Do you ever open your mouth, and your mum pops out?! Unnerving isn’t it!
So often I hear Sue Sampson coming out of my mouth. Her compassion for refugees, her frustration of inefficiency, her hatred of injustice, her defiance of the patriarchy and certain political leaders, her love of trashy TV and always the glass of wine…There’s rarely any doubt that I am my mother’s daughter.
And in this morning’s gospel, we encounter something similar: Jesus, God’s Son is very much Mary’s boy. Did you notice?
When Mary discovered she was carrying the saviour of the world in her body, she burst into her song of liberation and justice – the one we call the Magnificat. With the Christ inside her she was able to see the world as it really could be, as it really should be, where the hungry are filled, the proud are brought low and the humble take their place; the rich are sent away empty, and the poor are provided for. I wonder how often she sang that song as Jesus grew. I wonder if she sang it to him at bedtime or bath time. I wonder if she sang it while he was a baby, a boy, a teenager, and an adult. I wonder if she maybe even sang it as she knelt at the foot of his cross.
Obviously we don’t know but hearing this morning’s gospel passage it is clear to me that it became very much part of Jesus’ DNA because by the time we join him at the ‘level place’ this morning he is preaching it for himself, almost word for word: Blessed are the poor, Blessed are the hungry, Blessed are those who weep, Blessed are the hated. Woe to the rich, woe to those who are full, woe to those who are spoken highly of.
Yep, Jesus really is his mama’s boy.
And just as Mary’s Magnificat makes for uncomfortable listening so too does the same message when it comes out of Jesus’ mouth, particularly for us…because we are way more among the ‘woe’s than the ‘blessed’s. But what can we do about that, because simply by birth we are fortunate enough to be counted with the rich and rejoicing and not the poor or hungry. And yes, we can give away what we have. We can try to share our power and our privilege. Of course we can, and we must, but the thing that struck me about these lists this week is the first point – blessed are the poor, for theirs, yours, is the kingdom of God.
And isn’t the point of following Jesus, isn’t the main point something about building God’s Kingdom here and now, spotting where it is cropping up and joining in. Didn’t we sign up to this Jesus movement to live in and extend God’s Kingdom and invite others to join us there too?
Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.
If that is true – and Jesus says it is – then perhaps we should not only try to give up our wealth, but we should also be hanging out with those who are genuinely poor. If we want to experience the kingdom of God, that is where we will find it.
This week, many of you know, I went back to the prison at Perth Airport to visit our friends Ned, Aref and Javad. That place is like staring into the depths of hell. It is sterile and inhumane. It is devoid of compassion or friendship. It crushes spirits and sends hope away empty. It reflects all that is bad about humankind and shows a terrifying side of what one human can do to another and what one political system can inflict on those who are most vulnerable.
All three of our friends are in a bad way at the moment. Ned is being denied access to mental health treatment that he so desperately needs and is protesting that by refusing food. Aref, usually so full of hopeful expectation had really dropped his head. And eloquent and beautiful Javad broke my heart when he told me, ‘I own nothing, I have nothing, not even these clothes I wear, because at any point [these guards] can take it from me, so nothing I own is mine. It’s theirs’. He went on to say ‘you can live without food for weeks and you can live without water for days but you can’t live without hope, even for a minute so I am not living. I am just breathing’.
Blessed are the poor and hungry for yours is the kingdom of God.
Sitting at the gates of hell with these men reveals the kingdom of God. And I don’t know how that happens or even really what that means but I do believe it to be true. The detention centre does not feature in God’s Kingdom – the exclusion of refugees or boat people – the blind eye we turn to those who are literally starving themselves to death – those things are not aspects of the Kingdom of God but by being alongside these guys, by standing in solidarity with them, we somehow glimpse something of another way. A new world.
The needs of Javad and Ned and Aref make me feel paralysed and powerless. They bring me to the end of myself. And then, in that paradox, there I find God. Reaching the end of ourselves meant that many of you turned up at the centre yesterday and protested their treatment. Reaching the end of who we are meant several others came and lamented here at mass or joined in online or in our homes or are planning to go to the edge of humanity and sit with those guys in their cell and listen to their stories. And as we do, so we enter a new dimension of the Kingdom of God. I don’t know how that works, but it does.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian, describes the Magnificat as ‘the most passionate, the wildest, the most revolutionary song ever sung’. Here on the mount Jesus sings his version of it, with his whole heart. As we seek to follow Him, may we find our own song of revolution, and may we sing it with all we have and all we are and as it changes us so may it also change the world. Amen.