The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s003g07 Advent 3 16/12/07
'blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me' Matthew 11.6
This is an amazing beatitude, less well known than those others, that begin with: 'blessed are the poor'. It seems incredible that Jesus blesses so widely, so that not only do we not have to be rich and charitable, we need merely to not be offended by the mission of Jesus to others - those others who were now able to see, walk, cleansed, hear - the others who have perceived God's grace for them - and not just a religious elite.
Sadly it has been my experience that often those who are the most critical of others, the most intolerant of differences in belief and lifestyle, are 'christians' acting in the name of God. When I visit the un-churched in hospital the sort of people Jesus associated with - without criticism or expecting anyone to change, these people are often surprised and delighted. 'Christians' a religious elite if ever there was one - want me to challenge others and to talk about Jesus to others and are offended if I don't.
Jesus asks the people who flocked to John the Baptist: 'what did you go out into the wilderness to see?' And perhaps we could usefully ask ourselves the same question: 'why do we come to church?'
If we come to church so that God will bless us whereas God wouldn't if we didn't, then we may well be disappointed, as the book of Job, as well as many statements of Jesus testify. If we come to church because God doesn't bless Buddhists, Moslems, Jews or whatever, then we are sadly mistaken.
I wonder if we might truncate this saying even further. 'Blessed is anyone who takes no offence', and it is true that there seem to be people who readily take offence. And as I was saying before, it is often so-called 'christians' who use the Bible or the faith to take offence at other people. But it really doesn't matter what the grounds are on which we take offence if we do then our relationships with others suffer. We might surreptitiously rejoice in our personal integrity but in the end we will be alone.
Why do we come to church? To reinforce our own perceptions of reality, and to legitimise the offence we take of others? I need hardly to say that this is not what Jesus did!
Why do we come to church? To learn about acceptance and toleration rather than marginalisation and alienation? If so the world faces at least the possibility of peace. If we leave it to others, to people who are supposedly less grace filled than us, we can only expect more of the same.
And there is no point in complaining that the world is not a more caring place if we exempt ourselves from contributing to that caring, because we have to convert others to our way of thinking, our way of believing, our way of living.
There is no point complaining that God is not just because God does not favour my cause above someone else's. Again there are plenty of scripture references that show that this sort of justice is not of God.
The question raises itself in my own mind am I encouraging taking offence at people who don't think the same way as me? The issue of agreeing with me is (I hope and pray) immaterial. I have been blessed with a full time position within the church that has meant that I have never had any reason to charge money for my sermons. I continue to prepare sermons, when often I needn't, to keep my brain active. I have never asked what individuals do with my thoughts. They may use them to argue the opposite case!
Words are cheap, and it is more important for me to live up to my own prescriptions on life than what those prescriptions are. If they bring me closer to others then I have achieved something for the kingdom. If they separate me from others then I haven't achieved anything for the kingdom. John the Baptist was arguably, a more powerful preacher than Jesus, but Jesus was noted for, and killed because, he associated with those other than the religious elite. Actions speak louder than words.
Jesus touched the lives of the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the dead and the poor. 'Blessed is anyone who takes no offence' at these things.
One of the favourite and most beautiful pictures of our Saviour is that of the one with the lantern standing at the door and knocking graphically portraying the passage from Revelation: 'Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.' (3.20) We have been want to assume that it is at the doors of the un-churched that Jesus knocks, when in reality it is at the doors of the religious elite. For they are the ones much less inclined to open to the Saviour! - but still he knocks.
'Blessed is anyone who takes no offence' at this!
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