March 7, 2010: “U R Blessed when ur love provokes persecution”

Posted on : Mar 5th, 2010 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

If these words of Jesus are really true:  “You’re blessed when your commitment to God’s all-inclusive love provokes persecution” then I should feel really blessed!  I would guess that all of us at West Hollywood Church have at one time in our life experienced persecution.  If you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, a woman, African-American, Latin-American, or Asian-American, an immigrant, a person committed to peace and non-violence, a person committed to justice for everyone, you’re going to experience persecution.  Persecution is the systemic mistreatment of an individual or group by another group.  The most common forms of persecution are religious persecution, ethnic persecution, political persecution and persecution based on sexual orientation or identity.

The sad reality is, we don’t need a definition of persecution to know it.  If you’ve suffered persecution you know what it feels like and you know what it is.  It is not pleasurable. It is not enjoyable.  It is not fun.  And with all due respect to Christian teachings about martyrdom, it sure doesn’t feel like it is a blessing!  So why does Jesus include this as “a blessing” in the Beatitudes?

The traditional English translation of this portion of the Beatitudes is:  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kindom of heaven.”  When Kobie and I were trying to contemporize this text, putting the Beatitudes in language that makes sense to us today, this was the one that we spent over an hour wrestling with.  What does “righteousness’ sake” mean?  On one level, “righteousness” means “that which is right.”  But in our Biblical story, it means much more than that.  Righteousness in the Bible is synonymous with God.  They are one.  God is righteous.  God is the Righteous One.  When the people lived in righteousness, they were one with God.  And when they didn’t, the prophets called them to return to God.

The prophet Amos is a wonderful example.  When you read Amos, you’d never know that Amos prophesied during a very long and peaceful time in Israel’s history!  The introduction to the book of Amos in the New Oxford Annotated Bible tell us:

At this time in history, Israel had attained a height of territorial expansion (conquest) and national prosperity (wealth) never again reached!  The military security and economic affluence which characterized this age were taken by many Israelites as signs of God’s special favor toward them (blessing) which they felt they deserved because of their extravagant support of the official shrines.  Into this scene stepped the prophet Amos… called to the difficult mission of preaching harsh words in a smooth season.  He denounced Israel, as well as her neighbors, for reliance upon military might, and for grave injustice in social dealings, abhorrent immorality, and shallow, meaningless piety.

Here’s one of Amos’ most famous prophecies where he speaks on behalf of God:

Seek good and not evil, so that you may live, and so that God may truly be with you as you have been claiming.

Hate what is evil, and love what is good;

Maintain justice at the city gate, and it may be that God will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.

You who wish for the Day of God to come – why do you want it?

It will be a day of darkness, not light!

It will be like running from a lion only to meet a bear,

or like getting home safe at last, only to get bitten by a snake hiding in the corner!

Rest assured:  the Day of God will be darkness, not light.

It will be gloom, without a single ray of light.

I, your God, despise and reject your feasts!

I am not appeased by your solemn assemblies!

Instead, let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Do you see what Amos is trying to say?  Seek good and not evil, so that you may live, and so that God may truly be with you as you have been claiming. And then he concludes with: “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Justice and righteousness are both who God is and how God calls us to live in relationship with one another.  So, the closest imagery Kobie and I could find to describe righteousness was “our commitment to God’s all-inclusive love.”  When you think of Jesus’ teaching using those images, it is a lot more meaningful.  Jesus taught:

10“You’re blessed when your commitment to God’s all-inclusive love provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into your understanding of the way God wants us to live.

11-12“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—even give a high-five—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

The surprise in this teaching of Jesus is that those who are put down, thrown out, lied about and persecuted are the ones who are blessed, not the other way around!  When persecution occurs because of our commitment to God’s all-inclusive love, it is because “the truth is too close for comfort” and “those who persecute us are uncomfortable because they know they are not living truthfully.”

Blessings!  Dan

This Sunday’s Scriptures:

Matthew 5: 1-12

(The Beatitudes)

From “The Message” adapted by Kobie and Dan

You’re Blessed!

1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught them. This is what he said:

3“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you, there is more of God.

4“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

6You’re blessed when you never give up in the struggle for justice.  Great is your joy when you experience God’s justice in human relationships.

7“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

8“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

9“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10“You’re blessed when your commitment to God’s all-inclusive love provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into your understanding of the way God wants us to live.

11-12“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—even give a high-five—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”

Amos 5: 14-24

Amos warns of the coming of “the Day of God” as a day of judgment. God says “I despise your religious feasts and ritual; I will not accept them.  This is what I desire: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Seek good and not evil, so that you may live, and so that God may truly be with you as you have been claiming.

Hate what is evil, and love what is good;

Maintain justice at the city gate, and it may be that God will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.

You who wish for the Day of God to come – why do you want it?

It will be a day of darkness, not light!

It will be like running from a lion only to meet a bear,

or like getting home safe at last, only to get bitten by a snake hiding in the corner!

Rest assured:  the Day of God will be darkness, not light.

It will be gloom, without a single ray of light.

I, your God, despise and reject your feasts!

I am not appeased by your solemn assemblies!

When you offer me burnt offerings, I reject your offerings,

and refuse to look at your sacrifices of fattened cattle!

Spare me the racket of your chanting!

Relieve me of the strumming of your harps!

Instead, let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.