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Blessed: The Be Attitudes – Blessed are those who are persecuted

Date: 03/10/2021/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” 

We have come to the last beatitude – and the close of this sermon series. 

Months ago when we came up with this sermon arc, I didn’t know where it would lead. I had some ideas, but this sermon series unfolded quite differently from what I expected. I learned a lot through the process – and each sermon built upon the previous one, and each expanded my own understanding of the beatitudes. I really appreciate Gary, Jaime and Gwee bringing in different perspectives on top of Pauline’s and my own. I hope that you have gained a deeper appreciation of the beatitudes. 

Last week – there were six questions you entered during Gwee’s sermon 

“Can peace be achieved without war? – 

Peace ‘make’r seems to suggest it is someone who is in power, but how about someone who is in the weaker position and already being oppressed?  

Not necessarily so – the power is within us – we all can make peace, we can participate in the work of peace. The oppressed can resist – turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, when someone asks for your coat, let them have your cloak also  (Gary’s sermon on blessed are the meek) 

Should we not standup for injustice? 

How to be peacemaking but naive? 

But what exactly is the definition of peace? What does it constitute? 

I personally like to define peace by the Hebrew word for peace “Shalom.” It connotates wholeness, where everything is in right relationship with one another.  

For political issues such as 377a, it seems that resolution is not something that can be found in the near future. As peacemakers, how are we supposed to respond to the injustice in the system?  

Is standing for justice and equality is part of the peacemaking that Jesus is referring here? Yes!  

For lay man person, who to simplify this so that they can understand it plainly?” 

And to answer some of the other questions – Gwee pointed out that: 

Peacemaking doesn’t mean keeping quiet. Peacemaking isn’t passive, peacemaking isn’t a drop in or a lack of conflict.  

  • If we passively wait for change to happen, it’s not going to happen. The kin-dom of God requires us to participate to bring about. Because as we participate, we are transformed into a new people, a new people who seek peace not to violence but through love. 

Peace isn’t achieved through violent means – “what a peacemaker does is peaceful?”  We cannot “fight the war to win the peace”. When you fight the war, you will most assuredly win more war. You win the peace by making, waging peace. 

There is a book in the Bible that illustrates that when you fight the war, you will win more war. 

We often skip over the violent parts of the Bible, afraid to face it, or taking it as though the authors of the Bible – and God – sanction violence and war. That’s reading without interpreting the text. 

The book of Judges is a good example.  

One verse keeps repeating throughout the book of Judges – do any of you know what that phrase is? 
“Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” 

And then there is a cycle of punishment through oppression by their enemies, repentance, and deliverance through “Judges” sent by the Lord – Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah (jefftah), Samson – then a period of prosperity, and then it begins all over again “Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” 

Rob Bell talks about the violent story of how Ehud killed King Eglon to liberate his people in his book “What is the Bible?” 

He writes: 

“So what do you do with a story like that? 

It’s so violent. 
The whole book of Judges is, 

It’s blood and chaos all around. Even the last line of the story of Ehud –  

And the land had peace for eighty years – is tainted by the fact that it only took murdering a king and ten thousand others to bring that peace (if that’s what you call it) 

So it’s a story about Ehud, the clever and crafty hero, who delivers his people from violence. But he does it with more violence. 

Which is fascinating because how does the next chapter starts? 

Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord. 

And then we’re right back into another cycle where the Israelites are brutally oppressed by another foreign king for twenty years until they cry out –  

And you know what happens when they cry out right? 

They’re delivered. Again. 
And on and on it goes. 

You can almost feel the writer’s fatigue in between the lines, can’t you? It’s as if the storyteller is chronicling all this violence and rescue, showing us that it isn’t working. 

Nothing ever really gets better. 

And yet just below the surface there’s this insistence that God is looking out for these people. Rescuing them, hearing their cry, being really, really patient with them. 

The so-called peace that is achieved through violence is only temporary. Nothing ever really gets better, because the people have not been transformed. And because they have not been transformed they keep repeating this cycle of violence – using violence to resolve the situation only sow seeds of more violence. 

Of course, it is easy for us to interpret the evil that Israelites do as idolatry and worshipping other Gods – because surely, we don’t do that today! 

We don’t have to worry about living Jesus’ way as long as we worship the right God, and we believe in the right things. 

