SUNDAY REFLECTIONS

The Reverend Richard Terrell is a retired Priest
who remains in active Ministry.
Recently he celebrated the Fiftieth Anniversary

of his Ordination to the Priesthood.
He is the Co-ordinator of the Norton Festival

which brings together the local community,
with support for the Parish Church and other local concerns.

SERMON

THE BEATITUDES – A BETTER WAY

            Today, Remembrance Sunday, we are thinking particularly of all who have been affected by War.   Some of us may be able to think back to the Second World War.   We may have visions of the First World War through documentaries on television.   But most of us will be aware of more recent conflicts involving the Falkland Islands, Afghanistan and of course, the situation in Ukraine.

            Where conflict is involved an enormous price is paid.   It is paid not only by the combatants but by ‘innocent’ people, such as their families and friends and all who happen to be caught up in a war situation.   So many of us ask ‘why?’  Why all this conflict in the world and can nothing be done to stop it.?   Most people will say it is complicated and there is no easy solution.   I guess that if there was, something would have happened by now.

            So how do we get down to the root causes.    Should individuals take some of the blame and what kind of people should we be if we are to reduce conflict and its subsequent heartache?

            This morning’s reading, from Matthew chapter 5, could provide us with a clue.   We heard there the teaching of Jesus on how we might become ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’ people.   The passage is known as ‘The beatitudes’ or as someone once called them, ‘The beautiful attitudes.’  In it we heard what happened when a crowd of people followed Jesus to a mountaintop and from there were given the teaching we were hearing this morning.

            What Jesus said was somewhat controversial for He turned upon its head some of the accepted ideas of His day.   He spoke of ‘the poor’ being blessed.   The ‘mournful’ finding comfort.   The ‘meek’ inheriting the earth.   And so on.

            On this Remembrance Sunday, with Matthew’s recording of Jesus’ message in our ears, it seems appropriate to examine these beautiful attitudes and see whether they say anything to us today.

            “Blessed,” said Jesus, “are the poor in spirit.”   This might suggest someone who is down and out – someone who has nothing to live for.   Yet “theirs,” said Jesus “is the kingdom of heaven.”   What did He mean?

            People who are poor in spirit, people who are down and out, have few luxuries – many have nothing at all.   So Jesus is not talking about those who have everything but those who are utterly and totally dependent upon God.   He is telling us today that we are ‘blessed’ when we are not distracted by things that are non-essential and to go back to basics.   On that mountain Jesus was telling His disciples – and that includes you and me today – that when our lives are fully focussed upon God we will be truly blessed.

            Next Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”   What then did He mean?

            ‘Those who mourn’ is not a reference to personal grief.   Jesus always encourages us to look beyond ourselves.   So this is a reference to those who show concern and mourn for others.   The heart of ‘those who mourn’ for others goes out to innocent victims and to those who suffer at the hands of cruel oppressors.   When we mourn for someone we understand their feelings and come alongside them.   We ourselves become instruments of comfort and compassion.   On that mountain Jesus is saying that those who follow Him must be concerned for others to the extent that we feel their sorrow and pain.   We are being challenge to identify ourselves with them.

            “Blessed are the meek, says Jesus, “for they will inherit the earth.”    Who are they?

            If we are to understand what Jesus is here saying we must realise that the word ‘meek’ is not the same as the word ‘weak.’   ‘Meekness’ and ‘weakness’ is not the same.   While we might have a character described as ‘meek’ we may also have inner strength, humility and self-control.

            In Jesus’ day the word ‘meek’ might have been applied to an animal, such as a horse or mule that has been harnessed for work.   The meekness of the animal would be harnessed so that it could be used by its master.   Sometimes we must realise that our impulses have to be controlled and we need to surrender ourselves to God.   Like the meek animal, we are called to serve others, to give glory to God.

            Then Jesus speaks about ‘hungering and thirsting for righteousness.’

            Meekness may have been a hard concept but few of us have had the experience of being really hungry and thirsty.   We are used to two or three meals a day with snacks in between.   A real hunger and thirst may not be a recognisable experience.   But think for a moment what a better world it would be if there was a hunger and thirst for God’s ways.   That is the standard for which we should be aiming and from which we so often fall short.

            A characteristic of every Christian-minded person is that of ‘Being merciful’.   But merciless deeds, by people, regimes and ideologies, abound.   The way we treat others rebounds with the way others treat us.   Jesus encouraged us to pray:  ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’  The extent of how much we ourselves are forgiven depends on how forgiving we are.  The same is true of mercy.  The more merciful we are towards others, the more likely we are to experience others being merciful towards us.

