Sunday, November 12, 2017

Deliverance: Blessed Are the Persecuted

After Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” He said this:
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. 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. (Matthew 5:10-12 NRSV)
Let me ask you a strange question: What did Jesus do for a living?

No, He was not a carpenter. His father was a carpenter. But we have no record of Jesus ever being a carpenter. As far as we know, Jesus was unemployed (which may be why He always seemed so eager to eat with anyone that was having a meal). Another question: Where did Jesus live? Not only "In what city did Jesus live?" But, where did Jesus live?

Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus told the crowds:
Foxes have holes, and birds have nests; but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head. (Matthew 8:20)
Now, this is important for us to know. This is not just a nice, quaint saying of Jesus. This tells us how Jesus lived. Jesus was homeless! Why do I bring up these basic questions about Jesus? Sometimes I think we sanitize Jesus. We create Jesus in our own image. We picture Jesus as a light-skinned European. Surely, Jesus was polite and had great social skills. Surely, Jesus fit in well with people and got along with everyone, right? We sometimes forget the way Scripture describes Jesus. Jesus was a homeless, unemployed, poor man. This is the Jesus most of us picture in our minds:

But, actually, Jesus more likely looked like this:

Because we sanitize Jesus, we also sanitize what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I think this is especially true in the time and place in which we live. In our southern, American culture, being Christian is so much a part of our culture that it is sometimes difficult to know where culture ends and Christianity begins. If you were to ask the average Tylerite, "What does a Christian look like?" what do you suppose folks would say?
  • Stable family
  • Nice
  • Helpful
  • Middle Class
That is the "picture" of a Christian we have in our minds. We sometimes forget that standing at the center of our faith is a homeless, unemployed, poor man. Not only that but a homeless, unemployed poor man who didn’t get along with people. You know, they didn’t kill Jesus because He was nice. They killed Jesus because He was so counter-cultural. He was a homeless, unemployed, poor man. And His value system constantly put Him at odds with people in power. The religious leaders didn’t like Him. The political leaders didn’t like Him. Why? Because a homeless, unemployed, poor man says and does things that are offensive to people in power.

When I read this last Beatitude through the lens of our times, these words do not make a lot of sense. The average person on the street in Tyler, Texas, might ask: "Why would anyone be persecuted for being righteous? Why would people utter all kinds of evil against a person:"
  • With a stable family
  • Or who is nice
  • Or who is helpful
"Why would anyone ever persecute someone like that?"

Jesus’ life and teachings have caused friction with every culture in the history of the world. If we read these words of Jesus and think to ourselves, "Why would anyone persecute a Christian in our world?" There are really only two options at that point: either we have finally created the Kingdom of God on Earth, and the values of Tyler are so aligned with Jesus that our culture and the Kingdom of God are indistinguishable; or we have a faulty image of what a Christian is supposed to be.

When we are baptized, we are making a commitment. We are saying before each other and God…
  • I promise to take up my cross and follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
  • I will do what Jesus did.
  • I will go where Jesus went.
  • I will say what Jesus said.
Baptism takes only a few minutes to receive. But it takes a lifetime to live out. I told you at the beginning of this series that if we took Jesus’ words seriously, this would be a challenging study. Because there is no way to follow Jesus and be at home in our world.

I told you several weeks ago that these beatitudes are not supposed to heap on more guilt. These words of Jesus are not a call for us to be more meek or pure in heart or persecuted. These words are meant to bring comfort to those living out the Kingdom ethics of Jesus. Because those folks already are meek and pure in heart. If you live out the Kingdom ethics of Jesus you will be persecuted. And to those who are being persecuted for standing against the culture, Jesus has these words of encouragement:
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven—and remember, they persecuted the prophets before they persecuted you…
Yes, the faithful will one day receive a great reward in heaven. But don’t overlook this second blessing. Remember, you are not alone. Sometimes I think we believe that standing with Jesus means standing against the problems of culture: the values of Hollywood, abortion, etc. Do you know what was one of the most radical things Jesus ever did? This thing surely got Jesus in more trouble than anything else. Jesus stood with people. He stood with people when no one else would. We are most like Jesus when we do that same thing. Here is what I want you to know about this church:
  • If you have had an abortion in your life, you are welcome here.
  • If you have cheated on your spouse, you are welcome here.
  • If you struggle with same sex attraction, you are welcome here.
  • If you struggle with depression, you are welcome here.
  • If you are an alcoholic, you are welcome here.
  • If you are a lousy, selfish human being, you are welcome here with us.
And what’s more, you are not alone. This room is filled with people just like you. And contrary to what our world says about you, you are welcome here with us, as we all celebrate together that Jesus stands with us too.

When persecution comes, and it will, I pray we will stand shoulder to shoulder, loving each other and lifting each other up.

When you were baptized, you did not join a social club; you joined a revolution. I’ll say this: When you take Jesus seriously, Christianity becomes much more interesting! Christianity becomes an adventure! So God, give us strength for the adventure ahead!

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