Sunday 18 September 2016

Blessed Are The Desperate?

"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit...
Blessed is the lamb, whose blood flows...
Blessed are the sat upon, spat upon, ratted on...
Oh lord, why have you forsaken me?"

Blessed ... really?

I was at a "Continuing Ministerial Development" course on Thursday on "Preaching the Gospel of Matthew". I came away feeling it had been interesting but not really that useful. With one notable exception, it was full of academically inclined people talking in abstracts. Inevitable perhaps, given the CofE approach to selecting and training authorised ministers.

I don't mind abstract ideas myself, but it's been a really busy week and I have a painful back, so my initial response was that it hadn't been an effective use of the day.

One thing which we did look at was the Beatitudes - the opening to the Sermon on the Mount which Paul Simon so evocatively rephrases in his song above. I was part of a small group looking at this, which happened to include the one exception to the academic mould. She focussed us with the practical example of a young mum without the money to buy a can of beans. Is she blessed? Is that what the beatitudes are telling us?

Given a practical focus, the academic stuff sometimes comes in handy. Someone else in the group knew Oscar Wilde's De Profundis - a letter written from Reading Prison, where Wilde had been imprisoned with hard labour for 'gross indecency'. In this he writes that his first year of imprisonment was pure hell, but in the second year he was able to come to terms with all that was happening and use it to connect with Christ and with humanity.
"The poor are wise, more charitable, more kind, more sensitive than we are. In their eyes prison is a tragedy in a man's life, a misfortune, a casuality, something that calls for sympathy in others. They speak of one who is in prison as of one who is 'in trouble' simply. It is the phrase they always use, and the expression has the perfect wisdom of love in it. With people of our own rank it is different. With us, prison makes a man a pariah. I, and such as I am, have hardly any right to air and sun. Our presence taints the pleasures of others. We are unwelcome when we reappear."
To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of Wilde myself - to me he seems overly flowery and full of himself, even whilst celebrating his own 'humility'.

Nevertheless, there is something here about reality, and about our inability to face it when we are comfortable. There is also something, it seems to me, about God bringing good out of situations which are not good. To my mind it is wrong to speak of God making bad things happen, to serve a greater end. But it is true, I think, that God can take the bad things which inevitably do happen in this fallen world and can transform their outcomes: evil happens but in Christ comes resurrection.

There's a famous old sermon called "Sunday's comin'" which speaks of the hopelessness that goes with Good Friday - but, unseen and unexpected, "Sunday's coming".

Somewhere in the beatitudes stands a truth that sometimes it's easier to see light when we stand in darkness, that in Jesus despair transforms to hope, and that God can raise the deadest of dead. And, in due course, a full resurrection is coming when suffering and dying and hopelessness will be no more.

By the way, that young mum who couldn't afford beans - it was a local church who were her blessing. They went out and bought her a pack of food, including bread and beans. It's not a solution, but it was a blessing. The future is in God's hands ... and Christ's people stand as his hands and feet, heart and voice, and - sometimes - his shoppers for beans.

May your week ahead be redeemed by hope and grace in Jesus, whatever you may face.