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The Day of Pentecost May 31, 2020

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 20:19-23

Last week, we read that Jesus ascended to heaven and the disciples returned to the upper room in Jerusalem to pray and wait expectantly for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

In Jewish tradition, Pentecost, or the feast of Weeks, came fifty days after the first day of Passover. James D. Newsome tells us that the Jewish feast of  Pentecost marked the end of the celebration of the spring harvest. This is why there were devout Jews gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world—to celebrate the feast of Pentecost or Weeks.

But this feast was also the beginning of another season, which lasted until the feast of booths or tabernacles. On that feast, the people offered the first fruits of the fields to God. 

Newsome writes, “Pentecost/Weeks is thus a pregnant moment in the life of the people of God and in the relationship between the people and God. Or to put the matter more graphically, but also more accurately, Pentecost is the moment when gestation ceases and birthing occurs. Thus, it is both an end and a beginning, the leaving behind of that which is past, the launching forth into that which is only now beginning to be. Pentecost therefore is not a time of completion. It is moving forward into new dimensions of being, whose basic forms are clear but whose fulfillment has yet to be realized.”  (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 329.

The disciples are gathered. Jesus has told them that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. A rushing wind sweeps in, the desert wind, the ruach, symbolizing the power of the Spirit. Flames of fire dance over the heads of the disciples, and they speak in all the languages of the known world. They are filled with the gifts of the Spirit.

We say that the feast of Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. The Spirit comes upon the disciples to shower gifts upon them and set their hearts on fire, and from that point, the new faith spreads over the known world.

In our reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, we read his stirring description of the Church as the Body of Christ, with each member given different gifts, all of the gifts empowered by the same Spirit. All the members of the body are one, as Jesus and the  Father and the Spirit are one. We have all been baptized in the Spirit—everyone, no matter what our nationality or previous religion or gender or status in life, or race, or any of the other things we use to divide ourselves. All these distinctions are  gone—we are all one in Christ. Each person is precious in the sight of God. All members are equal as the Body builds itself up in love.

Newsome’s comment that Pentecost is a moment of birthing, a leaving behind of what is past, and a launching forth into something new which is just beginning, rings forth with the truth of the Holy Spirit.

“Peace be with you,” our Lord says in that first evening of the first Easter day. Shalom is the word he uses. He walks through walls of fear to say that word.

Here are some glimpses of shalom. Isaiah 11:6-8a “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, ad the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”

Walter Brueggemann: “That persistent vision of joy, well being, and prosperity is not captured in any single word or idea in the Bible, and a cluster of words is required to express its many dimensions and subtle nuances: love, loyalty, truth, grace, salvation, justice, blessing, righteousness…It bears tremendous freight, the freight of a dream of God that resists all our tendencies to division, hostility, fear, … and misery. Shalom is the substance of the biblical vision of one community embracing all creation.  (Brueggemann,  Living Toward a Vision, p. 16.)

Retired Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori: “Shalom is a vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work. Shalom is a city where justice is the rule of the day, where prejudice has vanished, where the diverse gifts with which we have been so abundantly blessed are equally valued.” (Jefferts Schori, A Wing and a Prayer, p. 33.)

This past Friday, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and other faith leaders called us to a service of lament and mourning for the more than 100,000. Americans who have died of Covid 19. We will also be mourning the death of George Floyd, who was killed this past Monday by a police officer in Minneapolis.  On May 24, Dr. Matthew W. Hughey, a member of the Department of Sociology at the University of Connecticut, had an article in the Hartford Courant entitled “There’s another pandemic besides the corona virus that we must fight: racism.”  Ever since white people brought African people to America in 1619 to sell them as slaves, we have unsuccessfully grappled with what Jim Wallis of the Sojourners community calls “America’s Original Sin.” The full title of his 2017 book is “America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America.” 

There is much to mourn and lament, so many lives lost to both pandemics. Dr. Martin Luther King has said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

If James Newsome is right about Pentecost being a time for birth,—and I think he is right—maybe, just maybe, with God’s grace, we can all come together and begin to listen to each other and learn from each other and find that bridge, or those many bridges, that Wallis is talking about. I pray that we can. I pray that we can live in peace as brothers and sisters. Because that is the vision our loving and healing God is calling us to fulfill. May we lean on the everlasting arms of God. May we trust in the power of God. May we bring all of God’s gifts of love and wisdom to heal both these pandemics.

