Epiphany 4A – Sunday 30th January 2011
Matthew 5: 1-12
The Sermon on the Mount has intrigued and fascinated the Christian Church for nigh on 2000 years. At the beginning of a five week period when the lectionary tip toes through some of this challenging material I have decided to add my ten penneth worth to the debate.
And so we begin with The Beatitudes.
What did he say?
I think it was “Blessed are the cheesemakers.”
Aha, what’s so special about the cheesemakers?
Well, obviously it’s not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.
The Life of Brian. You can’t beat it. Some condemn it for ridiculing the Christian Faith. But hey, the Church itself down through the ages has ridiculed the Christian Faith by its actions, so why can’t some film makers? And they’re funny. Funnier than the church. And also thought provoking. If you ever wondered what a Church Meeting or a PCC Meeting was like, it’s pretty much like a meeting of the People’s Front of Judea – but you’ll have to watch the film to experience that.
But John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin and the rest of the team have fallen into the trap that almost every translator from year zero has gone for … they begin, “Blessed are …”.
I read a very interesting blog this week that suggested we would find more meaning in this passage if we used the word honoured instead of blessing. In dylan’s lectionary blog the blogger praises the author and academic Jerome Neyrey, who debunked the honour system in Jewish daily life, and states that The Beatitudes ‘…show Jesus giving honour to those pushed out to the margins of their culture.’
Neyrey believes that the nine sayings are understood better when you first consider the last one – “Honoured are you when people revile and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account”. In Jewish life you were either a somebody or a nobody. If you were a somebody then you were respected. But if you were a nobody then you were reviled. What is radical about the message of Jesus here at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, says dylan, is that:
“…he gathers in all of these people who are completely bereft and without honour in their culture’s eyes, and he gives them two gifts which more than compensate for their very real losses.
“1) Jesus gives them honour.
“2) He makes them family. They are children of one Father, and that makes them brothers and sisters. They will never be bereft in a community that sees themselves as family, and that cares for one another in ways that show that they take that family relationship with utmost seriousness.”
All my life I have approached the Sermon on the Mount from a very individualistic point of view. I’ve thought of it as being of the type that will shape ME into being a better Christian.
- Am I humble?
- Do I work for peace?
- Do I love my enemy?
- Do I give to the needy, fast and pray?
- Do I serve two masters?
- Do I judge?
- Which gate do I use?
- Upon which foundation do I build?
I imagined that all being me, me, me. But if I’m doing all that for me then I maintain the barrier that excludes others from God’s family. What I need to see this as is a blueprint for the church, to express as a welcome to all, to keep searching for family that long have felt excluded and for whom we now need to open the doors.
At The Gap – a community project run by the Queens Road Baptist Church in Broadstairs – they run an after school club, coffee bar, parenting classes, break dancing workshops, a parents and toddlers club and a crèche, a theatre group, work with those with special needs, two youth clubs, a cafe, offer internet facilities and IT classes. All this came about because an audit in the mid 1990’s showed these community needs weren’t being met. And they are doing a fantastic job by the look of things.Now I know the church isn’t called just to be an extension of social services, but if the church is to be effective in living up to its calling, these are some of the sectors that the church doesn’t often reach that it should. And the more connections a church has with its community, the more opportunities there exist to witness to the love of God – not just through words but action too.
As St Francis of Assisi famously once said: “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”
As I construct my sermon for this coming weekend, based upon The Beatitudes, I shall be looking for ways for my church to become a better family (…not necessarily just better people).