Staring Down Lions {a hillside sermon}

Blessings on the persecuted ones. {Jesus}

This is a place in the beatitudes where I sit here, staring at the text. I stare and scratch my head, stare a little more, lean back in the chair for a good look at the ceiling, get up for a stretch and to grab a cup or three of coffee. Back to the desk. It’s still here, and I don’t know what to do with it.

Blessings on you who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. It’s a hopeful word for first century Christians, facing down lions when they refused to name Caesar Lord. It’s a good word for the far too many places where those who have followed the Jesus Way have had to make the dire choice between God and an ideal, God and a friend, God and the fast track. We’ve talked about how righteousness means “what’s right.” And we know that doing the right thing isn’t the same as doing the easy thing. That’s why we respect the boy who stands up to the bully even though he takes a bloody beating.

But truthfully, I don’t see much persecution around me. Perhaps I’m too plagued by childhood stories of the persecuted church behind the Iron Curtain to put myself and those I know in that category. I’m suspicious of my attempts to work this truth so it fits into my world. I’m equally as suspicious of any attempt (and I’ve heard a few) to use Jesus’ words to guilt someone into somehow angling to suffer more for the gospel. It’s easy to forget: in the Beatitudes, Jesus isn’t laying down ethical commands but passing out blessings.

Perhaps this is just the place for us to be. It’s not for us to define persecution (and, surely, if we have to ask, we have our answer). And it’s certainly not for us to rush out in religious zeal and manufacture a little oppression. It’s not for us to do anything at all. Our work is to join in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who do face dark hours. Our work is to pray for their strength, knowing that in the most surprising of ways, God is with them, blessing them in the place they are most desperate for blessing.

And the word for us is this:¬†Fear not. Whenever we follow God, blessing will meet us there. Even if we’re staring down lions.

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