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Epiphany 4A RCL January 29, 2016

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

In one way or another, all of our readings today deal with the questions, “What does it mean to follow God’s will?

Our first reading today is from the prophet Micah, who was a younger contemporary of the great prophet Isaiah. Micah’s ministry took place between 750 and 687 B.C. Unlike Isaiah, who was a part of the temple priesthood, Micah was not of noble birth. He was a commoner from the little village of Moresheth in the foothills southwest of Jerusalem. He was someone who could give an outsider’s view of what was happening in the great city.

As Biblical scholar Bruce Metzger writes, “Micah looked on the corruption and pretensions of the capital with a different eye.” This was a time when the temple was offering more and more animals at the altar. People had even fallen into the practice of offering their firstborn child in hopes of gaining God’s favor. They were offering all these things, but they were not offering their lives to be guided by God.

At the same time, people were not caring for each other or treating each other with respect. Corruption was widespread, especially among the privileged. The rich were growing richer and the poor were having a difficult time surviving.

Micah tells the people that this is not the kind of behavior God wants. What God wants is for us to “do justice and love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.” Commentator Andrew Foster Connors writes, “God desires justice that is measured by how well the most vulnerable fare in the community, a loyal love (hesed) that is commensurate with the kind of loyal love that God has shown toward Israel, and a careful walking (halaka) in one’s ethical life.”(Connors, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 1, p.292.)

Walter Brueggemann writes 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.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 120.)

In our epistle, Paul is telling the Corinthians and us that our faith does not rely on worldly wisdom or power. Our faith flies in the face of earthly power. We proclaim Christ crucified. The idea of a leader who died a criminal’s death is a disgrace in terms of Greek thought, which proclaimed the power of wisdom to overcome every obstacle, and to Jewish thought, which looked forward to the coming of a messiah who would defeat the Roman Empire.

We follow someone who suffered a death reserved for the lowest of the low, the poorest of the poor. No one of noble birth would ever undergo such a horrible death. Paul says, “God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

There is something amazing about our loving God. He did not assemble an army. He did not attack the religious and secular leaders arrayed against him, powers that were trying to protect their turf, powers that were working against the justice and love of God. He accepted all their hate, all their venom and violence. He took it into himself and transformed it into healing, forgiveness, and newness of life.

That is why we follow him. That is why we worship him. Because he shows us a different kind of wisdom, a different kind of life-giving power, a different way to live.

In our gospel for today, we have Jesus’ Beatitudes, some of the most profound and wise words ever spoken. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus begins. This takes us back to Walter Brueggemann’s wise observation that to walk humbly with God means “to abandon all self-sufficiency.” To be poor in spirit means that we know we cannot do it alone, that we need to be constantly asking for God’s help and guidance. Blessed are those who mourn because of the brokenness of this world. Like the people of Micah’s time, we as a society are not living God’s vision of justice and love. Blessed are the meek. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines meek as “enduring injury with patience and without resentment.”  The Riverside dictionary defines meek as, “exhibiting humility and patience; gentle.” Blessed are the gentle, the humble, the patient? Yes, for they will inherit the earth. In the world’s terms, the meek get run over or pushed aside. But, as we know, Jesus’ shalom is a whole different realm from this world.

We are here because, in the words of the song, “We have decided to follow Jesus.” We know that it’s wise to ask for help from God and others on the journey with us. It’s not a sign of weakness. All the qualities that Jesus is talking about are part of the life we are trying to live, with his help and grace.

There is great joy in knowing that we have God’s help every moment of every day, and that we have wise guidance from our brothers and sisters in Christ whenever we want to ask for it. We know that compassion is not weakness. We know that all of these qualities which Jesus is describing today are the blueprint for life in a richer, fuller dimension. That is what we mean by God’s kingdom, God’s shalom.

We do not have to compete. We do not have to fight. We do not have to claw our way up the ladder of success no matter whom we hurt on the way up. There is a better way, and that is the way to life in and with Christ.

May we do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with our God. May we live these Beatitudes, with God’s grace.  Amen.

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