Beloved is your name

by | Nov 5, 2017 | Sermons

Matthew 5:1-12

The Beatitudes

When I was a child it was commonly known that I wasn’t athletic or sporty in any way. I was a geek, more interested in science and computers than going out and playing football or baseball. And because that was the label I had, I lived up to it. I followed role models from my favourite TV shows, the nerdy teenager who used his brains rather than his brawns. I could have changed, I could have challenged stereotypes, but it was all too easy to fit into the type. Then I went to University, a new town, new friends, a new country even.
It was a golden opportunity to give myself a new label. I decided I wanted to be an oarsman. To row. So I learned how, I devoted time to it, I worked out. I was still the same person, obviously, but I became known as a ‘boatie’. A new label – new role models – something new to live up to.

This is beginning to sound like some kind of New Years Resolution sermon – it’s not. But what we are labelled as, who our role models are, have an enormous impact on what we become. It’s important we think about the labels we give our children, how we encourage them – Are they beautiful, or courageous, or strong, or kind, or thoughtful, or clever, or… or… or…

I watched the BBC re-telling of the Gunpowder plot this week. Simply called Gunpowder, it is not for the faint hearted. It is honest about the brutality of its age. It highlights that those who are persecuted as enemies of the state may feel they have no choice but to live up to that title as well. A lesson not without parallels today.

Today, as we celebrate All Saints’, Jesus begins his sermon on the mount with these great declarations –  The Beatitudes.
Blessed are the poor in spirit…
Blessed are those who mourn…
Blessed are the meek…
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for justice…
Blessed are the merciful…
Blessed are the pure in heart…
Blessed are the peacemakers…
Blessed are those who are persecuted…

So weighty are they that each of them could be unpacked, to explore who are the meek? What is it to thirst for righteousness? How does one become a peacemaker? But even before going there, it’s worth thinking about the very nature of these exhortations. There is no verb in the Hebrew – these are not causal statements – you will be blessed because you are merciful. These are statements of existing and present fact. Jesus is speaking to those who are mourning, those who are poor in spirit, those who are feeling meek, who are thirsting for justice… he is saying to the disciples – you are blessed. He is defining them as blessed, even before they have done anything. And Jesus is calling each of us blessed as well, Paul refers to the followers of Christ as the Saints… not because they have earned it, but because God has made us blessed. We have been named as Children of God. Now it is up to us to live up to it. We cannot earn it, but we can try to live up to it.

Bishop Richard used to always begin every service, according to the language of the Book of Common Prayer, with the greeting ‘BELOVED’. This is the same – a statement of fact, but not one that is earned by anything apart from our nature as God’s children. Part of trying to live up to that exhortation is obviously recognising our faults and seeking to better ourselves. I asked the school if they could tell me what a saint was. What the word meant. And they of course told me it was somebody who was very religious, who was very good,
who always put others first, who was in a close relation with God. There was an intake of breath when I pointed out that not all the Saints were always good. Some of them weren’t really very nice at all. Some, like Luther or Mother Theresa, went for long periods searching in the dark, feeling separated from God and desperately trying to hear God speaking to them. In fact the only thing we can say for certain is that like you and me they were flawed. But in a way that is what they are role models of, that even in our own messed up human way, we too can be blessed by God.

We cannot escape the limitations of any human role models, especially given the recent revelations coming out of both the film and television industry and among our politicians. Allegations of sexual harassment and abuse. The abuse of power and authority. But then these allegations are hardly new. They are the reality of the world we live in, the assumptions society makes about authority and power based on race, based on class, based on gender, mean that these revelations are, to many of us, no surprise. The courage to challenge the establishment, to say enough is enough, those are the role models we should be looking to. But we also need to be cautious not to label those who have committed these horrific abuses as monsters. To do so denies our common human condition,  and our own ability to fail.

In the end we all fall down. We all make mistakes. We all live up to the worst definitions of who we are. But we are also all Saints. We are all Blessed and Beloved of God. So let us take from those examples of the Saints, and count ourselves as worthy to be among them as God’s children. And let us, each day, try to live up to that label. To be the Saints of God here in this place and this time, restless for justice, merciful and pure in heart. Let us live as if we were truly deeply loved, because we know for certain we are Beloved.

The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams