Changing the world around you, Matthew 5:7-16, June 13th 2021.
Matthew 5:7-16. Colossians 4:2-10.
Author Philip Yancey was teaching about Jesus life at a Church in Chicago. It was 1991. What he normally did was he would use clips from existing films of Jesus life, then read the relevant passage and see how the film clips interpreted or helped with the bible passage. As those of you who remember video cassettes , to find a place in a video takes a lot of whirling back and forward. So Yancey in his preparation he had his tv on at the same time at CNN. So he’d watch the news, as the video sped forward eg to a section of Cecil B De Mille’s King of Kings. Then he’d hit the play button and he’d be transported to first century Palestine.
At that point in 1991, much was going on. Iraq after invading Kuwait had been defeated by the coalition forces in a campaign which lasted 100 hours. As Yancey sped back and forward through the clips, on CNN were different commentators explaining with charts and maps what had happened in Kuwait. Then, on came General Norman Schwarzkopf. CNN were covering the live military press conference. Schwarzkopf described the campaign and he credited the British, the Saudis, the Kuwaitis and every other country in the multi-national force.
The briefing ended. CNN went to commercials. Yancey returned to the videos. It was the film Greatest Story Ever Told. Max von Sydow – as Jesus – was declaring the Beatitudes. Yancey says: ‘’I had to adjust to the slow pace of the movie compared to General Schwartkopf’s briefing, and it took a few seconds for the irony to sink in. I had just been watching the Beatitudes in reverse.
Blessed are the strong was the general’s message. Blessed are the triumphant. Blessed are the armies wealthy enough to possess smart bombs and Patriot missiles. Blessed are the liberators, the conquering soldiers.
Jesus words are the total opposite – in the Beatitudes Yancey saw and across the sermon on the mount. Blessed are you who do not think you have it all sorted spiritually, blessed are the meek, the gentle, blessed are those who grieve over sin in the world, blessed are those who show mercy, instead of revenge etc. And later – teachings be reconciled, do not hold a grudge, love your enemies, do not put your trust in wealth … In fact, as we explore Jesus words, we may feel the same, it may be totally opposite to what the world around us things. If we shared some of Jesus words with other non believers, they might respond like the Minions ‘WHAAAT?’
We may even begin to feel – if we start living really this Jesus lifestyle, people will start to talk about us
But Tom Wright says of Jesus words: ‘’It is a royal announcement, that God is turning the world upside down – or, rather, the right way up.’
But we are going to seek to live it out, aren’t we?
Jesus told his disciples. Blessed. What do you think the Beatitudes are about?
Anglican Bishop Todd Hunter says: ‘’ Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount and thought, “I just need to try harder to be poor in spirit”? I see the Beatitudes more like good news statements of truth, or new statements of what’s real. Whatever your condition, you are blessed as citizens of the kingdom of God.’’
Willard: The Beatitudes simply cannot be good news if they are understood as a set of how tos for achieving blessedness. They would only amount to a new legalism. They would not serve to throw open the kingdom – anything but. They would impose a new brand of Phariseeism, a new way of closing the door.’’ Willard, Divine Conspiracy.
Jesus speaks to the disciples. They have accepted the call. They have now the promise and the blessing of the Kingdom. And this is what it looks like. Beatitude – the word itself points to receiving God’s favour. ‘’Jesus personal ministry from his present kingdom brings them beatitude.’’ Willard, Divine Conspiracy. Chapter 4.
The first four Beatitudes deal with our relationship with God. The next four deal with our relationships with others.
This rest of the sermon you could say is about Changing the World around you.
Blessed are the merciful.
There are two different meanings to this phrase of ‘mercy’.
First we are to be merciful to those who have wronged us. Even when justice cries out for punishment. Our reaction may be to give them what we think they deserve. Yet Jesus invites us into something else.
In 2003, Stephen Oake a police officer in Manchester, with 20 years experience, set out to arrest a suspected terrorist called Kamel Bourgass. Instead he was murdered by Bourgass leaving begin a wife, and three children aged 17, 16, 14. His family – who were Christians – were devastated. His wife later shared that sometimes she could not even get out of bed. Yet her faith helped her survive. And the family prayed for the murderer every single day. Stephen’s father – Robin Oake – a retired police officer – and also a devout Christian – said on the day after the murder, that he forgave the killer. After Robin saw the murderer in court, he said: ‘’I will carry on praying for this man so that first of all he knows that we’ve forgiven him and also that he himself might find peace with God.’’
Mercy shows itself in this moving story, not only in forgiveness, but prayer for the killer – bringing him, in love, regularly before the throne of heaven, praying some day he too would be a son of God, like they are…
We as Christians have been shown mercy by God in Christ. We show mercy, we forgive others, because in our past Christ has already forgiven us. And yet we recognize that we are still a work in progress – we constantly need more forgiveness and mercy, and so we become more merciful and forgiving because we recognize this about ourselves. DA Carson. ‘’The Christian forgives because he has been forgiven, his forgives because he needs forgiveness. In precisely the same way, and for the same kind of reasons, the disciple of Jesus Christ is merciful.’’ Carson, Sermon on the Mount, p,27.
The second meaning of the word can be – we are merciful to those in need, the ones we see regularly or known, or those whom life brings us suddenly into contact with, ones who have been overtaken by events – like the Good Samaritan to the robbed Jew. When asked about who loved his neighbor, the listener told Jesus, the Samaritan was – the one who ‘who showed him mercy’.
Bonhoeffer shares: ‘’The merciful have an irresistible love for the down-trodden, the sick, the wretched, the wronged, the outcast and all who are tortured with anxiety. They go out and seek all who are enmeshed in the toils of sin and guilt. No distress is too great, no sin too appalling for their pity.’’ Bonhoeffer, p100
The world usually is unmerciful. The world would say ‘Woe to the merciful for they shall be taken advantage of!’ Often the church has sadly, in its worldiness, also been unmerciful. Yet Jesus says: Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.’’
Blessed are the pure in heart.
Our Lord confers blessing not on the intellectually sharp, or the religiously active, but on the pure of heart. In the bible, the heart is the centre of the entire personality. It is about what is going on inside.
The context of the other beatitudes – we said these last four seem to focus upon relationships with others – then this is about integrity, openness, sincerity, authenticity in our relationships with others. Psalm 24: Who may ascend the hill of the Lord. Who may stand in his holy place. He who has clean hands and a pure heart and who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.’’
In his or her relationship with God and with others he is not false.
We are in a world where there is a lot of pressure to conform. This saying means being free from putting on masks and having different faces for different occasions. We be ourselves as God intended, instead of play acting. We live life in the open and we let people see who we are. We are totally sincere in our relationships. As Christians we can find ourselves acting one way on a Sunday or in our small group, but we act differently for the rest of the week, among those who do not believe. Instead we are to be open with nothing to hide, at our work, in our colleges, in our marriages and family life.
Shane Claiborne has a great quote: ‘’I’ve met a lot of Christians who say ‘’If people knew about all my struggles and weaknesses, they’d never want to be a Christian.’’ I think the opposite is true: if people knew that idiots like us, in all our brokenness and vulnerability, can be Christians, they’d know that each of them could give it a shot too.’’
How to change the world around us? The pure in heart allows others to see them as they are and act with integrity, authenticity, sincerity.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
If we make peace – we will be called children of God.
To make peace, we imitate, who is the ultimate peace maker.
Romans 5:1 = Therefore since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2:14 –‘’he is our peace … who has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility [between groups’].’’
Peace with ourselves and between ourselves and others he has made possible. His kingdom is one of peace, and of course the mutual greeting we share in our worship, is a greeting of peace.
We make peace. One way – by encouraging people to be reconciled to God – as 2 Cor 5:20 reminds us – through sharing the good news of Jesus. That is the only way to a concrete inner peace, on the reality of peace with God.
We are also called to bring peace between others. This is very different from doing all you can for a peaceful life, or peaceful office. Sometimes we need to face up to difficult situations. Sometimes – as Bonhoeffer says ‘’his disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering than inflict it on others… they maintain fellowship where others would break it off.’’ (Bonhoeffer, Cost, p102).
We may need to confront to bring peace.
Nelson Mandela said: It takes a long time to make peace. A short time to make tension. Many, many people, make tension. Few people make peace. Wherever you find tension, you must make peace.’’ N.Gumbel, p 28.
We seek to make peace in our marriages, with our neighbours, in our church, between churches.
Rwanda. A country where many families in All Saints have sponsored children. In 1994, there was 3 months of genocide, by the majority Hutu. It is estimated 800,000 were killed in this genocide. Over 2m Rwandans felt into neighbouring countries. Most returned over the following two years. 250000 widows. 450,000 orphans. Out of a population of 6 million. The country faced many years of reconciliation and recovery…
A true story.
Jean-Claude lost 14 members of his family. After the war, he felt called by God to go into prisons and preach the good news of Jesus Christ. One day he preached to a man called Kamunzini- this man had been part of the group that had killed Jean-Claude’s family with machetes. Kamunzini responded to the preaching and he repented of his sins and have his life to Christ. He admitted to Jean-Claude what he had done, and he asked for forgiveness. Jean Claude forgave him and told him that he hoped that Kamunzini would be with him one day in heaven.
Since 1999, Jean-Claude and Kamunzini have travelled the country, as peacemakers. They visit churches are tell of how their relationship was transformed by Jesus Christ. Jean Claude says:
‘’I go and speak to those people with Kamunzini and I show them the man that killed the members of my family. Jesus says that we should forgive our enemies – and Kamunzini was my sworn enemy. But I have forgiven him. Kamunzini killed 14 members of my family and destroyed their houses.
When people hear that, they fall on their knees and acknowledge that they too must forgive.’’
