Sermon for 4th Sunday after Epiphany, Jan 29 2017

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A
January 29, 2017
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12

What is your initial gut reaction if a boss says to you, “I want to talk to you…would you come into my office?”

Are you nervous?  What if a friend calls you on the phone and says, “I have something I need to talk to you about”?

How if, when you were a child, your parent said something similar?

And if, in saying these things, these people sounded … sober?  Tight-lipped?

What would you expect to be the possible subject of the discussion?  Being fired?  Being laid off? Being chewed out? Being punished?

And especially wouldn’t you be nervous if you felt maybe you had done something you shouldn’t, or hadn’t done something you should?

Imagine how the children of Israel might have felt when Micah told them that God has taken the people of Israel to court.  He has called all creation as the judge of what the people have done in response to all God has done for them.

Our selection doesn’t contain all the charges; those are found in the text leading up to the passage we read today.  They include:

  • “The powerful covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away”[1]
  • They “tear the skin off my people,”[2]
  • They send violence on the poor,[3]
  • The political leaders take bribes,[4] and
  • The religious leaders sell out for money.[5]

We might not want to admit it, but this list of failings sounds very familiar to us – and it would sound familiar to most people throughout all of history.

So wouldn’t we be nervous, also, if someone said “God has a bone to pick with us”?

We might expect the hammer of Thor to descend upon us, at least metaphorically!

The people of Israel said, what more does God want from us?  More sacrifices?  More gifts – in unimaginable quantities?  The deaths of our children?

And then comes the surprise – God isn’t going to punish them or ask the impossible; God only wants three simple things:  that they “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

It’s about the deep-rooted values that link us together with each other and with God.  This passage has been called the “Golden Command” of the Jewish way of life.  Do justice.  Love kindness.  Walk humbly with God.  Some say it even underlies all the law and the prophets.

I can’t say that Jesus simply picked up where Micah left off here – because it’s something like 700 years later that he arrives.  But there are some definite commonalities between the two.  In Matthew’s gospel, the first thing Jesus does after his baptism, his temptations, and calling of the disciples, is to set out the principles under which he operates, that we call the Beatitudes.

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

Most theologians agree that to be “poor in spirit” means to be … humble.  God turns everything upside down – again – to say that those who are humble belong to heaven.  Somehow, the humble people, who remember what God has done for God’s people over the centuries and in the cross, and who live by the precepts of justice and kindness, belong to heaven. 

Perhaps they need to hear this, the humble ones, because they are not the ones the world values – they are not rich or powerful, for they do not seek riches or power, and they do not put themselves forward, and the world does not reward such as these with adulation and praise. 

This week I read a blog post by one of my favorite theologians – retired Episcopal bishop Steven Charleston – that to my ear sounds rather like Jesus’ promise.

He wrote as if he knew us…

I see you.  I thought it might help for you to know that.

I see you over there, working away at your life.  I can’t see everything, of course.  I don’t know all the details, but I see enough to know that you are coping like me, doing the best you can, creating as much good as you can.

And I see the impact you are having.

There is light in your corner of the world, a sense of life and joy, a clear image of family in the making, a visible affirmation of love, growing all around you.

I can see all of that and I know it doesn’t happen by accident.  I see how much you have helped, how much you have given, how much you have done.

I see you.  I thought it might help for you to know that.

In John’s gospel, Jesus invited the disciples to “Come and see.”  In Matthew’s gospel, he invited them to follow. 

He saw them.  He invited them.  And they came and they followed, because they knew he saw them, as they were, who they were, and he valued them.

And he went on: Blessed are those who mourn, they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  Blessed are those how hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Every statement so easily contradicted by what we know of how the world works – yet every statement knit their hearts to his, and still knit our hearts to his – this is strength, this is hope, this is power: we are seen.  We are valued.  We are loved.

Blessed are the pure in heart, the peacemakers, even those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.  They will see God, they will be children of God, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

These are not simply promises; they are in what’s called the indicative case – they are statements of what IS, not what will be, but what IS – now.

When the world is falling down around our ears; when our community is divided and our hearts burdened from fear or anger about what is happening – in our own lives, to our community, to our friends and relations, whatever is going wrong, whatever could go wrong – remember these words: Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on his account; rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…

Counter-intuitive, hard to grasp, hard to accept … but God sees you, and knows how hard you are trying to cope, and God sees the light you share with others, the joy you bring, the love you affirm.

Do justice.  Love kindness.  Walk humbly with God. 

Do justice.  Love kindness.  Walk humbly with God.

God sees you.  I thought it might help for you to know that.

 

 

[1] Micah 2:2.

[2] Micah 3:2.

[3] Micah 3:3.

[4] Micah 3:5.

[5] Micah 3:11.

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