Given by Jeff at Gordon Chapel at Evensong on 11 Feb 18.
SERMON FOR EVENSONG AT GORDON CHAPEL ON 11 FEB 18
May God give us a greater understanding of His Holy Word. +
Are you a victim or a victimiser? Lets look at two great teaching moments in Luke’s Gospel and how they can help us break out of the cycle, where our choice is to be a victim or a victimiser.
The first teaching moment is on the cross. There Jesus hangs – but he doesn’t curse those who put him there, instead he speaks of forgiveness, mercy and hope. He says – “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.” Then to a fellow prisoner. “ today you will be with me in Paradise.” Finally, he sums up his entire life. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
What’s our place in this picture? Then, as now, it’s we who put him there – we’re victimisers of Jesus, and we are victimisers of each other in many ways. But we too are often victims – of violence, race, gender, age, economic or social position and many other things. Victims often have neither power, position or wealth – they need someone to be there for them!
The next teaching moment is in tonight’s reading from Luke – the Sermon on the Plain. Here Jesus gives a series of blessings followed by a list of woes. Note – he doesn’t tell anyone to do anything. Instead, he describes how things are. And how things are, according to Jesus, is the upside-down version of how we usually regard them.
So, who’s got it bad? Who’s got it good? Who’s got joy or sorrow ahead. We tend to think the ones who have it bad are the poor, the have-nots, the underdogs- and those who have it good are the rich, powerful and respectable.
When Jesus started teaching that crowd, it must have sounded as strange to them as it does to us. Blessed are the poor. What could be a blessing about being poor? Mae West famously said, “I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich. Believe me, rich is better.”
Now – I don’t believe that Jesus condemns being rich and powerful as such, but he does make the point in scripture that it’s what we do with it that counts – it mustn’t come between us and God – ‘where your heart is’ was how Jesus put it. Remember he told the rich young man to give up ‘all that he had’ and follow Him. I’ve read that Billy Graham said “when St Peter meets you at the pearly gates he will ask to inspect your bank statements”.
So, Jesus looks at rich and poor and turns things on their head. He looks at those around him on that plain, disciples, strangers, Jews and Gentiles, and says to them, and to us: Blessed are you if you are this way, but woe to you if you are that way.
This teaching moment contrasts with the other one. At the cross, Jesus is the victim and we are victimisers. Here and now we may be victimisers and victims. So these blessings and woes are aimed at us.
In Jesus time and today, the conventional perspective distinguishes clearly between winners and losers, and history is recorded by the winners. But with the spread of the Gospel, the world slowly starts to change. Now we also hear from the poor and struggling as well as the rich and comfortable. The cross of Jesus turns the world upside down.
But a question remains, an example of how choice can be used rightly or not. The moral privilege and power that now belongs to the victim, can be used for personal or political advantage, or it can be put to a far greater purpose. The use of power and privilege for personal or political advantage is hardly surprising, since acting for oneself or one’s group alone, is the most common pattern of human behavior. Such action may be necessary, even commendable, to redress past wrongs and to restore the balance of justice. But it should come as no surprise then, if victims of one kind, produce victims of another kind.
The Gospel – the Good News – points to an alternative – a different way.
It’s possible for victims to turn their suffering into a promise of resurrection, and into a triumph that doesn’t separate losers from winners, but lifts everyone to a higher and better place. Perhaps a key to this, an equalizer for rich and poor is to paraphrase Christ telling us “…as often as you did it to one of the least of my brothers or sisters, you did it to me.”
Victimisation brings with it power, but also the opportunity, to bring it to a halt through suffering that is redemptive. For example Stephen, the first Christian martyr experienced this. Whilst being stoned, he saw a vision of Jesus, and like Jesus, prayed that his persecutors would be forgiven. His witness helped to turn the heart of Saul who became Paul.
Take Gandhi – though never baptized, he knew the Gospel better than many Christians. His campaign of non-violent love set India free from foreign domination and set free many hearts: Hindu and Muslim and Christian. Martin Luther King experienced this too. His goal was to free all victims of racism, black or white. In the suffering of African Americans, he recognized power and dared to demand that this power redeem the nation.
The Gospel enables us to recognize ourselves as both victimizers and victims. We can see in the resurrection of Jesus the power that belongs to the victim – and his call that the old cycle should not continue.
As Christians do you believe that the only true and lasting source of happiness is to live within the ocean of God’s love and grace? If you take a Goldfish out of water and sing to it, will it be happy (well, not if you sing like me!) –no – put it back in the water and all will be well .
