Monthly Archives: February 2020

Sunday 1 March 2020


A very warm welcome to you all this morning. Please come through to the Lounge after the service for a cuppa and a time to talk. Many thanks to Rev Hugh Perry for leading today’s worship.

It was a lovely gathering last Sunday after Church. Thank you to everyone who contributed. Irene.

No Singing Group this morning.

Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership (KCML) has announced that Rev Dr Mark Johnston, an exceptional and gifted leader,is leaving his role at KCML to take up a teaching role overseas. Mark has provided 12 years of dedicated, pioneering and innovative service as a KCML Fieldwork Co-ordinator and ministry formator. As the inaugural Auckland Co-ordinator, he played a significant role in establishing KCML nationally. 

Water restrictions are now applied to Christchurch City at level 1. This means no outdoor water use is permitted between 3pm and 9pm, and hoses, sprinklers and garden irrigation systems can be used only on alternate days: odd number addresses on odd number dates, and even numbered addresses on even number dates. The measures are needed so that flow and pressure can be maintained at sufficient levels, and to make sure reserves for firefighting are available.

Power of Attorney:

If you lose the capacity to handle your own affairs, you’ll need someone to do it on your behalf. But you need to arrange this ahead of time. Jane Yee, Solicitor,  will be speaking at Whareora House of Life, 8 Athelstan St, Spreydon on Wednesday 11th March at 11am to explain what a power of attorney is, how to set it up, what to look  out for, and what your obligations are  if you become an attorney for someone else.

Wednesday Walkers 4th March: Meet 9.30am in Gamblins Road for a walk around St Martins. All welcome. Coffee at Rosalie Bacon’s 021 239 5005.

National Remembrance Service Sunday 15th March in North Hagley Park 3pm.

Crafty Crafters Thursdays 10am – 12 noon. $3 per session. New faces very welcome. Lyndsey 388 1264.

Mark your calendars now for a ceilidh on Saturday 25th April. More details soon.

Check out the Jam Stall – there might be something new you haven’t tried. Sue.

World Day of Prayer Friday 6th March 7pm at Beckenham Methodist Church, 83 Malcolm Ave. A service prepared by Zimbabwe with the theme “Rise! Take Your Mat and Walk”.  All are welcome.

Court Theatre Group Booking:

“Lysander’s Aunty” Friday 17th April 7.30pm Tickets $54 or $42 Add your names to the clipboard please, and money to Sue Saunders TODAY.

Craft Crawl Thursday 12th March Kaiapoi-Rangiora area. Leaving from the church at 8.30am for optional 10am sailing on the “River Queen” (cost for this is $20 payable on the day) or explore Kaiapoi. On to Rangiora 11.30am for lunch and shopping, back home by 3pm. Bus cost approx. $25. Please let Lyndsey McKay know TODAY if you would like to come.

A dollar a day…and you can have Sunday off!

Meditation Group: meets in the lounge every Tuesday from 7.00-7.45pm. We are learners who are following an ancient Christian practice of being still with God. 

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Sunday 23 February 2020


A very warm welcome to you all this morning. Please come through to the Lounge after the service for a cuppa and a time to talk.

Today Dugald leads his last service with us as our minister before his retirement after 35 years in the ministry.  Following the service we invite you to join together for a barbeque lunch at 12 noon.  Sausages, meat patties, bread, and drinks will be provided. Dugald will continue to have involvement with MenzShed and the meditation group but the ‘pastoral tie’ will be ended. The Presbytery will be appointing an Interim Minister who will have responsibility for all pastoral matters in the parish.

MenzShed…The woodwork workshop is now placed on piles. MenzShed volunteers will construct a ramp for disabled access and install fire wall lining and a structural skirt around the foundations. The old Sunday School rooms have been lined and rewired and will be used as an electronics workshop. Expect an opening in mid April.

