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“Blessed Are You…”

(a sermon for November 3, 2019, the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, based on Luke 6:17-26)

Amongst the very first textbooks I purchased as a seminary student, and one that still holds a space on my crowded bookshelf, is a copy of “Gospel Parallels.”  Edited by no less than our own esteemed New Testament professor, the late Burton Throckmorton, this volume served a unique purpose in that it presented the three “synoptic gospels” – that is, Matthew, Mark and Luke – in such a way that you’re able to read all the identical or similar passages side by side.  In other words, if you’re interested in comparing how each of those Gospels, for instance, records the events of the crucifixion it’s all right there on one page, complete with all the footnotes and textual cross-references.  So it’s an essential tool for Biblical study and exegesis; but perhaps even more than this for me it’s served not only as a reminder that Holy Scripture tells a story but also that it’s also a collection of stories, each one told in its own unique way.

And such is the case with the four gospels and the story of Jesus: by most historical accounts Mark, with its precise language and great brevity, came first, followed by Matthew and then Luke which drew from Mark’s account and then expanded upon it, including, for instance, the story of Jesus’ birth and, in the case of Luke, even writing a second volume, recording the “Acts of the Apostles.”  And then, finally, there’s John’s Gospel, which is sometimes referred to as the “Spiritual Gospel,” in that it looks at Jesus’ story through a more deeply theological lens, so to understand the “why” of our Lord’s coming.  And it’s all the same story, by and large – at times even word for word the same – all about Jesus’ miracles and healings, his parables and teachings, and of course his death and resurrection.  But for me having four different accounts is a lot like how family stories get told around the table, with one sibling having his or her own version of the story in question and the other offering up another version; one with a different emphasis and maybe with bits and pieces that were previously left out!  It’s not that the story wasn’t true, or that it was changed or exaggerated somehow; rather it’s a story that’s gotten richer as it gets told from a different point of view.  The same story, you see, but a different telling; and in the end, you end up with a much better understanding of what actually happened and even more so of what it all means!

Take for instance our text for this morning, Luke’s version of what is commonly referred to as “the Beatitudes.”  It’s generally thought of as being part of what’s called “the Sermon on the Mount,” and that’s how these verses are presented in Matthew, as part of many teachings included in that “sermon,” and specifically pointing out that Jesus “went up the mountain,” (5:1) that his disciples came to him up there, and this is where Jesus stood to speak to the crowds gathered below on the hillside. I dare say that for most of us this is probably the image that comes to mind when we picture Jesus saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (5:3-4) Truly, it’s the stuff of many a Sunday School paper and a whole lot of Biblical-themed movies, a beloved scenario one would not easily seek to change!

But here’s the thing; Luke, in his version of the Beatitudes that we’ve shared today, does tell the story differently.  Not only does Luke claim that Jesus “came down with them and stood on a level place,” not standing above the people but right down there where this “great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people” from all over were gathered – to the point of where Luke is specific about Jesus “look[ing] up at his disciples” as he’s about speak, suggesting he might actually have been sitting as he began to speak – not only that, but Luke emphasizes that the whole reason that Jesus had actually come down to this level place was because so many “had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases” and that “power came out from [Jesus] and [that he] healed all of them.”  And really, that’s a significant difference in storytelling, because now, rather than this image of an incredible oration offered up to an attentive multitude from a lofty hillside cathedral what we get in Luke is… this literal throng of people all pushing and shoving to get close to Jesus, all of them in the fervent and even desperate hope that they might be cured of their troubles and unclean spirits. To put it bluntly, it’s an over-crowded, chaotic mess of a scene, but it’s in the midst of all this noise and confusion some incredible words of hope are being offered.

