Lesson: The Beatitudes – Matthew 5.1-10;13-16
My new year resolution is to sit through a whole football match on the TV. It does not matter which teams are playing; I just need to get through it. So far, I’m up to 15 minutes before boredom descends. However, I will persevere.
To put your mind at rest, I don’t intend to suffer the post-match discussions – that would be beyond human endurance. Or as Woodie Allan suggests these shows should be used to punish hardened criminals.
But why you may well ask am I putting myself through such purgatory in the first place?
Well, in these years of my autumn leaves, I’m thinking about being a man of the people. After all, this is the era of being nothing more than a man of the people. Today’s measure of success is being popular even if without principles. Men of the people get adulation whether or not they deserve it.
But you may say wasn’t Jesus a man of the people?
He was a man for the people but not of the people. In fact, it could be said that he was a man separated from the people. Because he found the population of 1st century Palestine a very perverse lot. In fact, he once remarked; To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
In other words, they wanted him to join them in their current Top of the Pops. And so, the coming of God in the flesh to that generation is the more remarkable; almost as surprising as to ours.
Now, it is at this point; you’re probably thinking what the hair oil has this to do with a new year?
Well, if we wish our lives, community and nation to reflect something of the beatitudes we need to defend our saltiness and luminance. In the year ahead, that means being for the people but not of the people.
And how do achieve that?
First, we must strive to keep a certain distance from the least savoury aspects of our current society. We need to be very wary of ends justifying the means. More baldly, we must avoid being ethically compromised because it is the easy thing to do. Since surely the displaying of righteousness is our seasoning for this unwholesome season.
Next, we must struggle to hold to the spiritual. For our Christian ancestors endeavoured to make the beatitudes their defining own. They only made minuscule progress. But that did not stop them trying to scale the Himalayan heights of these counsel of perfection. And their path was always to guard their spiritual life for all it is worth. Therefore, may we make our own tiny contribution with a constant openness of heart, soul and mind to God’s call.
However, even with the shield of ethical behaviour and the sword of spiritual practice we still feel that the beatitudes drift beyond our reach. For we know that when trials come along, we always revert to type. We go with the flow and return to being one of the people.
Yet God knows that we alone can never keep to the mountain pass of beautiful behaviour. That’s why he makes it a team enterprise. That’s why he gives us to each other as his most valued player. That’s he offers the risen Christ as our captain. Above all, that’s why offers us the prize of holiness. For as Carrie ten boom reminded us when we enter God’s holiness we leave behind the impossible for the realm of possibility.
But isn’t all of this very self-centred you may think?
Fred Craddock once told a parable about a man who moved into a cottage equipped with a stove and simple furnishings. As the sharp edge of winter cut across the landscape, the cottage grew cold as did its occupant. He went out back and pulled a few boards off the house to kindle the fire. The fire was warm, but the house seemed as cold as before. More boards came off for a larger fire to warm the now even colder house, which in return required an even larger fire, demanding more boards. In a few days, the man cursed the weather, cursed the house, cursed the stove, and moved away….
This story reflects what many people beyond our congregational walls are finding. Since many around us are burning their bodily homes just to get through until tomorrow. They are trying to hold on to living ethically but they have no compass to steer by. They are striving to give meaning in their daily toil but their spiritual tank is down to fumes. They are seeking desperately for something that will make 2020 better than 2019 but everywhere is tawdriness, deception and bling.
But by our living out the beatitudes, day by day, we equip ourselves to attract them to the ethical rather than the popular. If we stay connected to the spiritual electricity of Christ, we can be others’ recharging point. If we enshrine in our persons and communities the righteousness of God, we will provide to the world the holy salt of hope and the saving light of the eternal.
And that alone will attract new players to our elite team. That will blow the thistle for the biggest match in town. That will be our kick-off in the beatifying game.
Now, where’s that TV controller?