The Phone Booth and the Beatitudes

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

The first reading, from Isaiah 61, has special significance for me.

I went to an Alpha conference at a church in London, quite a few years ago now; at a time when I was feeling quite despondent as a leader, and a lady from that church came alongside me and prayed with me. ( as is the custom down there)

She asked if she could read a passage from the bible to me, and this was the one she quoted Isaiah 61.

Immediately I jumped in, as I usually do, before she had finished, and said, ’This is the reading that summed up my calling to the priesthood, I remembered the selection panel asking me that question.

‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me,

for he has anointed me to preach good news,

To bind up the broken hearted,

to proclaim freedom for captives

and release from the darkness for the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour…’

But she continued, ‘Well that’s wonderful , but it was actually the verses which come after this reading that I was going to quote.’

So she continued, and as I listened to her words, it was as though I had never ever read or heard these words before, even though I had read the passage many times before.

But this is what she read

To comfort all who mourn,

And provide for those in Zion to bestow upon them

a crown of beauty instead of ashes,

the oil of gladness instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

Those words instantly brought instant healing to me!

The Beatitudes have that same effect on people; they are words that bring healing, and they begin with the need to seek poverty of spirit, and to mourn for themselves and the world around them.

The Beatitudes are a call to us to see ourselves - to live with ourselves - in a way that doesn’t come easy to most of us…

For it is those who realise their need of God, and honestly confess their sins and their helplessness and vulnerability before God…those who cry out to him in their desire to be forgiven, to be strengthened and healed…who will find themselves blessed and comforted,

It will be the ones who humble themselves before God who will find themselves exalted.

Those of us who had access to the recommended DVD, ‘The Phone Booth’ in the Attitudes Lent Course, this week, see this ‘humbling ’happening to a man trapped in a phone booth, by a sniper who speaks to him by telephone.

The sniper orders him to confess his sins in front of the crowd that has gathered or to die.

The sniper has already killed one man in front of his eyes, and now the cameras of the world are focussed upon him.

Eventually he breaks down and confesses, because the sniper has his wife and his would be mistress, who have joined the crowd, in his sights.

His confession is really moving. Speaking to the sniper he tells him this,

I’m not a murderer or an abuser, I’m a publicist who has fantasies about pretty little actresses, who spends money on Italian suits and dry cleaning, so people will think he’s important, who doesn’t waste time being nice to people who aren’t any use to him. These are CRIMES?? he asks the sniper.

We sometimes think like this,

‘I’m not really bad, others are a lot worse!’

The sniper orders him to tell the crowd, not him, he gives him a chance to redeem himself.

So he goes on to make the most beautiful and heartfelt confession. He goes into detail…let me tell you some of the things he confesses…some of the highlights so to speak…He says,

‘I’ve never done anything for anyone who couldn’t do something for me…

I lie to everyone, I’m part of a big circle of lies, I should be the *!*% President!

I wear all this finery because it makes me feel important…

I neglected the things I should I should’ve valued most.

To his wife he says,

I take my ring off when I phone Pam over here, Kelly, this is Pam, and looking at you now I’m ashamed of myself.

I’ve been dressing up as something I’m not for so long-I’m so afraid you won’t like what’s underneath.

But here I am, blood and flesh and weakness, and I love you so much, and I don’t want to give you up, I want to make things better.’

He comes to realise, that he has not actually made this confession for the sniper, but for his own cleansing and to put right his world.

This was the extract given to us to study this week. But I found like my Isaiah reading before, that it was the words that come AFTER this, which really highlights for me the word REDEMPTION and made me feel excited as a Christian.

He realises that even though he has confessed his sins, the sniper still intends to shoot either his wife or his would be mistress, and he leaps out of the phone booth with arms in the cruciform shape, with a gun he has found in the booth in his hands, knowing that the police marksmen will shoot him, and he cries out

Take me out ! in other words ‘Save them’,

Isn’t this what Christ did for us?

I thought it was a beautiful film, it brought me to make a confession, in a similar style, on paper before God.

We may not have committed BIG CRIMES, but those sins simmering below the surface are ones that offend God too.

When we hide them from him, and are not true and open we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

The Rich Young Ruler in our gospel reading, really did want to follow Jesus, but in his response he was more or less saying.

I’m quite all right as I am, thank you, I’ve got everything I need, I’m in control…who needs an honest assessment of my life, why should I be open, who needs God?

I manage quite well on my own, I organise my life quite well, I allotted to God the time I want to give him, that should suffice.

If we are sitting here this evening thinking, I do confess my sins,

this doesn’t apply in my case, then try applying some of these phrases to a wider situation.

We’re quite all right thank you, we’ve got everything we need, we like being in control, we like being the ones with all the nuclear arsenal stockpiled, who needs an honest assessment, especially of our Free Trade? Let’s not rock the boat in wiping out Third World debt, it may impoverish us; let’s not give too much leeway on Climate Control, it will affect our ability to exist and provide jobs and drive the economy. Who needs God, we’ve got enough idols of our own to deal with? We’re managing well, we don’t break all that many of God’s commandments. We organise our time as we think fit, after all. We’ll allot time to God if and when in the future we should need him…

The Book of Revelations has this to say…

I know your deeds, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were either one or the other! So because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold-I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.

But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich;

And white clothes to wear to cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see.’

Those who I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock!

If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will go in and eat with him, and he with me.’

When Jesus stands at our door, how far do we on opening the door, allow him to advance into our room?

How much of our lives are in control of Jesus, our Lord and Master?

God speaks to the world through Solomon, when he says,

‘If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.’

When we as Christians begin to see the need for a real poverty of spirit, AND until we begin to really mourn for the injustices and abuses of our world, we will know little of the kingdom of God or the comfort.

The more we try and practice the Beatitudes, the more we shall experience God’s blessing and his favour.

Through our eyes mirroring a more perfect soul, we can cause those who are blind to see God.

Through our words speaking blessing rather than curses, we can begin to affirm others in this troubled world.

Through actions that become more and more sacrificial, we can show others the redeeming love of Christ..

Finally when we in the church learn to cry, Save them out there, Take me out! Forget what we want, the unsaved people out there are important to you Lord.

We’ll make the sacrifices….!

It’s only then we shall begin to see God move….out there as well as in here.