The Fourth Mark of Mission – 25th August 2019 (Isaiah 61:1-9; James 2:1-26; Luke 6:20-26)

This is the fifth Sunday in our series about the five Marks of Mission. … Just to remind ourselves once again, these are the 5 Marks of Mission espoused by the Church of England:

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture believers.
  3. To respond to human need by loving service.
  4. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

We have not been able to follow them in order. We started with the first but then jumped to the third and then the fifth. Returning first to the second mark of mission, we are now going to consider the fourth Mark of Mission. Over recent weeks, we have heard how interdependent these Marks are, we cannot pick and choose between them. Together they describe God’s Mission in our world and we are called to see what God is doing and to join in.

The fourth mark is: To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.

Luke 6: 20-26 contain Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are a part of Jesus Sermon on the Mount (or on the plain). I have paired up the blessings and woes below:

Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:

‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.

‘Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

These beatitudes in Luke are so different from those in Matthew. Matthew separates his blessings and woes by a few chapters. And his message seems spiritual rather than physical. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.”

We might ask ourselves questions like: Why do we have two versions of the Sermon in our Gospels? Which is the right one? Surely they cannot both be correct?

Indeed, it is likely that the Luke passage is the earlier of the two. It is more likely that Jesus words have been expanded by Matthew to emphasise their spiritual meaning, rather than contracted by Luke to focus on the physical meaning.

What is most important for us, is that we have both. They speak to each other and they remind us that we cannot just listen to one without the other. The fact that they both exist reminds us that Luke meant what he wrote. He was not being essentially spiritual but speaking about our world and our values.

When Luke says: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” … He means it. He paints a picture of God’s ‘upside down’ world in which the poor and hungry are exalted over the rich and powerful.

The question he expects us to ask is: Where am I in these different pairs? Am I hungry or poor. Am I one who mourns and weeps. Am I someone who is persecuted. Or am I actually rich, filled, happy and thought well of?

Who am I?

It can be easy to think we know what words like ‘poor’, ‘hungry’ and ‘rich’ mean. Likewise it can sometimes seem clear who is the victim and who is the persecutor. But it is rarely this simple. What one person calls a terrorist, another calls a freedom fighter.

What does this tell us about drawing conclusions, and how might we become better informed regarding conflict situations? Or even about the realities experienced by many in our own country.

Are they wastrels? Or are they downtrodden? Do they play the system? Or are they overwhelmed by the system and unable to change their circumstances for the better?

Society has always worked on these kinds of polarities. In UK history, the poor usually received the great judgement. White collar crime, such as embezzlement or fraud of significant sums of money, attracted punishment but was usually seen as excusable. Worthy of punishment, yes. But easily put behind you and of little ultimate significance as you pursued your next, perhaps shady, business opportunity. However, the theft of a bag of potatoes because your family was starving resulted in a harsh prison sentence or transportation to the colonies.Convicts transported to Australia at work outside Sydney 1843. [1]

Are we the poor, or are we the rich? I guess it depends on our perspective.

For the majority of our world, all of us here today are rich. Yet in our society are those who are really poor. People who have, for whatever reason, found themselves as outsiders. The numbers are increasing, the need is increasing, even here in our own town. And we have people of courage who are prepared to work for change. Pauline Town’s work with “We Shall Overcome”, [4] Greystones, [5] Infinity Initiatives, [6] Emmaus. [7] All of these have a prophetic witness. They have recognised that our society has failed significant numbers of people. They seek to do something about this reality.

What might Luke’s Beatitudes teach us about our mission priorities?

We are focussing on the 4th Mark of Mission. It calls on us to “Transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.”

As just one example, let’s stay with our own town.

Try to imagine yourself now living the life of someone who has, for whatever reason, found themselves on the street here in Ashton-under-Lyne, with no money, no credit cards and no friends to turn to.

What does it feel like in the first few days? Do you still have a sense of hope that things will change?

How does it feel after a couple of months with no income, no friends, and no roof over your head? ………….

Someone kindly helps you to attend the Housing Advice Centre on Old Street [3] and finds a way to get you some food through a Food Bank. Do you feel grateful? Or do you feel an overwhelming sense of shame?

When you find yourself in dormitory accommodation under the “A Bed for a Night Scheme.” Do you feel grateful or scared about those you will be sharing with?

These are the realities for a good number of people each day in Tameside. [2]

What should the church’s response be? ………….. What about action? What could we do?

What could be changed – locally or nationally – to transform the issue?

What about campaigning for change? What about Universal Credit? Is it good or bad? Are there ways to change its implementation that might help? …………………. What is the role of the church in politics (with a small ‘p’)?

Matters of justice – whether justice for children, women, animals, refugees – can provoke strong emotions. What comes up for you when you consider the idea of tackling injustice? How could the church support you in this?

What could we do this year to make a change? What organisations could we work with?

And a final question before I go on the make a few short comments:

Looking at the last beatitude in Luke: What is the difference between anger and hate? How can we help ensure that our ‘fire’ or ‘passion’ is an asset rather than a hindrance in a quest for justice? How can anger at injustice be directed towards real change so that it does not develop into bitterness and hatred but makes a real difference?

So what to do?

First of all, lets talk about these things over coffee today. Is there a challenge we need to take up locally? If not the one I have suggested, are there other injustices that we should address?

Our shared giving is one way in which we make a difference. Our Church Wardens have agreed that homelessness should be the theme of our Harvest in October this year. And while our tins and produce will go the places agreed by each of our churches, our monetary giving will be shared by “We Shall Overcome” and “Infinity Initiatives.” Might you be able to give sacrificially at Harvest this year?

Lets believe too that when we work together with others we can make a real difference. I like the adjacent picture. We might feel small but we can have a big impact. We need to believe in what God can do through us.

What about the many other organisations fighting for justice across many areas of need in our borough. We have already mentioned a number. I had been hoping that Action Together would be here today but it is the bank holiday weekend and that has proved impossible. At the moment I have an impact on our behalf in that organisation. I Chair the Board of Action Together and on your behalf, I work with others to bring about change through a dedicated group of staff who seek to allocate grants, work for political change and address specific needs. What more should I or we do?

What about other faith communities? I recently attended an event at Central Mosque which was raising money for Water Aid in specific communities in the developing world. There are others around us who see charitable giving as an essential part of the outworking of their own faith. How can we work together with them? I Chair Faiths United in Tameside and we recently held a conference to address loneliness. We plan others about homelessness and possibly too about asylum seekers. I do this on your behalf as part of our mission in this place. What else might I do? What more should we do?

We need to take all aspects of God’s mission seriously and we need to remember that this 4th Mark of Mission is one of five. All are important, all interrelated. ……

We are all called to:

To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom

To teach, baptise and nurture believers

To respond to human need by loving service

To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation

To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

Prayer

God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change. The courage to change the things we can. And the wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebhur

 

References

  1. https://www.nla.gov.au/research-guides/convicts, accessed on 29th August 2019.
  2. https://www.tameside.gov.uk/Housing/Housing-and-Homelessness, accessed on 25th August 2019.
  3. https://www.tameside.gov.uk/SafetyandHygiene/Rough-Sleeping, accessed on 29th August 2019.
  4. https://www.thetamesidehangout.co.uk/we-shall-overcome-2, accessed on 24th August 2019.
  5. https://www.homeless.org.uk/homeless-england/service/greystones, accessed on 29th August 2019.
  6. http://www.infinitycic.uk, accessed on 29th August 2019.
  7. https://www.emmaus.org.uk/mossley, accessed on 29th August 2019.

 

 

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