It’s the same with us. We might say God’s cruel making us in such a way that we’ll only be happy in him, but he isn’t. God loves you even if you have not yet discovered that, he believes in you even if you don’t yet believe in him.
When we seek Jesus, it isn’t complicated like algebra with its x=y+Z etc. There is only one X – that’s the cross – and there he is – the cross that is embedded in our hearts and minds.
God appears to be prejudiced for the poor and downtrodden – why them in particular? Because that’s where God’s heart is, and these are the ones with whom Jesus identifies. They have nowhere else to turn.
Our work, our mission, our ministry – is to welcome those who cannot give anything in return – because that’s the work of God. It may not be a great strategy for church growth. Not the way you become popular and successful. But Paul preached it constantly, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, no strings attached, all are welcome”.
There is always the temptation of envy, greed and gain. The early church struggled to live out Jesus’ challenge to deliberately welcome those who bring nothing. It caused discussion and disagreement over whether and how and how much. In the 4th century John Chrysostom said, “ “Only Christians have a true sense of values; their joys and sorrows are not the same as other peoples.”
If we are to obey Christ then we, personally, are responsible for bringing about material justice and peace. It isn’t easy and it will provoke resistance – we can expect persecution, rejection, criticism and opposition, perhaps that’s a sign we are on the right road. But – will we be blessed?
I met a friend in The Quaich Coffee Shop and asked how she was. She replied, “I’m blessed, thank you!”. Of course, it wasn’t the time or the place for a theological discussion, but I wanted to ask, “ what do you mean by that?”
So, what does it mean to be blessed? The way we commonly use the word, to be blessed is to enjoy the pleasures of life and avoid the pain. Blessings refer to things that enrich our lives and make them more enjoyable. And, if that’s what it means to be blessed, then to be cursed is just the opposite. It means to have a run of bad luck, some misfortune, or for things not to go your way.
But sometimes what appears to be a blessing turns out to be a curse. You get a big promotion at work, but your job’s stressful and time-consuming, it takes you away from your family. You get a bigger house only to be weighed down by a mortgage you can’t afford.
The opposite is also true – a curse may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Someone loses a job, feels cursed but eventually gets a better one. My first wife divorced me – a difficult time and I felt cursed. But later I met Lynne – my curse turned into a blessing, for she’s the love of my life and my best friend, – a double blessing really for it brought me to Fochabers – and to you – oh – perhaps you don’t regard that as a blessingJ
It happens all the time: We experience the pain of disappointment and loss, only to discover a deeper level of peace, and a new opportunity for growth and self-fulfillment. It’s an old story. Remember Joseph and the coat of many colors? Bad things happened to him but each time the tables were turned and good things came out of it. No one knew this better than Paul, who experienced criticism and rejection everywhere he went. Yet, instead of despair, Paul found hope.
As Christians, we’re as vulnerable as anyone else to the realities of pain and suffering, disappointment and loss – we’re not promised an easy life. But the Good News is that God can take our good fortune and magnify it beyond all expectation.
At the same time, God can take the tragedies of our lives and turn them into blessings. The Grace of God means that despite our mistakes and choices he still loves us and wants the best for us. And that Grace means not only are victims blessed, but they have the authority to bless others, and be a blessing to them.
So what next – here’s what I’d like you to take home with you tonight: Make a list of your blessings. And the next time someone asks, “How are you?” – be different – smile and say, “I’m blessed, thank you!” But be ready to say why! Amen
Let us pray.
The organist plays the song ‘Count your Blessings one by one’ as the prayer candles are set up.
CANDLE PRAYERS LINKING READINGS & SERMON
These unlit candles represent the world in which we live and work – it can be a cold, hard, lonely place, especially for those who are outside the normal community. Let us light the candles and melt the wax that represents all that separates us from God and from our neighbour.
We light the 1st Candle – it represents the poor and oppressed and those in need. May this be a light for them and a guide for us in our care for them.
We light the 2nd Candle – it represents those who are rich, powerful, perhaps blinkerd May this light remind them that they too need to hear the Word of God – and act upon it.
We light the 3rd Candle – it represents Jesus as he spoke to the poor and the rich in the Sermon on the Plain. May this light remind everyone, that those blessings and woes, may call us to look at life differently – and to change our ways.
We light the 4th Candle – it represents us as individuals and as The Church, as we try to live a life pleasing to God, to be servants to all, as we seek to serve Him.
We light the 5th Candle – it represents God, whose light and warmth enfolds us in love and in Grace. The God who asks ‘who shall I send’ and to whom we reply, “Lord send me”.
May the light of these candles guide us and those we serve, Amen