The Pas Epiphany +4
29 January 2017
Psalm 15 BCP pg 344
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
God our deliverer,
you call us to walk humbly with you.
When we are foolish, be our wisdom;
when we are weak, be our strength;
so that, as we learn to do justice and to love mercy,
your rule may come to us as a blessing. Amen.
The reading from Micah for today, cuts right to the heart of our ‘human condition,’ our human state of being.
“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?” (Mic 6:6)
This question is probably the main reason most people today don’t adhere to a faith tradition or a religious system. Perhaps this question is one that terrifies humanity to its core, and prevents us from even asking the question to hear Micah’s answer? “8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Mic 6:8)
On the other hand, many prefer to have the some varieties of church dictate to them the terms of their participation, from their financial contributions, to where and how they will share their time and their talents, both in the church and in the wider community.
But, such actions don’t reflect our gospel for today, although it does provide a very human answer to “with what shall I come before the lord and bow down before the exalted God.” (Mic 6:6)
Jesus tells us, today “Blessed are you.” (Mt 5:11a)
Isn’t this the heart of the human struggle? We obsess with the question of what is it God desires of us?
We’re willing to contemplate what is it we are willing to give to God, how we’re willing to allow God to do in our lives?
Yet in all of this contemplation, we’re not willing to allow God direct our lives. It would be like sitting down in the finest, most fancy restaurant you can imagine. It serves the most complicated culinary creations imaginable, yet in perusing the menu, you look up at the waiter and ask for a McDonalds Cheeseburger and fries.
We want the experience of the fine dining, yet we want to dictate the terms of the experience.
We want God in our lives, yet at the same time, we want to keep God at arm’s length, at the same time, we complain that God isn’t a part of our lives.
Paul reminds us that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18)
This, then, brings us back to Micah’s words: “With what shall I come before the Lord?” (Micah 6:6)
Those who consider themselves “wise” in the ways of the world develop a jaded eye toward words, images, and systems of faith. They don’t want to be taken advantage of by anyone or anything and so these ‘wise’ people close themselves off from everyone and everything.
They separate themselves from the warmth of the sun and from the love of the Son.
These ‘wise’ people wonder what it is God requires of them, demands of them to come into the light and love of God’s presence. What will God make them ‘give up’ in order to be allowed into the light of God’s presence.
And this contemplation, guessing game, gives these ‘wise’ people nightmares of what they will be required by God to shed from their lives so they don’t even ask the question.
So, in response to the emptiness caused by their fears and anxieties, these ‘wise people’ not willing to be taken in by what they cannot conceive, willingly, almost anxiously surround themselves with things, with assets, with stuff that fills the spaces in their homes.
It leaves them wanting what Paul labels “the power of God”, and “the foolishness of the cross”.
In the meantime, Jesus still tells us “Blessed are…”, and the list of those who Jesus calls “Blessed,” is considerable.
“3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, … those who mourn, … the meek, … those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, … the merciful, … the pure in heart, … the peacemakers, … those who are persecuted because of righteousness, [and] 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Mt. 5:3-11)
And this is an extensive list, although not exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination.
This list focuses on those in society who aren’t ‘front and centre stage’, but rather those of us who cling to the sidelines. It’s those who are pushed to the edges of society for one reason or another. It’s those who are told they don’t matter much in the scheme of things and they have no power to change the world.
It’s everyone who is on this list of those Jesus considered “blessed”, including you and me.
It’s all of those who ask or have asked Micah’s question as much as those who don’t even dare to darken our doorway because they cannot bear the question.
Everyone on this list from those who mourn, to those who are persecuted and spoken against because of their faith, we are all people who ask what is required of us to enter the presence of the Lord, to be in the presence of God almighty.
Yet, for all of the validity of Micah’s question to the human condition, we are already in God’s presence.
We are already in the company of the Lord.
Genesis tells us that God walked with Adam and Eve, prior to eating the forbidden fruit in the garden. Even after, when they were scratching a living out of the soil, God was directly involved in their lives. When Cain kills Abel, it is God who sentences him and sends him away from God’s presence. (Gen 2-4)
Cain says “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence.” (Gen 4:13-14a)
During the crucifixion, even Jesus says “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46b)
Free will, the curse, the gift of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, allows us to leave God’s presence, to tell God that we’re not willing to be in God’s presence, to keep God at arms length from our lives and from our situations.
Micah’s question, then becomes different. Its not “With what shall I come before the Lord,” because we are always before the Lord.
So then, when Jesus tells us, today, blessed are, it’s because Jesus sees us in the trials and tribulations of our lives. Jesus sees the burden of free will striving to tell us that we can do it all on our own, that we don’t need God, Jesus, or the support of the Holy Spirit in the depths of our lives.
And when that happens, it’s like watching Pinocchio run around without a conscience, without his Jiminy Cricket to let him know what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s good, what’s bad in his life, and how he impacts the lives around him.
Only Jesus, only Cain have been able to say that they are truly without God in their lives, and both have had specific purpose in that absence from the presence of God. The bible tells us that hell is the separation from God and from God’s grace for our lives, for eternity.
Jesus on the other hand, blesses us in the messes of our situations, in the midst of our lives. Jesus is able to bless us because Jesus is with us. Jesus is able to be with us because we are always before the Lord. Jesus has the answers, and although it may take time for those answers to get to each of us, they will come.
For each ‘blessed are’ there is a result.
Paul is correct. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18)
For each person who is on the list of “Blessed are” God has a response, a reply, a reward. It really has nothing to do with a life of acceptance of the ways of the world, and everything to do with the lives and the faith of those of us who gather each week to understand how we are all interconnected with each other as well those who gather on the mountainside to hear Jesus preach.
Today we find Jesus sitting on a mountainside; we see the people who are coming to him from come from all walks of life.
These people are looking for what we’re seeking for our lives – the love of God that we forget surrounds us on all sides when the troubles of the world come knocking.
We see people wanting to be reassured that God looks down on us, walks with us in all of the circumstances of our lives, both the good and the bad.
And Jesus tells us that we are blessed when we feel the oppression of the world the most. Jesus reminds us that when we feel the oppression of the world that this isn’t the end of the road. He reminds us that we’re not alone in those tribulations, either.
This brings us back to the question asked in the passage from Micah “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? … To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Mic 6:6,8b)
And we can do this because Jesus tells us that we are blessed. We are blessed in all the details of our lives: the good, the bad, and the mediocre. We are blessed when things go well, and when they don’t.
Because “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Thanks be to God.