Blessed are the peacemakers. God the Father of peace loves to see his children acting like him…
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
It is possible to think. If we live like Jesus we will be universally popular. This is not the case. The world will be offended at the disciples, Jesus says. ‘’Not Recognition but rejection, is the reward they get from the world for their message and works.’’ Bonhoeffer, pg 102.
Jesus never guaranteed popularity. He never said ‘’come to me and your troubles will be over.’’
We – the church – are the conscience of humankind and that can make us very unpopular. Paul writes his words of Colossians from a prison, there with his fellow prisoner Aristartchus, because of his following of Christ.
Nigerian Anglican Bishop Ben Kwashi says: ‘’The gospel transforms eternities, lifestyles, communities. Pray for grace to endure persecution. It is going to happen if you preach the gospel.
In his area, Christian houses have been burnt; his wife physically attacked for her faith. Yet it has not stopped them – they still preach the gospel. He said:
‘’I am not afraid, I am not afraid of dying. I died long ago. The moment I came to Christ I died to all that… Look at the power of the Resurrection – Jesus Christ risen from the dead! Look at the future we have. Look at the future you have.’’
Jesus says to his disciples, when persecution happens they can rejoice and be glad. First – because of their reward in heaven. He means the kingdom of heaven he has been describing. As he will say in another place, it is the great treasure, it is the pearl beyond all price. Second there is joy because they are persecuted due to Jesus – that are followers of him, they are identifying faithfully with him. Third. It is a sign their faith is genuine, they are about God’s plans and purposes, for the prophets of the past were so treated as they served and declared God’s purposes.
Stott: ‘’The world will undoubtedly persecute the church. Yet it is the church’s calling to serve this persecuting world.’’
How we serve – he explores using two well known images: salt and light.
SALT AND LIGHT.
This will be covered very briefly. We return to this passage for a longer look in a few weeks time.
He says: You are salt. He does not say ‘you must be salt.’ Stott: ‘’It is not for the disciples to decide whether they will be the salt of the earth, for they are so whether they like it or not., they have been made salt by the call they have received.’’
Jesus says: You are salt, not ‘you have salt.’ It is not a message they share. Your whole life – as much as it is grounded in the kingdom, with Christ as King – your whole existence is salt of the earth…
What is salt. Salt prevents decay. As you know well used in meat to preserve. Salt adds flavor. To bring out the God flavours in this world. It creates thirst. Thirst for the Kingdom, for Jesus.
Again he says: You are light of the world. They are a visible community. Again. You are. They have the light because Christ has called them. They are not to try and become the light. No we already have the light. The call of jesus made them and us light of the world.
AGAIN. Jesus does not say – you have the light – ie the message.
No. You are the light. The disciples – you and me – we are the light. Jesus who said I am the light, says to his followers ‘’you are the light in your whole existence, provided you remain faithful to your calling as follower of Jesus.’’
Light. Dispels darkness. Makes things clear. A guide in the dark.
We can say we feel spiritually inadequate – spiritually poor – but you are still the salt of the earth light of the world. You can say you are too young. Jesus says you are salt, you are light if you follow me, whatever age you are in. You may say you are now too old or retired. Jesus says you are salt you are light. The day you stop being salt and light is the day you go to be with the Lord or when he returns.
I am not sure if it is Dutch saying but there is a Brit football saying – about players. Form is temporary, class is permanent. You can apply that to us. Our form may be up and down. Temporary. But our identity is permanent – you are salt and light.
In order to change the world around us, we cannot withdraw from our world into a Christian sub=culture. But get involved in our society. Nicky Gumbel: ‘’if we follow Jesus and live as Jesus encourages us to live, we do have a purpose and we can transform the world around us.’’ Gumbel, p36.
A later sermon will explore this more. But to end, I wanted to share one example of what this looked like, in the United States in the 1960s…
Martin Luther King Jr preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church on 4th Feb 1968. The words he shared were then played at this funeral two months later.
‘’Every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. … Even now and then I ask myself ‘What is it that I would want said.’’
If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk very long. Every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize, that isn’t impotant. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awares, that is not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. That is not important.
I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for someone to say that day that Martin Luther King tried to love somebody. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.
And I want you to be able to say that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked … I want you to say on that day that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison… I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. …
And all of the other shallow things do not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I wont’ have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. I just want to live a committed life behind.
And that’s all I wanted to say.
If I can help somebody as I pass along.
If I can cheer someone with a word or a song.
If I can show somebody they are travelling wrong then my living will not be in vain.
If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
if I can bring salvation to a world over wrought,
if I can spread the message as the Master taught,
then my living will not have been in vain.’’ (sermon quoted from Nicky Gumbel, 36-37
The holding cross. The Jesus Lifestyle. We are going to do it aren’t we. To take one. Hold it. Put it somewhere you can see it. To take up your cross is what Jesus asks. The Jesus Lifestyle.
In the notices share about the questions to consider – to think more about after this service. They will be on the screen after the blessing…
Shall we pray.