I wonder whether anyone has ever said to you ‘you are not going to like what I am going to say but.....’ or indeed whether you have felt the need to say something similar to someone else? I think today’s readings, both the Old Testament reading and the gospel, might have started with ‘you are not going to like it but....’
In some ways it might be a little easier to accept what I am saying in relation to the Old Testament reading. After all, we might feel ourselves justified if someone came up to us during the service, maybe at the juncture between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament, where we share the peace and said loudly for all to hear, ‘I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.’ I suspect were this to occur we would feel both embarrassed and angry. We would very possibly also offer a quick prayer asking that this sort of incident wouldn’t happen again in the future. I suspect that it is highly unlikely that we would say to ourselves, and to those around us, ‘Aha I see that we have a true prophet in our midst!’
I sometimes think that the church has a problem with the Beatitudes, for such is the majesty of the language that we tend to sanitise them. But listen closely once more to some of what Jesus has to say:
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil falsely against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’
What I take from this is that our vocation as Christians is not to seek reward in the here and now, nor to curry favour from the great and the good, but to dare to speak truth to power, just as the prophets did and just as Jesus did. We are, after all, in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, to be the ‘Church Militant;’ we do pray each and every day for the breaking in of the Kingdom of God ‘here on earth as in heaven.’
As baptised and communicant members of the Church, fed each week through both word and sacrament, and sent at the end of every Eucharist to ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord,’ we have a basic obligation to seek to bring peace and justice into the here and now and where there is an absence of peace and justice to speak truth to power: our faith without both works and words is, to paraphrase James,‘quite dead.’ We should also take to heart the words of Amos, for in the absence of a commitment to seek justice, peace and reconciliation, our worship will be unrequited.
A true missionary church is a church which cares deeply about justice. A true missionary church is one that offers the hand of friendship and love to those in need whilst also looking upstream to identify the causes of injustice. Desmond Tutu makes this point, beautifully, on the quote on your pew sheet. Desmond Tutu is, of course, a modern day icon for Anglicanism’s, fourth Mark of Mission.
Here in Winslow we are blessed by having a patron, St. Laurence, who exemplifies the ability to offer the hand of friendship and love to those in need, whilst speaking truth to power and they ‘reviled’ him for it; in fact they put him to a brutal death for it, but his story is still told, his impact is still experienced. Laurence, the Deacon, dared to say to the Roman Imperial Powers that the poor are the treasures of the church. Who in this day and age to do we need to so treasure? Where and how we do we need to argue for justice and righteousness? If we are serious about mission and evangelism these are some of the questions we must ask of ourselves.
A small group of people have pledged to think through some of these issues so that we can become a ‘Church militant,’ a church which honours our patronage, pays heed to the prophecy of Amos and lives out the Beatitudes, a church which plays its own small part in ‘seeking to transform the unjust structures of society, challenging violence of every kind and seeking to pursue peace and reconciliation?’ If you would like to contribute to our thinking in this area please do speak to George Hooper.
In the meantime let us pray:
Loving Lord, show us how to challenge injustice and seek righteousness, for your name’s sake, Amen.