Reflection – 13 September 2020


Here’s my reflection for Sunday 13 September.

The online worship session will start at 11.00. I will be leading worship this week .

If you want to join in just email me – newarkcongregational@virginmedia.com – for details. We’d love to see you.

Mark Taylor

Sunday 13 September 2020 – A Reflection

Our call to worship – part of Psalm 147

Sing hymns of praise to the Lord;
    play music on the harp to our God.
He spreads clouds over the sky;
    he provides rain for the earth
    and makes grass grow on the hills.
He gives animals their food
    and feeds the young ravens when they call.

His pleasure is not in strong horses,
    nor his delight in brave soldiers;
but he takes pleasure in those who honour him,
    in those who trust in his constant love.

Let us pray

Happy are we

when our treasures cannot be quantified.

Happy are we

when our knowledge is tempered by mystery.

Happy are we

when our pain is held in the balm of love.

Happy are we

when our delight comes from beyond ourselves.

.

Amen

The Lord’s Prayer

We started a new running theme last week. For the next 3 months we are going to try and systematically go through the Sermon on the mount to see what we can learn from it.

Now when people think about the Sermon on the Mount they often think about the very first section – the bit with all the Blessed are the… bits.

This bit

Only watch the first 33 seconds.

Do any of you recognise the film that clip was from?

It’s from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Now when that film was released there was a lot of controversy. People called it blasphemous. Now I’m not much of one for laws of blasphemy. I’m not saying I’m in favour of blasphemy of course – but I think that in a grown-up world we didn’t ought to be hiding behind the law to protect our faith. It’s not a very big step from protecting religious sensibilities by blasphemy laws to stifling public debate and punishing people who don’t share your views.

Whatever you think of that though I don’t think the film was blasphemous. It was certainly very funny and I’m very much in favour of funny.

But as this clip shows, and I think this is the only clip where the figure of Jesus is shown, Jesus is treated respectfully, his words are transmitted accurately and if you watch a little further the character of Brian (who gets mistaken for the Messiah in the film) is clearly listening to Jesus very carefully.

Be that as it may the Sermon on the Mount is actually about much more than the Blessed are section – the beatitudes as it’s commonly known, from the Latin for blessed. The whole sermon covers 3 chapters of Matthew’s Gospel.

Having said all that – it’s the beatitudes we are going to be talking about over the next 2 weeks –  I’ll do the first half and then Martin will finish them off next week. And then we’ll move on to the rest of the Sermon on the Mount until right at the end of November. By which time it will be nearly Christmas and we’ll remind you that it’s time to get the sprouts on.

The reason why we are looking at this in such depth? Well Martin and I strongly agree that what we all need to base our faith around, what we need to model our way of being church around, is the figure of Jesus. And what he had to say must be a very important part of that.

We’ll have our Bible readings now. The first one from Isaiah, and then just the first 6 verses of the Sermon on the Mount.

Reading – Isaiah 61:1-4

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations

Reading Matthew 5:1-6

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Let’s have a break here for a hymn – Fill you hearts with joy and gladness. Words by Tim Dudley-Smith. Music by Ludwig Van Beethoven. The most beautiful tune ever written in my opinion.

Fill your hearts with joy and gladness,

            sing and praise your God and mine!

Great the Lord in love and wisdom,

            might and majesty divine!

He who framed the starry heavens

            knows and names them as they shine!

Fill your hearts with joy and gladness,

            sing and praise your God and mine!

Praise the Lord, his people, praise him!

            Wounded souls his comfort know;

those who fear him find his mercies,

            peace for pain and joy for woe;

humble hearts are high exalted,

            human pride and power laid low.

Praise the Lord, his people, praise him!

            Wounded souls his comfort know.

Praise the Lord for times and seasons,

            cloud and sunshine, wind and rain;

spring to melt the snows of winter

            till the waters flow again;

grass upon the mountain pastures,

            golden valleys thick with grain.

Praise the Lord for times and seasons,

            cloud and sunshine, wind and rain.

Fill your hearts with joy and gladness,

            peace and plenty crown your days;

love his laws, declare his judgments,

            walk in all his words and ways;

he the Lord and we his children:

            praise the Lord, all people, praise!

Fill your hearts with joy and gladness,

            peace and plenty crown your days.

Talk

Every morning I get an email that pops into my inbox.

It’s from an organisation called Christian Art and it comprises three things.

  • A picture of an art work – it might be a painting or a drawing or a sculpture.
  • A bible passage
  • A few words of commentary linking the art to the Bible

Now on the very morning I sat down to write what I was going to say today this picture popped up. It’s a drawing of two hands by M. C. Escher from 1948.

Can you see that each hand is drawing the other.

The really interesting thing is though that the text that accompanied it was from Luke’s version of the Beatitudes.

I’ll probably come back to what the picture might teach us later – but I thought it was worth mentioning the co-incidence of what happened. Just chance – or something else – you can make your minds up.

 But first I’m going to go back briefly to the passage from Isaiah. Some of you will recognise the importance of this text in Jesus’ preaching ministry. In Luke’s gospel it tis this passage of scripture that Jesus reads from the scroll in the synagogue in Nazareth and then says ‘This passage has come true today as you heard it being read.’ Talk about blasphemous – here’s Joseph the carpenter’s son that everyone knows from the village basically claiming that he’s the Messiah. The crowd end up dragging Jesus off with the intention of throwing him off a cliff. 

