What is your lifestyle?
Lectionary Readings: Jeremiah 17 w5-10, Luke 6 vvl7-26
What is your lifestyle? 'Lifestyle' is a familiar term these days. It refers to the way we spend our time, our habits, interests, activities and values. We are all different and there are many different styles to choose from. People adopt the lifestyle they are happiest with. In fac1 in choosing a lifestyle happiness is what people aim for.
Jesus proclaimed a lifestyle or, more accurately, a way of life; a way of life that brings true happiness. You'll find it described in what is called The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7). It is also set out more briefly and a little differently by Luke (chapter 6 - from which our gospel reading was taken). Some have thought this is the same sermon but since Jesus no doubt taught these things on more than one occasion it is probably better to consider it a separate sermon delivered according to Luke 'on a level place' - some call it 'The Sermon on the Plain'.
Both accounts begin with Beatitudes - 8 in Matthew and 4 in Lute - beginning with the word 'Blessed'. 'Blessed* is translated as 'happy' in some Bibles and it does imply happiness. The 'blessed' are to be congratulated and to be envied. If the sermons recorded by Matthew and Luke teach us the way we should live, the beatitudes with which they begin are concerned with the kind of people we are, that is with our CHARACTER. It is the kind of people we are that determines - to a great extent - the way we behave. 'Blessed' also carries the thought of God' s blessing. Jesus begins his teaching therefore by speaking of those whose character is pleasing to God and is blessed by God.
Who are these people then - according to Jesus - are blessed by God and are to be envied? They are the POOR; the HUNGRY the SORROWFUL and the UNPOPULAR. How astonishing! Hardly the people the world envies! The people the world envies are the RICH, the SUCCESSFUL, the CHEERFUL and the POPULAR. Just look at the media coverage, in the magazines and on TV and the lifestyles being celebrated there. Yet according to Jesus such people are to be pitied. Let's look more closely at those who are blessed and really happy.
1. THE POOR. Blessed are you who are poor. Jesus is not saying that poverty in itself is a good thing. Otherwise there would be no concern to relieve it through organisations like Christian Aid. Nor is Jesus blessing one social class, that is the poor - over against other groups. It is blessed to be poor because this corresponds to the reality of our position before God. The poor know they have no resources in God's sight whilst the rich are in danger of forgetting this. That is why Jesus said 'How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God' (Luke 18 v24). His warning to the church at Laodicea (Rev 3 vl7) applies here 'You say I am rich, I have acquired wealth, I do not need a thing. But do you not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked?' Wealth is not evil in itself but 'if riches increase do not set your heart on-them ' (Psalm 62 v.10) Therein is the danger. Blessed are you who are poor.
2. And blessed too are those who hunger now - THE HUNGRY. Again physical hunger is not the issue - to feed the hungry is and always has been a Christian concern. It is blessed to be hungry because it prevents self-satisfaction and complacency. One can be hungry for power, for success, for recognition and all sorts of things, not necessarily wrong. Jesus says in Matthew 5v.6 'Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness' Best of all is the hunger for God. Without hunger there is no sense of need nor shall we be filled As Mary proclaimed in the Magnificat 'He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty' (Luke 1 v53).
3. Blessed too are those who weep - THE SORROWFUL. Surely not! 'Cheer up' says the world 'Don't be a misery' Come on, have a laugh!. Again our Lord is not recommending gloominess or speaking against good humour. He enjoyed life and must often have laughed. But there is a laughter that that is shallow and trivial with no sensitivity to evil and to the world's sufferings. Jesus wept over Jerusalem and those who grieve and weep are at one with the Saviour 'a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief' Blessed are those who weep now for they shall laugh.
4. And blessed, say's Jesus, 'when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man' THE UNPOPULAR. We all want to be liked, indeed loved. Jesus is not denying that there will be times when praise and encouragement are to be welcomed. But beware when everyone speaks well of us. If we are true to our Lord we shall find some people at least cool towards us, to some we shall give offence and others may insult us. And this not for ourselves but because of the Son of Man. If so, says Jesus, Rejoice! In this experience you are one with the prophets and again at one with Jesus who became despised- and rejected. In the Viewpoint in our February 'Link Up' magazine Jeff Ward wondered whether Christians were becoming a persecuted minority in Britain today. If so says Jesus 'Rejoice and leap for joy'. We're in good company with Jesus and the prophets. It shows that we are not an innocuous and outdated phenomenon but are offering a serious challenge to the secular world view; for the character described in the Beatitudes and the way of life that flows from it stand in stark contrast to much we see and hear in the world around us.
We can choose from a variety of lifestyles and many are simply matters of taste, but in our basic way of life and orientation there are only 2 ways to choose from. This is a theme that runs right through the Bible.
Moses told the Israelites that God had set before them life and death, blessings and curses and urged them to choose life (Deut.30 vl9). Similarly Joshua challenged the people to choose whom they would serve (Josh 24 v15).
Jeremiah in our Old Testament reading contrasted those who trusted in man (cursed) and those who trusted in God (blessed). The same contrast occurs in Psalm 1.
Jesus himself in the Sermon on the Mount urged his hearers to enter the narrow gate and road that leads to life rather than the wide gate and broad road leading to destruction. (Matt 7 vv 13,14) and in our reading from Luke sets four woes against the four beatitudes These woes are not threats; 'woe to you' has the sense of 'alas' over those making the wrong choice (Luke 6 vv.24-26).
Jeremiah faced with a nation making the wrong choice and facing defeat and captivity got to the root of the problem. The human heart (not the physical organ that pumps blood but our inner being or spirit, which in the Bible is what God deals with) The heart, says Jeremiah (17 v9) is 'deceitful above all things and beyond cure. The answer Jeremiah came to see (Ch.31 vv31/3) would be in a new covenant: whereby God's law would be written in people's hearts.
And Ezekiel a little later, wrrote of God giving his people a 'new heart' (Ezek. 11 v.l9). For the character and the life that follows from it forgiving our enemies, not judging, loving our neighbour etc as described in the Sermon on the Mount and in the Sermon on the Plain are not possible for ordinary human nature. A new heart and a new nature are required and this is precisely what Jesus gives to us when we choose to go in his way.
Our closing hymn, by Charles Wesley. '0 for a heart to praise my God' (MP 495, HPs 536 A&M 23Q) offers to God the prayer we need in verse 5
Thy nature, gracious Lord, impart;
Come quickly from above,
Write thy new name upon my heart,
Thy new, best name of love.
Taken from the sermon at St. Nicholas, Sturry, on 15 February 2004 by Ron Chadwick, Methodist Loacl Preacher and member of Sturry United Church Preaching Team.