St. John's Uniting Church Wahroonga

World Day of Prayer

The annual World Day of Prayer is on Friday March 7th, with the local Churches meeting at Holy Name Catholic Church, Billyard Avenue. Starts at 10:30am, and if you can bring a plate of sandwiches to share for lunch, so much the better!

Metrogaine, Sunday 9th February, 2014

The Cartophiles had six teams in the “Hornsbygaine” on Sunday, 9th February.  The course was hard going and six hours in the hot weather really tested our mettle.  However, we all had great fun.  Reports on the event are available on the NSW Rogaining Association site.

Before the start, Kit & Sue plot their course

Before the start, Kit & Sue plot their course

Resting after the event.  L-R Adam, Kayla, Sue, Owen, Nick

Resting after the event. L-R Adam, Kayla, Sue, Owen, Nick

Hot & tired but unbowed.  L-R Brett, Edwina, Sue, Adam, Annie, James

Hot & tired but unbowed. L-R Brett, Edwina, Sue, Adam, Annie, James

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cartophiles’ Results in the Metrogaine

Team Members

Score

Time

Position

Overall

Out of 162 Teams

Mixed Team

Out of 100 Teams

Veteran

Out of 58 Teams

Super Veteran

Out of 22 Teams

Novice

Out of 20 Teams
Kit Craig, Sue Craig 1300 5:58 64 32 28
Melissa Gow, Cathy Hui, Alexander Lyle, Leigh Matheson 1280 6:06 72 36
James Loxton, Annie Loxton 1230 5:59 82 45 36 12
Adam Benson, Owen Craig, Nick Samios, Kayla Shoppee 1070 5:44 105 61
Edwina Loxton, Brett Ritchie 1000 5:56 119 69 10
Rupert Morton, Tom Morton 500 3:15 153 18

Going beyond

Listen!
Leviticus 19:13-18 | Matthew 5:38-48
So, for those of you paying attention over the past few weeks, today’s gospel reading brings us another example of the same pattern of conversation.

“You have heard that it was said…. but I say to you…”

We read two examples today, and each of them gives a fascinating insight into the way that the law and the prophets operated, and the way that Jesus took that conversation and took it on another step.

“You have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” For once, this is actually a direct quotation from the Mosaic law, from Exodus 21: “If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”. A similar injunction is also found in the code of Hammurabi, the Babylonian code of law dating from a similar time: “If a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye. If one break a man’s bone, they shall break his bone.”. It’s normally understood as having been a limitation on revenge: that in the absence of such a law, the natural desire for revenge would lead to spiralling cycle of violence; and that a legally sanctioned, proportionate response, allowed the matter to be closed. It is not so much “an eye for an eye” as “only one eye for an eye”.

The problem, of course, with “take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, is, as Tevye, in “The fiddler on the roof” said “then the whole world would be blind and toothless”.

And it’s not as if Jesus was the first one to recognise this problem. The Midrash, the Rabbinic commentary on the Old Testament, shows Rabbis working with this text, taking the principle of limitation, but morphing it into a form that made more sense in their context. And so “an eye for an eye” became, in Pharisaic Judaism, “reasonable financial compensation for injury sustained” – a concept that we would still find in law today.

The point is, of course, that when Jesus was speaking, his hearers already had a far more complex understanding of those words than a simple literal reading. For most of his hearers, Jesus was not speaking against a naïve, self destructive application of the letter of the law. And that’s really important for us to get, because it’s too easy for us to dismissively echo Tevye, reject literal one-for-one revenge, and think that we have heard Jesus’ words.

But Jesus goes way beyond that.

He doesn’t say “don’t insist on physical revenge, be prepared to take compensation instead”.

He doesn’t even say “if someone does something against you, just let it go”. Actually that’s probably the worst option. To allow a wrong to go unnoticed, unchecked, is to allow it to flourish. Notice this – it’s important – Jesus does not say “if someone would take your coat, let them, if someone forces you to go with them one mile, go with them”.

