Sunday, 12 July 2009

Be - attitude

The Beatitudes
Gospel of Matthew

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The Beatitudes are one of the most well known of Jesus’ teachings. They are prayerful and poetic. But in many ways they are like reading a poem written in another language – they sound lovely – but they don’t make sense.

We can see the importance of being peacemakers, merciful and pure in heart – even though we may struggle to do it –but how do we choose to live a life where we delight, and that’s what Blessed means, in being poor, meek, or persecuted?

And that is what Jesus is asking us to do – not just to accept it – not to ‘offer it up’ –
not to try to move beyond it - but to live it and, more importantly, find joy in it.
We are so settled in our Christianity these days, we have our buildings and our ceremonies - we are part of the establishment.

In a recent census, people declared that they were Christian simply because they lived in Britain. Christian values have become embedded; indeed have guided the development of our civilised society and it’s rules. We are part of the system.

We are not meant to be.

Jesus is not a particularly good Jew; he doesn’t follow the 100’s of precepts; he doesn’t go to Temple; he doesn’t observe the Sabbath; he questions authority; he doesn’t accept the system, he doesn’t know his place –

today we would probably think he wasn’t a particularly good Christian – because we make exactly the same judgements as they did. We would be just as horrified at the people that he hangs around with – maybe alright to ‘work’ with them in ministry – but to be their friend; to love them?

The people who were drawn to Jesus had come from the outskirts of society, the unclean and the outcast. This was a new world for them; a world of healing, reconciliation and acceptance that didn’t judge them and didn’t ask for anything in return. They were experiencing this new world which Jesus describes as the Kingdom of God. A Kingdom that doesn’t follow the world’s rules; because the world’s rules are about protecting the status quo. Jesus teaches a Kingdom that was to be spread throughout the world and these outcasts were the ones to do it.

But how? Their new world was created by Jesus; as in today’s Gospel they were probably content to rely on Jesus and each other. They could circle the wagons and be safe in community. As we so often do.

After all, what could they do? They had no ‘special powers’ where was their responsibility to make a difference; where would they begin? As we so often think.

Jesus wants them to be like him.
As the Father sent me, so I am sending you – pass it on.
As the Father loves me, so I love you – pass it on.
As the Father finds joy in me, so I find joy in you – pass it on.
Don’t expect the Law to help you, it will only drag you back.
Take what you know and turn it on it’s head.
Like new wines in new skins – new ideals for a new vision.
Because the Kingdom isn’t in another place – it’s in another frame of mind, another attitude, another change of heart that sees beauty – everywhere.

But you can’t change people – you can only change yourself; and so, the Beatitudes –a new way of seeing that nurtures that change, towards embracing a life that is lived, in joy, for others.

Jesus begins very much at the beginning, we immediately rail at the idea that we may be poor in spirit – we church-goers, we pray-ers – and there’s the first barrier – our seeming control over God, keeping him in his place, in church, answering prayers. Poverty of spirit says that we have to have humility. Our spirit should not strong – it is God in us that has strength. We have to know and accept that we are nothing without Him. Like Step One of any of the Twelve Step recovery programmes - we can only begin by letting go of what has gone before and giving our lives over to be guided by God’s love.

By meekly committing ourselves passionately, compassionately to God’s plan for the world, without the desire to possess or exploit the earth or the people in it, we begin to act as shepherds, as brothers and sisters with Christ in his mission.

To mourn for ourselves is natural. Yet to be able to feel sorrow and empathy for the sadness, injustice, and deprivation of others will bring about the desire for a better world. To mourn the very existence of sin in the world gives us the courage to reject the idea of the status quo – that there is nothing we can do.

In rejecting the status quo, we are encouraged to take the next step – to seek out what is just.
To become aware of the needs of the world and to have the impetus to ‘do something about it’. We can change the world, every day; we take our faith and act on it through who we are and what we do; no matter how big, no matter how seemingly insignificant. We may never know what a difference we have made.

The desire for revenge and retribution is understandable; yet we are reminded in the story of the Woman caught in adultery; ‘who is without sin?

The ability to forgive; even when we may feel it is not deserved, reminds us to follow Jesus’ example. He never sat in judgement – forgiveness and healing was often not even asked for – thanks was not expected - he simply saw what was needed and did it. By forgiving others, more than almost anything else, we know them as our neighbour.

As we forgive, we become open-hearted to the needs of others. When we are able to act directly from the desire to do good, without having a ulterior motive or an agenda of our own, it is God’s love present in the world. We see God in our own actions.

We all wish for peace, to live a peaceful life. The difference comes when it is not a self-centred personal wish for ourselves and our family but when we are filled with the desire to seek reconciliation for and between others.
How can we rest when others suffer?

In living out the teaching of the Beatitudes we will constantly challenge the preconceptions of a world that values ambition, individuality and personal gain. It will not be an easy life to live – what of value is ever easy?

We can expect to have our belief and our way of life mocked and rejected by many. The final Beatitude moves us back to the beginning where our spiritual integrity is tied to our ‘worldly’ weakness and poverty. When we try to defend ourselves we put up the barriers again - so back to Step One where only God is in charge.

The teaching of Jesus is radical; challenging, a sending;

Go and proclaim
Go and show
Go and tell

Go and do
Go and live for each other.


Travelling Light

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.

