Sunday, April 2, 2017

When to Be Glad






Isaiah 53: 3-5, Matthew 5: 1-2, Matthew 5: 11-12
April 2, 2017
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry


Our first scripture reading today is from the prophet Isaiah, a section of the text known as the description of the suffering servant, a prophecy of one who is to come. This coming one would be rejected – not a hero, not highly honored, not esteemed. But he would be the one who would take on not only his own suffering, but ours as well. Listen for God’s word to you in Isaiah 53: 3-5:

He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.

Our gospel reading is again from the gospel of Matthew, as we hear the last of the section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount known as the Beatitudes. You’ve heard already the shift in focus – suddenly now, these blessings are not about some other people, but about you – the disciples.

Let’s listen for the blessing of Jesus in Matthew 5: 11-12.
Blessed are you when people revile you
and persecute you
and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,
for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.


Blessed are you – happy, greatly honored,
when you are reviled and persecuted for Jesus’ sake.
Rejoice! Be happy about that!

Blessed are you – happy, greatly honored,
when you are slandered for your faith.
Rejoice! Be happy about that!

Let that sink in for a little bit.

Rejoice and be glad when you are victimized in the name of Jesus.

This idea is so far from our reality that we can’t even wrap our heads around it. We don’t, most of us, have any actual experience of persecution. I want to talk for a moment about persecution. Here’s some info from someone who knows what he is talking about:

“There is very real persecution of Christians across the globe. In North Korea, Christians can be executed for gathering together for worship. In Iraq, Christians can be prey for terrorist groups that kill anyone who does not bow down to their particular version of Islam. In February of 2015, 21 Coptic Christians were beheaded simply because they were Christian. Reports indicate that many of them called on the name of Jesus just before they were viciously murdered. Persecution watchdog group, Open Doors, has identified fifty of the most dangerous places in the world for Christianity in which believers suffer a range of tribulations from “severe” persecution to “sparse” persecution. The United States is not on the list.”

So for any of us who have ever felt uncomfortable when our faith is challenged, and I include myself in that, we are not being persecuted. Not even sparsely! That same writer says that American Christians claiming they are persecuted is:“embarrassing .., because it would appear that you can’t even endure what essentially amounts to someone no longer being the popular girl in school.”[1]

Granted, there was a time in this nation’s history when it was much, much easier to be a disciple of Jesus. We were the norm – we Presbyterians and Methodists and Lutherans.
Being a church-going Christian was the done thing, the respectable thing.
We were the majority.
Nothing wrong with that.

But it is important to remember that during that time, black people in American couldn’t use the same water fountains as whites.
Schools were segregated.
Neighborhoods were redlined.
Discrimination was rampant and blatant racism was tolerated.
And much of that discrimination and tolerance of (or participation in) racism
was done by white Christian Americans.

We’re not proud of it.
But it happened.

When public school desegregation began, white people started private schools. Most of the white Christian segregationists claimed religion as their motive, but in reality, it was not religion, but race. White Christians made all sorts of claims about integration, Jerry Falwell started Lynchburg Christian Academy when his town’s public schools integrated. Surely we see how wrong that is.

Should black Christians have said, “rejoice and be glad?”
Of course not.

Should white Christians have stood up for them?
Of course they should have.

But many did not.
Because they were afraid – afraid of being outcasts themselves,
afraid of being persecuted, afraid of being slandered.

You heard in the children’s time the story of Ruby Bridges. Like you, she is a disciple of Jesus Christ. The Bridges family suffered for their decision to send her to William Frantz Elementary:
her father lost his job,
the grocery store the family shopped at would no longer let them shop there,
and her grandparents, who were sharecroppers in Mississippi, were turned off their land.

Ms. Bridges has noted that many others in the community, both black and white, showed support in a variety of ways. Some white children were sent to Frantz Elementary despite the protests, a neighbor provided her father with a new job, and local people babysat, watched the house as protectors, and walked behind the federal marshals' car on the trips to school.

In 2014, a statue of Bridges was unveiled in the courtyard of William Frantz Elementary School.[2] She is now chair of the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which she formed in 1999 to promote "the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences". She says, "racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it."

Ruby Bridges is still a follower of Christ, and still talking about forgiveness. She gave a speech a few years ago, in which she addressed racism, and in which she describes the process of forgiving the man who murdered her son. The faith she learned as a child still sustains her.

For most of us, the risk of persecution is very, very small.
For most of us, the challenge is not standing up to persecution,
but in standing up for the persecuted.

It’s much easier to remain silent, to turn away, to ignore it all.
Because speaking out, getting involved, paying attention
may mean that we will catch some heat from other people.
And if that happens, rejoice and be glad!

If we stand against community norms,
we may feel the disapproval and displeasure of our neighbors.
Rejoice, and be glad!

If we are imprisoned, or rejected, if we alienate other Christians,
if we seem strange or if we are told we are meddling,
rejoice, and be glad!

If we are mocked and belittled for our hope in Christ,
and for living out our call as disciples by caring for the needy,
speaking out for the marginalized,
feeding the hungry,
welcoming those who are different,
what should we do?

Rejoice and be glad!

It’s true, what Margaret Aymer says:
“We live in fear of the implications of living into the Beatitudes.”[3]

But what is also true is that the promise of the beatitudes is not only persecution and slander and embarrassment and criticism. The promise of the Beatitudes, the promise of Jesus,
is the outrageous joy,
the illogical hope,
the ridiculous peace
that comes with being sons and daughters of God.

With disciples of ages past,
we too follow the way of Christ,
honoring those who are destitute, weeping, humbled,
and famished for food and justice;
patterning our lives after those who are merciful,
those who walk with integrity,
those who make peace;
and living into the outrageous joy
that comes from the promise of the dominion of God, now and in the age to come

Friends, we are blessed!
Rejoice and be glad,
for the kingdom of God is at hand.

Rejoice and be glad,
for Christ has come and is present and will return.

Rejoice and be glad,
for we are disciples,
and we are invited, again and again and again,
to come to the table of blessing,
to come and sit and feast
in the presence of God.

Amen.






[1] Benjamin Dixon, Patheos, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/godisnotarepublican/2015/07/please-stop-with-the-christian-persecution-complex-youre-embarrassing-the-faith/
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruby_Bridges
[3] Aymer, Margaret, Horizons Bible Study 2011 Confessing the Beatitudes

1 comment:

  1. Facing the choice to endure even a little discomfort for the faith is virtually unknown in my circle. I wonder how I would have acted in Ruby Bridges' life, let alone in the face of torture and beheading.

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