            Next in these ‘beautiful attitudes’ in Matthew chapter 5 Jesus comes up with something easier to grasp.   “The pure in heart,” He says, “shall see God.”

            Nothing is allowed to contaminate something that is pure.   So Jesus is saying that the more genuine and perfect we are the better our chances of seeing God.   There must be more than an outward appearance of ‘purity’.   Our actions may be ‘pure’ while our hearts and intentions are less so.   Secretly we may be longing to do something else.   We may do a good deed for our neighbour simply to enjoy the praise or the recognition of others.   The purer in heart we are the closer we come to God – the One whose heart is totally pure.

            We may be thinking that so far these words of Jesus have more of a general application and have no specific reference to Remembrance Sunday.   But then we read that if we are to be called ‘children of God’ then we must be ‘the peacemakers.’

            The Hebrew word for ‘peace’ is Shalom.  But ‘shalom’ just doesn’t mean an absence of conflict but the mutual pursuit of good.   It involves incorporating all we have been hearing earlier from the words of Jesus as we gathered with His disciples on the mountain.    ‘Peace’ suggests a calm state of being, inert, passive, and inactive.   But ‘peace’ always involves action.   In any kind of relationship we must work together for the common good, if peace is to be achieved.

            When we seek peace it doesn’t mean that we seek to minimise our differences.   On the contrary we actively try to take each other – warts and all – seriously and seek God’s will in terms of our relationships.   That is why the beatitude – this beautiful attitude – refers to PEACEMAKERS, as opposed to those who are simply at peace.  Almost everyone wants to enjoy peaceful relations but it involves an effort to actively work for peace.

            The peaceMAKERS are those who are willing to take the initiative.   They are willing to make the first move.   They are willing to enter into a conflict for the sake of finding a resolution and restoring a friendship.   This takes courage.  When there’s conflict, most of us avoid it like The Plague.  But the peacemaker is one who goes into the fray with the confidence of God’s peace within.

            The world is full of troublemakers but God calls you and me to be peacemakers, and when we answer that Call we know ourselves to be children of God.   The world we live in is a battlefield and when we speak and act in Christ’s name we are likely to come under attack.   We can become a target for criticism.   ‘Who does he think he is?’   ‘Mind your own business.’   If we’ve never taken a few hits because of our faith, perhaps we haven’t been faithful enough!   When we are faithful, the Kingdom of Heaven is ours!

            So today, on this Remembrance Sunday, we have the words of Jesus ringing in our ears.   We need to realise that for our world to become a better place we must heed the words of Jesus.   That may involve turning upside down some of the concepts and attitudes we may so dearly hold.   Placing the blame on regimes, ideologies, countries etc. is the easy way out.   But at the heart of it all it is the attitude of individuals and the actions of individuals   It is the values held and the treatment of others that really matters and shapes the world in which we live.

            So on this Remembrance Sunday we pray that we may all take heed of the words of Jesus we have been hearing this morning.   May everyone in God’s world have a ‘beautiful attitude’ towards God and towards one another.   On this Remembrance Sunday we should long that God’s world is a place He would want it to be and that the attitudes we display and the lives that we lead will truly be blessed by Him.

Norton 2022

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MARTIN’S MESSAGE

Martin the Monkey sometimes accompanies The Reverend Richard and helps to re-enforce the Gospel message. He usually attends on special occasions in the Church Year and shares his thoughts with you.

MARTIN’S HARVEST

It’s no secret that I like bananas.   Unpeeling a ripe banana and savouring its taste gives me a joy beyond description.   I live for bananas and couldn’t live without them.

Unlike money, a banana does grow on trees!   The tree delights in producing much fruit and thrives on it.   Eating bananas stimulates growth – both in me and the banana tree (I’m told)

I’m glad when there is a bountiful banana harvest and there is much thanksgiving.   I am a simple ‘person’ with simple tastes and simple feelings.

When it comes to Harvest Thanksgiving I have no complicated thoughts – just a humble appreciation for all God’s wonderful provision.

Perhaps my banana could represent the gospel – the ‘good news’.   We all need to be fed by it.   Jesus taught the importance of not looking for money on trees but to seek that spiritual food which enables life not just in the present but eternally.   Maybe my banana tree cold be likened to Jesus who provides that food.   Or perhaps we could liken it to the Kingdom of God in that it encourages us to feed and will grow the more we seek it.

The things for which we should be grateful at this season of Harvest Thanksgiving is wide-ranging.   But for me it’s just a banana!

PRAYER

Father God,
thank you for bananas.
Help us simply to say thank you
for all the wonderful things You provide.
Help us to grow in faith and love
to find that great banana tree in the sky.
Through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Amen

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