Hadrian's Wall, the northern edge of the Roman Empire
4 Epiphany Yr A Jan 29 2017 Audio
I am convinced the prophetic voices we hear in today’s readings can guide our walk with Jesus. We must listen to them. We hear these verses in Matthew’s gospel that we call Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Jesus’ sermon on the mount is the opening proclamation of the ministry to follow, and it shows us what the kingdom of God looks like. In God’s kingdom, you are blessed, and the purpose and focus of Jesus ministry is to bless. Blessing is what it means to follow Jesus. And in our lectionary today, Matthew’s gospel is preceded by the prophet Micah. So today, we’ll begin there with Micah.
The last verses of what we hear from Micah are what we know best. I want to put those verses into some context. What we have is a sort of trial, with an indictment, “plead your case” the Lord says. And then the sarcasm begins. In the voice of the Lord we hear, O my people, what have I done for you? All I've done for you is to bring you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of slavery; I sent before you Moses, and Aaron, and Miriam. As if that's not enough to. And then the voice of the Lord calls us to remember what happened and to remember the saving acts of the Lord. And following that is this question, how shall we come before the Lord? Shall we bring burnt-offerings, rivers of oil, our first born child, again, sarcastic. And then we hear the instruction, what the Lord really needs of us is to do justice, and to love kindness (also translated mercy), and to walk humbly with our God.
Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. Wow. This is what God’s kingdom looks like, and this is also what it means to follow Jesus. But, humbly isn’t quite an accurate translation, it should be more like walk intentionally, walk deliberately, with your God. Do justice, love kindness, and walk intentionally with God.
So then we move into how to recognize blessing in Matthew. We’ve heard these beatitudes so many times, haven’t we. You know, for a long time I taught children using Godly Play. Godly Play is a way to tell the sacred bible stories. So, I’d tell this story about Jesus teaching his friends when the children were in first grade, and then they’d hear it again in second grade, and by third grade they’d say, we’ve heard that one before! And I’d respond with, of course you have, what’s different about it this time? Because you see, each time we hear these sacred stories, we are in a different place and a different time, so we hear something different in them. Friends, we are in a different place and a different time, we must hear these beatitudes differently.
Jesus is speaking directly to his disciples with this teaching. You and I are really just eavesdropping on Jesus’ teaching. Jesus is teaching his disciples about how to recognize blessing. Not, who is blessed, or how to bless, but how to recognize what God has already blessed. God has already blessed the poor in spirit, and theirs is the kingdom of heaven. God has already blessed those who mourn, and they will be comforted. God has already blessed the meek, and they will inherit the earth. God has already blessed those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and they will be filled. God has already blessed the merciful, and they will receive mercy. God has already blessed the pure in heart, and they will see God. God has already blessed the peacemakers, and they will be called children of God. God has already blessed those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And God has already blessed those who are reviled and persecuted.
You see, our job, as followers of Jesus is to get with the program, God is already doing great things, our job is to see that and join forces. And what’s odd about this, is God has already blessed those who we would not think are blessed. In our world, when we think of someone who is blessed we most often think of someone who is wealthy or powerful or famous or successful or beautiful or enviable. Blessing, at least according to the standards of this world, is most often of the material kind. Blessing, in our world is missing the close call, or getting something someone else doesn’t get. But that’s not what is revealed in Matthew’s story about Jesus teaching the disciples. God blesses those in need.
So now we have these two scripture that are presented to us together on this day, in this church, in this community, in this country, and the question I ask of them is what does it have to do with us? What do these pieces of scripture have to do with following Jesus?
Following Jesus is about is doing justice, loving kindness, and walking intentionally with God. Following Jesus is to recognize blessing when it is staring us in the face. I think recognizing blessedness has something to do with living in a country of hospitality, a county in which people who can no longer literally live in their own countries can come and find justice, and kindness and mercy, and freedom to walk with God. I think recognizing blessedness has something to do with living in a community, a church of hospitality, a place where people of all stripes can come and find justice, and kindness and mercy, and freedom to walk with God.
Friday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. When I was a kid in civics class, we learned about the Holocaust, and I remember being frightened and disgusted. In my own life I can not come to terms with how people can do such things to other people. And I learned that we learn about such atrocities, so as to never let it happen again. I have been to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, I have been to the Holocaust Memorial in Washington DC, and I believe following Jesus is about offering hospitality and sanctuary to all who come seeking refuge from violence and persecution in their own countries. And I know that seems like it is way outside our control, so the question I bring to these texts today is, right here in our church, right here in our community, how do we follow Jesus by doing justice, loving kindness, and walking intentionally with God. How do we follow Jesus by recognizing blessing when it is staring us in the face?
So that’s what I want for us to consider. What is it you can do, today, tomorrow, and the next day, to offer hospitality to the people you sit next to in these pews, to the people who walk by our church daily, to the people who are in our neighborhood and community, to the people who come to this country seeking refuge from death and starvation. What is in your hands? How can you walk with God and be that light that shines in this darkness? How can you be a partner in building God's kingdom?
Friends, we follow Jesus because we are convinced of God’s love for us, God’s love for all of creation. We follow Jesus because we are convinced that Love wins. We come here, to this place and we offer our own brokenness to be forgiven and healed, we are filled with bread and wine that are Jesus’ body and blood. In the mystery that is God’s love for us, we recognize blessing, we receive mercy, and we enact justice. You are loved, go out into the world to do the work you are called to do, to love and serve as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. Amen.