The Sun was shining, the church was full and the Holy Spirit was tangible by His presence. – that was this mornings Valley Worship informal service and patronal at St Mary’s Easton. This was an excuse for St Mary’s to showcase our monthly informal service to many in Easton who would not normally attend one of these services and to be thanked for their huge support of the church during the course of the year. The Band led by David Parker played brilliantly – thank you so much to Jess, Nikki, Antonia, David and Chris, and including a fabulous rendition of Amazing Grace by Chris Ellis. Maximilian read the lesson and Verity read the prayers. Afterwards Theo Mezger thanked everyone involved in supporting the church and we all had some delicious canapés which supplemented the usual monthly treat of fresh croissants at the beginning of the service.
In our Every Day Lives section of our service we interviewed Andy Tan and this went as follows
Thank you so much to Andy for being willing to be interviewed and to Andy and Olivia for the many different things that they have been involved in while living in Easton.
Alex Pease gave the following talk:
Matthew 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
We have spent this year at Valley Worship climbing, what could be called, ‘the Happiness mountain’. The Beatitudes, these expressions beginning ‘Blessed are…’ in Matthew 5, are Jesus’ teaching on how to be happy.
We have gone from learning that ‘Blessed’ (or happy) are the poor in Spirit (those who know they need Christ); through Blessed are those who mourn (those who, mourn for the world, their own suffering, their own wrongs); to those who are meek, (like Jean Val Jean in Les Miserables), strong, but gentle and kind; to those who, hunger and thirst for righteousness (who are desperate for a right relationship with God); to those who are merciful (who forgive others who have done terrible things to them, out of pity for them); to the pure in heart (those who use direction, discipline and seek divine help), to manage the internal whirlpool of sin; and last month to the peacemakers, guiding humanity to make peace between people but also peace between people and God)….all these talks are on our website….
All these are wonderful characteristics of the Christian, the follower of Christ. They are the characteristics of the righteous….those in a right relationship with God. As one preacher, Tim Keller, puts it ‘your happiness is on the other side of your holiness’. Or to put it another way
‘your happiness is on the other side of your righteousness’. You can achieve happiness when you take steps to be in a right relationship with God, to be righteous, to be….these beatitudes.
As Christians we know already that we are saved for eternity because Jesus has done all that work for us on the Cross and we trust in him, but we still need to work out that salvation in our every day lives and we do this by seeking to be these beatitudes.
As we reach the summit, this ascent of behaviour, which is what God expects of us Christians as expressed in the Beatitudes, we find that we have reached the top of the peak….surely now we will find the sunny uplands, the plateau where we are truly blessed in life….
But what do we find in Jesus’ scheme for happiness, for contentment, at the top of this mountain?
We find persecution.
We find rejection, pain, tears, and even blood, and fear!
Today, we are speaking about blessed are those who are persecuted.
I did wonder whether persecution might be a good topic to speak about at our patronal service, when so many of our neighbours (some of whom would not see themselves as followers of Christ) are present and when we are thanking all of you for the wonderful support that you give us.
But then again, it is the next talk in our series at Valley Worship which must conclude this year.
Most importantly, as I hope you will see, this talk of persecution, and persecution for what, does give us a steer as to how, we followers of Christ, should expect to be In a village community and what the community can expect of us, and I think that is relevant for all of us.
Jesus is saying that it is a characteristic of followers of Christ that, like Jesus, they are persecuted. In fact some theologians would go so far as to say that unless we are being persecuted, there is a question as to whether we are actually Christians at all…..whether we are actually following Christ, but its not any persecution….. not any suffering….that fulfils this beatitude.
Jesus says Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness
Persecution because of the very things that Jesus sees as blessed as leading to our happiness in him, this is why persecution is the litmus test of following Christ.
So this is a really difficult issue because when I think of persecution…..I tend to think of the six young men from the Egyptian Coptic church blindfolded wearing orange jump suits and kneeling in the sand about to be executed by ISIS for refusing to deny Jesus Christ.
What can possibly be persecution for us in the comfortable West, in comparison with this horror?
