I don’t normally post my sermons up onto the internet, but I thought it might not be a bad idea every now and then…….
Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12
This week I posted a comment on Facebook along the lines of this: ‘Remembrance Sunday coming up……. a real challenge for those of us who look increasingly to The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew…..’. How would I have preached if I had become an RAF Chaplain 3 years ago?
Now some of you might wonder what made me write that… To be honest with hindsight, I can now look back and see it as a great escape. An escape from being in a position where I don’t think I could have been able to preach the whole of the gospel. It was a challenge I was prepared to take up at the time, but it would have been a difficult and compromising position that I would have put myself in.
The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew is something that is for me and many, many others, a life-forming and life-changing part of the gospel.
I am not alone in facing the challenges of Christian ethics and a growing, living theology. A Christian’s life is rather unmeaningful unless there is a robust theology that is being challenged by the circumstances of life…… And of death….. And all the bits in between.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran Pastor in Germany was a person who lived during a time where he was faced with many questions about his faith, his theology, and the churches integrity. Hitler was already in charge, the country was recovering after WW 1. Economic growth was rocketting, the people were regaining a national pride and it was all revolving around the myth of superiority of the Aryan – a superior race was being promoted heavily through a period of years….. Through propaganda.
In fact, the church in Germany was engrossed in the whole process, and many people were asking awkward questions about the relationship between the State and Church…. Some never questioned anything, but remained silent, not wanting to create waves…. integrity became a casualty to the State.
This morning’s scripture is a fine model to follow. I really do believe that if you follow The Sermon on the Mount in your life, then you won’t be far of the mark in living the Christian life. At no time does it say "Blessed are the silent, for they shall inherit righteousness" though. In fact, the Bible clearly through the Prophets says something very different. If a person ignored injustice, and didn’t look after the weak in society, interesting questions will be asked by God as to why, but many remain silent in their faith when the world around seems to be about everything except justice. Hence, why we need to know the reasons (and they need to be sound ones) why we have certain views, how we form our theology with integrity. Theology grows and evolves with challenges….. Faith grows with challenges…..
Unfortunately, many German Pastors knew exactly why they stayed silent when so much injustice was being meted out to the Jews in Germany and elsewhere. They wanted a low profile, they silently agreed with all that was happening around them…. They forgot their calling….. Thankfully, Bonhoeffer and others could not reconcile the Nazi state’s claim to total control over the person with the ultimate sovereignty that, in Christian orthodoxy, must belong only to God and not Hitler.
Bonhoeffer wrote this to his grandmother on the 20th August 1933:
Our work here is very enjoyable but also very hard. We want to try to make the German Christians declare their intentions. Whether we shall succeed I rather doubt. For even if they admit the formulations officially, the pressure behind them is so strong that sooner or later it is bound to sweep away all promises. It is becoming increasingly clear that what we are going to get is a big, popular, national church whose nature cannot be reconciled with Christianity, and that we must be prepared to enter upon entirely new paths which we shall then have to tread. The real question is between Germanism and Christianity, and the sooner the conflict comes out into the open the better. Nothing could be more dangerous than its concealment…"
Christians are called to speak out, regardless of time or the chances of popular support…. And just like Bonhoeffer, we need to know and be sure why and not just think about it… it requires action in some way.
Bonhoeffer became one of the main voices in a movement called The Confessing Church. They refused to stay silent, despite the intentions of Hitler nazifying the state church. He wanted total control of everything, and he pretty much had it…. Radio, Press, Politics…..the church. His opposition tended to have accidents or died whilst in custody, or found guilty of treason…… Bonhoeffer would not comply, he took part in the escape of Jews, he took part in the plot to assassinate Hitler…. And he was later arrested on the 5th of April and imprisoned at Tegel. That tension of a theology and practice is what attracts me to Bonhoeffer. The difficulty he faced, the questions he clearly asked of himself, and of course God. He remained in prison until he finally ended up at Flossenburg where on the 8th April 1945 he was found guilty of treason and executed early the following morning…. As per the direct orders from Hitler.
How happy are you when injustice is rife – and lets face it, it is! Today, we remember the people who decided that they could not remain silent to such an extent that they gave their lives for what we enjoy and yet slowly flitter away without knowing it. Yet we often forget those who suffered long afterwards in silence…. Silence can be a painful thing for people….. And for injustice. Today, we have many who are suffering in silence – people who have lost something of their humanity to such an extent that it often comes to the surface violently. But what about those who are not Christians today…… Have we been too silent with our faith, have we been passive instead of risk-takers? Do people really see anything different about Christians in daily life today? Have we acquiesced ….. Do we tacitly comply and submit without any voice or action of protest or a contrast?
I don’t think Jesus wants us to model anyone but himself…. It wasn’t a life of passiveness or silence. How active is your faith? How active is my faith? Don’t just float along with popular opinion, or become timid as if you are embarrassed in what you say you believe or silently think…….. But don’t become the kind of person either, who is constantly a victim…… If you live and speak out because of your faith, Jesus has some very telling words: Verses 11-12….
"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." So, if we are to learn anything from Bonhoeffer or Wilfred Owen on this Remembrance Sunday, maybe it is along the lines of questioning our integrity in who we are, what we say and think, and in what we do……