And therein lies the other big difference in Luke’s version of this story: because what happens on this “level place” is that Jesus does, in fact, heal them all; but then, as we’ve said, he looks up at his disciples (which in and of itself suggests that Jesus is surrounded by all these people!) and says, “Blessed are YOU who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  Blessed are YOU who are hungry now, for you will be filled.  Blessed are YOU who weep now, for you will laugh.” (Capitalization mine!)  Understand the difference here: in Matthew, it’s “Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who mourn… blessed are the meek… blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” (5:3-6) For starters, there’s a slightly different selection of “blessings,” and that’s worth noting (Matthew records eight, as opposed to four in Luke); but the major difference has less to do with that than it does the point of view!

In Matthew, you see, is talking about “those” who, by their place in the world, are placed squarely in the midst of the Kingdom of God. Indeed, in the words of Craig Barnes of Princeton Seminary, these are the qualities that describe “what life looks like under the reign of heaven, a reign that has already begun in Jesus Christ and will someday be realized.”  It offers us, writes Barnes, “a glimpse… of what it means to be a citizen of this reign of Christ… it’s a blessing, a grace that places you on a path that takes you somewhere you did not expect to go.”  So on that basis, Matthew’s words kinda sorta suggest it’s something that’s still yet to come, and as we understand the truth of the kingdom’s eventual fulfillment, that sense of what will be rings true; truly, that’s the second advent we’ll be awaiting in our worship when that season begins in a few weeks.

Matthew sets forth these “beatitudes” in a way that’s “now, but not yet,” which is fine and good and theologically correct.  But did you hear what Jesus said?  He said, “Blessed are YOU who ARE poor… Blessed are YOU who ARE hungry NOW… Blessed are YOU who weep NOW…” (again, capitalization is mine)  As Luke sets forth the “beatitudes,” it’s not something that’ll happen someday in the life to come, but a blessing that applies to life right here and right now, life as it’s truly experienced.

Because I don’t know about you, friends, but there are times in my life when I do weep, moments when any kind of laughter or joy evades me.  There’ve been moments when I’ve felt hungry, and not just for something to eat; but rather because in emptiness I’m yearning for something to fill up that space in my life.  And yes… there are times that I’m poor; poor by the world’s standards of wealth, perhaps, but more often poor in the sense of lacking hope or strength or spirit (it’s no accident, you know, that the Greek word used here for poor is ptōchoi, which refers to one who crouches or cowers in fear; in fact, it’s also where we get the slang term for spitting, ptooey, which ends ups here suggesting someone who’s been constantly spat upon in life).  I’m here to tell you, friends, that there have been moments in this life when I’ve been just about that poor in spirit; and unless I miss my guess, I suspect you can say the same!

So isn’t it good, then… isn’t it a true blessing to know that in the midst of all the difficulties and challenges that we endure in this life that ours IS the Kingdom of God; isn’t it good to know that in our emptiness we WILL be filled up with good things; isn’t it truly hopeful to have that assurance that even in the midst of all of our tears we WILL be laughing?  And while we’re on the subject, isn’t it also great to know, as Jesus says and as is translated in from The Message, that when “every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit” your faith and your allegiance to God,  not only are you “in good company,” but all heaven applauds the steadfastness of your faith?

Don’t misunderstand; Jesus is not saying that poverty and hunger, weeping and being hated are good things in and of themselves; nor is he suggesting that our relief, our comfort, our recompense is some measure of “pie in the sky,” so to speak.  But he is proclaiming that in such sufferings, there is joy that is already ours in the reality of God’s kingdom even now coming to pass; a true joy that is ours in having the healing power of the Lord with us in times of trial. To quote some words of commentary on this passage from the Taize faith community, “Hunger and poverty, weeping and hatred are sometimes unavoidable… but these situations are not the deepest reality; behind this, already just visible, God’s Kingdom is present.”  The blessedness that Jesus promises, it says, “is both an objective state of affairs for their current situation and the promise of a joy to come.”  What Jesus wants for us – truly, what Jesus promises us for the here and now – in the midst of literally the worst of what life brings you and me is “to show us the incredible newness and fundamental otherness of this reality that is the Kingdom of heaven” in our midst.

And that blessedness is good news, indeed.

