The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:  

s037g11  Sunday 4  30/1/2011

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’  Matthew 5.3

When I read this passage again, I wonder just who Jesus is addressing.   We are told that Jesus left the crowds, and perhaps the crowds did not follow.   In Luke it is clear that the crowd heard these words, but again, the words seem primarily addressed to the disciples.   But actually none of these words seem particularly appropriate to those disciples.   They were not especially ‘poor in spirit’, they weren’t mourning, they weren’t particularly meek, they weren’t especially hungering and thirsting after righteousness, they weren’t especially merciful, they weren’t ‘pure in heart’, they weren’t noted peacemakers, they weren’t being persecuted or reviled - all they were doing was tagging along with Jesus, fighting over who was the greatest, giving Jesus good suggestions about what to do with the crowds who were following, protecting Jesus from children and generally telling Jesus how he should conduct his ministry ..

Clearly the words about reviling because they followed Jesus - ‘on my account’ - were remembered and written down to encourage later disciples for whom persecution was an ever present threat.   But these words are the last on the list, and the disciples who were listening were not actually being reviled or persecuted.   And this prompts me to suggest that the first actually define what ‘on my account’ means.

Blessed are the poor in spirit; those who spend their time affirming the faith of others rather than trying to impose their faith on others.   Those who spend their time trying to learn the language of others rather than impose a church language on all and sundry.   Blessed are those who marvel at the efforts others go to, to serve the common good, rather than just work for the neo-colonial aspirations of the church.   I noted last week that ‘Jesus emptied himself’ (Philippians 2.5) and if the church doesn’t do likewise then your efforts and my efforts to empty ourselves will be entirely irrelevant.   It is when we are reviled for being poor in spirit that we earn the blessing that comes from doing something on Jesus’ account.

Blessed are those who mourn, mourn not just their own losses, but mourn that others suffer unjustly (and sometimes justly) too.   Blessed are those who mourn that tenderness, peace and justice are still hard to find, even sometimes within the church.   Blessed are those who mourn when others are rejected by the ‘church’ for being different, like being gay or lesbian, for being themselves.

Blessed are the meek, those who don’t want to inherit the earth, but will.   Following Jesus is putting ourselves and the details of our faith aside.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake, rather than aggrandising the church, which does nothing for those outside.

Blessed are the merciful, even towards those who use a different name for the divine than we do, who worship in an entirely different way to us, who are intimate with people who surprise us, or who spend their lives helping others indiscriminately rather than coming to church.

Blessed are the pure in heart, those who do not seek to scare or trick people into joining the church.

Blessed are the peacemakers, those who bring differing people together rather than maintaining endless divisions between ‘christians’ and other ‘christians’, between ‘christians’ and people of other faiths, and between ‘christians’ and people of no particular faith.  St Paul asks those in the Corinthian church, noted for its factions: ‘Who sees anything different in you?’  (1 Cor 4.7)

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake - when others work that right may be done for others - the marginalised and the alienated.

It is these things that define what doing things on Jesus’ account means, and those who are conspicuous in their devotion and orthodoxy may indeed revile those who do them, as they killed Jesus who did these things.

Jesus was addressing the disciples, and saying - look around you at those in the crowd.   They are the ones who are blessed - not you because you are specially close to me!   Jesus words are just as much an indictment on the church, who may follow Jesus in sacramental, biblical, spiritual, moral or mystical ways, but not actually do anything helpful for anyone else.

Is God less merciful than humanity?   Hardly.   Why should the divine get upset if someone doesn’t address the divine using the name to which WE are accustomed?   Who is it that is getting upset?   And the same applies to the name ‘Jesus’.   Wikipedia tells us that “Jesus” .. is a transliteration, occurring in a number of languages and based on the Latin Iesus, of the Greek Ἰησοῦς (Iēsoûs), itself a Hellenisation of the Hebrew (Yĕhōšuă‘, Joshua) or Hebrew-Aramaic (Yēšûă‘), meaning "Yahweh delivers (or rescues)"  (   Some Anglicans and ‘christians’ seem to assume that Jesus spoke the words of the King James Version of the Bible, and eternal damnation will descend on anyone who uses a modern translation!   I was Googling for the book ‘Your God Is Too Small’ and found it was by J. B. Phillips, noted translator of the Bible.  In the course of this I found a website which labelled Phillips ‘a straight-up heretic’.   In it was a link to an essay: ‘Why I read the authorised KJV Bible’ - I won’t bother to advertise the web address :-)   Jesus spoke Aramaic and Hebrew, not 17th century English, however poetic.   And if no one comes to the Father but by Jesus, perhaps we should be saying Yesua!   

The words of Jesus are ‘blessed are the poor in spirit’ which implies that those who are filled with enthusiasm to be ready, willing and able to defend God and condemn others are not blessed.

The words of Jesus are ‘blessed are the merciful’ and it will make precious little difference in the world if I do or do not forgive the brother who has offended me, but it makes a hell of a lot of difference if the church continues to condemn those outside her definitions of religion, orthodoxy, spirituality, or morality!

When we follow Jesus and are incarnated into real society rather than hiving off into our little holy huddle of the church; when we accept people for who they are rather than trying to change them into replicas of ourselves, then we are doing things on Jesus’ account, for this is what Jesus did.   To state the bleeding obvious, when we are trying to make people into replicas of ourselves we are doing things on our own account, not on account of Jesus.

There are two well-known and favourite quotations of Jesus and I need to point out what some ‘christians’ actually mean when they use them.   The first is: ‘No one comes to the Father but by me’ but what they actually make this mean is ‘no one comes to God except by adherence to MY interpretation of who Jesus is - i.e. no one comes to the Father but by ME  (=? Jesus).   We can see that this is actually self aggrandisment and self serving, inspired by the neo-colonial aspirations of many in the church.   The second is: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life’ which is interpreted ‘God so hated the rest of the world that he sent his son to condemn any who do not follow ‘my’ interpretation of scripture’.

I concluded my first paragraph with the words about the disciples: ‘all they were doing was tagging along with Jesus, fighting over who was the greatest, giving Jesus good suggestions about what to do with the crowds who were following, protecting Jesus from children and generally telling Jesus how he should conduct his ministry ..’ and my question is, are we in the church often seen as doing any different?   It is we in the church who need to hear and heed these words of Jesus, to focus on the good things that those outside the ‘christian’ community are doing and being blessed by God in their doing so.   Jesus addressed these words to the disciples and he tells them to see the fulfilment of these blessings in OTHERS.

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