Presbytery News…Charissa Nicol has been appointed as the new chaplain at Rangi Ruru School. Hamish Galloway has been appointed Interim Minister at Cashmere with the resignation of Sylvia Purdie. Hamish will shortly leave Hope Hornby to prepare for his role as Moderator of General Assembly.

Thank you to those who returned blue forms indicating your support for fundraising projects. The finance review team will now co-ordinate teams to promote these projects. Mark your calendars now for a ceilidh on Saturday 25th April.

A dollar a day…and you can have Sunday off!

Fireside is a friendly meeting for women and we welcome others to join us.  This Tuesday 25th February we plan to have a general catch up with each other, discuss plans for this year’s meetings, and enjoy “dessert and coffee” together.  We meet in the church lounge at 7.45pm. Enquiries to Margaret 366 8936.

Wednesday Walkers 26th February: Meet 9.30am at Cracroft shops. Coffee at Silverbacks Café. All welcome. Judy 027 242 7943.

Ash Wednesday services 26th February – an invitation to join our neighbours at St Mark’s 10am in the lounge 101 Opawa Rd or 7.30pm at St Mark’s School 33 Cholmondeley Ave. All are welcome.

National Remembrance Service Sunday 15th March in North Hagley Park.

Crafty Crafters Thursdays 10am – 12 noon. $3 per session. New faces very welcome. Lyndsey 388 1264.

World Day of Prayer Friday 6th March 7pm at Beckenham Methodist Church, 83 Malcolm Ave. A service prepared by Zimbabwe with the theme “Rise! Take Your Mat and Walk”.  All are welcome.

Court Theatre Group Booking:

“Lysander’s Aunty” Friday 17th April 7.30pm Tickets $54 or $42 Add your names to the clipboard please, and money to Sue Saunders by next Sunday.

Craft Crawl Thursday 12th March Kaiapoi-Rangiora area. Leaving from the church at 8.30am for optional 10am sailing on the “River Queen” (cost for this is $20 payable on the day) or explore Kaiapoi. On to Rangiora 11.30am for lunch and shopping, back home by 3pm. Bus cost approx. $25. Please let Lyndsey McKay know by 29th Feb if you would like to join us.

Meditation Group: meets in the CHURCH this Tuesday from 7.00-7.45pm. We are learners who are following an ancient Christian practice of being still with God.

Singing Group   1st & 3rd Sunday at 9.15am.

Board of Managers’ Report February:

  • Peter Mechaelis is our new chairperson.  Sue Saunders continues as our secretary.  
  • The following areas of responsibility have been allocated:

Buildings: Warren Pettigrew and David Hodder; Grounds: David Hodder

Social: Elizabeth Hawker; Fundraising: Ken Austin

Finance: Joan Macdonald and Barry Moore; Health and Safety: Warren Pettigrew

  • The ground improvements following the rebuild have now been completed.  A big thank you to Keith, Rob, David, Cyril, Barry, Dugald, and others who have removed concrete, laid new concrete paths, installed decking, gates, and fences, and levelled ground and sown new grass.  This has been a big job, but the grounds look great!
  • Handrails will be installed to aid stepping off the deck.
  • Blinds will be installed in the lounge – thanks to the Fireside Group for funding this!
  • The corrugated iron roof over the toilets will be replaced with help from the menzshed possibly in April.  When completed we will have no new maintenance issues to attend to for some years.
  • We now have a Facebook Page – please visit it, add your like, and share it with a friend.  Thanks Ken and Sonya.
  • The consent to locate the Menzshed on site has been granted and piling is imminent.  We have however used up most of the $22,000 we received from the Alpine Mission fund for this project with the Council charging $8,500 to process the consent (we have applied for a rebate) and consultant reports costing $9,400.   Piling will cost $4,000. 
  • Finance:  Accounts for the last two months show income of $22,634 and expenditure of $17,178.  For the year to date we have income of $78,713 and expenditure of $78,469 (excluding menzshed grant and costs). We are very thankful to those who have increased their giving.
  • Charitable Giving Tax Credit – we will be inviting all members to consider donating their Charitable Giving Tax Credit (which can be applied for from March 31st) to the church.  The Managers team and minister have all indicated they will support this request.  If we all committed to this, there would be a very significant bonus in our income.  Talk to our treasurer Joan Macdonald for more information.
  • A defibrillator has been installed in the foyer. This has been purchased through a grant from the Manchester Unity Trust Fund.
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How do we forgive