Of course, it should also be said that in Luke’s version of these blessed promises, Jesus also mentions a few “woes:” as in “Woe to you who are rich… woe to you who are filled now… woe to you who are laughing now…” in fact, (referring once again to The Message version of this text) “there’s trouble ahead [for you] if you think life’s all fun and games,” or “when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them.”  Those verses echo Mary’s “Magnificat” in the Nativity story, which is no accident; this truth that the coming of Christ and his Kingdom proclaims a complete inversion of worldly ways and means; where the powerful are brought down from their thrones and the lowly are lifted up, when the hungry are filled “with good things,” and the rich are sent away empty. (1:52-53) In other words, friends, we need to remember that true happiness is never wholly achieved by the world’s misguided and all too often imbalanced standards, but rather by that of a kingdom that is even now being brought by a God who loves us beyond measure and wants for us to know true joy.

So let me again just state the obvious here:  life is not easy.  It’s filled with challenge and difficulty, contradictions by the number and utter uncertainty at every turn. And the sad truth is that we are all too understanding of what it means to be poor, and empty, and in mourning – if not literally or physically, then certainly spiritually – and I dare say that most of us in this sanctuary have felt the sting of being hurt or reviled or excluded in one way or another.

Like I said, Life is not easy… but that is not what all of life is about.  We know this because God in the person of Jesus Christ has loved and redeemed and brought us into his kingdom, and because of this, in the midst of this life and in the life to come, we are also blessed.

Blessed are YOU, beloved.  Blessed are you, and blessed am I.  For ours is the kingdom of God… be thinking about that as we come to table of blessing this morning.

Thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019   Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2019 in Jesus, Life, Scripture, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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Blessedness

blessed-are-the-spiritually-poor(a sermon for January 29, 2017, the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, based on Matthew 5:1-12)

Can I make a confession to you this morning?  It’s that I’ve always had something of a problem with the Beatitudes.

It’s not that I have any fundamental disagreement with these words of Jesus we’ve shared this morning; indeed, in their utter simplicity and the beauty of the words themselves, they stand among the most powerful of Jesus’ teachings, a rich description of the blessings available to those who would trust God.  It’s just that every time I encounter these twelve verses, I’m left with the same impression: that as wonderful as all these blessings are, they don’t bear a whole lot of resemblance to the world and life as we know it!

I mean, think about it:  Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” but in truth there’s not a whole lot of us who would aspire to that kind of poverty (or any other kind, for that matter!), even if the Kingdom of Heaven is involved.  In fact, if anything, this culture tends to equate blessing with things like wealth, achievement, fulfillment and a happy life. Poor in spirit? I don’t think so!  And when Jesus says that “blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” we want that to be true; but history has revealed time and time again that fortune usually favors the bold and the meek are left are left holding the bag!  Likewise, it’s good – and blessed – for us to be merciful, but that’s no guarantee that we will receive mercy in return (what’s that old saying… oftentimes we cast our bread upon the waters, and all we get back is soggy bread!).  And, “Blessed are the pure in heart?” Well, it sounds great, but let’s be honest; in this world it’s those with the purest of hearts who get dismissed as naïve and out of touch!  Rather than to “see God,” as Jesus promises us here, these are the ones who get chewed up and spit out by the world as we know it!

So do you see my problem here with this text?

But understand, it’s not simply that Jesus’ words don’t match up with the reality of our world view; it’s also that, as much as I would like to think otherwise, neither do I!  I mean, I hear Jesus’ exhortation to “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” and I have to wonder whether in my life I’ve really done that in a way that will leave me “filled,” having earned that blessing that Jesus offers.  Have I truly been a peacemaker?  Or can I say to you here this morning that in my life I’ve ever been “persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” or have had people “utter all kinds of evil against [me] falsely on [Jesus’] account?” Perhaps; but the real question is whether I experienced that persecution as a blessing, or if it was merely an anger-inducing stumbling block of life?  What I have to confess is that as beautiful and as inspiring as are Jesus’ words, there is nonetheless a disconnect between the blessedness that Jesus describes, and the way that I honestly live my life… and that is, to say the very least, troubling.