Yet that cycle of screwing up, crying out to God, having someone rescue / deliver us, and a brief time of prosperity still repeats. This cycle of violence isn’t limited to the book of Judges, it is all over the Bible – and all over history as well. History repeats itself. Again and again. 

Why? 

Because we are still worshipping other Gods today. Just that these other Gods are not religious idols doesn’t mean we don’t worship them. We worship power, wealth, security, violence. 

When we say Jesus is the way, the path to salvation, what do we mean? 

It is not about BELIEVING that Jesus is the way. 

It is about LIVING Jesus’ way. 

Because if you believe, but don’t live it out, do you really believe? 

And it is only when we follow Jesus, we live out Jesus teachings that this cycle can be broken, and we move towards shalom, towards the kin-dom of God. 

The Beatitudes is a manifesto for the kin-dom of God. It is a manifesto of how to live out Jesus’ way. 

We talk a lot about being a new people – about being transformed. It is about moving beyond our selfishness and becoming more and more Christ-like – as the children of God bringing about the kin-dom of God here on earth. As more and more of us are transformed, living out Jesus’ way, the kin-dom of God will expand. 

That’s how I understand when Jesus said “behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:21 

We can manifest the kin-dom of God because its potential is already in us.  

—————————————- 

Which brings us back to the final beatitude – “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 

There are two key words here – “persecuted” and “righteousness.” 

<Menti> What do you understand by these two words – “persecuted” and “righteousness”? 

When I think of persecution, I think of being mistreated, oppressed, and even have one’s safety and well-being threatened. We can face persecution for many things – it could be because of race, religion, political beliefs, nationality, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Persecution could range from being bullied and threatened to being killed. But remember this – one could face persecution for wrongdoing too.  

What about righteousness? 

I have don’t really like the word righteousness – especially when it is used to describe one’s own actions – because that often becomes self-righteousness. And sometimes, instead of paying attention to the rightness of our own actions, we distract ourselves by paying attention to other people’s actions – and that can be self-righteous too. 

Brother Mark Brown from The Society of St John the Evangelist 

“I’m not sure just why, but I find that word “righteousness” one of the more irritating words of the Bible. It’s a word used a lot but the Bible doesn’t come with a glossary of definitions. Perhaps my discomfort with the word is that it is so close to the word “self-righteousness”. 

Or, maybe it’s because it’s a word we can’t actually use with confidence to describe anyone in particular. We might recognize words or deeds as righteous, but who can we say is truly and fully righteous? Who are we to say who is unrighteous? And doesn’t the sun shine and the rain fall upon the righteous and the unrighteous? And, doesn’t Christ himself call as his followers the righteous and the unrighteous? Don’t we all at times walk in the footsteps of Peter, who denied knowing Jesus, not once, but three times? Don’t we all at times walk in the footsteps of Matthew, who made common cause with an oppressive system? Don’t we all—sooner or later–walk in the footsteps of even Judas, the betrayer?” 

While Brother Mark Brown says that the Bible doesn’t define very well the word righteous, there is at least one place where Jesus quite clearly defines what being righteous mean – 

20 chapters further down from the Beatitudes, Matthew 25:34-40 
 
‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. 35 I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. 36 I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’ 

37 “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 

40 “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’ 

The reality is that we are both righteous and unrighteous. We are not perfect. We might be a wonderful friend, but a terrible manager. We may be a great child, but a terrible sibling. There are times we transcend our selfish natures to do really selfless acts, and there are times we succumb to fear, envy, lust, sloth, pride, greed, and we do things that are unrighteous. 

There are times, the price to pay for doing the right thing is so great, that may cost us too much, that we choose to turn away. Instead of following the example of the Good Samaritan, we act like the Priest and the Levite, and we cross to the other side of the road and just pass the wounded man by, pretending not to have seen anything.   

But Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 

We are called to do what is right – even if it gets us in trouble. We are called to do what is right, even if doing so may put us at risk of being unclean in the eyes of religious law.  We are called to do what is right, even if it costs us. 

Gwee, in his sermon last week – said that “Jesus’s blessings to all these are an encouragement to them because the world must and will fail them miserably. Only God’s Kingdom will be able to begin repaying them objectively. Until then, for the making of peace, we who strive will not be loved. We can hope to be, but will probably not be, understood – because we are truly on the side of peace. No illusions working to be thanked. 

