|Pen and Ink Reflections||
Growing up, even as a little child I was fascinated by what was then known as the English Civil War (although, to be accurate historically, this is now rightly recognised as several different wars across the islands of Britain and Ireland). It was a bitter and brutal period, culminating in the judicial trial and execution of the King. For this was a powerful revolution. Indeed it saw the establishment of a republic, the Commonwealth and Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell. Moreover, in that latter period there was also an extraordinary flowering of truly radical religious and political life and thought. That, I think, was what especially drew me into the study of history. For the origin of many liberal democratic things we take for granted lie there – for example, the insistence on no taxation or legislation without representation, on regular elections, fixed parliamentary terms, equal votes, and, vitally, on religious freedom for different types of groups, particularly the marginalised. Indeed, Cromwell even reopened England to the Jews, who had been banned for centuries. For his supporters were also part of the movements which helped create Congregationalism, the original founding tradition of Pitt Street Uniting Church...
As I feel sure many of you will remember, in the Monty Python movie “Life of Brian”, Jesus at one point is discovered by Brian teaching the people. There is a huge crowd gathered around him – very much as described in our passage today – so huge that some of the people on the outer edge of the crowd cannot hear what he is saying. As Jesus pronounces what have become known as the Beatitudes -the declaration of those who are blessed – one of the characters in the movie, desperate to know what Jesus is saying asks a man ahead of him in the crowd, ‘what is he saying – what’s he saying.’ The man checks with someone in front of him, who in turn checks with someone else and then the message is relayed back, rather as in the game of Chinese whispers - “The Master says, “Blessed are the cheesemakers”
Well that was obviously a joke! – but it also a good reminder to us about how easily we misunderstand what Jesus has said, and how often we misunderstand about blessing. I was talking with you last week a little bit about the dangers of the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’ and about how it is easy to assume that when things are going well God is blessing us and conversely when things are hard that somehow, we have lost God’s favour. There really could not be a clearer reversal of that thinking than today’s Gospel passage (Luke 6.17-26)...