And unless I miss my guess, I suspect it’s troubling for you as well… so what do we do about it?  How do we find this true blessedness that God is promising?

Perhaps our answer to this question can be found by going back to the beginning; because I will tell you that all of us who fall short of the mark where the Beatitudes are concerned are in good company; as even those who first heard Jesus speak these words were likely as conflicted about them as we are!   In that regard, it’s important to note here that while these beatitudes are included in both the gospels of Luke and Matthew,  it’s Matthew who makes a point of saying that these teachings were addressed to the disciples as opposed to having been spoken to a “great multitude of people” as Luke tells the story (6:17) (Matthew, by the way, also is the only one who refers to this as Jesus’ “sermon on the mount” – Luke speaks of it happening on “a level place” – and moreover, Matthew has Jesus actually sitting with the disciples rather than standing over them and preaching!).

But what’s even more interesting is that the use of beatitudes, or “blessings and woes,” as they’re also referred to in scripture, was not uncommon at the time; they’re found all throughout the Old Testament, and were even found in the Greek literature of the time. And here’s the thing:  generally, these blessings were depicted as rich, joyful and even material in nature; then, as now, there was this accepted idea that to be blessed was to be given the good life.  So now, for Jesus to begin his teaching by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit… blessed are those are mourn… blessed are the meek… blessed are those who are persecuted…” well, those disciples were likely as flummoxed as we could ever be! None of what Jesus was talking about here bore any resemblance to the kind of blessedness that they might anticipate in a walk with God; there was no promise at all of good fortune or emotional bliss for a select chosen few; in fact, if anything, Jesus seemed to be suggesting that God’s favor seemed to lean toward those who were in the midst of poverty, struggle and suffering!

And perhaps therein lies the mistake we’ve been making; perhaps, like those disciples before us, we’ve misunderstood what Jesus had been saying all along.

You see, these verses we’ve shared today were never meant to be taken as a checklist of “thou shalts” that lead to blessedness; rather it was Jesus’ way of teaching us how to recognize the radical nature of God’s blessedness that’s already out in the world and extended to those whom God favors!    You see, we tend to look toward those who have achieved worldly success as having been blessed, but here’s Jesus turning this whole notion upside down as he lets us know that “God calls blessed those who are down and out, [those who are] distressed by their circumstances, [as well as those who are] passionate about promoting righteousness and working for peace, or [who have been] persecuted for doing the right thing.” (David Lose)  The first thing that Jesus wants us to know about his Heavenly Father is that he will always bring blessing to those whom the world refuses to bless; that He will ever love what the world deems unlovable; and that He will offer salvation and life to those whom have been written off completely.  This is true blessedness… and in the end, it’s not something that you and I can gain or earn or achieve; it’s by the pleasure and intent and grace of God who loves those who stand below!

Actually, maybe part of our problem with fully understanding this text comes in the language that we use in translating it.  The Greek word that we use for “blessed” is makarioi, which refers to “God’s favor.”  Now, sometimes the word gets translated as “honored,” or more commonly, “happy” (remember that book from some years ago – by Robert Schuller, I believe – about the “Be-Happy Attitudes?”) and there’s even a French translation of scripture that uses the word “debonair,” as in “Debonair are the poor in spirit!” (I’m sorry, but that just loses something in the translation!)  I’ve even seen a translation in which it reads, “O, the blessedness of being meek!”  But ultimately, you see, even that cannot fully express the depths of what God has done and continues to do in our world.

As we’ve said before, it is never our first response to associate blessing or honor with being poor, or meek, or in the midst of grief.  But in the reign of God, favor is always upon those who have been left behind; just as blessing will always be bestowed upon the least, the lost, and the lonely in life. Now, at long last, those who have been marginalized by the world will find the blessedness that brings comfort, and fullness, and mercy; for “theirs,” you see, “is the kingdom of heaven.”

