The KFL people

A Kingdom Filled with Laughter : Luke 6:17-26
Sermon for St Peter’s Bramley, 13 February 2022

“Blessed are you who are poor, For yours is the Kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, For you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, For you will laugh.”

These are some of the best known of all Jesus’ sayings, yet also some of the hardest to accept or understand.  On the surface he seems to be saying it’s a good thing to be poor, or hungry, or upset.  But that clearly can’t be what he means, because all through the Bible God condemns the injustice that leads to poverty.  Many times, he promises to lift people out of poverty and suffering.  Jesus himself spent most of his time with the ordinary people in society, with all their problems.   The song of his mother Mary – Magnificat – rejoices in the God who lifts up the lowly and fills the hungry with good things. NO, the meaning is deeper than that.

Who are the people Jesus is addressing here? Three groups. His disciples – a great crowd of them.  A multitude of people from Judea and Jerusalem – the Jews.  And from Tyre and Sidon – immigrants.  He speaks to them directly – you who are poor, you who are hungry, you who weep, for that is what has brought them to him, and on them he has compassion.

What Jesus does in these few short sayings is to set these followers off on a journey of faith.  It’s a journey that starts with an immediate change – not ‘the Kingdom of Heaven will be yours’, but ‘Yours is the Kingdom of Heaven’.  Realising that we are actually part of God’s Kingdom now, one of his daughters or sons, is the beginning of the journey of discipleship. 

Poor or not, hungry or not, weeping or not, however you feel at this moment, the fact that you are listening to Jesus means you are in his Kingdom. The other promises look further along the journey.  ‘You will be filled, you will laugh’.  These may look to be hollow promises to someone who is hungry now and weeping now.  But one of the great Christian themes is hope: the trust we put in God that he will change things for the better.

And the way that God changes things for the better, occasional miracles apart, is through us, his church. It is as we realise, individually, that we are part of God’s Kingdom that we come together in fellowship.  We realise that we are not alone, but part of a greater movement. We offer and receive support in each other’s troubles, and together reach out to address the needs around us. 

That much can be said of any group of people with a common purpose.  In the church we have one additional and much stronger bond:  the joy of salvation. When Jesus said ‘Blessed are you, for you will laugh’, he didn’t mean all our troubles would vanish overnight, but that as we receive his Holy Spirit we find the strength to face our troubles and an inner joy that stops us collapsing under their weight. 

Jeremiah gave us a vivid illustration that covers the same ideas when he said “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord … they shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots to the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green”.  The heat and drought and stress will come in our lives, but in Jesus we can stay green.

It seems to me that we can take these three one-word promises: ‘Yours is the Kingdom, You will be Filled, You will Laugh’, and make of them a simple and memorable phrase:  A Kingdom, Filled with Laughter”. K.F.L., if you wish – other three letter acronyms are available.

That phrase from Jeremiah about a tree that is resistant to drought leads me to say something briefly about the big issue of our day: climate change. How are the words of Jesus relevant to that?  Like it or not, life will get harder in the future, for all of us and not just the poor. Rising gas prices and storm damage to houses are just the beginning. The fact that everyone’s life is going to change over the coming years, and our response to that fact, is going to be ever more important.

I’m currently attending a series of online meetings of a group called Climate Action Leeds. Our aim is to bring together action on two fronts: climate justice (meaning, to see that the poor are not hit hardest by the effects of climate change) and social justice (a wider response to inequality in society).  The Church has always ‘done’ social justice: it’s what we are about – feeding the hungry, comforting the sad and so on.  The challenge now is to bring climate justice into our planning and action in future, the two working together.

We know from these readings that we are part of the Kingdom of God, and on a journey of faith that involves change. So we understand that there is more to life than possessions, we have hope that God will fill the hungry, we can know the joy of the Holy Spirit: we, then, are the people who like Jeremiah’s tree will be resilient in the time of drought – and the time of flood.  We are the people best placed to deliver not only social justice but climate justice too. We are the KFL people: the Kingdom Filled with Laughter people. We are the blessed. And our task is to share those blessings with others. Amen.

Blessed, those whose hearts are gentle

Jesus teaches the Beatitudes

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise, “Blessed, those whose hearts are gentle”, is not dissimilar to the Gospel chants of the last few days, as suggested also by the words in the refrain “Raise the Gospel over the earth!” However, both the verses and the ‘alleluia’ refrain are longer than in the others, and it would work as a congregational hymn.

The six verses come in two pairs, and the thrust of the words is typical of the composer, Bernadette Farrell, most of whose hymns are about issues of social justice and inclusion.  First are two verses with the repeated statement “Blessed are…”, which immediately recalls the Beatitudes of Jesus. But these are not directly quoting the Beatitudes. Here, those who are blessed are ‘those whose hearts are gentle, whose spirits are strong, who choose to bring forth right where there is wrong, who work for justice, who answer the call, who dare to dream of lasting peace for all’.

In the third and fourth verses, “Blessed” is replaced with “Tremble”. This is about the privileged who should be in fear of God for failing to meet his standards of justice. ‘You who build up riches, with opulent lives’ should ‘tremble … when you meet the poor and see Christ in their eyes’. And ‘you who thirst for power, who live for acclaim’ should ‘tremble… when you find no comfort in your wealth and fame’.  This seems highly relevant in the context of current British politics, with the Government and its advisers increasingly criticised not only for becoming wealthy at the expense of the poor, but for lies and corruption.

The final pair of verses turns back to God and ascribes glory to him, as Word of Justice, Spirit of Peace and God of Love. But glory is also said to be “upon all people equal in God’s eyes”. To sing this hymn is to remind ourselves that God’s call is never only to live for him in our own lives but to strive for these divine qualities of justice, equality, peace and so on in the lives of others.

The Bible in a Year – 26 October

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

26 October. Matthew chapters 5-7

These chapters comprise the “Sermon on the Mount”, the fullest account we have of the direct teaching of Jesus about how to live a holy and fulfilled life.  It is presented as a single set of teachings, although it may actually be a summary of his teachings on many occasions. Any one of the short passages among them would be the basis for a sermon.  Indeed, a couple of years ago I wrote a series of Lent reflections for my London parish just on the Beatitudes (the first eleven verses of chapter 5). So I will revisit the introduction I gave then.

The opening verse of the “sermon” tells us “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them.” That gives us the correct order of things.  First Jesus was present (and people knew it), secondly his disciples made time to come to him, and thirdly he spoke, and they learnt from him.   Learning from Jesus requires these three things us of us: to believe in him, to come to where he is (whether that is in a church meeting, or in our own quiet times at home) and to be ready to listen and learn.  And that means having the humility of the true scholar, of knowing that we have much to learn. In the words of an old hymn –

Come to my heart, O Thou wonderful love, come and abide,
Lifting my life, till it rises above envy and falsehood and pride,
Seeking to be: lowly and humble, a learner of Thee.
Robert Walmsley (1831-1905)

Before we go any further, we need to be clear what we mean by being “blessed”. The word “beatitude” comes from the Latin word for it (beatus).  The original Greek word is “makarios”.  Some modern versions of the Bible translate the word as “happy” but that can sound rather shallow – a feeling of happiness can be easily caused by all sorts of small things in life, and just as easily shattered when bad things happen.

The happiness that Jesus promises is something much more profound, and has little to do with the pleasures of life.  The sort of happiness we are looking at here is not the contentment of having all the material things we need, but the satisfaction of knowing that we are living God’s way and building right relationships with other people.  Turning away from the sort of behaviour that harms oneself or others, and living in a way that builds community.  Being at peace with God because we know we have put things right in some way.