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Epiphany 4, January 30, 2011

Epiphany 4 Year A RCL January 30, 2011

Micah 6:1-8
Psalm 15
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Matthew 5:1-12

God does not see things as we do. God is not concerned with the externals. God is not concerned with the outward appearance. That is one theme of today’s lessons. Another theme is that all these lessons help us to understand what qualities mark the lives of people and communities who are dedicated to the building of God’s reign on earth. Shalom people and shalom communities.

The prophet Micah lived and worked in the eighth century B.C.E. He was a contemporary of the great prophet Isaiah. As he looks at the religious and secular leaders of his time, Micah sees widespread corruption. The people have forgotten that God led them out of slavery in Egypt and has walked every step of the way with them ever since. They are focussed on externals. Their worship consists of sacrifices of things—animals. The people are even turning to thoughts of sacrificing their eldest sons, as the native Canaanites do.

God does not want any of this. God is concerned about the offering of our hearts, minds, and spirits. God wants us to focus on the spiritual journey as individuals and as communities. So Micah writes the words which have come down to us through the ages, words which call us to a truth which is as relevant today as it was almost three thousand years ago. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” To do justice means to focus on equity in all human relationships. To love kindness, in Hebrew hesed, mercy, or compassion, mean to be faithful in covenant relationships, to maintain solidarity with others, including those in need or trouble. To walk humbly with your God. Humility comes from the root word humus—good earth ready for planting. Humility is openness to God, the will and desire to be open to God’s will rather than our own will. Walter Brueggemann says that “to do justice is to be actively engaged in the redistributi0n of power in the world, to correct the systematic inequalities that marginalize some for the excessive enhancement of others.” He says that “to walk humbly with God means to abandon all self-sufficiency, to acknowledge in daily attitude and act that life is indeed derived from the reality of God.”

The beatitudes flesh out this thinking. Happy are they. Fortunate are they who have these attitudes. Happy are the poor in spirit. Fortunate are those who realize that they need God. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are those who have a profound sense of the brokenness of this world and of how far the world is from where God wants it to be. Blessed are the meek. Meek. Now there is a word we don’t use that often. Meek does not mean weak or being like Mr. Milquetoast. Scholars tell us that the best one word translation is nonviolent. Blessed are those who renounce the methods of this world’s power. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Blessed are those who actively pursue their spiritual life, who engage in active seeking for God and for right relationship with God and with others. Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy. Again, compassion is the mark of a shalom person and a shalom community. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are those who are devoted to God with all their hearts, who are not divided in their loyalty. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who pursue the ministry of reconciliation.

The church in Corinth is marked by factions, as we saw last week. This week we find that there are some who lord it over others because they claim special wisdom. Paul is almost desperate to get these people to see the point that shalom community has one focus and one focus only. Here, the paradox of our faith is most clearly evident. The cross was the way the Roman Empire eradicated those who would dare to challenge the status quo. Kings did not die on the cross. Only the poor and outcast, only the powerless were crucified. Yet Paul is saying that the Cross reveals God’s power. Because, if we truly allow ourselves to absorb and to participate in the ministry of our Lord, if we allow the love and the compassion and the strength of his courage to infuse our hearts and minds and spirits and lives, then something happens.

Nothing else matters because, in the light of Christ as the mystic Julian of Norwich said, all manner of thing shall be well. We can let go and let God. We can focus on the only thing that is going to make us and the world whole, the love of God in Christ. We can ask for help instead of trying to prove how well we can manage things on our own. And, with that help, things go differently, very differently. Everything is transformed. We become channels of God’s peace and wholeness. Individuals and communities become living, vibrant icons of God’s shalom, and the whole creation moves ever closer to God’s vision of wholeness.

Amen.

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