May we now pray the Prayer for the Power of the Holy Spirit.

Advent 3A December 15, 2019

Isaiah 35:1-10
Canticle 3, p. 50 BCP
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Our opening reading from the great prophet Isaiah describes a profound transformation of people, animals, and the whole creation. The disabled are healed. Those who are afraid receive strength. Waters break forth in the wilderness and deserts bloom. All the people and the animals form a joyful procession to Jerusalem.  

Walter Brueggemann writes, “The Bible is relentless in its conviction that nothing that is skewed and distorted and deathly need remain as it is. God’s power and God’s passion converge to make total newness possible….Jesus is remembered and celebrated as the one who permits human life to begin again….The Church in Advent remembers this newness happening in Jesus and prepares itself for the affirmation that God is at work even now to bring the world to God’s powerful well-being.”  (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching, p. 19.)

Our reading from the Letter of James begins with a loving word of advice, “Be patient, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.” We are called to “strengthen [our] hearts.” We are called not to grumble against each other. We are being asked to calm ourselves, put our roots down deep into the grace and love of God, and wait expectantly for the coming of our Lord.

Last week, we met John the Baptist out in the wilderness preaching repentance. Now he is in jail. John the Baptist has been put in prison by King Herod because he confronted Herod with his immoral behavior. Even though he is locked away, John is hearing news about what the Messiah is doing.

Although John is in prison, his supporters are able to visit and talk with him, and he is able to send some of them to Jesus to ask a very pressing question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we wait for another?”

Of course, we remember that John confidently proclaimed Jesus as the Savior and asked our Lord to baptize him. Why is he now wondering whether Jesus is the Messiah?

Biblical scholar Beverly Gaventa writes,” One reason for his uncertainty could be his situation in prison. This is the explanation often picked up in sermons on the passage and developed psychologically, that is to say, John is depressed and forgotten in his jail cell, and as his incarceration continues he becomes haunted with doubts. Out of his dejection and discouragement, he sends to question Jesus.”

Gaventa continues, “The text, however, offers a more likely, explanation. In prison John hears about ‘what the Messiah was doing.’ presumably those acts of healing and mercy depicted [in our passage.] To a fierce denouncer of the sins of the people, the Messiah’s primary task must be to carry out the final judgment, to see that the ax is laid to the root of the trees and to burn every tree that does not bear fruit. What sort of Messiah could Jesus be who teaches in the synagogue, preaches the gospel of the kingdom, and heals every disease and infirmity? John seems uncertain, not because of his own plight but because of what Jesus is reputed to be doing. He is not turning out to be the kind of Messiah John expected.

Here is is important to remember that, in the history and writings of the people of God, there were two strands of thought about the Messiah. One was that the Messiah would be a military hero, coming in with great force and conquering the Roman Empire and freeing the people. The other strand was the thinking of prophets such as Isaiah. 

Gaventa continues, “What John needs is a new understanding of who the Messiah in reality is, what sort of work the Messiah does,  and with what sort of people he does it….Seeing and hearing that Jesus is preoccupied with people who have been marginalized by their situations, who can do little or nothing for themselves may represent a threat to some and prevent their accepting Jesus as Messiah. Like John, they expect that the Messiah should be doing more about stopping crime and punishing criminals. They would prefer to wait for another in hopes of finding a leader more to their liking. Jesus alone, however, defined his messiahship.” Gaventa, Texts for Preaching, pp. 26-27.

The scriptures do not tell us how John worked though this issue, but Gaventa’s comments remind us that it is very difficult for some of us to accept the messiah who is so clearly described in Isaiah’s prophecy, a loving savior who brings all of humanity and all of the creation to wholeness, health, and joy.

The text does give us Jesus’ comments on John. Our Lord says that there is no human being who is greater than John. And then our Lord gives us one of his paradoxes. “The least in the kingdom is greater than he.” John is a great man. He is a prophet and he prepares the way of the Savior. Yet, as Gaventa writes, “…the one who is least in the kingdom is greater than John. The age of fulfillment toward which John points is so decisive that even Jesus’ disciples…who understand and share his fulfilling activity, are greater than John. The comment is not made as a rebuke of John, but as an acknowledgment of the surpassing character of the new age dawning in the person of Jesus. It is an age in which disciples are still vulnerable to arrest and imprisonment, but are also changed and empowered to participate in the messianic activity of Jesus.” (Gaventa, Texts for Preaching, p. 27.

