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Saturday, 5 November 2016

Called to be saints

Here is my sermon from Thursday's Eucharist at St Stephen Walbrook (based on King of the Hill, Spring Harvest 2001 Study Guide by Jeff Lucas):

Blessed are the wealthy, because there is the Dow Jones index. Blessed are those who enjoy a good party, for they will drown their sorrows.
Blessed are the assertive, for they will get to the top of their career.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after chemical stimulation, for designer drugs are more widely available with every passing year.
Blessed are the ruthless, because no one will get in their way.
Blessed are the cold of heart, for they won’t get hurt when relationships break down.
Blessed are those who are involved in the arms trade, for theirs are the best deals in developing nations.
Blessed are the directors of privatised utilities, for theirs are the fat cat bonuses.

(created by Spring Harvest guests, 1997, compiled by Rob Warner)

That was a set of beatitudes for our times, a set of beatitudes which are the complete reverse of those which Jesus gave us. Wealth replacing poverty, partying replacing mourning, assertion replacing meekness. That is the way of the world. That is the way we are told to live today. It is the way of selfishness not the way of saintliness and Jesus calls us to something different. He calls to live as saints.Jesus’ radical heartbeat can be sensed in every word of the Sermon on the Mount. The core of the sermon is a call for God’s people to be entirely different. One writer identifies the key text of the sermon to be Matthew 6: 8, “Do not be like them.” Like lights set on stands (Matthew 5:14), like flavourful salt (Matthew 5:13) or like saints, the children of God are not to take their cue from the people around them but from God, and to be known by their radical lifestyle.

Some of the greatest examples of the call to be different are found in the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes give us a sense of the radical kingdom lifestyle that Jesus calls us to. It is as if Jesus has crept into the window display of life and changed the price tags. It is all upside down. In a world where ‘success’ and ‘self-sufficiency’ are applauded, and ‘the beautiful people’ are ambitious, accomplished and wealthy, Jesus teaches: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Our culture encourages us to discard guilt and the sorrow that accompanies pangs of conscience. Happiness is everything, entertainment is king but Jesus teaches: “Blessed are those who mourn.” In our competitive world, self-help seminars teach assertiveness and power is to be sought and used but Jesus teaches “Blessed are the meek.”

Donald Kraybill writing about this upside down kingdom says: “Jesus startles us … good guys turn out to be bad guys. Those we expect to receive the reward get a spanking instead. Those who think they are headed for heaven land in hell. Paradox, irony and surprise permeate the teachings of Jesus. They flip our expectations upside down. The least are the greatest. The immoral receive forgiveness and blessing. Adults become like children. The religious miss the heavenly banquet. The pious receive curses. Things aren’t like we think they should be. We’re baffled and perplexed. Amazed we step back. Should we laugh or should we cry? Again and again, turning our world upside down, the kingdom surprises us.”

The difference that Jesus highlights, David Oliver and Howard Snyder argue, is between Church people and Kingdom people. Kingdom people seek first the kingdom of God and its justice. Church people often put church work above work, above concerns of justice, mercy and truth. In the church business people are concerned with church activities, religious behaviour and spiritual things. In the kingdom business, people are concerned with kingdom activities, all human behaviour and everything which God has made, visible and invisible. Church people don’t usually like parties, alcohol or bad people. The King of the kingdom liked all three. When Christians put the church ahead of the kingdom, they settle for meetings and spend increasing amounts of time with the same people. When they catch a vision of the kingdom of God, their sight shifts to the poor, the orphan, the widow, the refugee, the wretched of the earth, and to God’s people. They also see with real insight and fresh vision the stressed, the fearful, the hopeless at work and both their heart and time reach out. If the church has one great need, it is this – to be set free, for the kingdom of God, to be set free to become relevant exactly as God intended.

We are called to be kingdom people, called to be saints who act out the upside-down values of the kingdom in all of our life and work. God calls us to turn our backs on the kingdoms of this world and simply maintaining the churches and piety of this world and to embrace an upside-down home. How will we respond?


Jon Foreman - All Of God's Children.

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