Ephesians 2:14-18; Matthew 18:21-35
14th Sunday after Trinity
17.9.17 St Barbara’s
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Today is our third week in our series of four on the Beatitudes, those eight statements of Jesus that provide us with a summary of how to live the Christian life.
In our first couple of weeks we looked at those beatitudes that explore how we view ourselves.
Blessed are the poor in spirit – in other words, blessed, happy, you are in a good place, when you acknowledge your total need of God, your reliance on him – for when you do so, you will begin to discover that he provides.
Blessed are those who mourn – those who recognise their failings, their shortcomings, their sins, and the impact that has on others – remember that Book of Common Prayer phrase “bewail our manifold sins and wickedness” – for they will come to know the love and forgiveness of God.
Blessed are the meek – those who don’t need to insist on their own rights or to be treated equally as they already know their worth as children loved by God.
And we have looked at beatitudes that explore how we are to act towards others:
Again, blessed are those who mourn – who grieve and sorrow over the suffering of the world and how it is not how it is meant to be
blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – who have a yearning, a passion, to see justice, right relationships, whether in the home, the workplace, the community, the world
Next week, we will explore two beatitudes that are about our motivations for living the Christian life, and the likely outcomes for doing so.
But today, we are going to focus on two beatitudes that are about how we relate to others:
“blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy”,
“blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God”.
A few weeks ago I had two teeth pulled out by the dentist. It was a new experience for me, and for a week afterwards I was in a bit of pain. Nothing, I hasten to add, compared to those of you who have had knee or hip replacements, or experienced bad backs or searing migraines and the like, but it was sufficient pain for me to be grumpier and more irritable than normal, to not cope with life as well as I would normally do so. During that week I began to realise the value of mercy – of people treating me mercifully.
For one of the meanings of the word “mercy” is the ability to get right inside another person’s skin – to see things with their eyes, to think with their mind, and to feel with their feelings. Its a deliberate identification with the other person, to understand someone from their point of view, making the effort to think through what life must be like as experienced by them.
I realised I wanted people to make that effort with me. To not judge me by their own situation, but to look at life as though they too had that throbbing jaw. To realise that there may be a reason why I was more grumpy. For mercy is in part about seeing life from the perspective of the other, seeking to understand and not to simply judge.
Jesus himself models this in the most profound way. He became like us, he came and lived our life, he literally inhabited our human skin, that he might know and understand us more. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are”.
It is much easier to help others without making this effort, to help others on our terms. We see it all the time in politics, in the media, in our workplaces and communities – it is much easier, much less effort, to simply judge. But mercy involves us taking the time to truly understand, to get into the other’s shoes. Who this day do you need to make the effort to understand? To whom can you show mercy?
But the challenge to be merciful becomes that much harder when that person has wronged us. I can be understanding, I can try and identify with someone who has not directly affected me, but how do I show mercy to the person who has hurt me, wounded me, wronged me? You may be fortunate and be someone who cannot think of anyone who has wronged you, but equally you may be someone for whom wounds are still raw, for whom the actions of others have caused deep hurt.
The natural human response is to want revenge, or pay-back, or to hope that they meet their comeuppance. But revenge rarely if ever satisfies. An eye for an eye just ends up with a land full of blind people. The inability to forgive just leads to a downward spiral of bitterness and pain.
Showing mercy breaks that cycle. In forgiving we set ourselves free, we begin to cut ourselves free from the bonds of anger and bitterness that entangle us. And we begin to appreciate the mercy that we have been shown. The parable of the unforgiving servant that we heard in our gospel reading is Jesus’ wonderful way of reminding us of this. We have been forgiven so much. God has shown mercy to us every step of the way in our journey of life, putting up with our failings, our weaknesses, continuing to love us with an overwhelming abundance, even when we live ignoring his presence most of the time. It is mercy beyond measure. How can we not be merciful, forgiving, in the light of his mercy to us? One of the keys to Christian living is this: be merciful. Forgive others. For as we pray: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Our second beatitude for today touches on similar themes: “blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Peacemakers will be called children of God for they will be doing the work of the Son of God. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, Christ’s ministry was about bringing peace, reconciliation, to the world – peace and reconciliation with God, and peace and reconciliation between people.
We are called to be peacemakers, encouraging people to find peace, wholesome relationship, with their Creator. Thirty-two and a half years ago a lad called Andrew came alongside me and shared what his faith in God had meant to him. It led to me coming to faith, to my life being transformed in ways far beyond either of us could have imagined. He was a peacemaker, even though at the time I hadn’t even realised I was in conflict! Sharing our faith, what God means to us, is a way of building peace.
We are also called to building peace amongst one another. One of the most important roles we can play, whether at home, at work, amongst the groups we mix with, here in church, is to enable people to properly listen to one another, to ensure that where there is conflict people on both sides can hear and understand the other. That requires immense integrity – to be people that are trusted, who are not in it for personal gain or advantage, but simply to help build understanding, to encourage love.
In South Africa, following the end of apartheid, a peace-building body, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was set up to try and heal some of the deep divisions in that country. It was an extrodinarily effective body. And one of the main reasons for its success was because of the integrity of the people heading it up – in particular, Desmond Tutu. No one could doubt his empathy, his compassion for those who had been wronged; his abhorrence at the crimes that had been committed; nor his absolute commitment to forgiveness. As a result, South Africa witnessed some of the most moving acts of reconciliation as mass murderers broke down and wept in the arms of their victims’ families. We too are called to be peacemakers, to be people of integrity, who work actively for peace and understanding. I wonder, where today is God calling you to be a peace-maker?
We are blessed, we will know the joy of following Christ, when we are generous in mercy, when we actively pursue all that leads to peace. May God help us as individuals and as a community to do just that this week.