This is surely 1 way to understand a last strange thing Jesus also said on peace: “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34). How can the Prince of Peace not bring peace? You see, when you wage Christ’s peace, all that only see things divisively will come for you. They will make war with you. But, while we must see what they see, to understand them and know how to do peace, we must not see as they see.” 

Gwee ended the sermon – Do you get that? We must see what the world sees but not as it sees. We must then start to make what is not yet there, the way of peace.” 

At the end of the day, when we follow Jesus’ way, we align ourselves not with those who are powerful, but with the kin-dom of God. The kin-dom of God is where the first shall be last and last shall be first. Those who are first today will certainly not want the kin-dom of God – they will want the status quo.  

And all those who are first will attack, persecute, and use all their means with whatever power they have to stop change – to stop the advancing of God’s kin-dom. God’s kin-dom where the mighty are put down from their thrones, the lowly lifted up, the hungry filled with good things and the rich sent away empty.  

That sounds familiar right? That’s Mary’s proclamation – the Magnificat – from Luke 1:46-55. Mary’s proclamation announces how God’s kin-dom looks like.  
 

Mighty One! Your name is holy! 

In every age, 

your compassion flows to those who reverence you! 

But all who seek to exalt themselves in arrogance 

will be leveled by your power. 

You have deposed the mighty from their seats of power, 

and have raised the lowly to high places. 

Those who suffer hunger, 

you have filled with good things. 

Those who are privileged, 

you have turned away empty-handed. 

You have come to the aid of your people, 

in fulfillment of the promise you made to our ancestors— 

when you spoke blessing to Sarah and Hagar 

and all their descendants, to the utmost generation! 

 
Jesus’ blessing to the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted because of righteousness is to encourage them to persevere even when the world turns against them – for the world will surely do to protect and maintain the status quo. Jesus tells them – and us – that ours is the kin-dom of heaven – that we are participating in the expansion of God’s kin-dom by rejecting the ways of the world and embrace Jesus’ way. 

Jesus’ way of non-violence is revealed in the beatitudes – poor in spirit, meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaker. But it is not easy – how many of us will give up the comforts we have? How many of us will let go of things that give us security and trust in God? How many of us are still obsessed with wealth accumulation?  

As long as we cannot let go, we have an interest to maintain the status quo, and protect this system that we benefit from. As long as we deny we are part of the system, that we benefit from the system, then we help maintain the system.  

The Beatitudes point us towards change that require our active involvement, because it is by participating in this change that we are transformed. It is by living it in Jesus’ way that we make the kin-dom of God that is within us a reality in the world we live in. 

It is then we take on our full identity as children of God, that we will be comforted, we will be filled, we will be shown mercy, we will see God, and we will inherit the earth. 

Do we see as Jesus sees? Are we able to live with an ethic of love like the Good Samaritan – and live by a different code from the “what is mine is yours…if you have need of it”? We will be laughed at, called names, taken advantage of – but that is Jesus’ way. The way of love.  

 Do we see everyone around us as our neighbours – even those who hold different beliefs, values – even the robbers who lives by the ethic of “what is yours is mine at whatever cost.”, even the Levites and the priests of the world who lives by the ethic of “what is mine is mine and I must protect it even if it means you get hurt in the process”. 

Instead of being focused on acquiring more, so we have more and more of what is mine, are we able to give away what we have been blessed with so that the world is transformed?  

Instead of being obsessed with our own safety and well-being, can we be obsessed with the safety and well-being of others? 

Are we  

Jesus’ way requires us not to see people as our enemies, but our neighbours.  

It is tempting to see those who disagree with us, and even those who exploit us, oppress us as the enemy but that is not Jesus’ way. Even at the end, Jesus didn’t see those who crucified him as enemies but people who need to be forgiven. 

The beatitudes require Translation to action: not just the beatitudes but us becoming more Christlike when we live them out. 

Speak up – migrant workers – work safety / outrage at the explosion at the  Tuas industrial building – Three workers, Mr Subbaiyan Marimuthu, 38, Mr Anisuzzaman Md, 29, and Mr Shohel Md, 23, died from severe burns that covered 90 per cent of their bodies, while seven other workers, including two who were not in the workshop, were injured. 

Non-violent Resistance – show up, Pink Dot –  

Make Peace 

<m> In what ways do you think you live out the beatitudes?