Swimming upstream

There are some very talented – or at least some very lucky – photographers around.
Every now and then in the taking of a photo, a photographer captures something specialSomething that makes you stop – because it is ‘right’, but it doesn’t feel ‘right’
Sometimes it is because of the wonders of nature (try this page)
And sometimes it is because of some quick thinking and clever placement (try this one)

Think of the beatitudes sort of like that – they are right, but they don’t feel right.

They are Jesus’ snapshot photo of the movement of God –
or as Matthew calls it, the “Kingdom of Heaven”.
This is the way that things are with God
They may not be the way that you expect to see the world, but it is accurate anyway

As we noted last week, Matthew’s gospel sets up the whole expectation
That gospel living, or being a disciple of Jesus,
is not just about about knowledge or learning, but also about action
And it is not just about knowledge and action, but also about our whole orientation on life

The introduction to the sermon on the mount tries to capture this.
(By the way, it is good to remember that
the Sermon on the mount is a bit of a literary creation by Matthew.
Don’t think about this sermon actually having occurred like this.
It is a collection of Jesus teachings, and put together by Matthew)

And these introductory statements, these things we call the “beatitudes”
are to try and get our orientation shifted.

What can you tell me about this picture
What can you tell me about the fish?

GK Chesterton  once said that
A dead fish goes with the stream. Only a living thing can go against it.

Jesus’ basic message as he starts his ministry is
“Turn around – Change!.   The way of God is here”
The beatitudes aren’t so much a series of practical tips about what to do
but part of the whole sense of turning around and seeing life differently

These are getting the listeners to re-think about what living as a disciple means
It’s hard to capture the sense of what their meaning is when we say “blessed”
Mostly, people use the word “blessed” these days in a pretty cheesy sort of way
“I am feeling blessed – I was going to Civic the other day and got a car park” or
“I am feeling blessed – I was watching the news of all these starving children
and I realised I had a huge dinner waiting for me”

The “blessings” in Matthew 5 were spoken in a society
that placed an enormous emphasis on “honour” and “shame”

Some excellent biblical scholars invite us to think about these statements in that context:
You – poor in spirit – you hold the place of honour in the movement of God
You  who are mourning – you hold the place of honour in the movement of God.
You – the meek – you hold a place of honour in the movement of God.

Let me take you in a little bit of detail into the feel of one of these statements of honour.

What does the place of honour look like so far in Matthew’s story of Jesus?
There is the mother of Jesus, who has been “blessed”  by becoming
an unwed teenage mother in a society which relies on family and respect
And this mother faces the likelihood of public disgrace and abandonment

The child, born and said to become the king of the Jews
is presented with gifts from wise (& somewhat mysterious) people from foreign lands
and then is chased down to be killed by the current King, and forced to flee for his life.

And when the massacre by Herod happens, the story of this “honoured” child
is connected with the sound of Rachel weeping for her children.

“A voice is heard in Ramah – weeping and great mourning:
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted.  For they are no more”

Back in Genesis, Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin,
and is buried on the road to Bethlehem
In Jeremiah, Rachel is said to be weeping in her grave
as she watches the children of the tribe of Benjamin are taken into captivity.

You who mourn – you hold the place of honour in the movement of God
for you will be comforted.

But let’s look just one more bit to invite us into the depth of this turn-around.

The Greek word “to be comforted” is also used in legal settings and means
to be called as witnesses

You who mourn – you hold the place of honour in the movement of God
for you will be called as witnesses.

Your voice will be heard, not simply as those who mourn an injustice
but as a voice which is the evidence of the justice being made right

These statements,
these introductions to how we live as we turn around and swim upstream
are fundamentally about the fact that things will be changing.

There is a twist, a hardness in these opening statements.
They turn our expectations around.
Maybe today they invite us to turn around the traditional softness of the picture
of the arm around the shoulder we may associate with them

This is hard work that we are invited to as we live as disciples of Jesus.
Get ready, because we are about to swim upstream

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