The Mersey Beatitudes #4 :: With a little help from my friends (RighteoUSness)

Amos 5 v 21-24

Luke 4 v 16-30

Matt 5 v 6



With A Little Help From My Friends

Introduction

So we continue with our series on the Beatitudes. For those of you who haven’t been with us over the last few weeks we have been looking at the beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, each week has been assigned a Beatles song as theme. This week we are looking at the beatitude “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled” and the song for the week is “With a Little Help From My Friends”.

For those of you who need to know it is the second track on the Sergeant Pepper album, a song written by Lennon and McCartney for Ringo Starr to sing. Least said about him the better in my view…

As the preacher some of the challenge around a text comes in working out what it means in the 21st century. This morning there is a double challenge first relating the verse to ourselves and then working out how, if at all, the song is related to our Beatitude of the day

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled”.

What does righteousness have to do with a song which begins with the line

What would you say if I sang out of tune”?

As someone who week by week helps lead our worship I can hear you thinking  “Well no change there then!”

And then we heard what Peter has just read to us from the book of Amos

Take away from me the noise of your songs”!

I chose the reading but not for that particular phrase!

We need to consider the beatitude and to some extent work out how we connect righteousness with the phrase “I get by with a little help from my friends”?

Righteousness or Justice?

Righteousness – it is one of those words isn’t it? It tends to carry with it negative connotations of self-righteous behaviour. It is not necessarily something which we value.

But “In the bible righteousness and righteous are positive words. They are associated with doing what is right. To say that God is righteous means that God does what is right and God is passionate that we do what is right. Righteous people are those that do what is right”. [1]

Righteousness then is a quality of individuals who do what is right. But it is not just about individuals, righteousness is social and political. It refers to the way that society is put together – the political and economic structure, the distribution of wealth and power, their effects on society.

Some of the writers on this beatitude suggest that, in the context of  what Jesus is teaching in the sermon on the mount, the word “righteousness” is better translated as “justice”.

God’s Desire

As we heard in the reading from Amos this morning the two words “justice and righteousness” are used in almost exactly this way.

Let me read you that verse again – the prophet is reminding his readers or listeners that instead of noisy meaningless songs and hymns this is what God wants

“… let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream”.

God’s prophet Amos was really socking it to them – God was not pleased with what His people had created – the society of the time was one where the poor were oppressed, the rich and powerful had created a social system that benefited themselves, creating a massive gulf – most of the population were almost a slave class. Sound familiar?

One of the other Old Testament prophets, Isaiah, brings a similar message

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of the Lord and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting. God expected justice but saw bloodshed, righteousness but heard a cry.

Righteousness and justice are terms that are almost interchangeable. They are at the very heart of what God is, what God desires and what God would have us be.

An Alternative Reading of the Beatitudes

In fact so much so that the Revised English Bible translates the beatitude we are considering in this way –

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail; they shall be satisfied”

Those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail.

This righteousness business is not just about the individual – it is about the world in which we live.

All too often we get hung up on how the individual lives – how the individual should be living a righteous life.

What we read in the Old Testament rather suggests that we are thinking too narrowly about righteousness. If we think about wanting to see right prevail, and being hungry for that to happen, then we have to think in wider terms. We have to focus on creating a society that God desires – a society based on doing right. Of course that does involve us as individuals.

The Quest for a New Kind of Community

Jim Wallis in his book “God’s Politics” says that

“Recovering the faith of the Biblical prophets and Jesus is not just about politics; it also shapes the way we live our personal and our communal lives… Our religious congregations are not meant to be social organisations that merely reflect the wider culture’s values but dynamic countercultural communities whose purpose is to reshape both lives and societies” [2]

It seems to me that part of being a Christian involves us in a pilgrimage or quest to see a new kind of community built; to live in a way which is how God would have us live; to live lives where we are hungry to do the right things and to see justice done.

The longer Gospel reading that we had this morning emphasises that point.

When Jesus first preaches in the synagogue in His home town of Nazareth He goes to the Old Testament and uses the words of Isaiah to tell His listeners what He is all about.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.”

Living righteously involves taking action. What Jesus says He has come to do is to put right the thinks which Amos was telling the people God detested.

This is the template for what God expects from those who live in accordance with His rule, who seek to live righteous lives.

Jesus leaves the congregation in the synaogogue in no doubt about what should be happening in the lives of those who are God’s people.

Nine Beats Collective

At Greenbelt last year there were a series of discussions and Bible studies on the Beatitudes.

Those leading the studies translated this morning’s beatitude

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied”

Their commentary on this verse reads like this –

“Something deep inside tells us that the world is not as it should be. Nations go to war over rights to land. Refugees struggle to survive. Children starve because of corrupt governments. Many are marginalised and mistreated because of their race, class or identity. We feel the pain of injustice. We want things to be better and different. We want the world to work as it should and can. We ache for change.” [3]

We ache for change and yet all too often perhaps we carry on our lives as without making a change.

It seems to me that there is no point in thinking about this beatitude unless we examine ourselves and ask hard questions,

If everyone on the planet lived like me – ate as much meat, used as much water, spent as much money as I do – what would the consequences be?”

There is a challenge.

If we really do hunger and thirst for justice, for righteousness, to see right prevail then perhaps we need to be part of the  change?

It may be that we need to join in with a campaign – the Children’s Society continue to campaign about children who are living in poverty – maybe join in with them?

Locally the Furniture Resource Centre on Brunswick Dock which runs Bulky Bobs are about to launch a campaign to try and provide beds for those children in the city who do not have their own. Maybe that would be a campaign to get involved in?

It may be that we are challenged anew to stand alongside those who are homeless, or victims of domestic abuse, by bringing in something that can go to the Hostels.

It may be that we should think about how we spend the money that we have to do good. Peter introduced us last week to Embrace  >>>

As a congregation here in Liverpool as we do these things together let’s encourage each other. You see we do “get by with a little help from our friends.”

The Promise of the Beatitude

Why should we do anything? Well as with all of the other beatitudes there are two parts to it.

We have thought about the first bit that those who are hungering after justice or righteousness will be called blessed.

Yet there is more to it than that. The whole beatitude is important –

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.

There seems to me to be a really important truth in this last phrase.

“They shall be filled” suggests to me that life will be enriched and complete – there will be a satisfaction in seeking to do the right thing and seeing changes come into being as a result.

Conclusion

It maybe that you don’t think the Beatles song really fits what we have been talking about?

Well perhaps next time you hear it played you will think about those words

“I get by with a little help from my friends”

We need to leave behind the individualistic and self-centred world in which we live and fully understand that each of us are inextricably linked to our sisters and brothers – what we do effects all those around us.

Living in the way in which God intended us to do means that the poor hear good news, the captives are released, the blind recover their sight, the oppressed go free.

We need to inhabit the Kingdom of God – a Kingdom of righteous and just living – where we get by with a little help from our friends because they live in the same way and we encourage each other on the journey through life to live in a way that is righteous and just.

And whilst we try not to sing out of key we are assured that as the children of God and citizens of the Kingdom of God our friends will help us get by because the Kingdom of God is big enough and broad enough for everyone.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled”.

Chris
Christ Topping, Reader

[1] Marcus Borg –Speaking Christian

[2] God’s Politics page 7

[3] The Ninefold Path – Mark Scandrette.

 

 

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