What he says is way more imaginative and creative than that. It doesn’t insist on revenge, but at the same time it doesn’t pretend that the wrong has not taken place. Instead, it invites the victim to confront those who have wronged them in a totally different way: by offering more.

Now lots has been written about the way that Jesus’ specific suggestions were cleverly designed to discomfort those who did you wrong. That someone could strike you on the right cheek with their right hand, but to strike your left cheek would require them to use the back of their hand – a shameful thing to do. How a Roman soldier could legally require a subject to carry a load one mile, but no further, and could be in trouble with their commanding officer if they did. How giving your cloak as well as your coat would create public embarrassment for the one who sued you – for the law required that a cloak taken for debt had to be returned before sunset each day, so that it’s original owner had something to keep them warm at night.

And all those things may well be true. But whether or not they are, the intent of Jesus’ tactic seems clear: that by going beyond the injustice forced upon you, you confront those who would take advantage with what they have done, what they are doing, force them to come face to face with the consequences of their actions.

Notice, too, the scope of the examples that Jesus gives. If someone strikes you, turn the other cheek – personal conflict. If someone would sue you – legal dispute. If someone forces you to go with them one mile – the abuse of the occupied people by the occupying nation. Examples taken from our relationship with one another, with the domestic system of law, and with the representatives of the colonising power. But in each case, reduced to the simplicity of two people interacting with one another.

While I believe that we often make the mistake of reducing Jesus’ words to personal spiritual guidance, and miss the social and political implications in them, here he really is getting personal.

Which leads, naturally enough, into his next “but I say” – ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’

Now “love your neighbour” is surely found in the law – we heard in in our reading from Leviticus – but the second half – hate your enemy – is not to be found anywhere in the law of Moses. The Old Testament could really take it both ways – blessed to be a blessing; but from time to time led to genocide. Our reading from Leviticus, at least by implication, leaves hating your enemy open as an option: “You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin”.

And here, Jesus finally moves to the heart of his theme, the heart of the teaching in the sermon on the mount. The point, he says, the point of the law, of your faith, of life, is not obeying the rules; it is being like God.

This is why this section of teaching can begin with the call for righteousness which exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees – righteousness that goes beyond obedience to the law, which is what the scribes and Pharisees were all about – and end with the ludicrous, impossible demand “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect”.

And the call to be like God is Jesus’ rationale for loving your enemies. For the sun rises on evil and good alike; and the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. To love those who love you, to greet those who are close to you, that is to be human. To do that, is to do nothing more than everyone (or at least, almost everyone) else does. How is that salt? How is that light?

The law, in its full depth, describes what it is to be human: and that’s hard enough. In our short Old Testament reading today we have commands to honest dealings, care for those with disabilities, justice, equality of treatment, and care for the welfare of your community. The call of the law, to be rightly human is not an easy one, and it alone would make an enormous difference to our world. There’s a description of Oscar Schindler – you probably remember the movie, Schindler’s list – in which it was said “Schindler was not a saint. He was just a human being, at a time when being human was rare.”

Being human is hard – and often it feels to me as if we in the Church (and I very much include me, in my preaching) speak of the Christian faith as a call to that, to our humanity.

But the call of Jesus on his followers goes beyond even that – includes it (for he did not come to abolish the law and the prophets) – but goes beyond it. We are not just called to be as good as everyone else, to be good citizens, good neighbours –we are called to all that, but that’s just the start.

The call of Christian discipleship is to be salt and light; to stand out even amongst our fellow citizens as reflecting the character of God. It starts here; the core command of discipleship: love your enemy. Do more than can be demanded, more than can be expected, more even than can be imagined, for friend and foe alike.

