Saturday, 8 September 2012

Assembly Address - 'Let your light shine before others.'

Address given in Senior School Assembly on Tuesday 4th September. 
Based on Matthew 5: 1-16

The passage we have just heard comes from the start of a lengthy section of Jesus’ teaching often called The Sermon on the Mount and this section contains the Beatitudes, a series of statements detailing groups of people who are called Blessed by Jesus.  For example, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart’ which in Latin is ‘Beati Mundo Corde’ and hence the name The Beatitudes.

It is a highly comforting passage because it contains a promise that ‘all will be well in the end’.  Those who mourn or are sad will be comforted.  The meek, or quiet people, are told that they will inherit the earth.  It also flags up desirable characteristics and attitudes we should aspire to:  Being merciful.  Being pure in heart.  Being a peacemaker.

The context of all of these is within a community under pressure and under threat.  Jesus’ teaching made him unpopular with the religious and political authorities of the time and the early Christian church was heavily persecuted within the Roman empire.  So the underlying message is one of staying true to your convictions when you are under pressure.

It’s easy to see a connection between this passage and the poem that it doubtless inspired – ‘If' by Rudyard Kipling.  A famous and popular poem which I am sure most of you know and some of you studied last year.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise.

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools.

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

In common with a great deal of the Christian gospel, there are some elements of the message which are difficult.  Some believe that Jesus was a pacifist, strictly opposed to violence and warfare and the verse saying ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ would seem to support that idea.  Others argue that war, as a last resort, can be the only way to achieve peace.  You can see this in the way the military has Chaplains who are with the troops right on the front line in Afghanistan.  Soldiers who are warriors can also be seen as peacemakers.

The other paradox, which is a puzzle sitting at the heart of belief in God, is the problem of evil and suffering.  How could an all-powerful, God of love let people suffer?  This passage is all about the message that there is some purpose in suffering but some will question whether it is true that ‘it will all make sense in the end’.

But the key message I want to draw out from this passage is the importance of being true to your convictions.  Being willing to stand up for what you believe in, even if it is unpopular.  Everything is easy when all is going well but it’s how we respond to challenge and pressure that makes a real difference and, much as we may wish for an easy life, we all know that it’s unrealistic to hope for a world with no problems.  As the end of passage says; ‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works’.  Take this message forwards and put it into practice this term and the year ahead and you won’t go far wrong.