The Promise of Faith

The Promise of Faith

"Life is complicated and it turns out that perhaps we weren’t the goodies after all."

Scripture refered to:

Jeremiah 17:5-10

Luke 6:17-26

Once our Headmaster made the entire school write out Psalm 1 ten times.

I can’t remember why, he was just like that, a bit eccentric!

I think he wanted to get a simple message.

"Blessed are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked."

Good for them!

"As for the wicked, it is not so with them; they are like chaff which the wind blows away."

Serves them right!

I assume he wanted us to be on the side of the righteous.

Jeremiah also contrasts the goodies from the baddies – the righteous from the wicked.

You can either be someone who puts their trust in human endeavour and be like a dried-up shrub in the desert

or you can trust in God and be like a tree planted by the water. 

Even if it is a rainless, sunny day, the water will ensure green leaves and fruit.

The person who trusts in God will find long life, success, and prosperity.

Jeremiah has a stark warning for those who put their trust in the vanities of the world.  The people who amass wealth unjustly will lose what they have and be shown to be nothing more than fools. A prophetic message which is highly relevant for our times.

But let’s give some thought to this distinction between good and evil.

If only life were as simple as the films, which they used to show on a Saturday morning at the Regal Cinema in my hometown.

The Cowboys always beat the Indians.

The British always beat the Germans.

The Cops always caught the robbers.

The lost adventurers always escaped the cannibals.

Good triumphed over evil.

We were good and they were bad.

Life was simple.

My problem is that I grew up and discovered that life was not like that.

Life is complicated and it turns out that perhaps we weren’t the goodies after all.

So do our Bible Readings reflect a world long gone.

If I ask myself, it’s not fair to ask you, whether I am on the side of the righteous or the wicked, then I know that sometimes I walked boldly on the path of goodness and at the same time sit comfortably in the seat of the scoffers. 

I imagine that most people have the same problem.

We all have mixed motivations in what we do. We are guided moral values but also by the need for self-satisfaction. Too often we take the easy way out of challenging situations. 

Like most people I am insufficiently aware of the harm that my lifestyle does to other people. Like all of us here, I know that the social structures we live under make us complicit with the damage caused to the planet, to the impoverishment and abuse of people living in other parts of the world.  Just shopping for clothes, or making a car journey, which are necessary parts of modern life cause us to wander far from the path of righteousness.

Too often our consciousness as Christians and, well, just as people, is to separate the world between righteous and wicked. Which so easily becomes, Christian v Muslim, and then Labour v Conservative, Straight v Gay, Women v Men, Black v White.

We focus on our identity and our identification with one group as opposed to another group.

But we do so to our detriment. Faith should not be monopolised. Gender is fluid. Racial identity ranges over a spectrum of human skin tones. No political party fully expresses our opinions or reflects our shared experience of this troubled world.

We should not shy away from complexity, nuance, shades of grey.

No doubt, there would be all kinds of contradictions, varying expectations, mixed motivations among the crowds who followed Jesus. It is a fair assumption as well that his disciples would not be a homogenous group. Indeed, we read of disputes arising between them.

Today we heard the story of Jesus healing some with diseases, some with spiritual distress and all desperate to reach out and touch.  All longing for change.

They wanted – they needed a blessing.

Luke tells us that Jesus just looks up at his disciples.

He calls them blessed.

They are blessed as they are poor.

They are blessed as they are hungry.

They are blessed as they weep.

They are blessed as they are excluded, defamed, rejected for their enthusiastic following of Jesus.

They are included, not because they are particularly righteous but because they are poor, hungry, weeping, and persecuted. 

It’s an odd kind of blessing.

But the blessing is not because of who they are but because of what they are promised of what they will receive.

They are promised the Kingdom of God,

to be filled,

to laugh

and to receive a great heavenly reward.

The words and actions of Jesus are full of compassion.  He knows us.  He knows it is not so easy just to do good.