Mark 6:8

‘take nothing for the journey’

On the road again

Christianity is made up of journeys. There is very little opportunity to ever sit still (which is why we need some meditation and reflection time now and again). If we are not journeying in our hearts and minds, then it is a physical , practical journey that calls us to go out and make a difference.

Jesus has been preparing the apostles hearts and minds, he has been showing them the other Way, the alternative to the life they understand. And they have been living it, gathered from the outskirts, seeing others welcomed from even further away; outcasts and foreigners. Jesus’ Way is open house – all are welcome.

But Jesus has the restrictions of his humanity to deal with – he cannot be everywhere. So he sends the apostles and does spend time preparing them. But how is this preparing them?

Palestine is not a safe place to live. The land itself can be unforgiving; it is an occupied country; there is division between the people themselves – even being from the next village can make you a stranger. To be prepared means travelling in groups, finding animals and guides; sending word ahead; having provisions and alternatives; having a map.

Jesus says:
No, go as you are. Travelling in groups will make you seem a threat, will give you security. Having provisions means you will not ask for help; so how can people offer theirs? Being self-sufficient how will you understand the needs of others; appreciate the hospitality of strangers. Knowing where you are, where you are going, means that you will not notice the lesser path, the person in need, and the place you should be. Having these things will make others resent you and may make you judge them.

In taking nothing, you will take everything I and my Father have given you. In taking nothing you will know that all you need is me. In taking nothing all you can give is me. Your journey, your mission, is to take me, my Father and the Spirit out into the world. Take nothing else.

The road awaits

I do wonder about the modern day view of Christianity. We are very much a ‘part of society’. So much so that there are people who consider them Christians, just because they live in Britain.

The rules we are meant to live by in the secular world are very like the rules we are meant to live by in faith. They are not perfect, even when we manage to keep them, but they are different to the rules that used to exist. There is a sense of democracy, of human rights, of a need for social responsibility that calls out even now in a culture that seems self-centred and capitalistic. Those voices still appear, challenging the status quo, wanting a world that is better.

These voices, our voices, cannot come from a sense of comfort and satisfaction. The have to come from the awareness that we are all worthy of being all we can be. And not only that we are all responsible to helping each other to achieve the best we can be.

This is Jesus’ voice speaking to us, challenging us not to settle for anything less; not to wrap ourselves in security; not to be complacent because we are alright – in our family – in our parish – in our community.

Take time to find a quietness and a place to listen. Where does Jesus want you? Who does he want you to reach? What does he want you to say? And, at the same time, give him your doubts, your uncertainties, your lack of confidence. Let Jesus prepare you as he prepared the apostles.

For when he sends you out with nothing – it is because that is all you need.

Closing Prayer

May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.

wordinthehand 2009

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Thinking Skills

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.I am listening.

Isaiah 55:55

‘I don’t think the way you think’

How do I think?

I think if I was God then I know what I would do – and it wouldn’t be what God does.

I would be like one of those beauty pageant queens who wishes for world peace, an end to starvation and suffering, a reversal in global warming.

I think I would make it so that everyone would love each other, greed would vanish, there would be no illness, sadness or suffering. Even natural disasters would not happen – the earth would be quiet and content.

I think that I would make sure that there was real justice – that only bad things happened to bad people. And if I am being really magnanimous – that there would be no bad people. Everyone would have enough, everyone would have what they needed.

At first it sounds idyllic, but on second thoughts where does this thinking take us as people? This may be a vision of the ideal – but is it your ideal? Perhaps, you think a different way?

On second thoughts it seems like one of those science fiction stories, the Stepford Wives, the Matrix, where the need to challenge, to survive, to find our potential is no longer needed or wanted.

We may all love each other in this perfect world– but where would be the love borne of adversity, the love of a parent for a disabled child; the love of a husband for his infirm wife; the love of a stranger for a starving child?

Where would be the strength and determination to make a ‘better world’; where would be the curiosity and creativity borne out of the desire to do more and be more. Where would be the wonder of creation in a quiet sea or still blue sky. Where would be the diversity borne of necessity?

My answers to the great questions are so naïve that they are simply childlike.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the communities who so often live in love and harmony find their homes amongst the most challenging of the earth’s landscapes. Our minds, hearts and souls cannot be still until they are still in God.

Because this is not Heaven, this is the world that we chose to live in, and to live in it to the best of our ability is all we can do – and leave the thinking to God.

Out-thinking God?

Admit it – that it’s a thing you do, we all do.
Why does God do, allow, not stop this or that?

‘ If I was God ……’

But it is not even that we don’t see the big picture – we don’t really see the picture at all. At best we see the bit around us and that’s from our point of view. like those ground squirrels who pop their heads up out of their own burrow imagining that the whole world is like the view before them. Trying to step outside that box is so hard. Putting on other people’s shoes and walking in them, harder.

Empathy – probably one of the hardest emotions to have – especially in today’s world.

And even then –

We don’t, won’t, can’t know the extent of all the what’s and why’s no matter how good we think we are at multi-tasking.

That’s why God is God.

People who don’t believe often use the’ well, if He exists then why doesn’t he…?’ Just like Thomas in the Gospel this week.

Sometimes the picture is just too big, the answer too beyond us and maybe God knows that all He can do is say

‘I don’t think like you think..’

Closing Prayer

May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.Amen