And if that’s not enough, there are still two chapters of the sermon to go…

Amen

Entering the law and the prophets

Listen!
Psalm 119:1-8 | Matthew 5:17-28
After the service last week a number of people commented to me that, for one reason or another, they havdn’t really been able to concentrate on the sermon as much as they would have liked. Indeed, more than one person suggested that I could just hold it back and use it again this Sunday!

I haven’t quite done that, but if you were really keen and read the sermon on the website, or listen to the recording, you will recognise large parts of it repeated today. It’s not really that I’m being lazy – ok, not entirely that I’m being lazy, but as we head deeper into the sermon on the mount, I think it’s especially important that we explore just what it is.

And that requires us to tackle one of those phrases that it would be a lot easier if we could snip out of the Bible.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law… not one letter will pass from the law until all is accomplished… whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven”

You don’t need to have read much of the Old Testament law to get the sense that, if this means what it seems to mean – that the law, as laid out in the Old Testament still applies – we have a bit of a problem. Quite aside from the food laws, and circumcision, and the sacrifices, the Old Testament law is full of requirements that made sense in a particular place and time, but really don’t here and now. Laws requiring the death penalty for blasphemy, laws governing polygamy, and slavery, laws giving a father the right to choose a husband for his daughter.

Laws that the early Church, at least the gentile part thereof, very soon decided did not apply to them. So what sense are we to make of Jesus’ declaration that he did abolish the law, but fulfilled it?

Sometimes these words are read as Jesus speaking of bringing the law to an end by, his life and, in particular, his death and resurrection. The argument goes that by living a perfect life, Jesus fully satisfies the requirements of the law, and thereby completes, fulfils them, freeing us from the need to do the same.

But the words such an argument leans on, Jesus fulfilling the law, are sandwiched between statements his declaration that he has not come to abolish it, and that those who break the commandments will be least in the kingdom. So this seems to me a heroic effort to make Jesus words mean pretty much the opposite of what they look to say.

But as I read these words over the past weeks, trying to make sense of them, I noticed something I’d not seen before.

I’ve always read this passage as being about the law – the set of instructions set out to govern the life of the people of Israel in the Old Testament. But Jesus didn’t say “I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it” – he said “I have not come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come to fulfil them”.

That is – the thing that Jesus describes as not being abolished isn’t the law of itself; it is the law and the prophets.

And there’s a very important distinction hidden in that phrase.

The law, in this context, refers to the law of Moses – specifically, to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. The prophets, obviously enough, refers to the books of the prophets. And these two things are both part of something bigger, part of the Torah, the living dynamic description of what it means to be God’s people.

And when you look at the Old testament readings that we’ve had over the past couple of weeks, you see that the relationship between the law and prophets wasn’t a simple one of the prophets reminding the people of the law (though sometimes that was exactly what they did).
Two weeks we read from the prophet Micah, mocking the sacrifices of the people – sacrifices which were required by the letter of the law – and calling them instead to justice, mercy, and humility. Last week, Isaiah saying very similar things of another religious practice – fasting.

It’s almost as if the law and the prophets are engaged in an argument. And actually, that’s not a bad description. The nature of the Torah, the living law of the people of God, is more like a conversation than like a set of rules, more the tension between different voices, sometimes competing, sometimes agreeing, than it is like a single, unified message. More like an orchestra than a soloist.
And so the prophets argue with the law, demanding that it be read in the light of the relationship that the people have with the living God; and the law in turn argues with those who would say that it doesn’t matter how you live. And the conversation goes around; but not around in circles, around and forwards, deepening the people’s understanding of what it means to be God’s people.

And in the verses that follow, we see that Jesus takes his place in that process, arguing with the law, the prophets, and the tradition. “You have heard it said… but I say to you…”, the refrain that continues through his teaching.

This is ‘the law and the prophets’ – not a static set of commands, but a process of revelation – that Jesus comes not to abolosh but to fulfill. To make full. To complete. For in him the divine and the human sides of the argument combine; in him law and love, grace and prophecy, are united.

