It upsets me that people are frightened of going to church – but it seems to be the case.
At a recent funeral the attendees were literally waiting at the gate of the Churchyard apparently frightened to cross the threshold
I notice too that when I am wearing A dog collar – People in street don’t meet my eye
Women of a certain age may smile, but those with babies sometimes cross the road – men routinely avert their eyes
Why is this?
A sense of guilt? Of unworthiness? Do they feel they will be held to a high standard of behaviour to gain entry? Thank goodness we are not.
Nor should they feel that they will be judged when they enter – though some of our congregants may be guilty of doing this.
Personally, I think it is a fear that by entering into a church, into an engagement with God they are beginning a rigorous examination of their own lives and decisions for which they do not want to think about let alone give account.
Whatever, the reason, it saddens me greatly
Because to me Church is a Haven
It is a place that I have sought when in the depths of despair
When made redundant
When I feared I was losing my marriage
When I realised the full implications of George Osbourne’s tax regime for my retirement planning!
When I have messed up
And I have found comfort because God does turn things around
In fact, God turns things upside down – perhaps more often than we would like
This is what Jesus is saying this in Luke’s Gospel
In so doing Luke is putting his own spin on Matthew’s Beatitudes
There is almost a deliberate differentiation from the story in Matthew which comes as part of the Story of the Sermon on the Mount
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them. He said:
3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
But this is Luke and it is different
For a start, Jesus is not on a mountain – the traditional place for encounters with God – he is on a plain (and so Luke’s account is known as “The Sermon on the Plain”) In Genesis, the cities of the plain were the dens of iniquity which included Sodom and Gomorrah. More generally in the ancient world, the plain was the traditional place for warfare, for battles
Here there is a battle between two ways of looking at the world
Luke puts Matthew’s beatitudes into a binary structure – there is an opposition between the four blessings and four woes
Looking at his disciples, he said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.
‘Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.
God can be seen to be leveling things out
Our Christian faith is that things will get better – that there is reversal from misfortune, there is new life
Ultimately. there is resurrection which is fundamental to the way that we as Christians look at the world – as Paul reminds us:
If there is no resurrection, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.
But what about people who are already wealthy, well-fed, laughing and spoken well-of. Are they doomed?
That depends on what is making them happy.
For this reason it is important to understand what is meant by blessed
It is a word we use a lot both inside and outside church
The Greek here makarios means happy – in a state of bliss (in Latin beatus)
It is clearly striking and oxymoronic – the wretched are in a state of bliss
But we know that our happiness lies substantially within us – the wealthiest, healthiest. luckiest person can be the most miserable.
It is about how you see yourself that matters
Importantly, there is another sense of blessing which means speaking well of and this is the sense in which we are blessed by God (in Latin: Benedictus)
This is blessing that God gave to Abraham
‘I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.’
The same blessing that Isaac in turn gave to Jacob,
When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said,
‘Ah, the smell of my son
is like the smell of a field
that the Lord has blessed.
May God give you heaven’s dew
and earth’s richness –
an abundance of grain and new wine.
May nations serve you
and peoples bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.
May those who curse you be cursed
and those who bless you be blessed.’
that was the blessing given to Jesus at his baptism,
And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
the blessing which we were in turn received at our baptisms, confirmations, ordination and marriages
The blessing which we will remember in our Eucharistic prayer when Jesus blessed bread and wine in words of thanksgiving before blessing us by his presence in them
Finally, the blessing that we will receive at the end of this service
The blessing that is God saying to us: you are loved, you are unique, I have special work for you to do
I came into this church at my lowest ebbs because church is the place that reminds me that I am loved, that I am special, that I am blessed.
It is a place where we come to give thanks – to count our blessings
To pray for and to bless others
And so become a blessing to them
It is a place into which we should routinely invite others – so that they can know that however poor, hungry, miserable, discredited they may feel, or indeed they may be, they are also loved, special, blessed and can be a blessing to others.
It is not being wealthy which makes us happy, it is knowing and believing that we are blessed
In the words by Jeremiah – probably the most miserable of all the prophets
blessed are they who trust in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like trees planted by the water
that send out their roots into the stream.
May we be trees such as these
Sermon given by Christopher Hancock at St Mary’s Headley, 17th February, 2019.
 Matthew 5
 “Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.” Gen 13:12
 Genesis 12
 Gen 27