Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
January 29, 2017
Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12
Jesus is preaching to us on the mountain.
Our mountain is now this nave, a holy place, set aside for the intimate encounter with God, a place filled with the real expectation that a revelation from God right now right here is not out of the question.
We surround Jesus who is seated, and he speaks to you and to me, personally. He speaks to me about people, but it is fine to include ourselves. Go ahead, please do include yourself among the blessed ones.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. You who are dispossessed, abandoned, who have lost your hope. Blessed are you.
Blessed are those who mourn. People suffer terrible losses; we have suffered. No joy is left. Blessed are you.
Blessed are the meek. You who are denied basic human needs, without home, and all the while non-violent, humble. Blessed are you.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness/ for justice. You who have been denied justice, or your neighbor, your fellow human being. Blessed are you.
Heaven and earth belong to you. God loves you. There will be a reversal. The dispossessed of every kind will be given the kingdom of heaven, it is already here. The sad and joyless ones will know the embrace of comfort. It is already happening. The hunger and thirst for vindication will be satisfied. God’s promise of love is for you and for them.
Make this personal, dear friends, and if this is too public a space where you are not comfortable even connecting to Jesus’ words, then take the bulletin home with you and try it there. And when you allow Jesus to bless you, then lift up your eyes and broaden the blessing to anyone whom you know who is poor in spirit, depressed, held back, dispossessed. Bless the ones who mourn a loss, are destitute; bless the meek, powerless, yearning for the most basic needs of safety; bless the ones who have been denied justice, who hunger for simple righteousness.
Bless profusely, in your mind, in your prayer, do not be shy, and then see where this will lead you in life’s next steps.
Do not hold back, for there is another blessing in store for anyone who takes the first blessing to the next stage:
Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure, of a clean heart. Blessed are those who make peace. Blessed are those who take upon themselves the consequences of standing up for the mistreated, tortured, deprived of basic human rights.
The blessing keeps still growing: Blessed are you, – now finally you, and it becomes painfully close and personal, we’d almost soon withdraw as witnesses of Jesus -, blessed are you, when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely – on my account.
Thank you, Jesus, for this rich blessing at the opening of your sermon on the mountain. The outlook for reversal and reward in the kingdom of heaven is so hopeful, and with you present among us, we know it is real, realized, and not an empty promise.
Dear sisters and brothers, let’s leave now the holy mountain and return to our world.
We live in a time, which is more anxious worldwide than we have experienced in a long time. Strife, aggressive provocation, anger, willful ignorance, violence, seep in and change our own global, national and local cultures of everyday life.
In times like this, it is most important to ask, what is most important now?
The beatitudes, Jesus’ blessings, are one way – a poetic way – to state what is most important for Christians who confess his name.
Jesus blesses anyone who experiences a grave deficit – in mind, in body, in spirit, something that makes their human experience deficient and sad and contrary to what God intended. Jesus blesses in addition those who see these deficits and are compassionately working to help heal, mend their conditions and restore peace and justice.
When we confess this Jesus, then we confess Christ the Crucified. When we absorb God’s love and promise through these blessings, then the most important part is that we ourselves associate with the foolishness of a God whose wisdom is fulfilled in powerlessness and weakness.
Our congregation is engaging (maybe courageously so) in learning and studying the theology of the cross this semester. How it played out in the life of Martin Luther whom we commemorate this year 500 years into the age of Reformation. The gospel of the weak and foolish cross by which God’s love and truth are real, is resiliently alive and persistent. Martin Luther’s theology of the cross remains undiminished and forward leading.
Then there is the class that reads James Cone’s book The Cross and the Lynching Tree. The horrors of racist white supremacy recounted here and interpreted as Jesus’ cross, accuse humanity just as much as my German history implicates me and holds me accountable for the racism that led to the Holocaust.
The beatitudes lead to seeing and knowing the cross. And see, our Savior, does not accuse us, Jesus blesses, lavishly. This is most important now. Let us learn how to live this, how to translate for our time cross and the blessing. If you would, share what you learn, what you experience as you try it.
That Jesus is not a self-declared Messiah or Savior but one with God the Father, the God of Israel, and therefore trustworthy, one on whom we can throw ourselves entirely, is backed up in the prophetic word we heard first today.
God is in a courtroom, having a controversy with Israel, wishing to contend with Israel.
Here is our God, long suffering, remaining faithful to an unfaithful people. We are pulled into an intimate, passionate setting in which God is not ashamed to be vulnerable. Rather than speaking in righteous anger, God speaks with heartfelt bewilderment: “What have I done to you, o my people? In what way have I wearied you? Answer me! For I have brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery. I have brought you on dry foot through the Jordan into the promise land.”
O my people, what have I done to you? In what way have I wearied you? Answer me!
Dear friends, this question may sound familiar to you, and it is. It is directly put to us each year on Good Friday. The Church has taken this question from the book of Micah, and put it in Christ’s mouth in the Solemn Reproaches, so that Christ asks us directly from the cross:
“O my people, O my Church, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me. I have led you out of slavery into freedom, and delivered you through the waters of baptism, but you have prepared a cross for your Savior.” Eleven times the Crucified cries out to us in this fashion in the reproaches.
Here is no righteous anger, no accusation, only passionate pleading from our faithful God for our faithful response. Christ blesses still, from the cross.
You know what is most important, says our God, “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
For this we have been richly blessed. Amen.