It is great to see all of you today! Last week we had 7 for worship with the bad weather, and it was still great. Diocesan House in Seattle on Capital Hill was closed until Thursday of this week. And some of the churches in our Diocese did not even get to have services last Sunday, like Christ Church in the U District of Seattle. Their priest was snowed in, so they cancelled out. I know that some of you people from our church could figure out how to use the Book of Common Prayer to have Morning Prayer if our priests cannot make it.
These readings today to me seem like a strange hodgepodge of messages—“trust in God”, “judgment if you don’t”, “love others”, and “judgment based on works”, to name a few. Let’s look at these readings to see what makes sense to us today.
In Jeremiah today, we have a prophet who told God he was not worthy to speak for him, and has even been called “the weeping prophet”. But he did what he was told and called out the Jewish people for their reliance on their own rulers and had turned away from their Mosaic laws and worship practices. He told them they will be like shrubs in the desert, and will not see the relief from God when it comes. But he also reminded them that trust in God will provide relief like being a tree planted near water, with solid roots and a real sense of security, lacking fear when times get rough. He did also add there is a review by God of one’s heart and their actions, giving to them according to their deeds. Is this a judgment based on good works, not simply giving grace by God?
Our short Psalm 1 reading today continues the “trust in God” theme with similar words as Jeremiah. It’s likely the imagery and words in Jeremiah came from this psalm, since the Psalms were likely some of the first writings of the Jews (all the way back to King David about 1000 years before Christ, whereas Jeremiah lived about 600 years before Christ).
The 1 Corinthians reading is a follow up to several weeks of them from these later chapters of this letter to the Corinthians. How it relates to any of the rest of the readings is beyond me, unless it is talking about faith and trust in God. Paul tells the Corinthians who do not believe that their fellow believers will be resurrected after physical death is like saying they don’t believe that Jesus was resurrected either. Yes, Jesus was the Son of God and was different from the rest of them, but the point was that he was truly human at that time when killed and was raised for all, so they also can be raised.
Some part of me struggles in thinking about resurrection, but the hope of it seems better than just knowing we die and there is no more, other than someone remembering we were ever alive. I do not live my life looking for “that prize”, as I believe there is a Godly kingdom right here on Earth to be had, if we will do what Jesus calls us to do, and I want to be doing my part in making that happen.
Our Luke Gospel reading takes place at a level area in northern Palestine, and has been called the Sermon on the Plain (as compared to the Sermon on the Mount, in the Gospel of Matthew). Jesus even talked to his disciples with similar Beatitude (Blessed) statements to those in the longer set of Beatitudes in Matthew. He focused his blessings on the poor, hungry, weeping, and the hated and excluded for following Jesus. But he also gave his ire to those who are rich, those who are full, those who can easily enjoy and laugh, and those who are falsely admired for their false deeds.
I have seen a couple of different memes the last few days which relate to this message:
What Jesus never said, “Feed the hungry only if they have papers.” “Clothe the naked only if they are from your country.” “Welcome the stranger only if there’s zero risk.” “Help the poor only if it’s convenient,” “Love your neighbor only if they look like you.”
--Fr. James Martin, Jesuit
“The Gospel is less about how to get into the kingdom of Heaven after you die, and more about how to live in the kingdom of Heaven before you die.”
Even a few of the comments from these memes are very useful:
“I figure there are two types of Christians in general: those practicing "fire insurance" (just in case!) faith, and those so in love with Christ that they live every day for Him.”
“We can live in the Kingdom of heaven right now if we slay the ego and begin to trust God and love one another.”
“I think it is better to emulate Jesus’s way of living in the Kingdom of Heaven NOW and bring to others the love that Jesus has shown to us. I think that is how we best follow Jesus’s Great Commandment to love one another, to love him by loving and caring for his people.”
To finish up, Joan Chittister offers two parables for the Christian life of blessedness in her book “How Shall I Live?” One is from the Sufi masters and one is from the monastics of the desert. She comments that these may tell us most about what it means to live an illuminated life in hard times.
In the first the Sufis tell about a spiritual elder who asked the disciples to name what was most important in life: wisdom or action? The disciples were unanimous in their opinions: “It’s action, of course,” they said. “After all, of what use is wisdom that does not show itself in action?” “Well, perhaps,” the master said, “but of what use is action that proceeds from an unenlightened heart?”
In the second story from the desert monastics, Abba Poeman says of Abba John that he prayed to God to take his passions away from him so he might be free from care. “And, in fact,” Abba John reported to him, “I now find myself in total peace, without an enemy.” But Abba Poeman said to him, “Really? Well, in that case, go and beg God to stir up warfare that the soul makes progress.” And after that, when warfare came, Abba John no longer prayed that it might be taken away. Now he simply prayed: “Lord, give me the strength for the fight.”