s173g01 Somerton Park 11/2/01 Epiphany 6 Harvest Festival
"Blessed are the poor" Lk 6.20
The world it seems hasn't changed very much - the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, as has been the case for all of history - yet Jesus seems to turn this upside down, and more than this he speaks those blessings in the gospel passage for today as if they are already true. "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." The kingdom is present already, "despite appearances".
It is my belief that this means more than the perception that often those who have money are ever anxious to be able to keep it for themselves. It is my belief that this means more than the (very lovely) words of Jeremiah might indicate - that if we trust in the Lord we will be like trees planted by water; for this may well be accidental. No tree I know of, chooses the place where it is planted - despite Sir David Attenborough and his (quite likely) correct thesis of the genius of plants ("The Private Life of Plants" BBC 1995). I never chose to be Anglican or Christian - it is quite an accident of birth. The conception that I should be like a tree planted by the water when others, through no fault of their own, miss out, is both iniquitous and unbelievable.
It is interesting that those who are blessed are blessed because they are afflicted in some way, not of their own choosing. No one chooses to be poor, to be hungry, to weep or to be hated by others. In contrast those who are cursed most often will have had some hand in their own fortune. The rich would have worked for their wealth, or worked to keep it to themselves, so also those who are full and laughing. Those who are spoken well of are (most likely) well practised in obsequiousness.
Those that are blessed are those who are in straightened circumstances, quite beyond their control. And it is precisely these who are blessed.
And it is this element of undeservedness, unexpectedness, that I wish to highlight. It is an affront to us who, like myself, strive to be in control, to work for a living honestly and to not owe anyone anything; to hear that Jesus blesses those who aren't like me, like us.
But the reality is that this is the sorts of people with whom Jesus associated during his lifetime. And if Jesus was crucified for doing this, then the fact of his resurrection means that he continues to be found among these sorts of people. And so we will find the risen Christ not just in the sacraments and fellowship of the Church, but in the poorest of the poor. It was, of course, Mother Theresa who most recently lived her life exemplifying this principle. She saw Jesus in the poor and the outcast in India.
Molly Wolf recently told the story of a boy who was bullied at school, and refers to a press report which says:
" ... the case of a teenager from a community near Cornwall, Ont., who ended up in jail after writing a class essay. That essay, a horror story written for a drama assignment last fall, described a teenager who planned to blow up his high school as revenge for bullying. The story is fictional, but it was written by an unpopular kid from a difficult family background who had faced bullying himself and had problems at school. The parallels with reality worried his drama teacher, who asked the boy whether he wanted to seek counselling. In subsequent days, other students complained about receiving death threats. The principal called the police, and the boy was arrested and jailed on Dec. 8. As a result of his fictional story, he was charged with one count of uttering threats. On Jan. 9, after he had spent 32 days in jail, the police added three additional charges related to allegedly uttering death threats to specific classmates. He was released on bail two days later."
(The full article can be found at: http://www.globeandmail.com/gam/Editorials/20010126/EBOY.html )
I wrote an e-mail to Molly, as she had a personal interest in the case, saying that "I always read the story of Sodom primarily as a portrayal of bullying with the sexual element only as the means to intimidate. And that bullying has it's divine retribution. In my opinion the judgement on Sodom has nothing to do with intimacy between people of whatever gender." Sadly, of course, bullying happens frequently all around the world, and late last year we read of bullying in an exclusive Anglican college in Sydney. Teachers and schools can but do their best to stamp out such behaviour, but the reality is that lots of things happen "behind the toilets" when the teachers are not looking, and students have an instinctive knack of finding places where teachers are not present for such activities.
I point out that Jesus does not say, blessed are the poor who are my followers ... Jesus says simply blessed are the poor ... So the kingdom of heaven is theirs, of whatever faith, or lack of faith, the poor hold.
So the poor, the marginalised, those who are bullied, are always examples for us - not to correct or become followers of ours - but to appreciate. Something within their existence is precious beyond measure, something which will be denied us through our sheer affluence and social standing.
And so it is inconceivable for a Christian to fight against another person whatever their faith or lack of it, for in doing so we become the bully and the other the afflicted, and the kingdom of heaven will be theirs ... and not ours.
It is easy to be critical of the bullies in the school yard, yet so often the Church has, in the past and in the present, been perceived to be the instrument of the bullying of others. Taking children from their parents, even if it happened to only one indigenous family would have been enough to label the perpetrators as bullies, even when done for the best of intentions. I mean, it was done that they might become "like us" - just as the gangs in school yards want everyone else to be like them and acknowledge their power. I have no doubt that some gay people, with considerable justification, consider some Christians as people engaged in institutional bullying in the name of God.
Let us be quite clear that Jesus is saying that the kingdom of God is, in fact, theirs.
"Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died." 1 Corinthians 15:20
Today we are celebrating our harvest Festival. I suppose this would be seen to be an unusual time for those in the northern hemisphere, who may be beginning to come out of their winter. And indeed it is probably a bit late for us - the cereal harvest well and truly "in" - after the threatened plague of locusts was averted. Most of the other produce is also picked. We are beginning our autumn (fall).
St Paul speaks of Christ being the first-fruits of those who have died, and in this context, he is reassuring us of the certainty of our salvation. While to all intents and purposes, the world continues on in the same way it has for aeons, the death and resurrection of Christ has fundamentally changed that reality. We are reassured by the resurrection of Christ that the fullness of that which God is giving us will indeed be ours.
But again, Jesus died for associating with the poor, so the resurrection is our guarantee that the efforts of the religious authorities to stop proclaiming by example the love of God for those other than the religious, was thwarted.
And the first-fruits of the harvest which we offer today, similarly are something which represents our whole. We may offer a monetary contribution, our offering might be of reading, music, intercession or floral arranging. Our offering might be produce for the poor. It represents something of our whole, that we do not live entirely for ourselves, but that we live also for God and for other people.
May the fullness of our harvest offering be that we recognise the wideness of God's mercy to all people. May our contributions go with the prayer that those who eat these gifts, whoever they are, may know that the kingdom of heaven is theirs, simply because they are the poor of whom Jesus speaks.
May our gifts go, not in a spirit of generosity - us who have more giving to those who have less - but in a spirit of thanksgiving, that we have received something from the poor which cannot be ours. May we give in recognition that they bless the earth by their presence because we find the kingdom of heaven in them.
For if we really want to make a change in this world, it will come not as we bully others into submission that they become like us, but as we recognise the gifts that everyone can bring to our lives.
For I believe that the fact that God loves victims is our only hope for an end to the bullying in the playgrounds (in the microcosm) and for an end to the incessant arms race to find the ultimate nuclear deterrent (in the macrocosm). I have no doubt that I am not the only one to express that I was delighted to hear that Pakistan has been sending aid to the victims of the earthquake in India. May this lead to an de-escalation of the tensions in that region after such a horrific disaster.
And may I again draw your attention to the notice on the board about donations to the World Christian Service to aid the victims.
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