Saturday, 19 November 2016

Sermon for All Saints' Sunday: 30 Oct 2016

MORECAMBE PARISH CHURCH          30 Oct 2016


Luke 6: 20 - 31

Ok we’re going to start with a quiz. Which of these phrases are from Shakespeare and which from the Bible?

(Shakespeare died in 1616 which means he was around when the King James Bible was published in 1611. They have both come into our language and conversation and stayed.
Put your hand up if you think it’s the Bible / Shakespeare

A man after his own heart                          1 Sam 13: 14

Cast thy pearls before swine                     Matt 7: 6

I must be cruel only to be kind                  Hamlet

All they that take the sword
shall perish by the sword                           Matt 26: 52

Neither a borrower or a lender be                        Hamlet

Do to others as you would
have them do to you                                   Luke 6: 31

You should all have got that one right, we’ve just had it read to us! It is quoted often by people who don’t know if it comes from Shakespeare or the Bible, because it’s so good.

Luke’s Beatitudes
Jesus had the most amazing way of seeing through to the real point of a matter and expressing it in the most pithy, memorable and often surprising way.

These verses for instance, which we know better probably from Matthew’s version, are so full of a profound understanding of human beings and how societies work; they are so appealing and yet so uncomfortable and radical.

Is this what a SAINT looks like, on this All Saints day?
Poor, hungry, weeping, excluded, reviled, defamed on account of the Son of Man (v 20-22). Like so many in our world – they are the ones, Jesus says, who are blessed.

And is this God’s verdict on all who oppress the poor?
 (v 24 – 25)
woe to you who think you’ve made it through wealth and don’t share it,
woe to you who are full of yourself,
 woe to you who laugh and sneer at others’ misfortune?
Woe to you when you live only for the approval of others
It’s all going to get turned upside down.

It is very difficult to get away from the fact that Jesus is making a political statement here. His congregation were the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed and he wanted to give them hope, not false hope, but real hope that things would get turned right way up. You will be filled, you will laugh and rejoice and leap and dance v 21 & 23, he promises.

But Jesus says to those that listen, v 27, you have a responsibility in this:  “ love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you”  which is summed up in v 31: “do to others as you would have them do to you”
In between (v 29 – 30) Jesus gives some examples of how that might be worked out, which would have been obvious to those who heard him at the time but which perhaps need explaining today.

Turn the other cheek
V 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also. Matthew is more specific – “the right cheek”.

OK Mike I’d like you to come and strike me on the right cheek. I’ve asked Mike because I know he’s not a violent man!

How are you going to do it?  
Mike: Either with my left hand, or back-handed.

But in the Jewish Law the left hand was only used for unclean tasks (you may know or I’ll leave it to your imagination!)  So this aggressor must have used his back hand.

And the back hand was (and is) not to injure, but to insult, to humiliate, to degrade. It was not administered in those days to an equal, but an inferior. Masters back-handed slaves; husbands backhanded their wives; parents their children; Romans backhanded the Jews. The whole point was to force someone who was out of line back into place.

So, Jesus says, “if anyone strikes you (with the back hand to humiliate you), turn the other cheek”.  The people Jesus was talking to were used to being degraded and he says, refuse to accept this kind of treatment anymore. If they backhand you, turn the other cheek.

And if I turn to you the other cheek Mike – what are you going to hit me with? Right fist
The left cheek offers the perfect target for the right fist but only equals fought with fists.

So this was an act of defiance – it said to the slave master or the Roman oppressor, “I am your equal. I’m a human being just like you. I refuse to be humiliated any longer. I am a child of God.”

What Jesus is saying loud and clear to the poor and excluded and reviled is: don’t co-operate with anything that humiliates you. Stand up to your oppressors, assert your humanity. BUT don’t treat the oppressor in the way he treats you. “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. Find a different way of being which is neither being a victim or being violent.

Give away your shirt
It’s the same principle with the next phrase:
“from anyone who takes away your coat, do not withhold even your shirt.”. This would mean stripping off all their clothing and standing there naked. (We are not going to have a demonstration!)

Imagine the guffaws this must have evoked from Jesus’ congregation. We think it’s funny, so did they but they were also aware that for the Jew it was shameful; any kind of nakedness was a taboo. In effect the man is saying “you want my coat, here, take everything.”
Imagine him walking away with nothing on. His friends and neighbours would be aghast – ‘what happened to you?’ They would be outraged by him being so degraded. The point was made – ‘we can’t put up with this humiliation any longer’.

But, Jesus says, in your resistance: “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. *

We can read through the gospels and see how Jesus lived out these principles. Always resisting violence, but never submitting to the bully (Matt 26: 52, John 19: 11).

This is what it means to be disciple of Jesus, a Saint. Do you remember the drama about our Patron, St Laurence which Brian wrote and we enacted a few years ago? He was a saint who followed Jesus in non-violent resistance – there are many.

And I believe this is the invitation of Jesus to all of us; “find a different way of being; let my life be in you and I will give you what you need to be neither violent nor a victim”, “do to others as you would have them do to you”, and you will be blessed.

*Taken from : ‘The powers that be’ Walter Wink p 102 - 5

- Sue Kiernan, Reader at Morecambe Parish Church

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