Sunday, January 29, 2017

Blessed and Called to Action

 Big Four Mountain, Mt.Baker-Snoqualmie National Forrest, WA

The Gospel lesson for today is Matthew 5:1-12

The Beatitudes.  The Blessings.  The Sermon on the Mount.

This is one of those Biblical passages which we hear so frequently that many of us who have grown up in the church or who have been dwelling in the Word for a long time tend to gloss over, to assume we’ve heard it before.  Or maybe we think we understand what’s being said but we’re not really certain.  That happens to me an awful lot.  I think I know what someone is saying, but I’m not quite sure I’ve heard it right or completely or maybe I’ve zoned out for a half second and now I feel lost in the conversation.  I'm sure this has never happened to any of you!

I'm trying a new practice with moderate success, I’ll stop the person who is speaking and ask them to “please, say it again a different way”.  In the context of conversations, this usually works pretty well, and the person to whom I am listening is usually grateful for my demonstration that I am trying pretty hard to hear them.  But what to do when it’s an ancient text?  Well, we read a different translation.  I like to read Eugene Peterson’s The Message.  It is written in modern English, and I often find something new to help me hear the Word speak.

So, we’ll read the Gospel again in a different way in just a moment.

Now, my Goddaddy Pastor Delmer Chilton says, “Well, the Sermon on the Mount is not Jesus’ Little Instruction Book.  It is, rather, a proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God.  It is a rallying cry aimed at those called by God to become a part of that Kingdom.” [1]

Over the four Sundays, we’ll be exploring the Sermon in its entirety, but today we are just focused on the Beatitudes.  The blessings.

Professor Karoline Lewis of Luther Seminary says, “The Beatitudes are identifiers of discipleship; characteristics of the faithful; attributes of believers. They are truth-tellings. They name our blessings but also what is at stake in these blessings. This is why this sermon has to be preached here and now (at the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus) to the disciples and not later. They have to know who they are in order to be able hear the rest of what Jesus has to say about who he needs them to be….

You are blessed. You have to hear that on the front end. And note that being blessed is not just for the sake of potential joy, but also for the sake of making it through that which will be difficult.”[2]

Let’s read from the Message.  But I want you to listen actively.  Listen for that little bit that pricks up your ears.
Matthew 5:1-12The Message (MSG)
You’re Blessed
1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.[3]
What did you notice that was different?  What struck you for the first time?  What had you forgotten but the new translation helped you remember?  Or is this the first time you are hearing this story at all?  Take a couple minutes and share your ah-ha with your neighbor.

How many of you (this is NOT a test!) but how many of you caught that in this telling of the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is talking to his disciples and NOT to the crowd?  That’s what caught me this go ‘round.  In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus is preaching to a crowd in a field, but here, he’s gone from the crowd and has taken his disciples, or as Peterson calls them, the committed, with him up the mountain and begins to speak once they are alone.

This is significant, I think.  It appears to me, from reading the previous chapter, that Jesus loves the crowd.  He calls them out to him and preaches to, teaches, and heals them.  But when he sees the scope and reach of his words, he takes his little band of believers, those committed to him, he takes them away, and expects them to really learn something about Kingdom values. 

And so I wonder and will keep wondering over these four weeks, are we called to be a part of the crowd?  Or are we called to be disciples, committed to learning from Jesus and putting those teachings into action for the sake of the Kingdom?

As we heard in this space last week, we are living in turbulent times.  And daily, if you aren’t white, cis-gendered, straight, and (preferably) male, not that there is anything wrong with being any of those things (you are who God made you after all), but if you aren’t all of those things the world is getting a more frightening. 

In one week, in one nation, we have witnessed environmental racism as the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines were reauthorized to the detriment of Native communities…we are still willing to sacrifice our promises and brown bodies for money. In one week, in one nation, healthcare has been jeopardized for millions of people.  In one week, in one nation, our voices, both public and private, have been threatened as those who seek to keep us informed are silenced.  In one week, one nation, the rights of people who love differently from the heterosexual “standard” or who are differently gendered have been threatened and our bodies threatened, too, as conversion therapy has once again made it to the forefront of public discourse on LGBTQ issues.

But most shockingly to me, and it appears to the world, in one week, in one nation, millions of people have been endangered, turned away, shut out.  We are witnessing the rejection of the immigrant which is absolutely mind-blowing for people who have studied American history.  And for those of us who believe in the God of Abraham, we know that this kind of action is completely contrary to our faith story.  As far back as the book of Leviticus (19:33-34), we find instruction from our God regarding the immigrant.  “When an alien/immigrant resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien/immigrant.  The alien/immigrant who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; for you shall love the alien/immigrant as yourself, for you were aliens/immigrants in the land of Egypt:  I am the Lord your God.” 

Instead, this week, in this nation, Christians are promised priority regarding entrance to the United States.  And here is where it becomes extremely important for us to remember that Jesus Christ, our God, says over and over and over again, “the first shall be last”.  In other words, if we, Christians, find ourselves in a place of privilege, it is our job to elevate someone else.  It is our commandment given to us by the One who showed us exactly what it looks like to empty oneself for the sake of another.

Now is the time to demand that immigrants be treated with the same care and respect that citizens are.  Now is the time to call the people who have public authority to change national policy on immigration, on healthcare, on equal (not extra) rights, and to tell them what you think…what you believe…what your faith requires you to say.  Now is the time for us to show up and use our voices and your authority (you’ve got it, believe me! And I do, too) to advocate for those whom God adores as much as God loves us.

Oh, it’s not easy.  It’s not even fun most of the time.  In this time in our world, it’s even dangerous.  I’ve been threatened a few times myself.  But it’s our baptismal calling.  When we are doing the work and it feels scary or like we might be risking ourselves or our stuff or our privilege, that’s when we must remember the first sermon Jesus delivers to his disciples in the book of Matthew.  “When things feel scary, and you do the work of elevating someone else, you are closer to me.  And you are blessed.”

Hear the Good News:  baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, you, me, we are freed, forgiven, and beloved.  Go and seek God by serving the Other.  Even when it feels scary.  It’s there we’ll find our blessing.

Jesus says, “And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”

Go, disciples, cause good trouble.


No comments: