The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Holy Communion with Confirmation      3rd November 2019
Blessing - Going Large
The Bishop of Edmonton

Now there are going to be plenty of people asking you who you might be voting for next month, I’m not going to do that, you might be pleased to learn.  But I am more interested in why you make the choices that you do.

So, let’s ask a question as to whether it is for personal gain.  Which party would work best for me?  Is it for economic gain- which party would work best for the economy or for business?  Is it for safety’s sake- which party would work best for the safety of society or is it for the care of the most marginalised- which party would look after the poor better?  Is it for the long term- perhaps of the environment, which party would be best for God’s creation, or is it for numbers- which party might put a cap on immigration?

Lots of reasons, perhaps saying something of our vision for humanity, and what kind of humanity or society we are actually striving for. 

Well, welcome to the world of Luke Chapter 6.  This is the beginning of the sermon on the plain- Jesus opportunity to put a few markers down, setting out his stall, demonstrating his understanding of a flourishing community.

Just before this, Jesus has chosen his apostles.  The reconstituted Israel.  The scaffolding has been built, and now it is time to usher in something new, rooted in Israel.

I do find it a little bit odd at the beginning.  Jesus looks up at his disciples.  This is not just the 12, but many many more people gathered.  He looks up.  Is he short or has he chosen a lowly place, a lowest place for others to look down upon him?  He looks up as a player on a stage, with all eyes turned on him.  He is the servant, the one who is powerless and humble, the own who will be showing something different.

He launches forth with the blessings.  Well, the Greek word here is Makarios- yes, blessings, but like entering into Burger King- madam, do you want to go large- this is the blessing which is a go large blessing.  Blessed are the poor, hungry and those who weep.  This is striking- for this speaks of God’s intentions and God’s promise.  Yours is the Kingdom, you will be filled, and you will find joy, you will laugh.  The world will be turned upside down.  Blessed are you when people hate you, exclude or revile you, defame you.  Yes, rejoice for your reward is great in heaven, with the reference to this continuation of Israel, for this is what happened to your ancestors.  Extraordinary public rhetoric, from the one who is looking up.

But then we have the woes.  These are striking challenges, and painful ones at that, again requiring attention.

Woe to you who are rich, who are full and who laugh, for you have already received your joy and your rewards.  Indeed, be careful when people speak well of you too- something must not be quite right.

The vision of society here is one of love and caring for each other, and not just thinking about self.  There must have been such a mix of people listening to Jesus, where the message is one of share, love and serve one another.

Indeed, how awkward that Jesus continues in telling us to love each other, especially our enemies, and do good to those who hate you.  Bless those who curse you and give to anyone who begs from you.  Be kind, share, and strive for a more just and equal society.  Ultimate this is then found my doing to others that which you would like to be done to you.

Why, because the poor are blessed- theirs is the kingdom of God, so please join in the poverty of Christ, the one who has no possessions, no home to call his own.  But the one in whom we find new life and relationships of love, not relationships of self.

Jesus is reminding us that his vision of society is one in which we see people as people, not a series of hierarchies.  Social class, he is saying here, is not to be reinforced in the Kingdom.  But, as all are equal when we gather around the altar in each church, all participate in the body of Christ.

So, in this reading, what is being asked of us in Hampstead.

Well, three quick reflections, if I may.

1. We should vote.  This is a way of helping to shape society.  Perhaps we must take particular thought on whose policies are most likely to bring us closer to the Kingdom of God.  That means close scrutiny of a treatment of the poor, the planet and the use of possessions- all of which Jesus speaks about very forcefully.  This speaks of developing a more conclusive and active civil society, where the church is called to play a role of prophecy- pointing towards something other than self.  We should therefore also be encouraging others to vote as well.

2. We must ask the question as to how and whom do I love.  Here we are not called to surround ourselves with people that we love or like but have a heart for those that we might find difficult, or even hate.  I wonder what this looks like this week.

3. Continue to think in this place, what does it means for us to be a blessing to Hampstead- a Makarios, a go large- an audacious and bold presence as we seek to carry out our task in being the a church for all Londoners- a church for all Hampstead.  This is the Makarios moment- where we build the Kingdom of Heaven.

So I wonder, how will you be voting next month, and what will the knock on be as a result?  A blessing or a woe?


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