In the sticky wash up that has come about from the flood of broken beer bottles, I wish to offer one more comment. In some ways it is to clarify and build on where I wish to take Christian conversation in the public square.
Two days ago I said that with a new morning we’ll see that not everything has changed, although in the public realm something has altered. The outrage over the Bible Society’s video is not entirely new, but it does signal with with its greatest yet clarity, that public speech in our society won’t come without a cost.
My purpose is not to repeat things from the previous post, rather, I would like to explore in a little more detail the portion of Scripture to which I turned in my conclusion: the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The Beatitudes don’t detail how may enters the Kingdom of heaven, but the life of those who belong to this Kingdom, and are in some ways pre-empting the final manifestation of the Kingdom by exhibiting its qualities in the here and now; to use Jonathan Leeman’s analogy, it’s much like an embassy in a foreign country.
Some Christians hold to some of the Beatitudes, and play loose with others. Some of us focus on peace-making while sacrifice righteousness in order to achieve this goal. Some grab hold of righteousness with clenched fists, while ignoring how Jesus begins, with confession and contrition of our own sins. It is important to see how the Lord Jesus ties them together in an unbreakable bond. All 8 Beatitudes belong together and work together to build godly character and a life that imitates, albeit imperfectly, the Lord Jesus.
Jesus leads us to begin with confession and contrition, acknowledging our complete dependence on God’s grace, which is his loving gift to us through the atoning death of Christ. The more we grasp the astonishing nature of God’s grace we can no longer look at other Aussies with any disdain or wanting anything other than their good. In light of the last few days, we can be asking ourselves, how can be better love and serve our gay and lesbian friends. If we don’t have any gay and lesbians, why not?
I suspect some of my Christian friends believe that if we follow the first 7 Beatitudes, the outcome will be peace and happy relationships with everyone, but that’s not where Jesus lead us. He says, ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’
It is true, we can be shouted down because we’ve said stupid things, hurtful things, and saying the right things wrongly; I know I’m guilty of all the above. Nonetheless, Jesus indicates that living the Beatitudes and being concerned for God’s righteousness may still result in people being offended and not liking us and attempting to silence us. For Christians to think we can escape verses 10-12 is understandable but somewhat naive.
The steady but sure retreat by Cooper’s Brewery was disappointing to see. Whatever the connection between Cooper’s and the video (which appears to be an informal one at most), there was nonetheless a real partnership on a different stage, and for them to cut ties feels announcing on Facebook that you’re getting a divorce. Instead of throwing out our Cooper’s beer, which would make us somewhat hypocritical, we ought to pray for them and be gentle. One can only imagine that the pressure they were submitted to would have sunk the heaviest of beers.
The way of Jesus is not capitulation or watery compromise. Our posture should not be silent defeat or angry defensiveness, but always truth in love, clarity and conviction. Expressing our Gospel convictions is longer an easy option, but we should not give up speaking truth with grace because that is how God has treated us, and his love and joy is too good not to share with others. We won’t persuade everyone, but you’ll discover that someone is intrigued and away from cacophony of public noise, they will ask about this Jesus of whom we speak so passionately.
Remember how Paul’s sermon in Athens ended,
“When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.”
If we want to speak in public, or anywhere anytime, more than ever we must not only believe the Beatitudes, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, practice them. I love this Ernest Hemmingway quote that one Facebook friend quote this morning,
“Courage is grace under pressure.” Ministers will face inordinate pressure. The challenge is to fight this stress with God’s grace and not by our own strength, coercion, manipulation, or self-medicating manners. We walk in grace by keeping the gospel’s story of a suffering Savior at the center of our thoughts.