And of course the Isaiah passage has a number of echoes with the Matthew passage with it’s message of good news for those who are oppressed and those who mourn.

Let’s turn to the Beatitudes now though for a few minutes.

The first thing to mention is that the translation I’ve chosen to have read this morning is not the Good News one. There’s a reason for that – which is that in Good News version it’s translated at ‘happy’ rather than ‘blessed’. And they’re not necessarily the same thing. If you’re mourning and grieving, if you’re poor in spirit you might very well be downright miserable – not happy at all. But you can still be blessed – you can still have the comfort of God’s blessings around you even though you might not feel like you have at the time.

Let’s turn now to look at these 4 categories of people that Jesus says are blessed in this morning’s passage.

The first thing that strikes me is that they are all attitudes of the people. Human feelings and behaviours.  Not one of them is anything to do with a belief. Jesus isn’t saying here you need to believe this that or the other about me or about God to be blessed. You need to behave in a certain way – that’s what matters.

Another thing is that each of the four clauses is in two parts: there’s a description of what the people who are blessed are like and then there’s an explanation of what the form the blessing takes. And all the blessings relate to something that will happen, not something that is already happening – so they are meek – but they will inherit the earth, they do mourn, but they will be comforted. The blessings are in the here and now, but the fruits of the blessings might not happen until later on – Jesus isn’t saying all these times of difficulty and challenge will go away immediately. You might not currently feel like you’re blessed – but you are anyway.

A few things now about the individual clauses.

Poor in spirit doesn’t just mean lacking wealth (although I think that’s included), but can also mean people who feel oppressed and burdened by their lot. What they are promised is ‘the kingdom of heaven’. Now it’s important to realise that Matthew uses ‘the Kingdom of heaven’ when elsewhere in the gospels it says ‘the kingdom of God.’ Matthew wrote his gospel for the Jews – and the Jews don’t like using the word for God so Matthew uses heaven instead. So the ‘kingdom of heaven’ doesn’t mean – you’re going to have to wait until you’re dead before things get better – the kingdom of God that Jesus talks about is what we should be looking to deliver on earth.

Those who mourn doesn’t necessarily mean just those who are bereaved. You can mourn because you are oppressed. You can mourn because of your own shortcomings.

Being meek doesn’t just mean so shy that you wouldn’t say boo to a goose (a bit like me) meekness is really the opposite of being self-centred – putting your own interests after someone else’s.

And finally we get to righteousness. Jesus really chooses some strong words here. He doesn’t just say ‘Blessed are those who want righteousness’. He says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” If you hunger and thirst for righteousness then it’s more than just thinking that on balance it might be quite nice – it means that the lack of righteousness is causing you physical hurt. If you’re hungry, if you’re thirsty you need something to happen or you’ll continue to be hungry, thirsty and unfulfilled. That’s what we need to feel about righteousness – personally distressed whenever we come across unrighteousness or injustice. And there’s lots of that about.

I said I’d come back to the drawing

What might this drawing have to say to us about today’s text?

Well of course it’s challenging us to think about something impossible. Which hand is drawing which?

And in Jesus’s Beatitudes the same thing is happening. Jesus is also challenging our perception of the world. The things people thought of as normal need to be seen differently. Jesus is saying that it’s not the rich, the self-assured, the self-seeking or the powerful that are blessed but the poor and the oppressed and those that can see the injustices in the world and want things to be different.

And perhaps one of the hands is ours, and the other hand is Jesus’s. And we’re both drawing each other. What we do is feeding into what Jesus wants and  what Jesus is telling us is supporting us in our trials in the world as it really is and helping us to become better people for the kingdom.

Maybe you can think of other things that the drawing means to you. If you do why not let me know and I’ll share them.

.

Time for Prayer

Intercessions

God, bless those who are in poor spirit,
who feel empty inside and who dread the day.

God, bless those who mourn and grieve,
who ache with loss for someone so much loved.

God, bless the people who are meek,
who do not grasp or shout or demand to be first in the queue.

God, bless the people who are hungry for justice
and who cannot wait for everyone to have their rights.

God, bless all who are merciful,
who have learned to forgive even those who hurt them hard.

God, bless all who are pure in heart,
in whom there is no vengefulness, but only love.

God, bless the peacemakers,
the ones who, by their words and deeds, can change the world.

God, bless the persecuted ones,
and keep them safe from those who would hurt them.

God, so rich in blessings for your children,
we rejoice in your promises and in your boundless and transforming grace.
Amen.

This final song is by Matt Redman, one of the most popular Christian song writers at the moment. You might be able to work out what it’s called.

Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name

Every blessing You pour out, I’ll
Turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out I’ll
Turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name, oh

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

God you give and take away
Oh you give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name, oh

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name

You give and take away
God give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

God you give and take away
Oh you give and take away
But my heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

Oh you give and take away
God give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name, oh

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name

Finally we will close by saying the grace:

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

and the love of God

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit

be with us all

evermore.

Amen

If anyone has any questions or comments about the above,or would like to talk to me about it don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Mark Taylor

07954 172823

newarkcongregational@virginmedia.com

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