Sermon – February 2, 2020 – Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Grace and peace and blessings to you, this day and every day, from God our Creator, from Christ our Savior, and from the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Tomorrow / Today, I will get to see my nephew again. You may have heard me mention David before. He’s 6 years old and he encounters the world with fear and wonder, with reckless abandon and joy. With the winter months upon us, he’s been spending a lot of time inside … and he’s getting a little antsy. It seems like everytime we go to visit, the weather has been too cold, or the ground too soggy, or the sun has set at 3 pm. These things put a damper on David’s days with Uncle Tom, because what he wants to do is go outside. What he really wants to do, is look for bugs. He wants to crawl around with me on his hands and knees (which I seem to remember as being easier to do than it is now) and tell me to turn over pavers in Nana’s garden. He looks around at the uncovered earth, gazing at the newly visible worms and bugs. He points and exclaims ‘Uncle Tom! Look at dat one!,’ all the while backing away, in terror, from the very thing he wanted to discover. … He says Uncle Tom makes him brave, but that’s a work in progress. I think the thing David really likes is discovering and pointing out examples of light and life in the cracks and crevices beneath the shadows and darkness.

Pause

This evening/morning, as we observe the 4th Sunday in the season of Epiphany, our Gospel text has Jesus pointing out similar examples of light and life. In the preceding chapter of Matthew, it says, 23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. 24So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. 25And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.”Jesus’ got quite a following, and in our text this evening/morning, we hear the words from his first recorded Sermon in the New Testament, the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is starting his public ministry here and this chapter and our text this evening/morning, can be considered the thesis statement for how Jesus works in the world and the intents and purposes for his ministry and service.

Matthew’s Gospel is written for a distinctly Jewish audience, and when he writes of Jesus ascending a mountain and beginning to teach; you can understand how Matthew’s audience would make the connection between Jesus and Moses. Both great people. Both leaders of a large crowd. Sermon on the Mount. Mount Sinai. But where Moses is best known for presenting the 10 Commandments to the people of Israel, Jesus isn’t giving new laws to Israel here. …

Jesus is knitting together a community. He is speaking the language of love. … And he does this in what has become one of the more cherished passages of scripture, the beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, … those who mourn, … the meek, … those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, … blessed are the merciful, … the pure in heart, … those who make peace, … those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, … the berated, persecuted, and the slandered … blessed are these my children, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, … for comfort will be theirs, … for unto them the earth will be given, for they will be filled, … for they will receive mercy and see God, … for they will be called God’s children, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (pause)

I think one of the reasons why the Beatitudes are so beautiful and cherished, is because in these verses we get a glimpse at how in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s Kingdom is active in our immediate present and beckons to us from a future triumphantly restored by God. In our Gospel text, verses 3 and 10 seem to bracket the other verses as they emphasize that for the poor in spirit and for those persecuted for the sake of righteousness, the kingdom of heaven is immediately theirs. Conversely, the blessings in the middle speak a promise of hope, promising that existence will be dramatically different and holy. Here Jesus is speaking of a way of thinking, a way of being, a way of believing, and a way of living, that gleams with the light and life of God in places and circumstances that all too often are awash in shadow and death.

Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian”, is a movie of religious satire from the late 70s, in which the character Brian Cohen is born next door to Jesus on the same night and is mistaken for the Messiah. There’s a scene where Brian is in the crowd at the Sermon of the Mount that contains the following dialogue. “I think he said ‘Blessed are the Cheesemakers!’ … What’s so special about the cheesemakers?! … Well, obviously, this is not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.”… In some instances Monty Python is good for a laugh, but I like how this little joke points toward a recognition of the breadth of possibility offered to you and I as we seek to find our place in God’s way of life. We may not be full-time peace makers, but we can be involved, in little ways and large, in the manufacture of peaceful relationships. In an age of turmoil and contention, peaceful relationships are blessed things indeed.

