refusing to challenge racism “for fear of being labelled racists”, or refusing to engage with refugees for fear of being seen to be too political.
- Furthermore, Jesus is not asking his disciples to be salt together. A concentration of salt, too much salt, can be poisonous. Salt has to be used in small portions. Too much salt will spoil the taste.
Ask anyone who has had a cup of tea with a spoonful of salt rather than sugar!
Jesus is saying don’t remain a holy huddle.
If the disciples of Jesus are constantly in a holy huddle, if a congregation will focus only on themselves, matters internal to the congregation – it is a toxic mix.
Too much salt in one dose is a unpalatable. It is not good for anyone.
Too much salt will only raise your blood pressure.
All congregations know something of members turning in on each other – falling out over internal matters, forgetting the larger vision of the care for the environment and embrace of those who are different.
Salt has to be mixed with other ingredients.
A congregation HAS to give attention to: wars that make refugees; hunger that makes food banks essential; poverty that increases homelessness; oppression that leads to racist outrages; wastefulness that increases environmental degradation.
We can forget the bigger issues when we become a holy huddle, and we can be as poisonous as too much salt in one serving.
So what did Jesus mean when he said “you are salt – don’t lose your taste”?
To understand this we need to look at what Jesus says immediately before these words.
What we find here are the Beatitudes.
The word “blessed” is not really understood.
For our purposes, let us replace the word “blessed” with “you are salt”, and read the Beatitudes again.
YOU ARE BLESSED/SALT
You are salt when you pay attention to poverty
You are salt when you mourn and weep over hurt in the world
You are salt when you are meek and challenge intimidation
You are salt when you hunger and thirst for righteousness
You are salt when you are merciful and seek mercy
You are salt when you work and speak from a deep inner purity
You are salt when you work for peace
You are salt when you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake
We lose our taste when we avoid these matters, and remain a closed huddle like salt in a container.
Our light does not shine when we keep ourselves under the roof of the church.
According to Mark 9:50, Jesus said if salt loses its taste it is not even good for the soil, and not even for the manure.
According to Luke 14:34-35 being tasteful requires from the followers of Jesus to live in peace.
“You are salt” means we are at our best in small doses. We are likely to be used in small portions.
We are not going to change the world in one fair swoop.
We may not make too much of a difference.
Salt does not change the food it seasons.
Salt will be a preservative.
Rubbing salt into a wound might be painful, but we will stop the wound from getting deeper or worse.
So we will keep playing our small part.
We will keep joining protests for righteousness and justice.
We will play our part to challenge poverty and injustice.
We will weep with those who weep, and we will mourn over the loss of values and goodness.
We will challenge oppression and refuse to behave in intimidating ways ourselves.
We will seek mercy in leadership, policy and practice.
We will uphold the path of peace.
We will stand with those who are wrongly persecuted.
We will seek always to work from a purity of motives.
We will contribute what we can to make the world a better place especially for those who are most maligned.
We will remain realistic about what we can do, we will not be deterred by what we cannot do, and we will always remain hopeful, and do all we do in good taste in the Name of Christ, the true light and salt of the earth.
Thank you and bless you.