And when we know this, friends; well, then, it cannot help but shift our approach to what Jesus is teaching with these beatitudes.  It’s not so much that in order to be blessed we are required to work to become peacemakers, or that we have to succeed in our hunger and thirst for righteousness;  it is, however, about the importance of knowing that God will favor those involved in such endeavors!   It is not the anticipation that we will need to suffer through everything in life in order to obtain blessing; but it is an understanding that in amidst the pain of grief and sorrow, God’s intent is ever and always to give us his comfort in the midst of our mourning.  And it’s not poverty – spiritual or otherwise, per se – that makes the difference; but it is the fact that we’ve somehow managed to put our whole dependence on something other than ourselves or our personal resources, but rather on God himself that brings us the experience the kingdom of heaven within us and around us.

Looking at these blessings in this way offers us a unique challenge, both as believers and as the whole church of Jesus Christ, to bring the same kinds of blessing to the places where we dwell as we do the work of the kingdom in offering up the same kind of mercy, peace and love with which God has favored us.  To quote David Lose here, “Jesus points us to recognize that God’s kingdom isn’t a place far away but is found whenever we honor each other as God’s children, bear each other’s burdens, bind each other’s wounds, and meet each other’s needs.”

Good words, those; which serve to remind us of who and whose we are in these tumultuous times in which we live. What would it be, I ask you, if we were to share with others the kinds of blessings that these beatitudes proclaim and we aspire to receive?  How would it go, quoting Alyce McKenzie now, if we “embrace[d] meekness, not as passivity, but as productive humility that is a key ingredient of leadership,” or if our mourning not only included our own loss and personal sorrow but also embraced the suffering of “all who are subjected to injustice,” to the point that we were each moved to do something about it?  I wonder what would happen if we truly did develop an appetite for God’s righteousness in the comings and goings of our daily lives, or what would become of things if we chose to truly embrace true peace, deep compassion and forgiveness in our dealings with one another, or dare I say it, as a nation?  What if, today, we were to ask for that purity of heart required to see God?

It seems to me that then, in every way that matters in this life we live, you and I would truly be disciples of Jesus Christ… and, in the process, become the recipients of all blessedness!

You know, as I’ve been looking at this passage over these past few days, I’ve been reminded again of just how very blessed I am in my life; and, yes, in the more traditional sense of the word.  I mean, I have the breath of life in my lungs; I am clothed and sheltered and well-fed; and despite all current appearances to the contrary, I have my heath!  Yes, even given all the hobbling around I’ve been doing and the challenges that both Lisa and I are facing these days, there is a plan that we trust will bring us soon to health, and that is a blessing indeed!  I have family, I have friends and I have the love of God that touches every avenue of my life; and this is what makes life truly good!

I will say to you in utter joy and with great humility that I feel honored by God, beloved; but it occurs to me that so much of that honor comes in part because of those who have embraced the true blessedness of a faithful life, and who have been willing to share it with me.  I speak of the communion of saints, dear friends; it’s the church, and it’s you, the children of God living day in and day out in a way that brings forth the kingdom of heaven even in what might seem to be the smallest of circumstances.

And the thing is, our mission continues today and in every tomorrow that comes.  So let us get to it; for we are the people of true blessedness, beloved; so let us “rejoice and be glad, for our reward is great in heaven,” and on earth as well.

Thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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Minimum Daily Requirements

IMAG1884(a sermon for November 2, 2014, celebrating All Saints’ Day and the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, based on Micah 6:6-8 and Matthew 5:1-12)

It’s a piece attributed to Wilbur Rees, dating back to the early 1970’s, and one of those bits of writing that from the moment I first read it never really left me.  “I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please,” he wrote. “Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, not enough to take control of my life, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk… just enough to equal a snooze in the sunshine.  I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black person, or to go out into the fields and pick beets with a migrant worker.  Not enough to change my heart… I want the ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, but not a new birth…  [What I want is] a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please.”

