St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Epiphany 4 2017 Sermon
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Corby Varness

‘Blessed are those who are humble’ . . . Got to be careful about that. 
 
Here’s a story about some people who were just a bit too humble: A man was driving in the countryside when he came upon a priest and a rabbi standing on the shoulder of the road, holding a big sign that read "Turn Around. The End Is Near.” The motorist rolled down the window and yelled, "Mind your own business, you religious nuts!”  The priest and the rabbi just looked at each other and shrugged.  A few seconds later the two clergymen heard tires screech, then a big splash. The rabbi turned to the priest and said, "I told you our sign should have said, ‘Bridge Out.’”
           
Last week, we heard about Jesus choosing his disciples.  Today’s gospel in Matthew comes soon after that lesson.  Now imagine, you’ve got twelve folks who are almost ready to go out and spread the gospel.  They need some training, right?  So Jesus needs to start with a class called: “Intro to Jesus”.  He takes them up the mountain, apart from the crowds and sits down, as an interpreter of God’s law. He meets with his disciples on that mountain like a new Moses training his followers in a different kind of righteousness.
           
Jesus describes the spirit of the kingdom of God.  In a culture where the rich and mighty were considered blessed by God and the poor and needy were thought to have been punished for some sin, the impact of this teaching, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, would have been mind boggling.  David Lose writes: “The first thing Jesus teaches them is how to recognize blessedness. Which is really interesting. Not how to become blessed, or even to bless each other, but rather to recognize who is already blessed by God.”
           
I will read this gospel from the New Living Translation of the Bible so that you can hear it anew and I want you to listen to find yourself in those who are blessed by God: “One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him,  and he began to teach them.
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.  Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.”
           
Jesus searched the Scriptures to craft this message. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, God repeatedly affirms his care for the poor. Listen to this verse from Isaiah comforting mourners: ‘He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.’ The Psalms promise that the meek will inherit: ‘The lowly will possess the land and will live in peace and prosperity.’ Psalm 107 promises that those who hunger and thirst will be satisfied: ‘For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.’ Jesus reached deep into his tradition to find words of comfort that were meaningful to the people he served.
           
Again, to quote David Lose: “Every community has its own definition of what constitutes blessedness. We may not always use such a pious word, preferring instead to call it “the good life” or “success.” But we all have definitions of what it means to have made it, and usually it’s not those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek or pure in heart or thirst for righteousness and all the rest. In our world, when we think of someone who is blessed we most often think of someone who is wealthy or powerful or famous or successful or beautiful or enviable. Blessing, at least according to the standards of this world, is most often of the material kind.
           
But Jesus teaches something different.  Jesus teaches us to see how God calls blessed those who are down and out, distressed by their circumstances, passionate about promoting righteousness and working for peace, or persecuted for doing the right thing.”
           
If we truly hear today’s gospel, we can hear that those we don’t often perceive as valuable are precisely those whom God chooses to bless and honor and love. So when you see a homeless woman sitting outside in the rain, try to see her through new eyes, remembering that God blesses people like her, who have nothing but him. She belongs to the kingdom of heaven!
           
Some people hear this lesson and think, “Oh, I’d better be meek, or humble so that I can be blessed.”  That’s not the point.  If you need instruction on how to be a better person, look to Micah: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” 
           
Jesus urges his disciples – then and now – to change how we look at those around us. Rather than measure people by their possessions, we are commanded to see their character.  Rather than judge their failings, we are invited to forgive them. Now listen to this: God reveals himself to us most clearly and at our places of deepest need.
           
What would it be like if we recognized that God always comes where we least expect him to be – in the middle of our brokenness – in order to bless that which the world refuses to bless and to love what the world calls unlovable? And what would it be like if we left church today with new eyes, able to see in the needs of  our neighbors not something to be pitied but rather a mark of blessedness?  We see blessed, hungry people gathering at St. Andrews and we are privileged to meet that need.
           
I think when that happens, each of us, our church, our congregation is more like the early community Jesus founded all the way back then. Like that early church, St. Marks becomes blessed by God’s grace to be different from the world around us, to be a place of forgiveness, mercy, grace, and goodness.  Let us work to continue to see, in the brokenness of others, the blessing of God.
Amen.


 
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