Blessed are you when others 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 so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)
As Jesus finishes the beatitudes he brings the focus back to himself. Just before this he blessed those who were persecuted for seeking the good and right generally, but now he zooms in on those who stand up for him. In fact, he even attributes the sufferings of the prophets before him who pointed the way to the Messiah, once hidden but now revealed in Christ.
This is particularly poignant in our day when so many people claim be persecuted for Jesus when they simply aren’t getting their way. People decry society shedding the trappings of civil religion like prayer in school or securing the right for gays and lesbians to marry as being “persecuted”. Or perhaps a secular or skeptical friend turned down their invitation to church (perhaps for being overbearing), and that is seen as “suffering for Jesus”.
But just a quick peek into any Church history text will show real persecution was suffered by those whose actual lives and livelihoods were laid on the line for their faith. Today, Christians in China a being barred from bringing their children to church, and converts in some Islamic parts of the world have to be baptized in secret for fear of being disowned or killed. That is what real persecution looks like, not simply experiencing social change and declining influence in society (often as a response to a bad public witness, such as marrying faith and politics, extolling “faith leaders who are little more than hucksters, or not protecting the most fragile from predators in the pulpits).
I pray we might not have to face real persecution in the West. Frankly, I doubt many who claim to be Christians now would remain so if they did have to suffer for real. But perhaps that may is necessary to bring the faithful to seek the Lord fervently. I pray our hearts are on fire with the love of Jesus enough to make such a purging unnecessary in a time of peace, and only prove its fervor should we ever face a real trial of faith.
Lord Jesus, may I never fall away from a firm devotion to you, whether in times of calm or times of strife, by the power of your Spirit at work within me. Amen.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)
Earlier Jesus blessed those who longed for righteousness, who hungered and thirsted for it with fervency. But what happens when we finally begin demonstrating righteousness in our lives? What happens when we show mercy to someone who doesn’t “deserve” it (as though any of us do!)? What happens when we cry for justice for people who are mistreated because of the color of their skin or the accident of being born without wealth? What happens when we expect public officials to actually be accountable for the way they hold office? What happens when we actually try to bridge gaps and build peace with those who may not believe the same things we do?
Unfortunately, one reality is that we just might face persecution. The devil stirs the heart of looters and rioters to spoil your peaceful protest so it gets smeared. Those in positions of power resist calls for transparency and accountability with actions sly or belligerent, legal or illicit. People you love cast smokescreens, avoid the question, even ghost you when you bring up an uncomfortable truth – however tactfully or winsomely.
We shouldn’t be surprised when sinful human beings resist your stand for righteousness when your call implies they must change, especially if they have to give up some position of wealth, power, or prestige to do what’s morally and ethically right. But neither should we be disheartened. Remember, Jesus considers it a blessing to be persecuted. You are bring light to a place where there was once darkness. You are bringing hope where there was once hopelessness. You are bringing a promise where there was once only a curse. And with each person, oppressor or oppressed, who lets your light light their flame, lets your hope encourage them, lets the promise you’re speaking in Jesus’ name banish the curse of sin and death in their lives – that light, hope, and promise permeates this fallen world with the love of Christ. And ultimately, Jesus will usher in that day when complete righteousness will displace the unrighteousness of our current age that is fading away. Indeed, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:4).
Righteous Father, help me as I seek to exhibit and spread your righteousness in acts of love, mercy, and justice in the world around me, in your Son’s strong name. Amen.
Some tech issues led to starting with an iPhone before switching to our cameras. So here is part 1 & part 2 of the service.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9)
One of my earliest exposures to the word “peacemaker” was old Westerns. The Colt “Peacemaker” was used by the hero to fend off the villain. But firearms are not what Jesus has in mind. It behooves us to remember that, particularly in light of his other teachings about turning the other cheek and non-resistance when someone attempts to impose their will on you by force.
As Christians we are called to be part of the solution in times of conflict, not part of the problem. When others oppose us, we stand up for Jesus, but never do so by putting others to the sword. I am afraid in the current political climate that too many who claim the name of Christ have sold out being salt and light in favor of being recognized by worldly power-brokers and politicians. Too many have forsaken being a counter-cultural influence for sake of Jesus in order to see Christianity’s standing as part of the culture, a worldly power to be reckoned with instead of heavenly kingdom to be hoped for.
But if we reclaim our inheritance in Christ as those who make peace instead of instigating culture wars, we’ll likewise reclaim the blessing Jesus promises in this beatitude. We need never should allow the world to triangulate us into their conflicts. We can always join in common cause with those who share a commitment to justice on particular issues (e.g. combating racism, poverty, human trafficking, etc.), but we should not be surprised that those outside the Church have different values on other issues (lifelong marriage, the need for prayer, etc.). And when others directly oppose us when we take a stand for Christ, we treat them with compassion, not retaliation.
If we advocate for peace instead of war, lead lives marked by tranquility in relationship to others, and cultivate serenity within, we’ll show the world that we are indeed children of God. If Jesus was willing to endure the atrocities he did for the sake of love, how much more should we be willing to emulate him when we interact with even the most caustic individual or most fraught situation. If we live as peacemakers, we’ll demonstrate that God really is our Father, and his blessing will rest on us always.
Lord of peace, help me to live at peace with others and experience your peace within, and thus prove to be your child.
Bilingual Service (English & Spanish)