   Does Jesus want us to be wimps? – Matt. 5: 38-42

   When someone stole little 12 year old Mark’s bike he complained to his parents. “I just want to get back at whoever stole my bike.  I want them to fall off the bike and really hurt themselves”. He felt hurt and he wanted the thief to hurt too, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  I think we understand, but I wonder what we might say as Mark’s parents.  What would we suggest Mark do with his feelings of anger and wanting to get even.  Would we quote the passage for today about turning the other cheek.  Would we quote the eighth of the ten commandments, do not steal….

As followers of Jesus we surely want to hold on to the idea that we do not repay evil with evil.  But what does that look like? 

An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth – no says Jesus there is another way.  If someone hits you on the right cheek offer the left as well.  We need to understand a couple of things.  Firstly this is humiliation slapping not out and out violence. The second thing is that in middle eastern society you differentiate between right and left hand.   The right hand is always extended in welcome, the right hand is always used in eating, because the left hand is used for other things.  I won’t go into detail but your left hand is unclean.  The right hand is also used for striking.  Did you notice that our passage specifies the right cheek so let’s have a practical demo of striking with my right hand on your right cheek.  The blow has to be a back hander.  In Jesus’ culture a back-hander had a very specific meaning.  It was used by people in power to humiliate someone.  Masters back-handed slaves, Romans back-handed Jews, husbands back-handed wives, and parents would back-hand children.  The message was simple – “I’m putting you in your place”.     But notice what happens when you offer the left cheek.  The striker must still use his right hand but no longer can he back-hand you.  It’s got to be a hit with the open hand, and that’s a hit reserved for equals.  By turning the other cheek, you are actually refusing to hit back, but you are also refusing to be submissive and humiliated.  You are saying something very powerful.  Hit me if you like but I refuse to submit.  I wonder where this little encounter goes next.  There is I believe a real possibility that a new bridge will be crossed as the bully finds someone stands up to them.

   The next image has a similar theme.  If anyone takes your coat, give him your cloak as well.  It sounds a bit strange to us but in the poverty ridden times of Jesus, garments were often the only thing people in poverty owned.  The scene is probably set in a courtroom and the defendant who has lost everything is being asked to turn over their coat or outer garment to help repay a debt to someone we would call a loan shark.  It’s the epitome of screwing someone for every last cent.   The scene was depressingly common in Jesus’ time, but Jesus’ advice is dramatic and stunning.  Offer your “chiton” as well.  This is usually translated as undergarment, but your “chiton” in effect is your underwear.  The result is startling as you give your outer cloak and then proceed to strip naked.  The greedy creditor suddenly finds himself in an embarrassing situation because public nudity was shocking.  Instead of taking the garments, the creditor will now be giving them back and urging the loan defaulter to cover up again.  The power of public humiliation has been used to expose the greed and hopefully educate the creditor.  The encounter hasn’t been about getting even, but about establishing real justice. 

   The third image concerns another practice known at the time.  “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also a second mile”.  In Palestine at the time the Roman occupying soldiers were allowed to ask locals to carry their packs.  It was a form of forced labour, but the Romans were very careful not to push things too far.  One mile of pack carrying was the limit.  So, imagine the scenario.

   You’ve just carried the heavy pack of the hated soldier for a mile along the Roman road where there are markers every mile.  The solider, knowing the rules says, “OK I’ll find someone else, you can get lost now”.  But you say, “no. no, it’s OK, I’ll continue to carry your pack.  Very happy to be of service!”.  Suddenly the Roman solider is worried.  The rules are clear and he could get into serious trouble if his superiors discover someone has carried his pack for more than a mile. He’s now begging for his pack back.  Again injustice is exposed, and maybe just maybe the soldier will see you as a real person rather than a resentful Palestinian.  Maybe just maybe a plank of the bridge building that needed to occur between Roman soldier and Palestinian peasant has been put in place. 

