Matthew 5 : 1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘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 against you falsely 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.
I sometimes worship in weird places. In September 2000 at the height of anti-globalisation protests around the world I was part of a group who ran a Prayer Vigil outside the World Economic Forum gathered at Melbourne’s Crown Casino. It was a heady, formative and activist time for me before the birth of our first child. The by-line on our handout flyer for passers-by was “An Act of Christian Witness to the Forces of Global Power: Confessing the Power of Weakness and the Weakness of Power.”
Wanting to take our Christian symbols to the street, we had literally set up a 9 foot high standing cross with a sign upon the top (“By Order of the WEF”) strategically placed in-between the barricades that were being constructed by police and protestors. The site would eventually become a three day blockade involving thousands of people, ending in substantial violence. The public service was held on a Sunday evening, the day before the WEF was scheduled to begin.
We earnestly did our readings and prayers. In the middle of one of the prayers a tradie’s ute drove past, and a man hanging out the passengers window yelled at us…”Get a job!”
Someone yelled back at him “Get a Sabbath!”
The leader then paused and quietly invited the congregation to raise their hands if they had a job… to which most hands were lifted. He then concluded the prayer with a smile.
OK perhaps that’s a pretty lame ‘rejoice in persecution’ story!? Certainly in the face of violence, extremism and suffering that many others suffer and sometimes inflict across our world as a result of their deeply held beliefs. What does it mean to be persecuted for following Jesus in a society with religious tolerance? I’ll admit in my context it often annoys me that Christians from the extremes, both conservative and liberal, seem to quickly cry ‘persecution’ at the slightest criticism or rejection of their preferred legislative agenda.
As I sit in Jesus’ ‘Beatitudes’, they rock my world. Yeah I go to a few protests and get hard done by in the odd, heated dinner party debate… but really! Literally as a middle class, white male in a ‘tolerant’ society the ‘Beatitudes’ literally rock my world and often sub-conciously held values… counter-cultural, upside down!
The other thing that rocks my world are prison songs. From African American spirituals to the energy of Gangsta rap, to Johnny Cash, to Paul & Silas in Phillipi… theres something about a good prison/freedom song!
Singing is perhaps one of the most clearly common defining practices for Christians in our society but it often feels superficial for me. I think Richard Beck hits on something more substantial when he reflects upon Singing as Resistance from a biblical and prison context.
So Sing a song of freedom today and rejoice…
If you’ve got nothing, I offer you this. Special AKA’s “Free Nelson Mandela” from another much earlier formative moment in my 80’s, sub-urban upbringing … interestingly described by Barry McAlpine as the most potent protest song ever written!
If thats all a bit 80’s twee for you, I loved the determination of the ‘rejoice in suffering’ sentiments in the Revised Common Lectionary reading for the Ash Wednesday liturgy heard in churches around the world yesterday from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians Chapter 6
…In the scriptures God says,
“At exactly the right moment,
……..I heard your call.
The day you needed help,
……..I was there to bail you out.”
Well, this is it — the exact right moment. This is the day to throw off the shackles and walk free! It won’t be our fault if you don’t take this chance — we’re doing everything in our power not to get in anyone’s way. There’s no point in nit-picking over the details of our work. We have endeavoured to be faithful servants of God and we’re confident that we’ve got the runs on the board. It’s not as though we’ve had it easy either. We have hung in there through hard times, tough times and horrendous disasters. We’ve been bashed, lynched and locked up. We’ve worked ourselves into the ground when things needed to be done, sometimes even going without sleep and food. And through all this we have maintained our integrity — our intentions have been pure and our heads have been clear. We have managed to hold on to our patience, generosity, and holiness of spirit. Our love has been genuine, our speech truthful, and God has continued to work powerfully through us. We have armed ourselves with nothing but an iron commitment to doing what’s right, and we’ve grasped the work of justice with both hands. Sometimes we’ve been honoured and sometimes slandered. We have been true to our word and yet denounced as charlatans. We’ve been treated as nobodies even though everyone knows who we are. We’ve been written of as dead, but here we are, brimming with life. We’ve been flogged to within an inch of our lives but never quite killed. We’ve almost drowned in tears and yet we are still bubbling with joy. They say we are poor, and yet many are enriched by us. They say we have nothing to offer, and yet everything is ours to share. ©2001 Nathan Nettleton LaughingBird.net
Much Grace and Peace,