This is the Sunday of my second Annual Meeting. But that's not the focus of my sermon. I always hated it when the rector would use the sermon time to basically deliver a "state of the church" address instead of talking about the readings. Not everyone coming to worship is a member and wanting to know the sausage-making process of the church. They're there to worship. So focus on the readings and leave the insider-baseball for the meeting.
And I had a lot to wrestle with, both with the readings and the events of the day. So, dear reader, proceed to the sermon and you'll see...
Texts: Micah 6:1-8; Ps. 15; 1 Cor. 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12
The a capella singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock has been among my favorite muses.
When I was a reporter… I used to listen to their music every morning on my way to cover the state legislature in Florida.
It was church for me.
I enjoyed their renditions of traditional Gospel songs such as Balm in Gilead.
Sometimes…I’d hum along to one of their original tunes reminding me of something life affirming…like that each child born is like a morning star rising.
Their songs provided me with the soundtrack antidote for my soul as did my job of being the public witness to the often-callous policies pushed by state lawmakers.
They sang a beautiful rendition of Matthew’s Beatitudes…rising and falling with each blessing. The words really lend themselves to song… because they are so lyrical.
They are lovely words.
They are also difficult words.
Difficult because they don’t sound like the type of thing that gains us a whole lot of recognition or riches or rewards.
Last time I checked… there is no Most Valuable Meek Person prize.
By any reasonable person’s standards… the traits described here are not the most desirable.
And to be clear: what Jesus is talking about here isn’t a recipe for how to be a good Christian.
It’s important to remember the scene that is taking place…as we consider what it means in our own time.
Jesus is addressing his disciples… the people he just collected along the path he walked by the Sea of Galilee….Andrew…Peter… the sons of Zebedee… and some of their friends and others who were curious.
He takes them up on to the mountain… sits down… and begins what has become known as The Sermon on the Mount.
And what he’s telling them isn’t about some future time. He’s laying out what is the case now.
He’s speaking to people who are living in an oppressive situation with a Roman Empire that doesn’t care… and religious leaders that…for this group of people… have failed them.
This prayer… then… is an acknowledgment.
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the mourners’ is a recognition of who is in front of him. The people who have taken up his invitation to fish for people are those who are not the egotistical, the self-important, or the power hungry.
The ones in front of Jesus are the people who recognize that there is disparity and brokenness in the world… and they have a thirst and a hunger to see a new reality… one where all people are liberated from those things that diminish and demean them.
The mourners… in this instance… are not people who are experiencing the death of a loved one.
This mourning is the lament of seeing a world out of kilter with what is God’s will.
And what is God’s will?
Well… if we return to the First Reading from this morning… we get it summed up in that last verse:
Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.
Carol Dempsey… a Biblical scholar at the University of Portland in Oregon… describes justice as “a transformative virtue that seeks to restore community.”
“Justice seeks a balance between what is good for us personally… and what supports the common good.”
We might give some consideration of that for a moment as we think about all that is happening around us… and what comes across our TV screens.
A man… Tyre Nichols… was killed in Memphis.
The people who savagely beat him on a routine traffic stop were the men who took an oath to protect him.
Tyre Nichols… a skateboarder, a photographer and FedEx employee…who was on his way to dinner at his mama’s house… died of his injuries three days later.
That’s a disruption to community.
We haven’t even finished the month of January and there have already been 36 mass shootings in the United States.
The most high-profiled one being just last week at a dance studio in Monterey Park California.
A place where senior citizens went to have a night out on the town.
Couples enjoying the eve of the Lunar New Year in a largely Asian entertainment district…ran for their lives. Eleven of them died.
That’s another disruption to community.
Now some see and hear these stories… and they’ll shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, that’s just how it is.”
Some will look for the reasons “why” things… such as what happened to Tyre Nichols… occur.
But Justice… in the way Micah expresses it… leaves no room for rationalization.
Justice…as expressed here… recognizes that there are wrongs in the world, and we are never to give up looking for the way to stem this violence…and make things right.
We do that out of a sense of loving-kindness, or in Hebrew chesed.
Chesed is that love and concern for our neighbor… the call to us to be a people who build up others… share the light of Christ with those around us.
This is the love we pass on to others because God has loved us… in all of our perfect imperfections.
And that is the humility. The realization that we make mistakes…honestly admit to that…and remain open to God’s compassion for us…and rededicate ourselves to letting God serve as the guide along our path.
When we do justice and love kindness and mercy… we are able to walk humbly with God.
Everything about the Beatitudes is tied directly to this sentiment.
Jesus’ prayer in these words is a recognition of the struggle… and a reminder that the reward is there for those who will commit to wrestling with these difficulties.
Or… in the words of another song from Sweet Honey in the Rock…
“We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”
In the name of God…F/S/HS.