And the thrust of Jesus’ words in the arguments that follow are to call people from the letter of the law into the law of love, the law of relationships. Not just “don’t kill” – legislation – but “don’t be eaten by anger” – the poisoning of relationship. Not just “don’t commit adultery” but “don’t live in lust, seeing others as objects of desire rather than people of value”. “Don’t bring an offering to God until you have made an effort to be reconciled… and then come back, and do bring that offering, for reconciliation with God is also part of the deal.”

And the reading continues (past where we stopped) to speak of divorce, and of the swearing of oaths, in each case taking a piece of legislation (the process of divorce, the rules for taking an oath) and reframing them as descriptions of relationships (if you divorce, know what it means, what effect it has on the other; and don’t just keep your honesty for when you’ve sworn an oath – live lives that can be trusted).

And it is then, surely, clear that to try to take Jesus’ words here and make them into another set of specific rules to be obeyed is to miss the point.

In the sermon on the mount, and in the teaching and parables and miracles and stories that follow, Jesus is entering into the Law and the Prophets, and shaping from them what it means to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world; what it means to have the flavour and the brightness of people of the Kingdom of God;

A people not governed by law, but by a knowledge of right and wrong granted to us by God’s spirit – for God made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

A people not defined by constitution or statute, but described by a quality of relationship – by this shall everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

A people who are part of the whole story, the whole conversation, the law, the prophets, the arguments; neither abolishing what has gone before nor being ruled by it, but being shaped by it, and in turn giving it new shape.

As we seek to faithfully be the people of God, the people of the law, and the prophets, and of Jesus Christ, and of the Spirit who guides us on.

Amen

March Coffee Morning

Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances, the March coffee morning has been cancelled.

The first coffee morning of the year will be on Tuesday March 18th, in the lower hall. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Movies for Lent

On the six Saturdays of Lent (March 8th through to April 12th) we’ll be showing movies based on the lives of spiritual legends through the ages. 6:45pm for a 7pm showtime, nibbles provided (feel free to bring wine – we’ll provide glasses!). Entrance is free, with donations to cover costs invited! Come along, and invite your friends! For more information, download the flyer.

March 8th Amazing Grace
March 15th Wesley
March 22nd The Visual Bible: Matthew
March 29th Agent of Grace
April 5th Romero
April 12th Goodbye Bafana

Pancakes at the Manse

With Easter Sunday on April 20th this year, Lent starts on Wednesday March 5th. Which means that Tuesday 4th is pancake day, and you are invited to the Manse pancake party, any time from 7pm. Bring along something to put on top of pancakes, or something to drink with them!

Not to abolish

Listen!
Isaiah 58:1-9a | Matthew 5:13-20
Today our gospel reading brings us one of those passages where it’s hard to avoid thinking that life – especially life for the preacher – would have been much easier if Jesus hadn’t said what he said.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law… not one letter will pass from the law until all is accomplished… whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven”

You don’t need to have read much of the Old Testament law to get the sense that, if this means what it seems to mean – that the law, as laid out in the Old Testament still applies – we have a bit of a problem. Quite aside from the food laws, and circumcision, and the sacrifices, the Old Testament law is full of requirements that made sense in a particular place and time, but really don’t here and now. Laws requiring the death penalty for blasphemy, laws governing polygamy, and slavery, laws giving a father the right to choose a husband for his daughter.

And amongst all these laws are some we see Jesus breaking –the restrictions of the Sabbath, some we see the early Church setting aside – Peter’s vision declaring all food clean, Paul permitting the eating of meat sacrificed to idols.

So what is Jesus saying, when he says “I have come not to abolish, but to fulfil”?

Sometimes these words are read as Jesus speaking of bringing the law to an end by, his life and, in particular, his death and resurrection. The argument goes that by living a perfect life, Jesus fully satisfies the requirements of the law, and thereby completes, fulfills them, freeing us from the need to do the same.

