On Thursday night over the last few weeks I’ve been leading a small group sharing in one of the Pilgrim course modules. We’ve been thinking about the Beatitudes and had some interesting discussions.
One of the most interesting things for me has been how I’ve carried those remarkable few verses from St. Matthew’s Gospel around with me over these last few weeks. I’m not quite sure why they’ve got so under my skin, but one reason might be because they set before us Jesus’ vision of a world transformed.
A world in which we are not slaves to our base instincts, needs and desires rather a world in which all have a place to flourish and grow.
Spending time with the Beatitudes has reminded me how often my life doesn’t reflect the challenge to transform the world contained in those few short verses
For I know that too often I’m selfish.
I let others get stuck in with changing the world when I know I could do more.
I don’t campaign on the issues that really matter to me.
I don’t go on marches or sign petitions.
Perhaps it’s something about being able to see different sides of an argument that makes sitting on the fence my natural habitat.
Last week when thinking about this sermon the church remembered William Wilberforce. Here was a man who didn’t sit on the fence. A man who played his part in transforming the world as he campaigned for the abolition of slavery.
Let me offer you some of his words
‘To live our lives and miss that great purpose we were designed to accomplish is truly a sin.
It is inconceivable that we could be bored in a world with so much wrong to tackle, so much ignorance to reach and so much misery we could alleviate.’
Thank God that we have come a long way since Wilberforce’s day, some might be content to say job done.
Except if your Christian, the inconvenient truth at the heart of our faith is this man called Jesus. Who keeps asking uncomfortable questions of us.
In the Gospel this morning we hear of how he says ‘Be on your guard against all kinds of greed’ and it’s that word greed that for me has connected our two readings. St Paul invites us to put to death all earthly passions, the sexual stuff yes but also and perhaps surprisingly greed.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that I’ve focused on this image of greed connecting the readings in a week when I read that in this country ‘four and a half million people, have an income more than 50 percent below the poverty line.’ And that ‘2.3 million children are in persistent poverty.’(1)
Reflecting on the Beatitudes, Wilberforce and Jesus’ teaching as I have this week, I wonder how well we name things as just being wrong?
Of course, there are all kinds of factors that lead to statistics like the one I’ve quoted, but one of the them must be greed.
How often are we guilty of hearing the Jesus we want to hear and conveniently forgetting the rather uncomfortable Jesus who says ‘Whatever you do to the least of these you do also to me.’(2)
It seems to me that in my lifetime the rich have got richer, the poor have got poorer and that simply cannot be right. Just drive around our city to know this to be true, and if it’s true of a city like Leeds, its true of every city in our land.
And this inequality flows I think from participating in a society in which our economy is essentially built on greed.
For example, it’s always shocking to me when the news headlines carry a story of the fall in share value because profits are down from 55 million to just 45 million. Isn’t this a contemporary version of the parable Jesus told in our Gospel today?
We might also ask where has this apparently endless pursuit of growth got us?
Some would point to an improvement of life for many Others might say that millions are still in poverty. That foodbanks are now an accepted part of modern life and that the environment on which we depend is collapsing as a direct consequence of our greed, leaving our children and Grandchildren with a precarious future.
Faced with some of the challenges before us it can feel so overwhelming, and we ask what difference can I make? But small steps made together can make a big difference
from whether to buy detergent and washing up liquid that’s better for the environment
to choosing a power supplier that uses green energy,
from being clear about where any money we might have is invested
to being free from the possessive pursuit of stuff that seems to define so many lives.
We can do something, and many of you do already far better than me. Over the last few weeks I’ve been reminded that it’s so easy to just accept things as they are and maybe in some way, we read those Beatitudes and think nice idea Jesus but nah – but that won’t do.
Jesus invites every single one of us to participate in the reordering, the transformation of society, so that no one is hungry, no one has less chance in life because of where they are born, or their circumstance, that everyone has a future.
Wilberforce too helps remind us that we do have a part to play and that we deny Jesus if we shrug our shoulders and do nothing.
Let me finish with some words of Wilberforce to take as our prayer and commitment to love and serve the Lord ‘Let it not be said that I was silent when they needed me.’