The Fourth Sunday after The Epiphany Year A
January 29, 2017
The Rev. Robin Razzino
In the Name of One God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Just last week we heard Matthew’s account of the calling of the first disciples. Now we fast forward a few months and we find Jesus being followed by thousands of people. Inspired by his preaching, teaching and healing. Huge crowds encircle Jesus wherever he goes seeking healing for themselves and those they love.
This morning we hear that one day at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus sees the crowds but rather than engaging with them, he retreats to a mountain with his disciples.
Though we sometimes think of this “Sermon on the Mount” being preached to hundreds - if not thousands - of people, the truth is that in Matthew’s version of the account, Jesus is only speaking with his disciples.
This detail suggests that the focus of his teaching is for those of us who, like his disciples, desire to follow Jesus not because we might meet him, be healed and return to our old lives, but because we know that through encountering, knowing and following Jesus, we are being drawn into a new life – the very life and mission of God.
And living in this life – living in God and God’s mission – means living in a world in which one’s humanity is tied up with another’s. That Christ’s humanity is tied to ours and ours is tied, through him, to our neighbor. If someone is in pain, they are not alone in their pain. It is shared by God. It is shared by us.
Pain is part of life.
So is sorrow, enmity and darkness.
“Life is not difficult now so that we will more greatly appreciate being rewarded someday in heaven,” writes Kayla McClurg in her blog on The Church of the Savior’s website.
“Life is difficult now simply because it is difficult now. And the reward is to see it, to feel it, to let it in.
When we refuse to accept that life is not to be continually altered, continually tweaked for our pleasure, we miss a simple truth: Life is what it is, and what it is, is Life. A mixed up muddle of sorrow and peace and joy and poverty and longing.
We miss it if we spend all our time trying to shut the doors and bar the windows, before Life can get to us, before God can show us how good the awful parts can be.” *
Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
As I write this sermon, I am devastated by the actions our president took this week in banning Syrian refugees from our nation, suspending the entire refugee program for four months and halting travel and immigration from Muslim countries.
I mean I am heartbroken.
I am in deep mourning for the direction this action leads our country.
Now more than even I need these words of Jesus as I seek to follow him into work that might be quite unpopular with people who voted for President Trump –
indeed with some people in this congregation – people with whom - to be sure - I want to be in continued relationship.
I am not taking a position against Trump’s executive order banning Muslim refugees from our country for political reasons or because I may call myself a democrat.
I am taking issue with this policy because I call myself a Christian, because I take seriously my baptismal vows to respect the dignity of every human being and to strive for justice and peace among all people.
I pledge to take action this week against these policies as a priest, as a follower of Jesus Christ, as a Christian, as a human being.
I will take action because I know that through encountering, knowing and following Jesus, I am being drawn into new life – into the very life and mission of God.
And living into this life – living in God and God’s mission – means living in a world in which my humanity is tied up with another’s. That Christ’s humanity is tied to mine and mine is tied, through Christ, to my neighbor.
Now this moment feels really awful. Like awful, awful.
But living into it is living into blessedness, into good fortune as taught to us by Jesus in this sermon from which the Beatitudes come.
Without this grief, without this anger, I wouldn’t be taking steps to live more fully into God’s plan for my life at this very moment.
We are all blessed when we are drawn out of our complacency, when we see our life as tied together with another’s, when compassion flows out from us because we know God’s love for us.
Two weeks ago, I closed out the Martin Luther King Jr memorial program, held hear at St Clements for the first time since 2008, with the following Benediction, taken from a four-fold Franciscan blessing.
The blessing works just like the Beatitudes we heard this morning.
The blessing has an element of surprise – just like the Beatitudes did when they came from the mouth of Jesus.
The Blessing, like the Beatitudes, gives us comfort now as we do the hard work of witnessing to the in-breaking of the Kingdom of heaven right now -
as we work to bring about this kingdom of peace and justice and love and compassion and humility and mercy and kindness right now – not waiting to be rewarded on the other side of death.
You see, to understand the way these beatitudes work – and I’m going off on a little tangent here - we need to understand how Christians view the world - how Christians view the present and the future as intimately tied together.
As biblical scholar Thomas Long points out, “The Church of Jesus Christ sees its life in two frames of reference.
First, it sees what everyone else sees too – that world of human history, a world of struggle in which the church works and serves and lives out its mission. Based on the evidence from this world alone, there is little reason for hope or joy. War follows upon war, might makes right, and the innocent suffer every day (Thomas Long in Matthew p 47).
But the church also possess a second frame of reference. It sees what others do not see, that God is at work in this world even today and will surely bring all creation to a time of peace and rejoicing.
This hoped-for time is the Kingdom of heaven.
For the world, the kingdom is a sure future; for the faithful, the kingdom is a present reality, giving strength and encouragement to its work (Thomas Long, 48).”
Now I will (finally) leave you with this blessing – not because I am hoping you will follow me into the work I feel God is calling ME into this week –
but because I hope to encourage you to listen to how God might be disturbing you this week –
how God might be calling you to help bring about the Kingdom of heaven right now –
how God might be calling you to live out the vows you made at your baptism –
indeed, how God might be calling you - and me - to see and feel the tears we shed this week – for whatever reason we may shed them - as the very reminders of the waters of our baptism, as the very reminder of our belovedness…
Let us pray:
May God bless us with discomfort At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships So that we may live from deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of God's creations So that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless us with tears To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war, So that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and To turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with just enough foolishness To believe that we can make a difference in the world, So that we can do what others claim cannot be done.