But the words such an argument leans on, Jesus fulfilling the law, are sandwiched between statements his declaration that he has not come to abolish it, and that those who break the commandments will be least in the kingdom. So this seems to me a heroic effort to make Jesus words mean pretty much the opposite of what they look to say.

Others choose to question whether Jesus really said these words, or whether Matthew added them. After all, in the early Church debate between those who would preserve the Jewish nature of the faith and those who would leave it behind, Matthew was pretty clearly in the Jewish camp.

But while I am far from being a Biblical literalist, and am quite sure that the Gospel writers took a certain degree of literary license in composing their gospels (for, as we’ve seen often before, they did not write as a modern biographer would write), I’m very uncomfortable with an approach that allows us to simply place aside texts which don’t correspond to our understanding of Jesus. It’s my problem with many of the so-called quests for the historical Jesus – they always seem to me to end up finding a Jesus who is suspiciously like the one who is looking.

If we only read and hear the parts of the scriptures that we can make sense of, the parts that we feel we agree with, then the story loses power to challenge us.

Somewhere between “just read it and believe it” and “choose the bits that make sense to you” must lie another path, in which we struggle with those stories we don’t get, and perhaps in the struggle discover something we would otherwise have missed.

And for me, as I grappled with this passage this week, that something lay, as it often does, in some of the words I missed until I read more slowly.

Because I’ve always read this passage as being about the law – the set of instructions set out to govern the life of the people of Israel in the Old Testament. But Jesus didn’t say “I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it” – he said “I have not come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come to fulfil them”.

That is – the thing that Jesus describes as not being abolished isn’t the law of itself; it is the law and the prophets.

The law, the law of Moses, the directions to govern life amongst the people of God, does not stand alone. It is part of something bigger, part of the Torah, the living dynamic description of what it means to be God’s people. Something that could never be reduced to a set of rules, any more than life in a family cannot be reduced to a legalistic framework.

The Torah, wasn’t so much about a set of specific dictates to be followed as it was a description of living rightly. And so the law of Moses – the rules that guide day-to-day living – are held alongside the words of the prophets, those men and women who called the people again and again back to worship of the living God. Words which sometimes called people back to the letter of the law, but atother times challenge the people to rediscover the deeper sense behind those letters.

Last week, we read from the prophet Micah, mocking the sacrifices of the people – sacrifices which were required by the letter of the law – and calling them instead to justice, mercy, and humility. And today we hear Isaiah saying very similar things of another religious practice – fasting.

What Micah and Isaiah each do is to remind the people that obedience to the letter of the law is not the point, is not what God has called them to. In a way, what they, and each of the prophets do, is to give a reading, and interpretation, of the law in the light of the Torah; a reading of the legal requirements of God in the light of the living relationship into which God calls the people.

And here, in the Sermon on the Mount, we see Jesus doing exactly the same thing. Not abolishing the law and the prophets, but fulfilling them – making them full, complete. Jesus, in the sermon on the mount, reads the Old Testament law for us. You see this over and again in the sermon – “you have heard it said… but I say to you…” not contradicting, abolishing, what has come before, but giving it meaning, giving it life.

And I’m sure it is not by chance that Matthew, composing his telling of the story of Jesus, lays his teaching out as he does – the sermon on the mount, one big block of teaching, almost certainly not because that’s the way Jesus taught, but because that is the way books of the prophets worked; laying out the teaching as retelling of the torah of God; retold to give people a fresh vision of the call of God, to challenge them to return to the true worship of their God, to remind them that their religious duties were not an end in themselves, but were tools to help them to live right lives that were worthy of the God who had created them – worthy of God, consistent with the character of God, reflecting the light, the taste, of God. Lives that, in Micah’s words, showed justice, mercy, humilty; lives that, in Isaiah’s words, shared their possessions, set free the oppressed, cared for those in greatest need.

