The 2nd post in an ongoing series about attending a “conservative led” church as a “liberal”.
read part 1 here
Last Sunday night, the minister concluded his sermon series on “the sermon on the mount” with ‘blessed are the persecuted…’ Although I disagreed at a fundamental level with his reading of the beatitudes (you can read more about my take on it here entitled “blessed are the truly f**ked up!”) I was challenged and inspired by what he said.
Ultimately his point was to say that if you live out the beatitudes, you will get persecuted and if you’re not being persecuted, then you’re not living out the beatitudes. During his sermon he attacked the rise of liberal theology and ‘liberals’ because they had diluted the gospel to such an extent that they are no longer being persecuted and if you’re no longer being persecuted, you’re no longer living the life that Jesus had intended.
I’m sure it’s not surprise to you that I had an issue with this. It’s a common attack on “liberals” by those that would consider themselves “conservative” and it’s one that does not hold up.
Let me get something straight. My theology is not liberal because I want to please the ‘world’. I’ve not chosen liberalism because I’m afraid of confrontation or judgement. Choosing liberal theology is not choosing the easy way out. And to be honest, I haven’t actually chosen ‘liberalism’ because I don’t believe these categories are choices. These are labels put on people by other people.
These labels are not helpful. They flatten nuanced theology and divide people into ‘us’ and ‘them’ camps. And that’s probably my biggest issue with the sermon on Sunday night. It made everything appear black and white. It made it appear that all believers can be lumped into one or two categories. Labels reduce people to statistics.
It’s easy to write off a whole group of people by labelling them conservative or liberal. Surely, the church is the one place where we shouldn’t be labelled.
In his letter to the Galatian church, Paul wrote these words:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In this statement, Paul called for the barriers between identity, position and gender to be torn down. We are ALL one in Christ Jesus. There is no “us” and “them”.
Writing this post, I do not feel that I am walking the easy path that the minister spoke of. I may not be persecuted by “the world” over certain issues but I do at times feel persecuted from within the church.
I hope that as we, my family and I, continue on this journey we will seek to break down these hurtful labels on both sides and see people for what they are: Humans loved by God.
Next week, our Sunday night youth fellowship (for want of a better term) will start looking at the beatitudes. The beatitudes were eight statements or announcements that Jesus chose to make at the start of ‘the sermon on the mount’ and ultimately his ministry. They are not something I hear preached on very much and that is precisely why I wanted our group to look at them. Maybe it’s because we don’t like what they proclaim or we just don’t understand them. But that’s no excuse not to look at them. For me, they summarise everything that Jesus had came to announce. I’m going to focus just on the first one for now but you can see all of them below
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Thanks to Tom Wright, William Barclay, Dave Andrews and Rob Bell for their insights on this subject.
First off, contrary to some opinions, the beatitudes are not a list of things to do in order to be blessed or to have God on your side. They are not eight steps to know God more. They are statements. They are announcements. They are just how things are. But who are the poor in spirit?
To some this has been translated as, ‘those that realize their need for God’ and in some sense this is true but that again is something you have to do. Something you have to work at. That doesn’t seem to be what Jesus is on about (to me anyway).
The poor in spirit then are those that are just that, ‘poor in spirit’. Those that don’t have all the answers. Those that mess up time and time again. Those that are addicted to things they know they shouldn’t be. In other words…
“blessed are the adulterers, the prostitutes, the drug addicts, the paedophiles, the murderers, the liars, the time wasters, the dirty minded, the porn stars, the dictators. Blessed are those who get it wrong time and time again, those that continually do what they shouldn’t do, those that society calls scum, useless, irrelevant, passed it, unnecessary. Blessed are the tax cheats, the rapists, the space cadets, the abused. Blessed are all of those who society or religion or communities have deemed sub human.”
Does that sound wrong? Offensive even? Surely God doesn’t love everyone like that? Why would he?
Let me ask you a question then. Why did Jesus have to have dinner at a tax collectors house who had cheated hundreds, if not thousands, of people out of their money? Why did a man throw a banquet in which he invited the low lives and the degenerates to? Why did Jesus walk around healing people?
He just did. Why does God love these people? Why is God on their side? He just is.
“…theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”. That’s the gospel. That’s (one of) the message(s) that Jesus came to proclaim. It may not be fair. You might think it’s not right but it just is.
When Philippe Petit illegally walked across the twin towers on a tightrope in 1974 everyone wanted to know why. He couldn’t understand why people would ask him this. He said, “i’ve just performed something miraculous and all they want to know is why. There is no why”.
It’s the same with God. There is now why. It just is. There is a place for all those people at the banquet. Jesus didn’t come to announce his message to the rich in spirit or those that had it all together. He said, “he came for the ill”.
The Kingdom of Heaven is for everyone and when we start becoming the gatekeepers, saying who is and who isn’t in, then we deface what God had in mind. What Jesus had in mind with the first beatitude. Let’s live our lives with this proclamation stamped on our minds and on our hearts.
“Blessed are the truly f**ked up for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs”.