   Jesus talked of forgiveness that renounced vengeance and getting even.  No more an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but he doesn’t want us to be wimps either.  We need to find creative ways Jesus doesn’t want us to be doormats who simply roll over when people put the boot into us or treat us as rubbish.  Jesus asks us to find creative ways to expose the injustices and really make things right again.

   Six-year-old Sam had agreed with Diane, his mother, that his chore would be to set the table each evening in time for dinner at 6 o’clock.  Two evenings in a row the table was not set on time.  Each time Diane discussed the situation with Sam.  On the third evening, at 6.15 the table was still not set.  Sam’s hungry sister and father impatiently offered to do it so Diane could serve dinner.  Diane said, “If you help Sam by letting him take advantage of us, you won’t really be helping him or us”.  Finally Sam arrived.  Before he could trot out a story about why he was late Diane cheerfully asked the whole family to sit down at the table.  She brought a pot of spaghetti from the kitchen and plopped a pile of it down on the bare wooden table in front of each person.  Then she piled spaghetti sauce on top, and salad dressing on top of that.  Maintaining a calm, friendly and non-shaming attitude, Dianne finally brought out the frozen yogurt dessert and put some on top of each person’s spaghetti.  As astonished Sam experienced the logical consequence of his failure to set the table.  From then on, Sam set the table on time!

   A wealthy slum landlord had exploited his tenants for many years by charging them excessive rent for substandard housing.  Finally he was arrested for numerous violations of the housing code.  The judge sentenced him to live for one month in one of his own rat-infested smelly rooms with broken pipes and no heat, and the man became a responsible landlord. What would our justice system look like if we practiced restorative justice instead of the current punitive justice system. 

   Forgiveness is not about being a wimp.  Forgiveness requires courage and creativity as we see those who hurt us not as enemies to be punished, but as God’s children who need to grow and find another way.  Forgiveness is hard work, and sometimes we simply won’t have the energy.  It sometimes takes a long time.  Invariably it will take prayer.  We need the creative spirit to guide us and encourage us.  The result however is worth it as we make new friends, and we all draw a little closer to the kingdom of heaven.

   AS many of you know I have a little project along the Heathcote River not far from where we live.  We’ve formed a little group to look after the Laura Kent Reserve which was an overgrown wilderness beside the river.  We’ve removed poplar and blackberry and planted lots of natives.  It looks great.  But earlier this week on my morning walk I discovered  some of the larger trees that we had planted had been snapped off and just left.  I was angry and sad.  Who would do such a thing.  There was part of me that wanted to inflict damage on the people involved.  I imagined a group laughing as some of them tried to snap the trees.  I had to catch myself and ask so how should I respond as a follower of Jesus.  I prayed about it.  As I reflected with God I sensed I should be asking how can I help those involved grow towards God.  Killing these trees was certainly not a godly activity.  I have no idea who is responsible but I held them in prayer before God and asked God to work in their hearts.  Specifically I asked that they would grow to realise life in all forms is sacred.  I am concerned that if they break trees they may also inflict violence on others.  I also wrote a little sign which I hope might unlock some goodness that I believe will be inside them.  I didn’t want to put them down but I did want to say it wasn’t OK, and I wanted to evoke compassion for the trees that had been killed.  Will it work… I don’t know but I trust a door has been open opened for God to move.

The way of Jesus means:

  1. Giving up the desire to get even. 
  2. Confronting the evil.
  3. Building bridges of (re-)connection. 

There are no guarantees, but this is the way of Jesus that I believe will true peace into the world.