Last week, in the beatitudes, Jesus answered the question “what does it mean to live a good life”. This week, our text moved on to the question “what does it mean to obey the law of God”. The answers, the exploration, the exegesis of those questions make up the rest of the sermon on the mount, and the stories and parables that make up the bulk of Matthew’s gospel, and in the coming weeks we’ll be exploring them in much more detail.

But for now, we are left with a challenge: to what extent do we make the mistake that Micah, Isaiah, and Jesus, all challenge? What rules and law and aspects of the faith have we so internalised that we’ve forgotten what they were really about?

And can we hear the words of the law and the prophets, and hear the dynamic, lifegiving description of a people living in harmony with God, instead of hearing only cold words of law?

Amen

Sydney Welsh Choir

On June 14th we are delighted to be welcoming the Sydney Welsh Choir for a performance at St. John’s, raising funds for the National Trust appeal to restore the roofing of our heritage buildings. The performance will run from 2:30 until about 4:30, and will be followed by an afternoon tea! Tickets are $25 ($20 concessions) and can now be purchased online, or by contacting Cecile Ferguson, Mary Smith, Ian or Marjorie Howden, Grace Wakelin-King, or Alan Hislop.

Register_Now_Button_Red1

Visit the choir website to take a look at their photo gallery and listen to some of their work! Or download the poster!

Painters thank you

Today at the St. John’s Painters Fellowship we said a big thank you to Margaret Harvey for all the work she has put in over the years to coordinate the group. This baton has been passed on to Olive McCredie, so that Margaret can just paint on Wednesdays! Thank you to Olive for taking on the role…

The Painters’ Fellowship page has some great examples of works complete and in progress… check them out!

Beatitudes

Listen!
Micah 6:1-8 | Matthew 5:1-12
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ three years or so of ministry is bookended by the word disciples. It begins, as Bob spoke of last week, with the calling of disciples, and ends with the words we heard in baptism today, the great commission, to go and make disciples of all nations. And in a sense, everything in between is simply an extended exploration of what that means, what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Indeed, there is a sense in which the whole of the Christian life, from our first experiences of God, whether in baptism or elsewhere, to the day we die, is the same: an exploration of what it means for us to be Jesus’ disciples.

Life throws many other things at us; we spend much – if not most – of our lives puzzling over other issues; what we want to study, what career we want to pursue, who we might choose to love and live with, how we will handle our finances, where we will live, where to send the kids to school, these and a thousand other, important questions.

But lying behind all of these concerns and questions lies just one: how should we live. What constitutes a good life.

And of course this isn’t a question that originated with Jesus. It was a question that deeply troubled the ancient philosophers – indeed, in a sense it was the single question that Socrates spent his life wrestling with – and which has troubled those who have taken the time to take it seriously throughout history.
And one thing that seems to be consistent through history is this: that those thinkers and philosophers, prophets and theologians, who have honestly asked the question “what makes a good life?” have over and again found answers that shook the societies they lived within.

Of Socrates it was written:

By searching for true justice, true beauty, or true friendship, he inevitably called into question what was widely believed to be justice, beauty, friendship, and so forth. He could not teach without casting serious doubt on traditional wisdom and on what was then common sense. With every question he raised he had to shake deeply held convictions. He had to cast doubt on the authority of fathers, the viability of tradition, the soundness of popular beliefs, the wisdom of established authorities, and the validity of long-standing conventions.

And it is surely impossible to read the gospels, hear the words of Jesus recorded therein, and not say the same. That they are words that shake our assumptions, challenge our cultural wisdom, cast doubt on our traditions.

And in doing so, Jesus stood in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets who had, each in their own context, challenged those around them with their answer to the question “how should we live”.

Micah lived in a society, a culture, that had remembered the trappings of their religion, but forgotten the point. Their sacrifices at the Temple were faultless, but their lives were anything but. Believing that in their religious observance lay the heart of the good life, they brought their burnt offerings, their rams, their oil – as the law of Moses demanded that they should.

