Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 5 November 2017.
When I was young, I used to look forward to the freedom of being an adult; when I was at school, I looked forward to the time of being free of exams. When working I looked forward to the time of ease when I could retire and do my own thing.
But I never really appreciated that I was at all these times fed, clothed, sheltered, protected and I was given things to do with my time.
I was like the person of whom the Book of Proverbs says: ‘The fool hath his eyes in the ends of the earth.’ Somehow, there was always a niggle and a complaint. Things were never quite right.
Then I retired from my desk job – and the rest you know.
But it is interesting how in speaking to the disciples and the crowds in the sermon on the mount, Jesus uses two tenses. He speaks of the future and of the present.
We can grasp the promises for the future, as we read how the mourners will be comforted and the meek will inherit the earth. It is also easy to see that yes, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness would be satisfied and the merciful would themselves obtain mercy.
But it looks like a kind of bargain, as if Jesus is saying that if you are merciful, if you are meek and if you really do hunger and thirst after righteousness, then your desires will be met. If you have worked at it all hard enough.
It’s rather like the joke about how many psychiatrists are required to change a lightbulb: only one, but the lightbulb really has to want to change.
But there is something else in the beatitudes that is easy to miss, for Jesus also says things about the present. The poor in spirit already possess the kingdom of heaven, and the persecuted are already inheritors of glorious promises. These things refer to the present and are not transactions of any kind.
In the eyes of the Lord, the poor in spirit, those who know their need for the grace and mercy of God, and are not relying of the length of time they spend in prayer and meditation, in bible study and spiritual reading or other good works – these are people who have already found a new kind of blessing in the sight of God.
They are already building up their sense of being in Him, their sense of trust and hope founded on Him, their knowledge of themselves as they draw close to Him.
For Jesus is not just about our future – although He is certainly about that and our eternal destiny and purpose.
He is also about the present – the people that we are right here and now, the lives we are living and the hopes that are already sustaining us.
Jesus cares deeply and passionately about where we are, here and now: the things that touch us and inspire us, the things that distract us and the things that oppose us, whether these are things that we do ourselves or which are done to us.
And it is as we enter His life here and now that we also begin to enter His plans and promises for the future, like finding His comfort as we mourn and indeed as we draw close to others to give them comfort.
He is there leading us as we find that the peace that He is guiding us into is also the peace that He wants others to know and to enter, and that He is wanting us to be agents of His own personal and intimate kind of peace: peace in ourselves, peace with God and peace in the world.
Similarly, to be meek is not to be bullied or overborne – but it is to find a sense of proportion as the world about us makes ever more absurd demands on our time and loyalties and priorities. It is to see the absurdity of some of this without becoming jagged or cynical or rigid or apathetic.
As we enter more and more of the beatitudes of Jesus so we find that a more powerful process is at work than we could imagine.
But this is all about the Kingdom of God, and that glorious wonder of the unity of those who are in this world, and those who have gone before us to that further shore and that greater light.
This is the place where the fullness of the purposes of God are indeed brought to completion and to perfection. Yet it is here in this life, in the life where we encounter opposition and difficulty, doubt and sorrow and persecution, that we are made to rely on the grace and mercy of God.
But it is also here that God Himself has also faced opposition and rejection, unbelief in the centre of people’s lives who should have been expecting to see Him and rejoicing when they did. It is here that God has encountered more intimately than any of us the depths of human self-will and self-determination.
So there is a powerful sense in which while God has already lived with the trials and sorrows of human society, He has also determined to draw us into that realm and that economy where He is indeed unchallenged.
And this is the plan into which He has drawn us and into which He continues to draw us. It is a place where in the midst of uncertainty and conflict we may yet know Him in His peace and mercy, the glorious wonders of His gospel, the extremity of His forgiveness and the eternal dimensions of His love.
For this is the Kingdom of Heaven and this is the place into which He is drawing His saints: both those who have completed their race and those who are still running it.