Dugald Wilson February 2020

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It’s about transformation not keeping the rules

Matt 5:17-37

   The ten commandments are rules that have shaped our society.  While many people say religion is a waste of time they are happy to accept much of the heritage that comes from religion in the form of moral teaching and values that come to us from many years of human experience and reflection.  Jesus assumes we need moral guidance to live well, but he makes the bold claim that rather than have rules imposed from the outside we need an internal guidance system.  The rules that came from places like the ten commandments are good, but we need to build them into our internal being if we are to find happiness and fulfilment in life.   He doesn’t say the old rules should be ditched;  “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets,” but he adds, “I have come not to abolish but to fulfil”.  To underline what he’s saying he pick out the fastidious rule keepers the Scribes and Pharisees and says , , “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”.  How could anyone be more righteous and fastidious than that pious crowd?   

   As Jesus continued it was clear he wasn’t looking for stricter adherence to rules but was proposing something else.  Jesus talked of people becoming alive, but true aliveness wouldn’t come through strict conformity to tradition like a cracked record going around and around.  Nor would it come from throwing the baby out with the bathwater and ditching tradition altogether.  The traditions weren’t dead meat – they contained life, but only when we discerned and fulfilled the true intent of tradition as a life giving power that takes root in our hearts and minds.  

   Maybe we could see tradition and past teaching we find in our scriptures as a road that began long ago but continues to the present.  Jesus proposes that the road isn’t finished yet.  There is a whole new landscape that has grown up around us.  To extend the road into this new landscape we need to look back and  get basic guidelines, but we must also be prepared to step beyond where the road currently ends, venturing off the map so to speak into new territory.  To stand still and hold fast to the letter of the law is to risk turning into a pillar of salt.  Our faith tradition was born in what is called the reformation and we are a reforming church.  In such a community faithfulness requires us to walk beyond what we know and make the road that will discover the life of God now and take us forward into the future. Faithfulness invites us to take the essence of our traditions into our hearts so that our lives are transformed and we become travel guides in a world that is looking for direction.

   Having laid out the general principle Jesus give us some very practical examples that relate to our human lives.  Using some of the key commandments he unpacks and re-orientates them with fresh vision.   No longer are they some rules to keep or not keep but they are seeds within our hearts that sprout and grow new life within us.  Food for our core being, our soul, our internal battery, our guidance system.    

   Starting off with one of the Ten Commandments he reminds us not to murder.  Most of us will say to ourselves, ‘safe on that one! –I’ve never been up for murder and never likely to be.’   But that’s the issue with outside rules we can easily tick them off and say passed or failed that one.  Jesus goes deeper. This commandment is really about the sacredness of human life and the taking away of this life can happen in all sorts of subtle and not so subtle ways.  Jesus raises three possibilities.  Firstly he tells us that when we are angry with someone else we invariably risk diminishing their sacredness and will murder them in some way with thoughtless words or actions.  It’s a huge issue in our society leading to violence ad all sorts of abuse and we are all infected and affected in some way.   Secondly the verbal put downs that I suspect we have all used to dismiss someone by calling them names or a useless fool takes away their life and sacredness.  It doesn’t need to be something we say face to face, but is there in our heart as we look at someone or some group of people.   We name and we write them off as someone I value.  And thirdly Jesus points out we murder people when we refuse to actively work towards reconciliation.  When we allow the fences to remain and put others on the other side out of sight and refuse to engage in meaningful ways that will resolve our separation.  

   Dear Jesus this commandment was something I could keep at arms length and even give myself a pat on the back with but you have introduced a whole new picture.  You are calling me to plant this commandment in my heart and in my soul and to live it.  To treat every human life is sacred, special, God breathed.   You are saying to take this rule into every sphere of my life.  How I see my own life, how you see my friends, how I see those I don’t get along with so well.  You are asking me to listen harder to those I want to dismiss, to make space for those I want to keep at arms length, to stand up for those others want to demonise.  You are asking me to be very careful with my angers, the way I put people in boxes, and neglect relationships that involve fences.  When I hear someone writing off Chinese people and saying they are all responsible for spreading a virus I will not remain silent.   When I celebrate Waitangi Day I will do so knowing we still have work to do to resolve the injustices of the past, and to shape a society in this land that is not only bicultural but multi cultural – a land where we welcome difference and diversity while honouring the good from all our traditions. 

