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Feb. 21, 2020
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:10)
Living by the pattern of the Beatitudes will put us out of sync with the culture around us. Our actions will look different and will speak to our loyalty to another king. When others demand vengeance, we offer mercy. When others say win the victory, defeat the enemy, we choose peace. When others say the ends justify the means, we choose right actions beginning, middle, and end. When others say put yourself first, we choose the path of meekness.
When we follow the Jesus pattern, laid out in the Beatitudes, will be laughed at and ridiculed. People we say we are out of touch with reality, people will say we are naïve and foolish.
When we follow the Jesus pattern, laid out in the Beatitudes, people will take advantage of us. People will laugh at us for they ways outsmarted us.
When we follow the Jesus pattern, laid out in the Beatitudes, we are declaring there is another kingdom, that there is a different way of doing things. We are declaring our loyalty to that kingdom, to Jesus’ kingdom. For that kingdom and for that King we are willing to endure insult and slander.
The promise is that those who are willing to pay the price for being loyal to the kingdom. Those who are willing to risk their reputation, their livelihood, their very lives because of their loyalty to Jesus’ kingdom will see that kingdom come into full bloom. They will live in that kingdom. Even now we are invited to live as though that kingdom is here.
We are invited to the live the pattern of Beatitudes, leaning towards the already but not yet fully revealed kingdom.
Feb. 14, 2020
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God”
Romans 12:18 intrigues me. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” “If it is possible” – maybe it is not possible, maybe peace is not possible in some situations. Here then permission is given to say, “I have done everything I can, peace is not possible” and walk away. John Wyclif’s translation however does not let us off the hook very easily: “If it may be done, that that is of you, have ye peace with all people.” “If it may be done” – if there is any way at all, if there is any possibility, if you have anything in your ability to make this happen – live at peace with everyone.
We live in a polarized and increasingly polarizing world. The language used by all sides to describe the other sides – is inflammatory. Let’s not kid ourselves, everyone is doing it.
Hold that thought for a moment.
This trip through the Beatitudes it has struck me that we are being invited to live smaller lives, simpler lives, to live human sized lives. Humble, meek, having one goal – those are human sized things. The invitation is to live small.
Applying the idea of living small to be a peace-maker challenges me to live out the injunction “Pray globally, act locally.” Yes, peacemakers pray for an end to the violence that exists around our world. But we are also invited to act for peace in our neighbourhood, in our relationships with colleagues, in how we speak at our children’s hockey game, and so on.
Do my words throw gasoline on the fire, accelerating the fire? Does the way I portray the other person make them seem less than human, unworthy of respect, not deserving of compassion? Do I find ways to turn down the temperature in conversations that are getting overly heated? Do I model for my children and grandchildren how I hope they will speak about people they disagree with, teachers they do not like, and classmates who are irritating?
The 1950’s song “Let there be peace on earth” has become an earworm in my head as I have been writing – “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
Feb. 13, 2020
I have spent much of this week writing Lenten devotional material (based on Matthew 14-28) for use at St. Andrew’s, Fergus.
Reading the second half of Matthew through for this material I was caught off-guard by the theme of children that appears again and again. Jesus cares about children and invites his followers to do the same. More than that Jesus invites his followers of imitate children.
Matthew: 15:22 – the Canaanite Woman pleads for her daughter – “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (vs. 26)
Matthew 15:38 – woman and children eat along with the 4,000 men
Matthew 17:15 -- A father full of pathos kneels before Jesus, “Lord, have mercy on my son”
Matthew 18:2 – In answer to question who is the greatest – Taking a little child Jesus said “unless you become like a little child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”
Matthew 18:6 – “if anyone causes one of these little ones to sin” things will go very badly for that person (A loose paraphrase).
Matthew 19:13-15 – “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them” and Jesus blesses the children
Matthew 21:15 – “the children were shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David”” And then Jesus quotes Psalm 8 – “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise.”
In a world that overlooks children, often treating them as an inconvenience, Jesus says we are to become like children. In a world where children are frequently at risk from adults, Jesus blesses children. In a world that thinks children have little to offer, children proclaim the good news about Jesus.
Adults, be they parents or grandparents or have no children, are all called to nurture children so the children can be blessed by Jesus. Adults in caring about children stop focussing on themselves. Adults in caring about children give to those who cannot give anything back. Adults in caring about children point to a future beyond themselves, and beyond their control.
Children teach us to live small. Children call us to care for the little and the least of these. Children teach us to count ourselves blessed when we are among the little and the least of these.
Feb. 7, 2020
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.
When I was at Queen's University, Doug, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff worker, took each graduating student in the group out for coffee sometime during the student's last term before graduation. He asked a simple question, "If you were suddenly given $1 million, what would you do with the rest of your life?" In other words, if the student did not need to make money, what was their passion? What was it they really wanted to do? After listening the student dream about what they would do with their lives -- Doug would say, "When you have graduated and you are in a job that feels like it is completely absorbing your life, don't lose sight of what you want to do." In other words, keep the vision clear, keep the dream alive.
The Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, said that purity of heart “is to will one thing." To have a single focus for one’s life.
One of the metaphors that energizes me is the idea that God is singing a song in the world, a song about the kingdom that God is bringing into being in the world. God invites us to join him – to participate with him – in the kingdom building that God is doing. The song that God is singing is a song of good news for the poor, of freedom for the prisoners, of sight for the blind, of release for the oppressed. The song is a song of God’s blessing, of God’s favour.
As we join in singing the song the tune of the song carries the words of God’s vision for the world deep into our souls – and as with any song that gets deeply planted in our lives it begins to shape us. The song starts to shape the way we live in the world, living more and more by its pattern, making it the one thing that we will – willing our lives towards God’s kingdom, leaning our lives into kingdom. Willing our lives towards one thing.
The dreams, hopes, passions that God gives us are part of the way God is singing his song in the world. He invites us to joint in the song – willing one thing – the kingdom of God.
As that happens, we begin to see God at work in the world around us, seeing ever more clearly as our eyes become more and more in tune with what God’s song and God’s kingdom.
Feb. 5, 2020
The following was passed on to me -- it is a prayer from an open letter from the church in Wuhan, China. May we join with them in prayer.
“God full of compassion and mercy, we lay prostrate before you and confess our sin. We have sinned against you, our city, our country, our compatriots, and we ourselves are short of Your glory.
Wuhan and the surrounding cities have now been closed, and the spread of the virus has exceeded our capacity. The city is surrounded by the shadow of death. We, the covenant people who have received great grace, cry out to You oh Lord, asking You to forgive us for our pride, and ignorance. Our neglect has created this global disaster. Today, we repent for our sins. Please purify our hearts.
Save us oh Lord from this great calamity. Forgive our sins and transgressions. Save us from disaster. You are the only one who can save us.
Help us not to hide ourselves, but may we have a strong sense of social responsibility to serve the elderly and the children.
We send special prayers for the protection of those living in poverty in the countryside villages.
We pray for our fellow citizens of the city of Wuhan to prevent the spread of this virus. May they no longer take this situation lightly.
We pray to you Almighty Lord, to send warm weather so that this virus has no hospitable environment in which to live.
We pray that You provide protection over the other cities as well.
Oh Lord, we remember the healthcare workers in particular. Protect them as they serve the sick.
We pray for Your mercy Lord. Our bodies are weak and vulnerable like dust in the wind. May we come to you with a heart of repentance. Help us to preach Your message, remain upright and righteous before you, and lead a clean life with a transformed heart. Only You give peace and hope.
Merciful God, You are slow to anger and abundant in love. Please remove this plague, hear the cry of Your people, and have mercy on the city of Wuhan.
These are the prayers of the churches that the Lord loves, all in the holy name of our Redeemer Jesus Christ. Amen!”
Jan. 30, 2020
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
I admit I was frustrated this week working on the order of service for Sunday. There are lots of songs and hymns about mercy – that is, about God’s mercy towards human beings, about Jesus showing mercy to the lost, and so on. Few hymns and Christian songs, at least that I could find, speak about human beings showing mercy to other human beings. I was being picky. I was looking for more than the invitation to serve other people, I was looking for more than the call to be sympathetic – mercy feels deeper than that.
Then a search on hymnary.org revealed the hymn that follows. Written by Anna Laetitia Aikin, it was published in 1772. It paints powerful pictures of mercy. Anna married the Rev. Rochemont Barbauld in 1774, so most hymnbooks list the author as Mrs. Barbauld. The hymn is printed without music, and has not appeared in any hymnbook published after 1930.
Blest are the ones whose softening heart
Feels all another's pain;
To whom the supplicating eye
Was never raised in vain.
Whose breast expands with generous warmth,
A stranger's woes to feel;
And bleeds in pity o'er the wound
They want the power to heal.
They spread their kind, supporting arms
To every child of grief;
Their secret bounty largely flows,
And brings unasked relief.
To gentle offices of love
Their feet are never slow:
They view, through mercy's melting eye,
A brother in a foe.
Peace from the bosom of their God,
The Saviour's grace shall give;
And when they kneel before the throne,
Their trembling soul shall live.
Verse 1’s picture of the merciful person having a soft heart is a wonderful image to reflect on. Verse 2 aptly describes the pain the merciful feel as they desire to heal the wounds of another. In verse 3 the merciful respond with care even without being asked to show compassion. The last two lines of vs. 4 paint an evocative picture of mercy tearing down the walls of division that enmity creates. The last line of the hymn reminds us of what fires mercy, the recognition that we ourselves need mercy.
Mercy rises in the hearts of people who know the power of mercy in their own lives. Mercy rises in the lives of people who know their own need for mercy.
Jan. 28, 2020
The following may feel incredibly academic.
Having spent four weeks thinking about The Beatitudes and with four weeks to go in this series, I have begun to wonder how the Eight Beatitudes relate to each other. A number of the authors I have been reading, who have thought far more profoundly about the Beatitudes than I have, hint at some patterns.