We are already following our Lord. We are already disciples. Yes, we are flawed and fallible humans, yet we are already in our process of transformation, and we are working to help our Lord build his Kingdom. Once again, I share an ancient prayer by an anonymous mystic who lived in the fifteenth century.

“Thou shalt know Him when He comes
Not by any din of drums—
Nor the vantage of His airs—
Nor by anything He wears—
Neither by His crown—
Nor His gown—
For His presence known shall be
By the Holy Harmony
That His coming makes in thee. Amen.”

Advent 2A December 8, 2019

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Our opening reading from the prophet Isaiah begins with the image of a stump. This symbolizes a low point in the story of God’s people. Scholars tell us that this terrible time could have been after the victory of the Assyrians over God’s people or the conquest of God’s people by the Babylonians. The stump is the last vestige of the line of King David. It looks dead.

We all have seen stumps which develop green shoots, and that is what is happening here. Out of the stump of Jesse, King David’s father, comes a new shoot, a branch. And the text tells us, “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.” Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes of the Spirit as “God’s life-giving, future-creating, world-forming, despair-ending power…, which can create an utter newness.” Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 11.)

Brueggemann writes that, “In the place of  …sword, spear, and javelin this king will be dressed in the saving regalia of loyal concern and love.” (Texts, p. 12.)

The spirit of God is coming to bring in the kingdom of God. Natural enemies will live together in harmony, and “a little child will lead them.” Brueggemann writes,  “The new king, powered by the spirit, will not be open to bribes (‘what his eyes see’) or convinced by propaganda (‘what his ears hear.’) He will, rather, be the kind of judge who will attend to the needs of the ‘meek’ and the ‘poor.’”  (Texts, p. 11 and 12.)

Brueggemann continues, “‘The little child’ bespeaks the birth of a new innocence in which trust, gentleness, and friendship are possible and appropriate. The world will be ordered so that the fragile and vulnerable can have their say and live their lives.” (Texts, p. 12.)

To paraphrase, Brueggemann says that “Advent is our decision to trust the [power of the Spirit] against the hopeless stump of what has failed.” (Texts, p. 12.)

Our psalm for today, Psalm 72, adds to the description of the good and just king who rules wisely and is like fresh rain nurturing the growth of the earth. Good and faithful leaders always nurture the growth of everyone in society, especially those who are at the margins. These two readings offer the basic view of the kingdom, the reign, the shalom of God.

In our epistle, Paul begins with a prayer that we might have hope. He adds, “ May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God is the God of steadfastness and encouragement. God encourages us to hang in there and continue to hope, and God makes it possible for us to glorify God with one voice.

God brings us together in love so that we may love each other and love God.

Paul calls us to welcome others as Jesus has welcomed us. And he refers to the shoot of Jesse, the branch of David’s family, our Lord Jesus Christ, and Paul prays, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

As the days become shorter and shorter, we are called to be people of light and love and hope because our King is coming to us.

Our gospel for today brings us into the presence of one of the two great Advent figures, John the Baptist. To say the least, he is a striking figure. He certainly doesn’t wear a Brooks brothers suit, and he eats locusts and honey. Scholars tell us that locusts were among the few insects that were considered ritually clean. John is living off the land. His ministry takes place out in the wilderness, and hundreds of people flock to see him.

John preaches a baptism of repentance, He is calling us to give up our sins, examine our lives, and get ready to follow the One who is to come, the Savior. In the midst of the corruption of the Roman Empire, it’s no wonder that people are traveling to see him, They know they need to do something different with their lives. They need direction, and they sense the promise of hope and light in what John is telling them. John calls the religious leaders a “brood of vipers.” A nest of snakes. They are depending on the fact that they have Abraham for their ancestor, but John is telling them, just as Isaiah had done centuries ago, that God is about to do a new thing.

“God’s life-giving, future-creating, world-forming, despair-ending power, which can create an utter newness.” That is what Advent is about. We do self-examination. We make course corrections. We ask our Lord to give us the grace and guidance to grow closer to him. It is serious work, and it is also joyful work. “Life-giving, future-creating, world-forming, despair-ending” work.

