The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
Exodus 12.21-27; Matthew 4.23 - 5.20
You’d be forgiven if you missed a little bit of news given the momentous stuff that we’ve been witnessing this week
For fans of extreme rides and roller coasters, of which I’m not one, I’m sure it was devastating. It seems that in Japan, in sight of Mount Fuji, a new roller coaster has had to be taken out of action. Four people riding it suffered factures to bones because the main selling point of this bit of torture was that it could achieve nought to 112 mph in just 1.56 seconds. Now that really is extreme.
But what people seem to enjoy on that kind of ride is the adrenalin high and having their whole world turned upside down.
Not many people would imagine an extreme ride or an adrenalin rush as being associated with being a Christian – we appear far too staid and boring to be accused of anything like that. Until, that is, you read and then read again the Second Lesson for this evening and that most familiar of passages, the Beatitudes.
They say familiarity breeds contempt, whether or not that’s true, familiarity can lead us to walk past, to look at what we’ve seen before, to read what we’ve read before and not really notice it, not really take it in.
Jesus is at the beginning of his ministry. He was already known, his fame extended to the Greek speaking areas as much as within his own Jewish communities. Matthew sets out a list of the places from where people were now being attracted to him – and the crowds come to listen to him, to be healed by him, to be challenged by him.
And there on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, in a natural amphitheatre amongst the black basalt rock that typifies the area, the crowd gathered round him and he taught them. We call it the Sermon on the Mount. But as he speaks he takes them on a roller coaster ride, he takes them to places that they didn’t expect to go, he turns their world upside down.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
This really is counter-cultural stuff. As far as Jewish teaching was concerned, it was the rich who were blessed, obviously; it was the powerful who were blessed, obviously; it was the top strata of society who revealed the blessing of God, obviously. But Jesus says no, not obviously; God’s option is for the poor, God’s option is for the weak, God’s option is for the peacemaker not the war monger.
The people of Thessalonica were very disturbed when Paul and his companions arrived. They had them arrested and the accusation made against them was simply this as we’re told in Acts 17
‘These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.’
They’d been proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, living out the Beatitudes, being salt and light in a world that lacked distinction, savour, illumination, and people felt threatened. The Egyptians had to get rid of the Hebrews because they felt threatened by them and their God but as we heard in the First Lesson, God heard the cry of the oppressed, the cry of the slave and rescued them, passing over their houses and bringing them to safety and to freedom and ultimately to their own land of promise and blessing where milk and honey would flow.
We’re living through tough frightening times, I don’t need a roller coaster, life is too much like that at the moment. And we have a calling to speak into it, to sing into it, as Mary sang the words of the Magnificat that we’ve just heard, world changing words that maybe Jesus heard his mother sing and made them his own on a hillside amongst expectant crowds.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
He has filled the hungry with good things
The rich he has sent empty away.
Dare we ride the ride, dare we live the life that turns the world upside down?