Frederick Dale Bruner has made the suggestion that Beatitudes 1-3 (poor in spirit, mourning, meek) are largely non-active (states of being, not actions to be taken). He suggests that Beatitudes 5-7 (merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers) are active (patterns of action to be engaged in).
Bruner sees 4 (righteousness) and 8 (persecution) as linked – that is, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (a pattern of action) will irritate enough people that persecution will result. The Message translation (by Eugene Peterson) of 8 (persecution) suggests this – “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.” “Commitment to God” is a helpful way of saying “hungering for God’s righteousness.”
Can other links be made? I suggest the following, admitting some of the linkages work better than others.
The “poor in spirit” (1) recognize their need for mercy – that recognition makes them open to showing mercy to others (5).
Those who mourn (2) desire one thing – to be comforted. Real comfort comes from only one place – God who raised Jesus Christ to life again and promises to wipe every tear from every eye. The pure in heart (6) – which Kierkegaard helpful unpacks as “to will one thing” – are given the promise they will see God. Further it has been suggested by a couple of writers that those who mourn are close to the heart of God: both in being cared for by God and in terms of understanding that God mourns for the world and its pain.
The meek (3) live a pattern of selflessness – of humility and lowliness – patterns that are essential to peacemaking (7).
Having said all of this I am concerned that looking for a pattern among the Eight not mute their radical call to live a life following Jesus. If this has been helpful to reflecting more deeply on the beatitudes, that is good; if it does not help your living into the beatitudes, ignore it.
Jan. 24, 2020
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)
Athletes talk about being hungry – that is, they want victory – the gold medal – the Stanley Cup. We are not all athletes in the sense of being in some sports competition. Yet church leaders, like Paul, when writing letters to congregations in the first century frequently used the image of the athlete as a picture for the Christian life.
What are you hungry for in the way that an athlete is hungry? What do you want so much that you can almost taste it?
Jesus invites us to be hungry and thirsty for righteousness.
Righteousness is a big word. At its most basic, righteousness is about right relations – right relations between the creation and humanity, right relations among people, and right relations between people and God. It is both about personal relations – my relationship with others – and it is about communal relations – society’s relationship with people. It is a big word.
There is a joke – how do you eat an elephant? (I am not advocating eating elephants.) The answer is: one bite at a time. The point being how does one take on a huge task – a bit at time, taking on the whole thing is just too much.
Righteousness is huge – so we are invited to take it on one bit at a time. Here the sports imagery helps us. Team sports require the team to work together – each person doing their part, for every position is important. To use a hockey metaphor – a stay on the blueline defenseman allows the high-flying forward to do their thing, because the forward knows if they can’t make the play work, the defenseman will stop the rush going the other way.
Jesus invites us to join his team – and get hungry for right relations to come into full bloom in our world. He does not ask us to make the whole thing happen – instead he puts a particular hunger in our lives and we are invited to desire, hope for, lean towards what right relations looks like in the situation that breaks our heart. The thing we are really hungry to see happen. To someone else God gives a hunger for righteousness in a different situation or context. The Holy Spirit is building a team of God’s people who together are hungry for righteousness to be in every situation and context in our world.
What are you hungry for? Where do you long to see right relations bloom in our world?
Jan. 16, 2020
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matt. 5:5)
The meek do not take themselves too seriously, because they recognize they have no power. They are aware they do not pull the strings to make things happen. This insight from the commentaries has me reflecting on an incident just before Christmas.
Since we have recently moved, we do not have a family doctor and I needed some prescriptions renewed. That required going to the walk-in clinic here in Fergus. So, I waited in the line outside the door of the clinic, and when the doors to the clinic opened at 5 pm everyone in line was registered in the order that they had arrived. And that was the order in which the doctor saw the patients.
No opportunity to say, “It is Advent, I have had a busy day I could not get here until 4:45 and so I am 10th in line. These people ahead of me obviously have not been working today, not doing the important things I have been doing. And they get to go first. That is not fair.”
I had a choice. I could boil inside, fretting about the time I was wasting in the middle of Advent. Or I could accept that I was powerless to do anything about the situation.
How easily we think that our time is the most important time. Until there is a coughing child lying limply in a mother’s arms. How easily we think, “I should push my way to the front.” Until we see the elderly man with the worried look on his face standing beside his wife’s wheelchair. How easily our anger rises when we feel we have been disrespected. Until we remember that Jesus said, “if someone slaps you on the cheek (an insult), let them hit you on the other cheek as well.”
Paul writes, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” (Col. 3:12) The instruction is to “clothe” ourselves the implication being that we have the ability to make these characteristics part of our lives – to put them on, building them into our lives.
As we put on meekness, we recognize that it is not about us. In that place there is a freedom and a grace. The unexpected inheritance received by the meek.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church Phone: 519-843-3565
325 St. George St. W. Fax 519-843-6631
Fergus, On. N1M 1J4 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org