Posted on Thu, Feb 2, 2017
January 28, 2017
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Gospel Text: Matthew 5:1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Today’s texts are some of the most significant texts to help us understand the depth of God’s mercy, and God’s simple calling for us to be faithful.
The Micah text becomes a song as soon as we get to the words, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Those words appear after the Lord offers a rather sarcastic response for all of those who think they must work so hard to ‘please’ God and get on God’s ‘good’ side… "With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" As if anyone could offer such an offering, or if God would even accept such and offering. God’s love and faithfulness isn’t something we bargain for, it is something we just believe, and allow the faith born from that belief to change our heart, our minds, our souls and especially how we view living within a relationship with such a gracious God, and within a community of similarly believing people.
The Sermon on the Mount, which is our Gospel text for today is sometimes a text preachers are almost tempted to read, and then sit down… letting the text stand on its own. In some ways I even wonder, this is a sermon Jesus offered, what can I add to improve on it?
Think about the times when you were alone and were “poor in spirit,” or ”mourning,” or even feeling persecuted. Did you feel “blessed?”
Everyone grieves, and everyone knows what it feels like to mourn, even and especially children. Even our pets grieve!
I know that the great majority of our congregation is grieving right now. Grief comes in waves, and it can even surprise us when we feel we are doing “all right.” But then, at the worst time, the wave of grief can overwhelm us to the point we cannot move, think, work, play or even breath.
Two Sundays ago was one of the most difficult worship services I have ever led. One of my best friends passed on at around 7 am, before worship. Had to really put on that ‘game face’ and preach God’s Word, not my feelings. But that morning, when others understood that Liz Miles had past, her students understood and their grieving began as they too had been blessed by Liz’s joy of teaching. One wise member of our church came up to me and said, “Pastor you are not alone, we are hurting too.” Her words became a blessing in the midst of my grief. She recognized the hurt in me, and her heart was hurt along with mine. Through her words, compassion and faith she reassured me that I was not alone, she was not alone, and we were on the road of grief together.
Faith helps us to see the neighbor or the stranger in a new and wonderful way. A faith community then becomes a group of diverse people knit together by faith with the common value of compassion and empathy. The same compassion and empathy Jesus had; it is the same compassion and empathy as Jesus had and demonstrated to us through the Gospels BECAUSE it was Jesus who gave us the gift of compassion and empathy through the Holy Spirit.
This last week when one of our members went into the hospital, there were texts flying all over the place on our phones asking for prayers and people responding in kind, “We are praying!” It was the gift of compassion born of that same faith that knits us together at work. I was so proud to see our church responding to the call to prayer in the time of one’s struggle.
Over the years, I have seen our church community do amazing things out of love and compassion. When people have needed food, rides to doctor appointments, someone to talk to, repairs to their home, a car, the list goes on and on, you have responded all because this faith that Jesus sends us, CHANGES US. Our priorities, or the center of our lives is not like children focused only on themselves; faith causes us to mature. When we mature we realize we are first chosen and beloved be God beyond measure and there isn’t payment we can give back to God accept “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Which means to live WITHIN the Good News of God’s constant faithfulness to you and your neighbor, whoever your neighbor may be. But ESPECIALLY when your neighbor is in need, suffering, cast out, hurting, alone, or even vilified.
I learned this week the reason I was “blessed” when I was grieving and hurting, was because I was living within an amazing faith community that lived the compassion and empathy of Christ. Our community is diverse, but it is united through one faith given through One Spirit, bestowed on us by One Lord and Savior.
To “walk humbly” with our God does not mean we walk through life with our eyes pointed to the ground and blind to the events going on around us. The faith that Jesus gives us actually causes us to look and search the lonely, the hurting, grieving, hungry for justice and truth and those who are persecuted or rejected. Faith causes us to see Jesus in the hungry, the grieving, those hungering for justice and truth, those driven from their homes because of war and terror.
Jesus was talking to the crowd to let them know that it is exactly at those difficult times that God is closest to us. I was blessed because someone else had the heart of God and could see that I was hurting and then became Christ for me with a hug, reassuring word, and a phone call I received and an angel from our congregation openly consoled me and said, “I love you Pastor Tim.”
Did I feel blessed? Certainly. Did the hurt go away? Maybe a little, but at least I knew that my faith community had the heart of Jesus.
The Sermon on the Mount only makes sense when God acts in compassion and love. God has acted; God gave us Jesus the Chosen One. What could you do to repay God for such a gift? God isn’t asking for rivers of oil, countless calves or even your firstborn… God asks us for eyes, ears and hearts full of the same compassion and love that we have received the Jesus Christ our Lord. We are called to be people of faith, blessed to be a blessing, and being the blessing of Christ to the world, no exceptions.
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