   Jesus takes another seed when he says you have heard it said you shall not commit adultery.  But I say to you anyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  For some reason Jesus seems to aiming this at men!  However what he is really aiming at is looking at anyone as an object for your consumption.  It’s treating others as an object to be used, abused, manipulated, or enslaved for your own purposes.  Again we find ourselves drawn into planting this seed in our heart and soul.  From thinking we may have got a pass mark we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line.  Greed and competition fuels or society.  Stepping on others to get ahead is part of the game.  If you can get a bargain no matter what the workers are paid go for it.  If someone else is a sucker and takes on a role of leadership and responsibility and I can sit back why should I?  There are all sorts of way we use others for our benefit and Jesus is asking us to treat our relationships with respect and honour. 

   After sowing this seed Jesus does a little side sowing and addresses the issue of divorce.  Divorce was legal in Jesus’ day and in reality was very common because all a man needed to do was sign a certificate of divorce and send a woman on her way.   It remains so in many societies.  But Jesus says you can’t treat women in such a degrading way.  He accepts divorce will occur, but is saying the easy divorce of his day was unjust and women who had been thrown on the scrapheap of failure through being rejected should in fact be considered still married and honourable

    And another seed concerning the swearing of oaths.  Turning to a higher being or authority to reinforce your word was a common practice in Jesus’ day.  We still do it in court when we swear to tell the truth on the Bible.  I guess the thinking is that failure to tell the truth will get us into trouble with God.  But Jesus says don’t promise your loyalty to any system or authority – let your word be enough.   Welcome to a world where we talk with absolute simple truth to one another and our word is good.  It’s a world we can trust one another, where we are no longer suspicious of someone asking for help, where we no longer play games to get what we want.  In our world of image, fake news, manipulated truth, I long for this world Jesus talks of.    

   Simply keeping the letter of the law was not enough in Jesus’ eyes.  To be one of his disciples we are expected to live out the heart of the law, and let the law take root in our heart.   For Jesus keeping the law is not about keeping the rules, but is about what’s going on in our heart and in our thoughts.  The rules say, as long as you don’t sleep with another woman you don’t commit adultery, or as long as you don’t pull a knife on someone you don’t murder. But for Jesus keeping the law is all about something deeper.   It’s about transforming our deeper beings and desires.   It’s about growing a new person by nurturing the seeds from our heritage and tradition in our hearts and letting the essence of those seeds shape us as individuals and as a community of that honours Jesus.

Dugald Wilson 9 Feb 2020

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It starts from the inside out

Matthew 5:1-12

In Matthews’s gospel Jesus’ opening message of open your eyes because the kingdom of heaven has come near is followed by what we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount which explains what we need to be looking for, what this new way of being is all about.  I invite you to go home, take twenty minutes, get out your Bible and read chapters five to seven of Matthews’s gospel.  Just three chapters or 111 verses- 16 verses a day over a week!  If you read no other Bible passage in the next few months give this a go.  It’s full of practical teaching and even if you are an absolute saint there will be something here that you can learn that will make your life better. 

These three chapters, are called the Sermon on the Mount because Matthew has gathered up a collection of Jesus’ teaching that happened in the hills around Lake Galilee.   They are teachings for disciples of Jesus, teachings that should shape our lives.  They describes the priorities, character, and values of this new age that Jesus came to inaugurate.  I see them as a team talk, teaching for the core group. They have to do with money, possessions, power, violence, sexuality, anxiety, security, the way we treat our neighbour, and the way we treat those we don’t like.  At the core of these teachings is the idea that living a good life is not just about living by rules and imposing some sort of religious straight jacket on us, but about getting our inner life on the right track.  You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear so the old saying goes.  If fear and ego are alive within us then violence and greed are going to be inevitable consequences.  The new earth Jesus proclaimed happens from the inside out  – you have to attend to what drives us inside. 