We are on the journey of making room in our hearts and lives for Jesus to come and live with us. Live within us. We do this in a spirit of hope and love and light and joy.

Loving Lord, help us to make room for you in our lives and hearts. Amen.

Advent 1B RCL December 3, 2017

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

Advent is here. This is the New Year’s season of the Church. We change from Lectionary A to B. For Morning and Evening Prayer, we change from Lectionary 1 to 2. From the green of the Pentecost season and the white for Christ the King this past Sunday, we move to purple, symbolizing penitence and also the royalty of Christ our King.

Advent is that paradoxical time of penitence, preparation, and joy. We look back to the first coming of our Lord as a baby, and at the same time we look forward to his coming again to complete the work of creation and bring in his kingdom of peace, harmony, and wholeness.

His kingdom has begun but it is not yet complete. As we look around our world, we can see clear evidence of that sad fact. Walter Brueggemann writes, “Contrary to the manner in which it is often celebrated in the churches, Advent begins not on a note of joy, but of despair. Humankind has reached the end of its rope. All our schemes for self-improvement, for extricating ourselves from the traps we have set for ourselves, have come to nothing. We have now realized at the deepest level of our being that we cannot save ourselves and that, apart from the intervention of God, we are totally and irretrievably lost.” (Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 1.)

Our opening reading from Isaiah sounds that note of despair. How often do we wish that God would come down from the heavens and help us set things right, clean up the messes we make. Scholars tell us that this passage was probably written when Isaiah and the other exiles returned from Babylon. They had prayed for the coming of this day. Yet, when they arrived home and found the temple completely destroyed and so much work to do, they began to lose hope.

At this low point, Isaiah wishes that God would tear open the heavens and come down to earth. Isaiah praises God for all the ways in which God has guided and helped the people. Then he confesses that he and all God’s people have sinned. They felt God was hiding from them when the Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem, and they drifted farther and farther away from God. In fact, some of the people felt that the military conquest by Babylon was a punishment for their lack of faith.

It is important to note that many of the people kept the faith during the Exile. They studied the scriptures; they increased their sense of worship and community. Isaiah is one of those people, and he is addressing God as a member of that community of the faithful.

Following the confession, Isaiah prays to God as the father of the people. He says that we humans are the clay and God is the potter. He asks God to have mercy on the people. Following this process of acknowledging God’s care for the people, then confessing his and their sinfulness, Isaiah is able to realize that God still cares and that God is a God of mercy.

Most of us have had low points like this in life. There just seem to be too many challenges. We feel as though God is far away. But we know that we really need God’s help. As we look around our world and see all the brokenness, the wholeness of God’s shalom seems impossibly far away. This makes us doubly aware that we need to turn to God.

As someone once said, when we fall far away from God, we need to ask, who moved? Not God. God has been right here all the time. Back in the time of Isaiah, the people realized that God was faithful, God had never left them. They began the mammoth task of rebuilding, but they also focused on rebuilding their sense of community and deepening their faith.

In our epistle for today, Paul thanks God for the life of the congregation in Corinth. God has given them many gifts, and they will be exercising those gifts as they wait for Christ to come again.

In our gospel, Jesus is describing the day of judgment as it is pictured by some of the prophets. But his main message is, “Stay awake. Be ready.”

Walter Brueggemann’s comments strike a wonderful Advent note. As we proceed with self-examination, we come to a screeching halt and realize that indeed, as he puts it, “all our schemes for self improvement… have come to nothing.” Without the intervention of God, all is lost.

Isaiah wanted God to “open the heavens and come down.” As Christians we know that God has done exactly that. God has come to be with us. After his baptism in the River Jordan, Jesus began building his Kingdom. We see it in every event in his ministry. He showed us how to do it. Love God and love people.

During Advent, we are called especially to make room for Jesus in our hearts and lives. This is a season for giving generously to organizations such as UTO and ERD, and other groups which help people in so many ways. It is also a time to take stock of our spiritual lives, to make or update wills, to set things in order.

But, most of all, it is a season to make even more room for Jesus. For each of us that may look different. For some of us, it means taking more quiet time. For others of us, it might mean more time with family and friends. For many of us, it is a both-and.

