Sunday, January 29, 2017
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany / Lectionary 4
Prayer of the Day
Holy God, you confound the world’s wisdom in giving your kingdom to the lowly and the pure in heart. Give us such a hunger and thirst for justice, and perseverance in striving for peace, that in our words and deeds the world may see the life of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Micah 6:1-8 The offering of justice, kindness, humility
1 Corinthians 1:18-31 Christ crucified, the wisdom and power of God
Matthew 5:1-12 The teaching of Christ: Beatitudes
Sermon: Blessed in the Living Word
We need a new Micah. Someone to come and call the peoples in line. To proclaim God’s judgement and to offer a much needed corrective rich with promise.
What’s so perfect about Micah’s methods and so desired for a new Micah in our time, is that he cries out to creation to be the jury in God’s dispute with the people. God is bringing a complaint, a lawsuit because the people have acted wrongly, and God’s creation will stand in judgement.
How would creation judge the people of today? How would the abused resources, the mistreated wildlife, the mismanaged land, stand in judgement of us, the abusers, the oppressors, the poor stewards? We can only imagine how they all would judge us. And they would be right in their harshest verdict.
We need a Micah to remind us that God is not interested in a Sunday show of rituals, while our daily actions are destructive. Instead, the original Micah says: the heart of holy living is doing justice – not just for people but for all of creation. And loving kindness – in how we treat others, how we treat all living things. And walking humbly with God – not claiming to be above, or wiser, or ignorant of the path on which we are called to follow God’s ways.
We need Paul to write a new letter. Something to get the church back on track. To proclaim God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
What’s so perfect in this letter to the pesky church in Corinth that was struggling with diversity, trying to cut corners on discipleship, that was distracted by the trappings of the world around them, Paul’s bull’s-eye hit is that he brings his readers back to the foundation of our faith – the cross.
It’s not easy to look at. So we make ours out of shiny medals. Some, like the popular preachers of our airwaves, don’t even put a cross in their sanctuaries or arenas. Not the set dressing their looking for. It goes against the gospel of prosperity that they are preaching. How would it sound? Give seed money to us and you’ll grow a cross. That would be foolish. And that is exactly what Paul is saying – the cross is foolishness to the world. We want power, not weakness. We want victory, not loss. We want dominance, not submission. We want to be first, not last.
But Paul tells us that is not the message of the cross, that is not the way of the cross, foolish as it may sound to this world. Following Jesus means following the cross. It’s not easy. But it is our call. And it is the source of our life, our new life in Christ. The cross restores our relationship with God by the grace made known in Jesus. It may not give the world what it wants, but it provides us with what we need, what is true wealth, what is true power – a power the world will never understand, because our sinful selves are still standing at that fruit-bearing tree thinking we can take a bite and live without God, live according to our own blind wisdom, fill our own empty ambitions. Hear the call of Jesus to stand at his tree, on which the world sees death, and there we will find life, find justice, find mercy, find power. The Roman Empire is long gone. The kingdom of God lives on, lives forever.
We need Jesus to climb back up that mountain and deliver some new beatitudes. Some that speak to us. They were shocking when he first spoke them. Not like anything folks had said or were saying. These phrases that have grown simple and safe over time, were anything but at that first hearing.
Most importantly, the people heard themselves in those statements. They heard themselves as the ones who are blessed. Perhaps that was surprise enough. But when they considered their situation, their poverty, their oppression, their dominating rulers, their corrupt system, their powerlessness and their hunger for God, they must have been really surprised. Jesus told them their truth and they were surprised. Surprised by hope. Surprised by compassions. Surprised by love.
What would they sound like today, the new beatitudes? Do I dare try to imagine them? Forgive my hutzpah. But I offer some possibilities.
Blessed are those who feel spiritually poor because they have been rejected and locked out of faith communities, turned off by hypocrisies, abandoned by families; God is most certainly with them.
Blessed are those who feel they have lost everything including the hope to go forward; God is most certainly embracing them with love, with light, and with new life.
Blessed are those who feel powerless, who see the abuse of power and ask what is the point; God is most certainly walking with them into a future that is theirs, because the tyrants are short lived and goodness is stronger than evil.
Blessed are those who are hungry for a right relationship with God; God in Jesus Christ has done all that is necessary for them, for you, see how you are filled with the new life of Christ.
Blessed are those who contribute to a culture of mercy, who perform random acts of kindness that go unnoticed, uncelebrated, who look beyond their own needs to reach out to others; God is working through them and the world of mercy is going through every action, because mercy begets mercy.
Blessed are those who keep their heart open even when walking through hell; God is filling their hearts and their minds such that they see God in everything and in everyone, they see God’s presence even when there is suffering, and see that God gives the hope necessary to journey on.
Blessed are those who do not seek revenge or self-fulfillment, who do not oppress the vulnerable, who stand with the weak and speak for the voiceless; God is seen in them by others and the gospel is proclaimed.
Blessed are those who know this life of faith is not easy and venture to follow Jesus anyway; God is most certainly present and they experience a foretaste of the feast that is to come, an appetizer that brings heaven to earth just as Jesus taught and promised.
Blessed are those whose faith and doubts, whose expressions of joy and acts of mercy, whose unbridled hope and commitment to peace, cause others to laugh and to mock, and cause the powers of this earth to pass laws in attempts to stifle them; God is laughing louder and longer at power and fear’s redundant ignorance, and God is leading the saints in a joyful song of encouragement that knows no end.
We don’t need a new Micah, or a new letter from Paul, or a new mountaintop sermon from Jesus. We have them, and they are the living word of God that continues to feed and guide, correct and comfort, empower and inspire. The living word of God that today enables us to walk humbly with God, to stand at the cross of Christ, and to see ourselves as the people of God that the Holy Spirit gathers from the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek and hungry, transforming us into the merciful, the open hearted, the peacemakers through the waters of baptism.
Rejoice and be glad, for this new life, nourished at the table, sets us in the very heart of the kingdom of God, in which Jesus is Lord, and the Spirit makes us one.
Blessed are we by this word and in its proclamation, and wise are we when we look to this living and eternal word to lead and guide in our humble walk with our God.
The Rev. Mark Erson,