We are told to live simply and without hypocrisy.  We are told to trust God for our security.  We are instructed to love our enemies and not to return evil for evil.  We are told to treat every person with dignity and respect, and to be very careful about diminishing the value of another.  For example most of us do not think of ourselves as murderers but Jesus tells us we murder someone when we put them down or call them worthless.  For most of us controlling our physical actions is the easy part but transforming the inner working of our thoughts and our hearts is a harder thing.  We are to turn the other cheek when attacked in some way and go the extra mile when prevailed upon.  I need to say this is not doormat stuff for Jesus challenges us to be strong and find a creative way of revealing and combating the power of evil.  Getting even is revealed to be fruitless.   We are told not to be anxious nor to seek to impress others.  Further Jesus tells those who heed his words will be like those who build their house on a rock and when the rains come they will be safe a secure.   We will become peaceful people, people who will be like salt or light for the rest of the world.  And this is not about a future reality but is about our lives now.

The Beatitudes… It Happens from the Inside Out

The teachings begin with a series of blessings that we often call the beatitudes.  The term beatitude comes from the Latin adjective be?tit?d? which means “happy”, or “blissful”.    At a first glance they seem bizarre.  Happy are those who are poor, happy are those who are gentle for they shall inherit the earth, and so on.  You have to be kidding.   The gentle inherit the earth….. you have to be joking for the gentle and meek in our world will get kicked in the teeth and miss out on everything.  You have to fight and scheme to get things in this world, and as for being poor…. That doesn’t sound like fun!

But remember Jesus is asking us to look inside.  You have to look at what’s driving your actions.  We have to learn to tame the ego, that power within us which wants to grow and dominate, amassing influence and power.  We have to face our fears and anxieties that imprison and keep us from being truly ourselves.  The beatitudes take us inside ourselves rather than just offering some moral rules to live by. 

So there, let’s look at just the first two to see if we can get the hang of these strange teachings. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit the kingdom of heaven is theirs….So what is Jesus getting at.  In Luke’s version of the beatitude he simply says blessed are the poor.  There are a number of words in Greek dealing with states of poverty.  The usual Greek word for the peasant class is tapeinoi, which referred to the great majority of folk in Jesus’ time.  But that’s not the word Matthew chooses to use.  When he says blessed are the poor he uses the word ptochoi which applies to those at the very bottom, the expendable ones, the untouchables, and the bent over beggars that know they have absolutely nothing.  Jesus is saying these people will be happy, and these people will see the kingdom of heaven.  What on earth does he mean?

I recall that after the earthquakes many people told me that material possessions were less important for them, sometimes for obvious reason.  Prized possessions had literally been shattered.  What were we learning?  I think we all knew that what really mattered in our lives was relationship.  Family and friends were what really mattered.  Having lots of things wasn’t much help when it came to the earth shaking.  Maybe Jesus would say to us blessed are the poor for they shall see what really matters.

But I think he would also say take it a step further.   In our lives we get attached to all sorts of things besides material possessions.  I am about to enter retirement and discover that I no longer have a place of privilege and power as a minister.   Many struggle with retirement because of this.  Loosing a sense of purpose and power.   There is a part of us that craves for recognition and admiration and Jesus says we have to let it go.   That’s why Jesus would also say you need to become like a child to enter the kingdom of God.  You need to become detached from the things that feed our ego. 

