Lord, thank you for using the foolish to confound the wise and the weak ones to shame the strong. Help us live with the shrewdness of serpents and the innocence of doves. Keep our feet from fatigue, our spirits from despair, our hands from failing to love and our mouths from failing to sing in praise to you. Amen.
Imagine your head of state getting up to make a speech. Our own Julia Gillard isn’t the most inspiring, so I’ll imagine Barack Obama – who at least can give a moving speech. He gets up on the podium, pauses while the photographers and journalists snap some pictures of him, waits for a quiet to descend, and addresses the nation.
Today is a good day if you are poor – this nation is yours, and today this nation commits to looking after you.
Today is a good day if you are too poor to keep the fridge stocked – from today onwards there will be plenty of food for you and for your family.
Today is a good day if you’re one of the people who quietly goes about your work diligently, and are sick of being trampled on by people louder, richer or more powerful than you. From today onwards, your hard work will no longer be overlooked, you’ll be recognised, rewarded and given more opportunities for great things.
Today is a good day for those who feel like they’re fighting a losing battle to remain a good person. Today we say this country values and rewards faithfulness, generosity and a good heart, rather than those who cheat, lie and abuse to get ahead. You protect your motives and stay true to all that is pure and good about humanity. Your life will be rich as a result.
Today is a good day if your life has been filled with sadness and grief. As a country, a community and a family today we recognise your suffering, and say we will be there for you, and do everything we can to give you a brighter future.
Today is a good day for those of you who aren’t always hard-lined, but show mercy and give a second chance. This is not weakness, but a strength and grace that can turn a fellow human being’s life around. From today onwards, we are a country that promotes mercy over strict adherence to rules and punishments. If you’re willing to give people who hurt you a second chance, recognising their humanity, we’re willing to give you a second chance too – and this takes effect in all our policies. Mercy begets mercy, love begets love.
Today is a good day for everyone who has stood between two fighting parties, and brought calm and understanding, peace and unity. Because of your commitment to us, to all of us – the worldwide family of humanity – we celebrate you, honour you, and publicly say that this world is better because of you, and because of the risky stand you have taken.
Today is a good day for all of those who have been punished for doing what is right. Those who have been arrested for peaceful demonstrations, those who have been insulted for standing up for minorities, those who have been fired or sued or sidelined for choosing to do what is right, rather than do what they’re told. To those who do the right thing, rather than the easy thing – we see you, we acknowledge you, and change our rhetoric. You’re not a “rebel” or “lawbreaker” or “dissident”. You are one of the greats, one whose conviction challenges our society and grows us. You are in good company with the great men and women of history. As a nation, we will no longer fight you, but recognise you and reward you and support you in every way that we can. We need more people like you.
When a leader makes a public address like this, it isn’t just more campaigning, an attempt at securing more votes or support. A speech like this is a turning point. It says that as a nation we acted one way, now we’re going to act another. It’s a statement of what’s important to the new leader, what their season of leadership is going to be focused on, and what people can expect to change. One group of people was previously neglected, now they will not be. It gives both a change of policy (what the leadership is doing to support the neglected) and a change of culture (as a people, we are now to think differently, act differently, treat people differently).
This is my re-imaging of “The Beatitudes”, part of a sermon Jesus delivered that can be looked at as his inauguration speech. The crowds recognised that this man was a leader, pronouncing a new Kingdom, and with thousands of people gathering to listen to him, here is what he has to say:
Blessed are the poor,
for theirs is the Kingdom of God.
Blessed are the hungry,
for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall be shown mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they are the children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness and justice,
for great is their reward.
(Common Prayer, adapted from texts in Matthew 5 and Luke 6)
This isn’t about an normal country or community or kingdom. This about the Kingdom of Heaven – the group of people throughout the world who recognise Jesus as the Son of God, and choose to live under his leadership rather than that of their geographic/economic leaders. The people who submit to his way of doing things even over their own wants and desires. Jesus is their leader, and this is his inauguration speech.
Part of it is encouragement – what he, as God and as King, is going to do for them. Part of it is direction – how we, as his people, should change our attitudes, thought patterns, behaviours and processes to adapt to this new form of government, of kingdom.
And the vision laid out is still as confronting, appealing and diametrically opposed to it’s surrounding culture, as it was when Jesus first announced it on the hills of Palestine two thousand years ago.
I’ve been using a book called “Common Prayer“, which acts as a kind of guide to help me think of things to pray about and let my mind chew on each morning, lunch time and night. (Example: when I usually get distracted by what I’ve got on for the day, it says “pray for others”. Good idea!)
Anyway, each morning the prayers open with this line:
Lord, let me soul rise up to meet you
As the day rises to meet the sun
The last few weeks, I’ve mostly been reading this and praying this as I begin my walk to work, walking down the street, the morning is still cool, but the sun is shining, and I visualise it: the earth reorients itself once again, so my little corner is facing the sun. Jason, your turn, reorient yourself, turn and face God. Starting the day this way is good.
This morning however, it wasn’t sunny. And I came to pray this line, and went to look up at the sun, to help visualise it, and I couldn’t see it. It was gone. The clouds had taken it away.
Now of course, the sun wasn’t gone. It’s still there. If it were not, it would be pitch black (not just a little grey), the temperature would be dropping so rapidly we would probably have frozen to death by now, and in general things would be falling apart. I might not be able to see it, and I might be a little chilly, and a little wet with rain, but if the sun were not there, things would be far, far worse than they are.
This is helpful on the days that I feel a little uncomfortable spiritually, can’t see God and struggle to believe he’s there. Or maybe I’m not struggling with his existence, but just wondering why he’s not doing anything helpful for me with everything I’m struggling with. On those days, it’s not that God is gone. He’s still there, and he’s still keeping the general universe running, even if it’s a little obscured, and even if I’m not as comfortable as I want to be. If he was genuinely not there, or genuinely had ceased taking any interest in me, things would probably be far worse than they are*.
* footnote: I’m lucky enough to be healthy and live in a first world country. My idea of struggles of course aren’t worth even mentioning when compared to what people in different circumstances. Something else this prayer book is teaching me to be mindful of. Is God still there for those people? I hope so…