Sermon

1 John 3.1-3 — Matt 5.1-12     2 November 2008

Have you ever wondered WHY so many people flocked to hear Jesus talk? . Put aside pretty nativity stories, angels and shepherds and magi. The Romans were not in the habit, as we are today, of writing biographies of the rich and famous as soon as they are born, far less that of a relatively unknown preacher in a backwater of the Empire. Besides, there were other preachers and healers in the area at the same time, what marked Jesus out from the others?

The facts of the birth of Jesus may have been current for a while, especially after the slaughter of the Innocents, but, like all things, life moves on, the birth is soon forgotten as the child grows and develops so I am sure that, by the time Jesus was in his late twenties, when his ministry began, stories of mangers and lowing cattle had truly fallen off the collective memory.

Even Herod, who ordered the massacre of the Innocents, seems to have forgotten the visit of the magi and the threat to his rule. People were saying that Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead but Herod knew that could surely not be possible and he asks, ‘who is this I hear reports about?’ Luke Chapter 9, vs. 9.

There was no written record of Jesus, his life or ministry, until well after his crucifixion. So why did he draw such crowds? And crowds there were as we well know – 4,000, 5,000 – and that is counting only the men. Matthew tells us that Jesus’ fame spread and large crowds followed him – from Galilee, the Decapolis, from Jerusalem, Judea and Transjordan. Not just local people but people who had walked for days to come and hear Jesus. This seems to be early on in his ministry, too, not after he had begun making stinging remarks about the leaders of the time.

Imagine that sort of situation here – on our playing field. All of Buckden, ALL of Buckden gathered, plus everyone from the Offords, Perry, Brampton, standing, sitting, squashed in somehow with a huge silence hanging in the air and everyone agog to hear what the man standing up on the bank, (not quite a mountain) is saying. It does take quite a large leap of imagination to see the playing fields thus used but try to see the picture in your mind’s eye. Remember, you have a fair knowledge of your Scriptures, the Old Testament, the ten commandments, the writings of the prophets, you know something of God. Everyone is quiet, waiting

And then he speaks - Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs. His voice carries across the crowd. Silence. What does he mean? Who are the poor in spirit? Is it I? I know I’m not very good at my prayers. I need help in my spiritual life. If I recognise that need will God bless me? Just a little bit?

But he is speaking again – Blessed are the sorrowful, they shall find consolation. Yes, Lord, please. You know the grieving of my heart. Not only for the loss of a loved one but for other things I am sorry for. I claim your consolation. There is a sense of comfort amongst us. And he looks as if he really understands our grief, really wants to reach out and comfort each one of us personally. Is this why so many flock to hear him speak, to reach out to touch him?

There is more to come, again that voice, so clear yet so calm, so utterly compelling. Blessed are the gentle; they shall have the earth for their possession. We have lost that gentleness, Lord, as we fight for possessions far beyond our needs. We do not possess the earth, possessions possess us. Lord, show us the right way to use our possessions.

The silence deepens, there is a sense of dis-quiet around us on the playing field. A small sense of unease. We came, all of us, to listen to this preacher whose fame has spread far and wide but His words are not easy to hear, not to really hear in our hearts.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail, they shall be satisfied. That is easier to deal with. As Ron was saying last week, Jesus’ message is one of justice and mercy, responding to those in need. Indeed, the message of much of the Bible, Old and New Testaments is that of ensuring that right prevails. We can do something to maintain a good community where the needs of others are met. This is what he is asking of us as he stands among us. He is speaking again.

Blessed are those who show mercy, mercy shall be shown to them. Can I add a caveat to that beatitude, Lord? It’s all very well, but there are one or two areas where it is very difficult to show mercy. No? no caveats? Jesus’ eyes are boring into me as if He has read my reluctance to show mercy to everyone, even those who have wronged me terribly. No, no caveats. This is a hard beatitude. The crowd around me seem to think the same, everyone is staring at their boots.

A long silence this time. Jesus is standing there looking a bit sad, nearly as if he doesn’t want to say the next words. Ah, listen; Blessed are those whose hearts are pure, they shall see God. His eyes seek out each one of us, challenging each individual to be honest within their heart. But He is also looking encouraging, as if to say, Yes, I know I am asking a huge amount of you but this is something to work towards, a goal to be achieved, but perhaps not in this lifetime. I only ask that you follow me and then, one day, you shall see God.

My head is spinning – I came to listen because of what others had said about this Jesus but I never imagined he would speak quite like this. It is all the more meaningful because I am here with friends and neighbours, we are all hearing the same message. Will we respond in the same way or will some of us go home feeling overwhelmed? Unable to respond to these words which are so demanding yet also so comforting in their way.

But there is more, Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God. Well, we certainly need peacemakers in this troubled world. Me, Lord? Oh, well, er, yes, perhaps .. But Jesus is standing there, right there in front of us all and calling us to be peacemakers here and now. We call ourselves children of God, we have a calling to live up to.

What was that? I was dreaming, I missed that bit. The persecuted – that sounds hard, blessed are you when you suffer insults and persecution for my sake. The prophets were certainly persecuted and so many people down the ages have been cruelly persecuted in the name of religion. Will that be my lot too? Perhaps, but then, this man standing up in front of us does not fear the authorities’ wrath, so we have been told and, if I want to follow him, believe in him, then maybe I, too, have to have the courage to stand up for God, for this man Jesus, however much others may laugh at me, or worse.

Listen again, he is telling us that we, we gathered here on the playing field, we are the salt of the earth, a light for all the world. We cannot stand idly by, doing nothing. We are called to bring peace, justice, comfort, food to those in need. Jesus, standing among us, walks with us as we serve him and others; as we serve him in others.

Blessed indeed are those who love and serve God.

Why DID so many people flock to hear Jesus speak? I will leave that for you to answer in your own heart.

Amen.



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