Gracious Lord, thyself impart!
Light of Light, from God proceeding,
open thou our ears and heart,
help us by thy Spirit’s pleading.
Hear the cry thy Church upraises;
hear, and bless our prayers and praises. (Hymn 440)
In the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier
I love today’s readings. It doesn’t get much better for a deacon to preach on the prophet Micah, Psalm 15, and the Beatitudes. So, get comfortable because we have a lot to unpack.
If you’ve received an email from me, you might have noticed that below my signature reads Micah 6:8: (“what does the Lord require of you but to) do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God?” These words express a diaconate life. Am I working toward justice? Am I acting with kindness? The one that trips me up the most is the walking humbly, letting God lead. I tend to think I know better. Just for the record, I really don’t.
Micah was speaking out against the injustice of exploitation. Men of means had created an inequity over land which meant that the poor had no way out of substandard life. Yet the wealthy were paying their temple dues, they had a fine temple and believed God was safely inside the Ark of the Covenant to do their bidding. Micah told them to defend themselves before God.
So, what more did God want them to do? Sarcastically, ‘does God want more oil, burnt offerings, calves a year old? thousands of rams, rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn?
And Micah replied: 8He 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?
It’s easy to allow ourselves to believe that we are doing our best when we are nice people, are faithful in worship, and we pledge to support the church. And no, this is NOT a “we need more money sermon.” It is a sermon that asks you to consider what you are doing once you leave this place. What are you doing between the dismissal: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” and the processional hymn the following Sunday? What are you doing that gives you peace because what are you doing is loving and serving the Lord? Serving the Lord means serving those all around you. Our reading from Micah 6:8 sows early seeds for our Baptismal Covenant. I’ll get to that later.
Psalm 15 asks:
Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? * who may abide upon your holy hill?
And the psalmist answers the question with:
lead a blameless life and do what is right, * speaks the truth from his heart.
3 no (deception) upon his tongue; no evil to his friend; * he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.
4 the wicked is rejected, * he honors those who fear the Lord.
5 He has sworn to do no wrong * does not take back his word.
6 He does not give his money in hope of gain, *nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
These are the ones who shall abide with God. Micah has another, shorter response to the Psalm 15 question.
Today we also heard the Beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel. Beautiful Attitudes! During the season of Epiphany, we celebrate the coming of the light into the world. Jesus is the light.
Matthew set the scene. Jesus saw the crowds, went up the mountain, sat down and began to teach the disciples. This is the first account of Jesus teaching. We don’t know why Jesus began his teaching with the Beatitudes. Perhaps in response to psalm 15 or Micah. He might have been thinking about the Ten Commandments. We do know that Jesus was raising up disciples, those willing to follow him to bring mercy and justice to those around them. They are to become leaders, healers, advocates for the world that is God’s dream. Jesus wants us to hear the old texts in a new way also so that we too will be leaders, healers, and advocates in our current world which is still far from the world of God’s dream.
Each of the Beatitudes stands alone. Each begins with Blessed are and then shows the possibility in God’s world. “For they shall see…” Jesus is giving hope to all who listen. Jesus is telling them and us to follow him and, to do that we must do things differently.
Blessed are you if you look at the world and how people are being treated, the ‘other’ and you mourn, your heart aches for those you don’t even see. Those that mourned were those who saw with their hearts those suffering from inequities and injustice of the Roman Empire. Not so different from today, those suffering because of the color of their skin, sexual orientation, addiction, gun violence and gangs, or a myriad of other oppressions we find in today’s world.
Blessed are you if you do not value yourself more than anyone else, you are humble before God.
Blessed are you if the laws you create treat everyone the same, justice for everyone, not just those who look like you, speak like you and believe as you do.
Blessed are you if you can see and understand the journey others are taking through their eyes rather than your own. We don’t have the same background and people have varied world views. Be merciful and accept them as God accepts you.
Blessed are you if you create safe places for people that will bring peace for them. We must create peace where none exists.
Blessed are you who open yourselves to God. When you open yourself, only then will you see the face of Jesus in every person you meet.
Blessed are the meek, those who are gentle, quiet, kind and have learned to let go of control so that God can work through them. I know many here at the Cathedral.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they live only for justice and truth and equity.
Blessed are the peacemakers as they live for truth and reconciliation. This will lead to love for all neighbors, living as a community of believers. Peacemakers live with hope for God’s dream to become a reality on earth.
Are our hearts open to the needs of those who suffer? Do we take responsibility for our part in making the world less than what God intends? Are we opening ourselves to God and those around us without thinking of what’s in it for us? Can we let go of the anxiousness we might feel when people see us doing good works and think we are wrong in our actions? Are we opening ourselves to do new things in Jesus’s name? Jesus redefines and reorders what we do and say in our lives if we allow that to happen. How do we make ourselves available to God’s beloved?
One way we can do that as Christians is to live into our Baptismal Covenant. Just look at the link between the font, the promises we make and the Beatitudes.
Will you continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled. Being here, in community, receiving the bread and cup we establish a relationship with God and each other.
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Are you inviting others to share in our common life?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbors as yourself?
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Are you seeing each person as the face of Jesus? Especially those unlike yourself.
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. We so many times destroy someone’s dignity through our actions. Dignity is a birthright. When you see something taking away a person’s dignity do you speak up? We may be persecuted, even by our own families. This is what Jesus asks of us.
Our lives as Christians began at Baptism and we come here each week to be nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ. Some do that in person and some through electronic means when we say the prayer for Spiritual Communion. Both bind us equally to Jesus. We are given the power to live differently because the Light of the world has been born and ultimately died for us. We don’t stop at Jesus death though. We live because Jesus lived. We live as Jesus’ hands and feet in this broken world.
Mercy is the heart of the Beatitudes and at the heart of mercy is justice, kindness and humility.