Sunday 8 November 2015 at Soulbury
Reading: Micah 4:1-5
4 In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and peoples will stream to it.
2 Many nations will come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.’
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
3 He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into ploughshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war any more.
4 Everyone will sit under their own vine
and under their own fig-tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the Lord Almighty has spoken.
5 All the nations may walk
in the name of their gods,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord
our God forever and ever.
Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:50-end.
50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
55 ‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.
Gospel Matthew 5: 1—15
5 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.
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.
13 ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 ‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
When Jesus climbed a mountain, and sat down to teach his disciples, we are reminded of another teacher and another mountain in the Old Testament — Moses and Mount Sinai.
Soon enough, Jesus will give instruction in righteous. He will instruct us how, as Christian people we are to act. But that’s not the way Jesus’ sermon begins.
There is a long list. It looks like a series of dos and don’ts — and that’s how many people make it sound. “Be peacemakers” they say, and you will be called children of God. “Be merciful” they say, and you will be shown mercy by others. “Be meek” and you will inherit the earth.
Look more closely at what is written, and you will see a different kind of list. Jesus is not laying down the law. The list is not a series of commands, but statements about the way things are.
So, Jesus is not saying we should all be the kind of people who spend our lives taking up causes, and dedicate our time to seeing justice done. For some of us that may be true, but what he IS saying is that if we do so, we are blessed by God. Which means God looks on us with favour.
This explains why some of the attributes in the list seem so undesirable. What’s so good about mourning, you say? Surely a life of constant sadness can have little merit? Perhaps so, but Jesus is not saying that is the way things should be. What he IS saying is that God will in the end bless us, and look on us with favour, if they are.
It follows that Jesus is mainly talking about the future, and not necessarily describing a present reality. Being poor in spirit is not something all of us enjoy, but if we are for the moment poor in spirit, ours is the Kingdom of Heaven.
The main reason for picking this gospel reading for Remembrance Sunday is, of course, the reference to peacemakers, persecution, mercy, mourning and so on. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which this passage starts, there is a lot of teaching which is very relevant to today. When we are persecuted, insulted, and lied about, we know that this situation will not last forever, but our reward will be even greater in heaven.
This attitude, and this way of living, marks us out as different from the majority of people, and at odds with most people’s ambitions. In the world as we know it, being meek does not secure you the best job. Being poor in spirit is not admired. Being pure will not win friends and influence people. But especially today, being a peacemaker brings us closest to God. For being a peacemaker makes us inheritors of the Kingdom — nothing less than being regarded by God as his children.
All these things mark us out as at odds with the way the world often is. That’s why Jesus likens Christians as the salt of the earth. Salt was valuable in Roman times. Soldiers were paid partly in salt — that’s where the word ‘salary’ comes from. But if we lose our distinction — if we are no longer salty — what good are we, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot?
We are the light of the world, shining out in the darkness. However strong or dim our light is, it dispels darkness. They say, in absolute darkness, a candle can be seen 11 miles away. But the light must be visible to be seen. What good is the light if we hide it under a bushel?
So, on this Remembrance Sunday, when we celebrate the lives of those who have and still are suffering as a result of conflict, we can still accept that there is another way, that war and conflict are not to be celebrated or glorified, and that the peacemakers are blessed by God, and looked on with his especial favour. Amen.