He knows our lives are not straightforward.

Rather he is telling us how. He offers us, and all humanity a way toward being the people we would wish to be.

Firstly, we need to know ourselves and to be honest with ourselves.

We are poor. Material poverty is relative but when we approach the life of faith, we are poor before the living God.

We are hungry too, sometimes for food, but always for justice, for peace, for love.

We weep for our failings and for the state of our planet, our world with its many injustices.

We feel isolated. The people who share our convictions and faith are few compared to the many who accept the destructive norms and values of the world.

Sometimes faith can feel like a tightrope – we are never sure if we are going to fall.  But carefully, and prayerfully we can see the end point where all of life is being transformed for the good. 

Like the prophet and the psalmist, Jesus contrasts the blessedness of his way with the alternative.

The rich do not receive blessing because they already have their consolation.

The well-fed do not need food but they are unaware of the hunger in their souls.

Those who spend their lives avoiding life’s challenges will ultimately need to confront them.

Those who pretend all is well with the world, shielding their eyes from the uncomfortable truths of our age will have to contend with its grim realities.

As with the Old Testament passages, I am sure we can see ourselves on both sides of the divide. We are in receipt of both the blessing and the woe – the comfort and the sadness, the healing and the affliction, the restoration and the distress.

I once walked through a tropical rain forest. It was an unusual one because it was located relatively high in the Andes Mountain range. Seemingly, the key ingredient in the formation of a rain forest is luminosity.  (Don’t ask me how!) This patch of the mountain side just caught the light of the sun in a way which created very localised conditions.  Inside the canopy of trees was an amazing ecology of moss, flowers, grass, animals, insects.  It was truly memorable, ethereal, captivating. All the time you could hear the running water of the streams which were constantly creating the moisture which kept everything alive and flourishing.

We are told in scripture not to forsake the fountain of living water.  We are to be like trees planted by the water. We are to allow ourselves to be nurtured by the warmth, moisture and nourishment of God’s love.

The lesson we learn from scripture is there in Psalm 1.

We are to delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night.

The path to salvation is not instant or binary. We need to root ourselves in God’s word. Planting our lives in the soil of faith and hope and uprooting ourselves from the dustbowl of negativity, mindless pleasure.

When I read the Gospel story, I have a real awareness of a Saviour who knows us. Jesus looks up and sees us, his disciples.

He looks at us with the same compassion with which he healed the people of their multitude of ailments.

He calls us blessed, not because we have any special worthiness but because in Christ we can grow, mature, and deepen our trust in God.

We are blessed because of the promise of faith.

Yes, we are compromised, conflicted, caught up in systems not of our own making.

Nothing excuses us from looking, seeing, being aware and challenging ourselves and the world around us.

No- we cannot sit on the fence. We need to know which side we intend to be.

The choice does not make us instant saints.  Rather it gives us access to a river of wisdom, understanding, promise, hope.

All that is required is that we reach out and touch.

The healing of the Gospel is broad.  It is personal and it is global.

It is physical.

It is mental.

It is spiritual.

It is social.

It is political.

All those false divides of our society offer us nothing but conflict, misunderstandings, enmities, division, death.

I hope you can hear today that the Bible offers life.

Blessings upon blessings.

The goodness of God in place of the duplicity of humanity.

What a wonderful thing that is.

Do me a favour. When you leave the church this morning and walk into the fresh February air of Upper Street.  Just say, 'I am blessed.'

In my frailty, inadequacy I am blessed to be part of God’s loving, open, accepting kingdom.

In my frustration and despair and longing for justice, I am blessed to be given the food of struggle and striving.

In my sadness, sorrow, grieving for myself, for the people I love, the world in which I live, I am blessed with a deep inner joy.

In my feeling of isolation, loneliness, of pursuing a path different to the rest of the society in which I live, I am blessed to know that there is a reward of compassion, healing, and belonging to a beloved community. Our healing comes from the power of God in Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, we are blessed.

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