But Micah mocks their offerings: “will a thousand rams please God? Or ten thousand rivers of oil?” Does God need your gifts? Or does God desire something else of you?

And then he offers his own answer, the vision he has seen of what God really wants from the people: “God has already told you what is needed: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God.”

For Micah, the answer is simple – you don’t need to rack your brains to work out what God wants – for you’ve already been told.

In the words of the prophet, God says, I want, I need, people who love kindness, who delight in bringing comfort to those in need, who rejoice in bringing a smile to the face of those who have little to smile about, whose greatest joy is in the joy of others. I need those people.

And I want, I need, people who do justice. People who stand up for those who are persecuted, who speak up as the voice of the refugee, who are willing to put what is right above what is convenient, profitable, or conventional.

I want, I need, people who will be my people. Who will walk with me, live for me, in the humility of knowing that I am their God.

It really is that simple. And that hard. And, for a people brought up on the story of a God who demands offerings and cares about little else, that radical. That controversial. That liberating.

And seven centuries later, in a different land, amongst a very different people, Jesus brings his answers from the same tradition.

Matthew tells us that Jesus has been “proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God” everywhere he went, and here we have the first place in the gospel where that good news is spelled out. And a very strange sort of Good News it turns out to be. For in almost every line it takes those things that we so easily judge as blessings, and turn them upside down and inside out.

For the things that Jesus names as blessings, and the things we place value on, hardly even seem to overlap.

And the easiest thing to do at this point in a sermon is to pick a few things that the world seems to place great value on, and notice that Jesus did not name them as blessings of God. There’s no “blessed are the wealthy” or “blessed are the beautiful” or “blessed are the successful” (much to the relief of the England cricket team).

Easy and entertaining, along with an obligatory nod to “blessed are the cheesemakers”, but pretty much missing the point. It’s all too easy to see the places that Jesus’ words challenge others.

Much harder to read them and hear in them a challenge to ourselves.

So I’m just going to take a few moments on each of the eight lines, and invite you to ask yourself: which of these is Jesus’ challenge to me? Which of these eight “blessed are’s” is it that I need to hear if I am to take the next step along the road of discipleship. Maybe several of them ring a challenging note for you – but I’d encourage you to choose just one.

Blessed are the poor in spirit – do we really value that poverty of spirit which aknowledges we do not have any right, or any way to earn the right, to stand before our God, to be part of the kingdom of God? Do we need to feel we have something to offer, something God needs?

Blessed are those who mourn – can we know that mourning is a gift of God; for those who mourn are those who have loved?

Blessed are the meek – really? Those who don’t put themselves forward, those who don’t seize the day, who await the instruction of others rather than taking the initiative?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – sure we all want righteousness, right relationships with one another and with God, but with the intensity that drives the thirsty man to want nothing more than water? To give anything for a drink? Do we care that much for reconciliation?

Blessed are those who are merciful – is it truly a blessing, to be able to have mercy; to place aside our right of retaliation, of reply, of revenge?

Blessed are the pure in heart – those who live lives of deep integrity, consistency; those who are who they say they are, whose lives have nothing to hide. Is that us? Do we even want it to be?

Blessed are the peacemakers – surely we would all want that? But those who want peace and those who make peace are very different; for to make peace is to be willing to pay the cost, to face conflict and not bury it, deny it, or flee from it.

And blessed are the persecuted – perhaps the most obvious anti-blessing of them all. There is surely no call to seek out persecution; but to accept it, to allow others to speak evil of us, to face the slander of the powerful when justice demands that we speak against them.

Any one of these would be a sermon for itself; in fact, there need to be as many sermons preached as there are people here today. I hope one of Jesus’ blesseds has spoken to you, and that you will take it away with you, and allow to work.

And I hope you haven’t picked the easiest one.

Amen