As you know, the season of Advent is not too far away and instead of having an Advent calendar I heard an idea from someone on my ‘friends’ site saying that from the 1st of December it would be a good idea to read all the way through Luke’s gospel, reading one chapter a day, since there are 24 Chapters in his gospel. Then by Christmas day you would have come to know the man called Jesus from Nazareth, who he was, who he is now, and who he is as the suffering, crucified and risen exalted Lord.
Quite a good idea I thought, until I realised that on Christmas day you would be reading about Jesus as the risen Lord and not the infant child in a manger. However, when you think about it in context to today’s gospel by Matthew it does provide an illustration of what Jesus is doing in the apparent simple words taken from the reading. He is going back to the way things were, saying repent and go back to God’s ways which means a new relationship with God. A God of compassion, love and forgiveness.
To the crowd listening, this is indeed a new thing for them to hear, but Jesus wasn’t suggesting that these are timeless truths about human behaviour. If he was saying that then he would appear to be wrong. Why? Well mourners often go uncomforted, the meek don’t inherit the earth, those who long for justice frequently take their longing to the grave.
This is a back to front world that Jesus is talking about, a completely new way of understanding God, because through Jesus, God was doing a new thing and this list of wonderful news, the Beatitudes, is God’s way of part of his invitation, part of his summons and part of his new covenant of saying that HE is at work in a fresh way and this is what it looks like. And this message is still relevant for us. Just like all the Saints we celebrate today who also heard the message and now rest in heavenly splendour.
From the first Saint, St Stephen to lately St Theresa, formerly Mother Theresa of Calcutta. We first come across St Stephen in Acts 6 when he was chosen to go and minister God’s word through Jesus’ life amongst the Jews and was the first Christian martyr.
St Theresa, who left behind her worldly ways to take care of the poor and deserted children and rescue them from the gutter, was driven by the Holy Spirit as was St Stephen. But what gave them the courage and belief that they were doing the right thing to do?
They stepped out of their comfort zone, into a brave new world, with full faith in God, through Jesus Christ; that they were solely working for him. But what about us? WE too have received this invitation, to receive God’s Holy Spirit, to step out of our normal life and walk closer with God. Jesus wants us to embrace our faith fully, just like the Saints did.
We should not be ashamed of our faith and in our interaction with those who don’t follow Jesus’ ways; we should endeavour to go the extra mile, to work for him and to show those we meet his eternal compassion and love through our own words and actions, just like all those Saints that have gone before us, who we can rely on to guide our way and lighten our darkness, on our journey to God’s ultimate goal.
These words from the sermon on the mount are beautiful blessings on the poor and hurting who are promised a future when all things shall be put right. Jesus places his listeners in the same league as the prophets who also stood up for them and they will receive the same reward. A place in the kingdom of heaven.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said in verse 3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ I don’t know about you, but to me this saying is back to front because to me, if you are poor in spirit, that is your faith is shallow or non-existent, why should you have the kingdom of heaven? The thing that I have come to realize is that Jesus wants us to humbly accept that in ourselves, we are not strong enough. Accepting that Jesus knows us so well, and know what we need, even more than we do – if we don’t accept this then we are poor in spirit. We just have to say, ‘I can’t make it on my own, please help me.’ Then we shall know the kingdom of heaven. But where and what do you imagine heaven to be? Well, I certainly know what heaven is NOT. For instance, it is not a world where evil exists, were humans wish to destroy each other; were greed, power and control over people exists, were all that we as Christians abhor, were disease and illness go untreated leading to suffering. If you are like me, it’s easy to imagine what heaven is not like but what does it look like if it looks like anything that we can visualize?
Where better to get an understanding of this than from the Bible or the Vicar? We could first of all look at our reading from Revelations that we heard this morning which is explaining the kingdom of heaven. V13. ‘Then one of the elders addressed me saying, “Who are those robed in white?” Then the elder said, ‘I know, these are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’ ‘They will no longer thirst or be hungry and God will wipe away their tears’.
They have believed in the risen Christ and have had their sins removed by the crucifixion, death and resurrection of him and now take a place in heaven. Then from Romans. 14.17. ‘The kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’ And from Luke. 17.21. Jesus said to the Pharisees after they asked what the kingdom of God is like; ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with the things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘There it is’’ For in fact, the kingdom of God is among you!’
Yes Jesus is saying don’t look any further, it’s right here under your noses, but because of your pious ways you can’t even imagine it.
I can easily understand the last explanation given by Jesus to the Pharisees, I like to think of heaven in terms that it’s God’s space, where full reality exists, close by and near to our ordinary, earthly reality and interlocking with it. I also take comfort from Romans; a place of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. I think that far too often, there is a tendency to imagine heaven as being a distant place far above the skies, certainly that was what I was told to believe when I was younger and what about the Ascension with Jesus disappearing into a cloud?
However, I find it more credible to believe that the kingdom of heaven is among us. But we just can’t quite clearly see it, I guess that sometimes, like me, you can sense it though? There are times when the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and I get the feeling that something spiritual is happening around me.
My final comment is that the point of the ‘beatitudes’ is that they are a summons for us to receive the Holy Spirit, to be proud of our faith and to step out of our comfort zones so that what may appear to us to be difficult or up-side down can be done. And take comfort that we’re not alone, Jesus is beside us, guiding us through the darkness and into the light, for he is our strength and help.
You can be certain that this will lead us to God’s promised future of heaven here on earth. And as our Lord Jesus taught us we should pray that God’s kingdom will come and God’s will be done, ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’
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