Epiphany 4A:What do I Need to do?

Readings

  • Micah 6:1-8
  • Psalm 15
  • 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
  • Matthew 5:1-12
You can find the readings, in the CEB and NRSV translation, by clicking this link.

Sermon

I have discovered that when we read new translations of the bible, sometimes things that have been cemented into our memories are jarred a little.  The most common readings to see this phenomenon are Psalm 23 and the Sermon on the Mount’s Beatitudes.  If you heard today’s reading from our CEB translation that may have happened to you.  It certainly sounded a little different to me today.

Which got me wondering: Why am I more comfortable with the hopeless, grieving, and harassed being ‘blessed’ rather than ‘happy’?  And that question really got me digging into the Beatitudes.

Happy are the people who are hopeless, who grieve, and who are harassed?  Yeah, not likely.

Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, and those who are persecuted?  It’s still fairly unlikely.

The Beatitudes are weird, and can be difficult to understand.  I think we have a very human tendency to rationalize the blessings of the people listed as though they have fulfilled some kind of requirement in earning God’s blessing.

And weirder still because many people, like me, fall into a specific kind of trap with most of today’s readings.  The trap of measurement.  The trap of doing.

I can’t speak for all of you, but it seems that this week’s readings have too great a potential to leave me feeling like I can never measure up.

The Psalmist seems to be telling us that in order to get into God’s tent, or be up on that mountain with God, we have to be like Mary Poppins – practically perfect in every way:

2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
3 who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;<
4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honor those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
5 who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent. [Psalm 15:2-5, NRSV]

That’s a big list of requirements to get to the top.

And then, in our gospel reading, Jesus seems to lay it on the disciples, and some of us hear that and wonder what we need to do so that we can be happier in misery.  Maybe it’s just about our own doing.  We should be trying harder to be joyful and glad – happy – because Jesus said so.

And because, clearly, if we’re not happy yet, or we’re not feeling particularly blessed, maybe we haven’t done enough.

And, like the people calling out to Micah, we say: What do I need to do to earn God’s blessing?

Those people in the Beatitudes, the ones in very specific situations that Jesus is speaking to, aren’t happy and blessed because they met some set of conditions.

In Jesus’ speaking, those who hear and those he is speaking about are actively being blessed.

In our Gospel reading from last week, Jesus announced the beginning of his ministry by saying that the kingdom of God has come near.  Already.

In God’s kingdom, God wants the very best for every person ever created.

In God’s kingdom, God already loves and adores you.

In God’s kingdom, God meets us where we are and calls us into what we will be.

No conditions.

No steps to earning it.

That love already is.

In all of this world’s circumstances, regardless of what we are going through, God’s kingdom has come near and is already.

So, those who are hopeless are already blessed – and God is calling them into joy, gladness, and a kingdom that is already theirs.

Those who are grieving are already blessed – and God is calling them into the incredible comfort of joy and gladness.

Those who are humble are already blessed – and God is calling them into joy and gladness with a wordly inheritance that is already theirs.

Those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness are already blessed – and God is calling them into joy and gladness and a feast that is already prepared.

Those who are merciful are already blessed – and God is calling them into joy, gladness, and a mercy that is already given to them.

Those who have pure heart are already blessed – and God is calling them into joy, gladness, and the ability to see God who is already in front of them.

Those who have make peace are already blessed – and God is calling them into joy and gladness and already calling them God’s children.

Those who are harassed, insulted, spoken all kinds of bad and false of are already blessed – and God is calling them into joy and gladness and a great reward already taken care of.

The beatitudes are not the steps by which we earn our way into the kingdom of heaven.  You can’t earn your way into something that has already happened.

I think it’s in this way Jesus is teaching his disciples on that mountain top, and those of us gathered to hear and learn from God’s Word that we are already blessed.  We are already loved and claimed as God’s children.

So, when we ask, “What do I need to do?”

According to the prophet Micah and today’s psalmist, we already know:

“what is good and
what the Lord requires from you:” [Micah 6:8a, CEB]

And that frees us up to answer what God is calling us into and to simply do:

“to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.” [Micah 6:8b, CEB]

Something good happens when we stop trying to figure out what we need to do to earn God’s notice.  Something good happens when we let go of trying to earn our way into our great reward from God.  When we give up that control and do the things that God asks of us, as Jesus has taught us, in relationship with God and in the world that God created, we discover that we’ve already received the thing we are trying to earn: we are disciples, already deeply rooted in the kingdom of heaven.  Full of joy and gladness.  Blessed and happy.

Let us pray:

Holy One, you who delight to create, bless, and redeem: help us to hear your words not as a set of conditions or steps to be taken to earn your love.  Remind us that we are God’s own beloved and blessed children over and over until we become your blessing in and to the world.  Illumine the world around us so that we see the already of your kingdom here.  In Jesus’ name, we pray.  Amen.


Sermon Inspirations

  1. Neil Chappell. “Blessed are the cheesemakers…” Epiphany 4A – January 30, 2011.  aweidthing
  2. David Ewart. “Matthew 5:1-12, Year A, Epiphany 4, February 2, 2014.”  Holy Textures.
  3. David Lose. “God Bless You.”  Dear Working Preacher: January 23, 2011.  Preach This Week. Working Preacher.
  4. Amy Oden. “Commentary on Matthew 5:1-12, February 2, 2014.”  Preach This Week: Gospel.  Working Preacher.
  5. Silvia Purdie. “Psalm 15: Be Do-ers of The Word.”
  6. Elizabeth Shively. “Commentary on Matthew 5:1-12, January 30, 2011.”  Preach This Week: Gospel.  Working Preacher.

This week’s image is entitled, “A Hegyi Bészed I. [trans. Sermon on the Mountain],” created by Karóly Ferenczy, in 1896.  You can find out more about the painting here, and the artist here.  This image is public domain.  The image has been modified for the purposes of this blog.

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