29 January 2017

Epiphany 4 A 2017

Sermon by Canon H. Stuart Pike
Photo Credit: Sterling College on Flickr.com

Epiphany 4 A 2017 - Blessed are the Cheese-makers:
St. Luke’s, Burlington
20 Jan 2017

Matthew 5: 1-12

In one of the Monty Python movies (the Life of Brian) we see that someone portraying Jesus is preaching on a far off hillside but the people in the foreground cannot hear. One of them runs a little closer and then comes back to his friends.
“What’s he sayin’”, asks one of them.
“Blessed are the cheese-makers” answers the other. A woman says “Blessed are the Cheese-makers?” and her husband says. “It’s not to be taken literally dear, he means all manufacturers of dairy products.”
But that’s not what was read in today’s Gospel lesson! “Blessed are the peacemakers”. Peacemaking is a much harder, much more dangerous, and a much more controversial occupation than cheese-making. Peacemakers often don’t have much to show for their efforts. With the leader of the most powerful nation in the world engaged in what seems to be wholesale bigotry, excluding people because of their faith and building walls of exclusion in both the literal and figurative sense with just one week of executive orders, peacemaking does not seem to get much attention or respect.
Today’s gospel passage is sometimes called “The Beatitudes” and is taken from a larger section, called, “The Sermon on the Mount”. The “blessed life” or “the blessed” are not limited to peacemakers, but also include, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the persecuted, and the slandered.
At first glance though these do not seem to be indications of any real kind of blessing. In fact they are often taken as indications of just the opposite. They seem to be contradicted by both common sense and experience. We all know that the meek don’t even get into traffic at an uncontrolled intersection, let alone end up inheriting the earth! We all know that the world only remembers winners, not the losers. How can all these people be blessed?
The prophetic tradition called people to faithfulness for the ‘long haul’ and it called the people to live as if the proclaimed future were in fact already a reality. In the very declaration of blessedness, those so named actually become blessed. In great part because they are involved in being a blessing to others.
So, blessed are the peacemakers, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. All of these things involve people not just being poor in spirit, or meek or who mourn, but those who actually get up and get active in peacemaking and hungering and thirsting for righteousness and being merciful. It’s about making a difference. Because, you know it, we are now living in a world that is actively fighting against justice, righteousness, peacemaking and being merciful.

Two days ago was the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Auschwitz, one of the death camps run by the Nazis is probably the best known of the camps designed to kill Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, disabled people and others considered by the Nazis to be unfit to live. One million Jewish people and over one hundred thousand others were killed at Auschwitz alone. They came from all countries controlled by or allied with Nazi Germany.
Many stories have been told about people who tried to prevent such deportations by hiding Jewish people in attics and basements, by obtaining extra ration cards so that they could eat, and false documents so that they could escape, or by claiming young Jewish children were their own. When I was in High School, I watched a movie called “The Hiding Place” which told the story of a family from Holland who were eventually sent to concentration camps because they helped to hide Jews from the Nazis’. The Ten Boom family were watchmakers and committed Christians. Their home was always an "open house" for anyone in need.
During the Second World War, the Ten Boom family, far from stopping their work, continued and branched into much more dangerous pursuits. Their home became a refuge, a hiding place, for fugitives and those hunted by the Nazis. By protecting these people, Casper and his daughters, Corrie and Betsie, risked their very lives. Their faith led them to hide people such as Jews, students who refused to cooperate with the Nazis, and members of the Dutch underground resistance movement.
During 1943 and into 1944, there were usually 6 or 7 people illegally living in this home: 4 Jews and 2 or 3 members of the Dutch resistance. Additional refugees would stay with the Ten Booms for a hours or a few days until another "safe house" could be located for them. Much of the ‘leg work’ was done by Corrie, who was far from young at the time. Through these activities, the Ten Boom family and their many friends saved the lives of an estimated 800 Jews, and protected many Dutch underground workers.
In the 1980's Corrie, the only member of the family to survive the concentration camps, was asked to plant a tree in to honour those who did not survive, in Israel’s “Garden of Righteousness” and she was honoured with the title, “Righteous Gentile”
She and her father would have looked upon their work, the sacrifices it involved, and the dangers as an honour and would have often given thanks for the blessing it brought them.
The beatitudes call Christians to look at the world with a different set of eyes. The world would say blessed are the rich and the clever and tricky.

Jesus knows a deeper truth, and it was one which we know as well. Blessed are the poor in Spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. And blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and are peacemakers.
And it’s certainly NOT about ignoring all of the ills of this life because they will all be erased in heaven! By no means. We are meant to struggle with the evil and sad things of this world and to make life better for all people, but we must always keep things in perspective. The success is not in the arrival, but in the journey; the joy comes from having walked together in faith with those who are on a similar journey of love, peace, justice and faith. 
So much of what I see in the beatitudes involves living our lives in a completely different way. We are called to choose an alternative to the ‘success model’. We are called to model something other than the ‘dog eat dog’ success model that tells us to ‘look after #1' by earning more and saving more and maximizing our return because “if we don’t look after ourselves, no one else will.”
Instead, it substitutes another outlook. The model of Christ teaches that “it is only through working together and focussing on the Good News of Jesus, the Christ, that we will find true blessing. Its part of the paradox of the gospel that it is only in losing our lives that we will find and in giving that we receive.
So how can we be peacemakers and hunger and thirst for righteousness today? We need to take the courage to resist unrighteousness and be peacemakers in our everyday decisions. We need to make our faith determine our actions, like the TenBoom family did.
We need to follow the call of Micah: “…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
We need to stop hiding behind concepts like: “The church should not be in the business of politics,” as if the Gospel wasn’t political.
Practically everything that Jesus said was political! At this time and place, we can’t ignore that. Jesus was a person who stood up and said no. The Beatitudes are not just blessings but a call to action to be church, a call to action to make Jesus known today in our actions when the world tries desperately to silence those who speak the truth – no alternative truth, but the real truth!
Now I love cheese, and I love cheesemakers. And if you are a cheesemaker than you really are blessed, but you need to do more than cheesemaking

The beatitudes are our call to form another kind of resistance. To be deeply counter-cultural whenever our culture turns into a machine of injustice, unrighteousness, exclusion, bigotry, fear-mongering and hate. Because we know that love always wins in the end. Let’s work to that end. Amen.

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