Granted, some of the references come off a little dated forty years later (!), but I’ve got to say that even now that’s a powerful and disturbing piece of work; disturbing because I don’t know about you, but for me it points up just how much, where my faith is concerned, I fall short!

You see, I have always felt that being a Christian amounts to more than mere philosophy; that even though faith involves embracing the indescribable peace and comfort that comes in knowing God, that’s only the beginning.  To have faith, and to be a Christian is to be no less than a follower of Jesus Christ; and that means whatever I choose to do or am called to be in this life, whatever I put out there of myself for people to see, as a Christian I am to be identified first and foremost as a disciple.  A life of faith is meant to give shape and form to the entirety of our life and living; as Christians our lives are to be filled up with… Christ!

But then here comes a passage like the one I just shared and I come to the rather harsh realization that there is a wide chasm between how my life as a disciple should be and how it really is.  I begin to realize that I do cherish having God in my life, but the truth is that there are times that what I really want is enough of God in my life to feel the warmth and strength of God in my life; but not always enough of God to feel his pushing and prodding!

I’ll confess it; no, I don’t always want God leading me out of my own comfort zone in order to become a true disciple; I don’t really want to be put in the place where I might actually have to take the risk to step up and do what I already know is the good, and right, and faithful thing to do!  There are times I wonder, why can’t I just stand on the sidelines, nod knowingly and let others do the heavy lifting?  Sometimes I’d rather not deal with the cost of discipleship, because I want the joy (!); yes, I’m a minister, but I’m here to tell you this morning that sometimes I just want my three dollars’ worth of God, thank you very much!

Whew!   I guess if confession is good for the soul, then I’m pretty much good to go!  Actually, I suspect that I’m not totally alone in that confession; that there are, in fact, a great many of us who struggle with trying to truly live unto that which we know in our heart is true and real about our Christian faith!

It’s interesting to note that on this Sunday we’re marking the “Festival of All Saints” – celebrating those who have walked the walk of faithfulness throughout the ages – the gospel reading for the day is, in fact, “The Beatitudes;” in which Jesus gives what may be his first overview of the kingdom of God and of the people who shall dwell within it!  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God… blessed are the meek…” and the merciful, and the pure in heart, and the peacemakers, and even those who end up reviled and persecuted for their faith!  It’s one of the most beautiful and deeply meaningful passages of the gospels, and it’s meant as the spiritual reassurance to those whom Jesus came to save; but by extension it also represents what true faith ought to look like in us!

Which is interesting; because in all honesty, even at our most spiritual there are times for each of us when we are not as much hungering and thirsting for righteousness as we are simply seeking to get by!  To live a life in mourning, or to be poor – in spirit or otherwise – is not what most of us would expect or desire from a life of faith. And as for those inevitable moments of persecution; well, odds are our first response is not going to be “rejoice and be glad!” 

But there you have it: a “checklist for the saints,” so to speak, the very ideal of the Christian life as outlined by our Lord Jesus; and the hard truth is most often we’ve fallen short of that vision!  Perhaps we’ve let the vision slip away from us; the inevitable result of having compromised our faith in and through the changing culture of the world around us.  Or maybe it’s just easier to embrace discipleship’s joy without accepting its cost: part of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer refers to as “cheap grace… the grace we bestow on ourselves… grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Whatever it is, the end result is that we’ve let ourselves become content with a passing, cozy relationship with God rather than wholly giving and directing our lives to God.

And the question is, how do we get back to that?

It seems to me that a good place to start comes from the prophet Micah in our Old Testament reading this morning:  “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high… 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?”   Once again, familiar and powerful words to our years, words that offer some sense of stability in a complicated world; and yet words that set forth a radically different way of life.  Basically, what we have here are the “minimum daily requirements” of a life of faith in God:  to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk, humbly and wholly, with the Almighty in everything we do; three things that are infinitely more important than any sacrifice and offering we can make, and moreover, the sum total of what God intends for his people.