But that does not mean that the Christian life in the West is free from persecution; free from ‘enmity and ill treatment on the grounds of [our] belief’ which is the Concise Oxfprd Dictionary definition of ‘Persecution’
Indeed, Jesus does not talk about the severity of the persecution in this beatitude, so something very mild, even trivial could actually be persecution.
When I was at the Law Firm, I spent, as many of you know, five years in Japan running the firm’s office there. Lucy and I became Christians in Japan on the Alpha Course and, when we returned, we were all full of it and I wanted to give people in the firm the opportunity to attend the course during their lunch hour. So I went to ask the permission of the senior partner and he told me to speak to the Director of Marketing about this. He said to me (with a sneer) ‘so do you really
want to be seen as the Holy Joe of the partnership?’
But he was right, there was an impact on my relationships with my colleagues and friends in the firm.
On one occasion I was travelling to a meeting with an old friend who I had been the firm with from the very beginning, about 20 years. I said to him that I was surprised that he and my other mates in the firm had not taken the mickey out of me for the Chrisitan journey that I had started upon since I was in Japan. He replied to me ‘Oh you don’t joke about that’
So there is no doubt that we can lose relationships; start to be treated with kid gloves; start to be separated from a lot of what goes on, if we become followers of Christ; start to be treated as a bit of a weirdo by families and friends.
Nothing of course like the suffering of the Christians in the Middle East…but, it is not about the severity of the persecution that is the point. Because, if Jesus was only talking about persecution that ends in death, in a society like ours which, on the whole, is (or at least always used to be) an ‘each to his own’ common sense sort of place, then it would actually be quite hard to get persecuted to death in that sort of way……there are no lions in the arena in Itchen Valley!
But, as we navigate this line of persecution, we need to know what the persecution which Jesus commends is not.
It is persecution for righteousness sake…
So two points:
Firstly, it isn’t persecution for being objectionable; being persecuted:
for being self-righteous,
for being difficult,
for being horrible to other people,
it isn’t persecution for being a bore at dinner parties,
it is not even being persecuted for our political opinions, however justified we may feel them to be,
its not being persecuted for voting BREXIT or for voting REMAIN
its not being persecuted for anything beyond our total allegiance to Jesus
its not being persecuted for anything which might be described as ‘Christianity plus’:
Christianity plus socialism
Christianity plus capitalism
Christianity plus nationalism
It’s not being persecuted for being tactless;
for ramming our gospel down people’s throats….as they desperately seek the exit
it would not be at all surprising if we were shunned by a community for being a religious nut; for banging on about Jesus when the topic has not come up
But all of this is not being persecuted for righteousness…..
This is being persecuted for being objectionable….
So, we are not talking about being persecuted for being objectionable!
Nor, Secondly, are we talking about being persecuted for being good and noble.
It is, of course, pretty unlikely that we will be persecuted for being good and noble. The world tends not to critique people who are self sacrificial in their lives, careers, and prospects. When the world acclaims someone then probably it is not for being righteous, but for being good or noble. It persecutes the righteous.
But what does being ‘righteous’ mean anyway?
‘Being righteous’ means being in a right relationship with God; being the person In those beatitudes.
When we are reborn as Christians, as followers of Christ, this is something that we want above all else.
As I often say, we go from won’t to want
Being righteous is literally being like Jesus Christ. Therefore the beatitude speaks of people who are persecuted for being like him.
You see it wasn’t because Jesus was good that he was persecuted; it was because he was different. There was something about him by which they felt condemned.
A friend of mine was reborn as a Christian….became a follower of Christ; but his younger sister said that she and her family found it difficult afterwards to go on holiday with him and his wife both of whom had become Christians. He replied ‘has there ever been anything that I have said or done which has made you think this way’. The sister thought for a moment and said ‘no its just that we feel judged by you, even though I admit that you don’t say anything or do anything to make us feel that way’.
The righteous are persecuted just because they are what they are: followers of Christ. And the world, including, sadly, many religious people just can’t stand it, just as the world and the religious people of the time, could not stand Jesus.
But in being persecuted in this way, however painful it is to be separated from family or friends, the follower of Christ knows that they are reaching the peak, the zenith of what being a Christian is all about and that they are following in the footsteps of the one who made them and that the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
5 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 5:1–12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.