God did respond to Isaiah, and the rebuilding happened. How blessed and fortunate we are that God has come to be with us. We can walk with the risen Christ. How blessed that we can go and visit him in the manger. How blessed that we can be with him here and every day because he is among us. God has come to be with us, and God’s kingdom is growing even now. And God invites us every day and every moment to help to build that kingdom, that shalom. And he calls us to be ready to meet him again when he comes to complete the creation. Amen.

Lent 5A  April 2, 2017

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

Our first reading, which comes from the Book of Ezekiel, is one of the most compelling passages in the Bible. Ezekiel was a priest and a prophet who lived with the exiles in Babylon. His ministry took place from 593 to 563 B.C.

The people of God spent fifty years in exile. As time went on, they began to feel that their whole nation, the whole of Israel, was dead. After all, they were in captivity in an alien land. A foreign power was occupying their homeland. The temple in Jerusalem, the center of their worship, lay in ruins. They had little or no hope of ever returning. They might as well be dead. They had no future. They were prisoners in a foreign land.

Our reading this morning is Ezekiel’s God-given vision of the nation of Israel, the people of God lying dead in the valley of dry bones, and God raising these dry bones back to life.  God asks Ezekiel, “Mortal, can these bones live?” Ezekiel humbly answers, “O Lord God, you know.”  Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “Only God can answer. This is not a question permitting human response, because the power for life is held only by God. Only God knows, not because God has ‘information,’ but because only God has the power to make life happen.” (Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 219.)

This passage tells us that God brings life, not only for individuals but for nations, especially oppressed nations and groups. God takes these dry bones and puts muscles and flesh on them and covers them with skin and puts breath (ruach) into them. Last Sunday we made an offering to help the nation of South Sudan. God can bring life to our brothers and sisters in South Sudan, and in Haiti and Zimbabwe and El Salvador and all the other places where death is stalking the people. Brueggemann calls us to “…trust the stunning freedom and power of the God who gives life.” (Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 221.)

No situation is hopeless. God brings life. God is going to bring the exiles home.

In our gospel for today, we have another powerful account from Jesus’ ministry. As we look at this story, we remember that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are Jesus’ closest friends. They live in Bethany, which is about two miles outside of Jerusalem. Jesus has spent many hours at their home, which is a kind of sanctuary for him. It is a relatively safe place for him in the midst of all the intrigue and power politics of Jerusalem.

Lazarus falls ill. Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus to come as quickly as he can. Jesus waits another two days. By this time, Jerusalem is an extremely dangerous place for him to visit. But Jesus also says that he is waiting so that God’s glory may be fully revealed. Finally he tells the disciples that they are going to Judea. He says that Lazarus has fallen asleep and he is going to awaken him. Going to Jerusalem is dangerous. Thomas even says, “Let us go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus and the disciples arrive, Martha meets them. She gently rebukes Jesus, saying that, if he had been there, Lazarus would never have died, Jesus could have healed him. Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again. And he says those words which are at the center of our faith, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Martha says that she believes this.

Mary comes to Jesus, kneels at his feet, and, weeping, tells Jesus that if he had come earlier, Lazarus would never have died. All of their friends who have been mourning with Mary and Martha are crying as well. Jesus himself is in tears at this point. Our Lord is fully human as well as fully divine, and this is a terrible loss. One of his best friends has died. Some of the mourners again point out that, if Jesus had arrived sooner, he could have prevented this tragedy.

Then Jesus commands them to take away the stone. The down-to-earth Martha points out that Lazarus has been dead for four days and there is going to be a smell. This is real death. But Jesus is focusing on the fact that God brings life. Yes, a beloved friend has died. This is real. But God brings life.  Into every situation, no matter how seemingly hopeless, God brings life.

They take away the stone. Jesus prays, thanking God for the miracle that is about to come. Lazarus staggers out into the light, the cloths in which he had been wrapped unwinding as he propels himself out of the dark cave. Jesus says, “Unbind him and let him go!” Lazarus is alive and free.

Whenever we feel hopeless, whenever we encounter death of any kind, the death of slavery or of addiction or of oppression, God brings life. In the face of all death and brokenness, God brings life.

In the words of Walter Brueggemann, may we “trust the stunning power and freedom of the God who gives life.”  Amen.

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.