What’s interesting is that we tend to read those verses as very much a word of encouragement; but when you look at the backstory of Micah the prophet, you find that this edict to do justice and love kindness is less of an encouragement to God’s people than it is a judgment!  It’s true; if you read around those three verses of Micah we shared today and what you discover is that “the LORD has a controversy with his people,” and that God “will contend with Israel.”  In other words, if Israel fails to changes its ways, then it will become an object of scorn and derision among the nations and before God: the message here is that if you are going to be my people, then here is what is required of you.

I’m reminded of a story told about the baseball great Babe Ruth.  The story goes that during one particular game, there was this famous umpire of the day named Babe Pinelli; and Pinelli had the audacity to call Ruth out on strikes! Needless to say, the Babe was not pleased, and angrily said to Pinelli, “There’s 40,000 people here who know that last one was a ball, you tomato head!” to which Pinelli replied very calmly, “Yes, that may be so, but mine is the only opinion that counts.”

It’s very easy, you see, for us to seek out any and all short cuts where living faithfully is concerned; all too tempting to rationalize away what we know to be true even in the face of our own failures in that regard.  But in the end, you see, we stand with our damaged righteousness before the only one whose opinion truly counts; and so, here is what God requires of us.

And it is very simple – and attainable – but make no mistake, these are three requirements that mean everything. The first requirement has to do with conduct: to “do justice;” to live life with the gold standard of valuing others in the same way we value ourselves, and in the same way that we know God values us (it comes back to what we talked about last Sunday, the two great commandments: to love God and to love people).  It means to bring justice and equity and fairness hope to others; most especially the poor in Spirit, to those who grieve, to those who have been persecuted and are downtrodden; truly, “do[ing] unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matt. 7:12).  

That’s the first requirement; and the second actually builds on it: it has to do with character: to “love kindness,” you see, reflects an awareness of God’s mercy that cannot help but extend to our relationships with one another.  It is to love as we have been loved,   to forgive as we as been forgiven, to show mercy and compassion at least to the extent of what we’ve received the same from the LORD, which is infinitely.  If I might put this in another way, the first requirement is to do the work of God’s love; but the second is to mean it!

And for that to happen there’s a third requirement that has to do with communion:  to “walk humbly with… God,” which simply means to walk in fidelity with God, always speaking and acting and living as in the presence of God.   I knew of a minister years ago who was fond of making sure there was always one empty chair at the table of any church committee meeting, and of telling those on the committee that “that was where Jesus would be sitting.”  It served as a reminder that while they might not actually be aware of it, there is always a spiritual presence at these gatherings and the church’s business (and occasionally, its behavior!) needs to reflect that!

It’s a truth that extends to just about every endeavor of our lives, friends: it is “walking humbly with [our] God” that produces the character we need to possess to affect the conduct of our lives.  It’s in walking in fidelity with our God that we can learn to live without compromises and without rationalizations; and to dare to live as radically as God requires… for it is that kind of life that ultimately leads to blessedness!

That’s what’s wonderful for me about the Beatitudes, and yet another amazing way that the Old and New Testaments connect:  for Micah gives us God’s minimum daily requirements; but Jesus shows us the benefits of a life lived by God’s intention for us. According to Jesus, it is the deep desire to do things God’s way that will change your life; the blessedness that comes in knowing that even in the midst of poverty, or mourning, or persecution, we will discover a life that is light and a reward that is great and everlasting.

To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God:  that’s what God requires as we go about the business of life; that’s our pathway of righteousness.  And though we will falter and stumble on the journey – because that’s just who we are (!) – the good news is that we can just stand up and keep walking, because the great and glorious blessing that runs through the whole journey is that as we’re walking with God, God is walking with us… and for that, no matter what happens along the way, we can “rejoice and be glad.”

So walk humbly, beloved, this day and always; and as we do, may our thanks be unto God.

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2014  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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