It is difficult to get past a lot of the contemporary baggage that surrounds the word blessed. The greek word is Μακάριοι (makarioi) and although it is translated here as blessed, has also been translated as happy or fortunate. To our modern ears, it seems to carry connotations of privilege, or wealth, or glory along with it. But Christ is telling the crowd, and you and me, that these blessings that seem paradoxical in their lowliness are foundational for understanding the kingdom of heaven. Because the kingdom of heaven is an environment constituted by the self-giving mutuality on behalf of the other. Jesus is telling you and me and all who will listen, that God’s way of life is one wherein you and I are not forgotten, are not expendable, are not without value, and are not without hope. … And this all flies directly in the face of the messages we absorb in our world today, message about who should receive blessing, fortune, or happiness.

Super Bowl Sunday is tomorrow/today, and although we may not be eagerly anticipating the big game, we’re at least looking forward to the plethora of new commercials. Big companies throw big money at big stars and directors in order to showcase new products or services aimed at seducing the consumer to purchase these things. Everything is more more more; carrying the implicit message that if you can afford these items, you will be truly blessed because you’ll be big and important and treadsetting and you’ll have status.On the other side of the coin, enormous numbers of immigrants have been detained and inhumanly treated upon entering this country in pursuit of refuge and stability and hope. The Supreme Court has allowed implementation of rules that will deny Green Cards to those seeking hope simply because they might require financial assistance in achieving their dreams. Families are torn apart. The coronavirus, currently devastating China, has started to make an appearance in the US and our society’s reactions seem to be either sweeping decisions concerning transportation or increased fears and xenophobic racism. The way in which we relate to people of other origins or ethnicities often speaks to an understanding of blessing that says ‘We are blessed because we were here before you. Finders keepers, losers weepers.’

I don’t know about you, but I find this all so exhausting to consider. Aspirations are pointed to levels we can’t possibly achieve. Things change so dramatically and quickly that we cling with a death-grip on what we think we can control. Every new development in life carries with it the near-certain potential for fear and tension at the impending unknown. (pause)

But into this deepening darkness, the light of Christ shines in our text tonight/today. Christ is laying down a word of hope and a word of promise for you. Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of Heaven, God’s way of life, is one found in the midst of solidarity with those who feel devastated and dehumanized, found in the shared sorrows and offered comforts and consolations for those who mourn. Blessings you see, are not possessions. Blessings are opportunities for vibrant fertility of God’s love to bear fruit that will nurture, sustain, and heal all people and all of creation. God’s way of life is found in humility and simplicity, found in the pursuit of justice and equity for the underrepresented and forgotten, found in offerings of generosity and forgiveness, and found in those who seek reconciliation. The theologian Jorgen Moltmann puts it this way, he says, “In the promises, the hidden future already announces itself and exerts its influence on the present through the hope it awakens.”This is the way of life and hope we celebrate as members of this congregation left earlier today/yesterday to work in community with others to restore vitality and offer healing to those in New Orleans who still struggle to get back on their feet. This is what we celebrate when we grow and bring offerings of food for those in our community who are unsure where their next meal will come from.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life, these things may seem like foolishness. But as Paul reminds us in 1st Corinthians, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”When these things seem to be too little or too insignificant, Jesus calls to you and to me and beckons us to the foot of His cross. There the weakness of God, triumphs over the sins of our flesh, the power of the devil, and even death itself. When we doubt amidst life’s struggles, perplexed as to the meaning and purpose of being meek or merciful or pursuing reconciliation with one another, Christ calls to you and to me to remember our baptisms, that we have been joined to him in his death and in his resurrection. He invites you and me to His table where he forgives our sins, cleanses us from all unrighteousness, and offers us his body and blood to strengthen us and keep us in his grace.

You see, at His table and in His Word, we become what receive. We stumble into the life of the resurrected Christ; comforting those who mourn, filling those who hunger for righteousness, offering mercy and joining in efforts to make peace. We have been blessed with the love of God in Christ; a love that lives in you and in me and in the unmet stranger. This love is a blessing because it places us directly in God’s heart where we are called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified to be Christ to our neighbor. The relationship between God and his creation is important, and we are blessed when we pursue justice and love mercy as God in Christ walks humbly with us.

Thanks Be To God Amen.