For any of you who have looked at Buddhism you’ll know that this sounds very Buddhist.  Letting go of attachment is central in that faith, but here it is in Christianity as well.  But there is something more.  Jesus says the Kingdom of heaven belongs to people who have learned to let go of the desire to be noticed or to be admired by others.   Notice that word belongs…it doesn’t say will belong but says belongs.  It happens now.   The poor know they are poor and do not seek to bolster their value and ego by false means. They are set free of the need to impress others, compare themselves with others, and strive to keep up with the Jones’s.  They don’t have to defend themselves, or build networks of people to affirm them.  They don’t have to learn to play the right games to parade themselves in front of others.  The poor can just be, and when you are freed from the desire to impress, to have your say, to be noticed, to seek power and prestige, you will become a beautiful person in the true sense of the word.   In a world where image is so important but where anxiety and fears are growing exponentially we need to hear this simple truth and blessing.

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth… The word meek is an interesting one.  In Jesus’ time the powerful owned land.  Most were labourers and workers eking out an existence as best they could.  The meek could be translated as the powerless ones.  There was a message here for those people.  Jesus is saying they will be landowners when God is fully respected by all people and the reign of God or commonwealth of God comes on earth.  There will be justice and equality for all.  All will own land and have the opportunity that brings in an agrarian society.  It is a message of hope.  It is also a message of challenge for the  wealthy ones, powerful ones.  Societies like ours that have seen great divisions of inequality open up need to listen.  The meek, the powerless always have a place around God’s table and we have to work and stand up for a world that consigns no-one to the scrap heap to be forgotten or labelled as worthless. There is another side to this coin.   My dictionary describes meek as patient and submissive and that sounds decidedly dodgy. The don’t push and shove, they just accept what is.   I think we need to get this word sorted.  I don’t see Jesus telling people to be submissive and like doormats.  I don’t see Jesus saying put up with whatever.   Happy are the doormats.   Eugene Petersen in his modern translation in the Message translates this verse:  “You are blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less.”   I think we start to see a different view of meekness.  It is not about being a doormat and giving into everyone’s demands of you, jumping when someone else says jump.  It’s not a recommendation to be spineless, but is about discovering who you truly are.  That sounds very different. 

But knowing who you truly are doesn’t just happen.  I’m still learning.  Key is a practice of reflection and reflection is something we could do with a whole lot more of in our world.  The reflection requires we are honest with ourselves but what we also need is feedback from others who often see things we are blind to.  The trouble is honestly feeding back is something we are often not good at.    Sadly Christians are well known for their ability to see faults in themselves and in others while affirmation is another story..  I wonder what our congregation might look like if we saw more readily and celebrated more readily and affirmed more readily each others gifts.  …….. you did that really well.  …….. I think you have a real gift for……. You seem to have this unique ability to….  Research would tell us that the most successful teams work best on a five to one ratio.  Five messages of affirmation to every message of criticism.  I wonder if we could ever make our congregation a five to one congregation.   St Martin’s the five to one community where we help one another learn who we truly are.  A community that notices and affirms the good things in the lives others.  A community that helps people know their gifts and encourages people to use their gifts.   

There is a danger here also.  Affirmation may simply feed our ego instead of bringing us to a truer understanding of ourselves, so the meek also understand that our strengths and gifts are gifts.  They come from God.  We are not self made, but we are God made.  Our strengths well used will make a difference in the world, but our strengths are not mine.  Meek people know this well.

You are blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less.”  Jesus says when you know this you will inherit the earth.  In the original telling this meant you would have some land to build your life on, a place to stand tall, you’ll know your turangawaewaei.  A place where we are empowered and connected.  Eugene Peterson goes on to say when we discover who we truly are, “That’s the moment you find you find yourself proud owners of everything that can’t be bought or sold.”  When you know who you truly are in a community like this you will stand tall, your life will have found it’s true purpose and place, and that is something we all long for deep inside.   You are content to just be, to the glory of God.   

It starts from the inside out….. You will be happy when you are freed from the desire to impress.  You will find heaven has drawn near. 

You will be happy when you are content to be who you truly are.  You will discover your turagawaewae…. A place of gentle strength.

May the Spirit of Jesus continue to work within each of us, teaching us, transforming us, and building a community where all have a place of belonging and purpose. Dugald Wilson 2 February 2020

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