Sermon/4th Sunday after the Epiphany (A)/January 29, 2017/Martha Goodwill
Dear Lord, Rescue your church from the promises of this world’s powers and form us as the community of the beatitudes that we may become your faithful servants in the world. Amen.
Because I found the readings for today so helpful and appropriate for all that is swirling around us politically right now, I started to begin this sermon with “isn’t it amazing how God always gives us just what we need, right when we need it?” But, then I very intentionally started again to read Morning Prayer every day (I had fallen out of the habit during the holidays) and what do you know, every reading (every single reading) was so helpful and appropriate for all that is swirling around us politically right now! Hmmm, I’m sensing a theme here.
I think God realizes that we are exactly who God created: flawed people with free will, who put ourselves before others and even before God. So, God gave us what we needed; God gave us prophets like Micah; this is what Micah said:
“But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously.” This is from The Message translation of the Bible.
And, God also gave us Paul. And it sounds like to me that nearly a thousand years later, Paul is again reminding us that we are the ones who God called and here is how God wants us to live:
“Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses…? That makes it quite clear that … Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ.” Again, from The Message.
And for our time now, God has given us our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Now last weekend, there were many Episcopalians who were upset about the National Cathedral hosting the Inaugural Prayer Service. Here is a part of Bishop Curry’s words on the subject:
“Real prayer is both contemplative and active. It involves a contemplative conversation with and listening to God, and an active following of the way of Jesus, serving and witnessing in the world in his Name. For those who follow the way of Jesus, the active side of our life of prayer seeks to live out and help our society live out what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” So we work for a good and just, humane and loving society. We participate as followers of Jesus in the life of our government and society, caring for each other and others, and working for policies and laws that reflect the values and teachings of Jesus to “love your neighbor,” to “do unto others as you who have them do unto you,” to fashion a civic order that reflects the goodness, the justice, the compassion that we see in the face of Jesus, that we know to reflect the very heart and dream of God for all of God’s children and God’s creation.”
Real prayer is both contemplative and active.
Many of the people who peacefully marched in the Women’s marches throughout the world were acting on their prayers. There were many Episcopalians marching. Several of the marchers held signs that read, “I will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” Do you recognize the words? They are from our baptismal covenant, found on pg. 305 of the Prayer Book.
And, something many of you might not know about, but also happened this month was the Martin Luther King, Jr. parade in St. Petersburg. This is one of the largest King Day parades in the country. In addition to the city leaders and bands, there were a few religious groups marching too. Several of the black churches were there but there were also some old white hippies, who were Quaker and Jewish. They marched to throw beads and candy just like everybody else, but they also held up signs reflecting their active prayers for equality and justice for all of God’s people.
Now lastly today, Jesus gives us the Beatitudes. I encourage you to read The Message translation of these verses – we all know these words, but sometimes when the words are said differently, they are renewed in us. Here is The Message translation of “blessed are the peacemakers”:
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”
Again, reminding us that we are the ones who God called and here is how God wants us to live.
Okay, so God has given us prophets and apostles, even Jesus – God’s own son, to show us who we are and what God expects of us. But so what? Where does all this get us in this time of polarization? What is our role, the church’s role, in the world at this time?
For the Community Development class I am taking as part of the School for Ministry, we are reading a book called, Community, The Structure of Belonging. Honestly, so far it’s pretty theoretical, giving methods on how to organize communities in order to achieve a goal. As Deacons, our take on the book is how to organize our churches to do the work that is needed in the world. The one piece of the book that has really resonated with me is about our stories. Each of us has our own story, the story of our life, our own version of the story of our life. The author says all of our stories are fiction, alternative facts! All of our own personal stories are just there to perpetuate our own version of the past and that causes our future to be pretty much the same as our past, with only small positive advances. And this applies to a society’s stories as well. He goes on to say that “the stories that are useful and fulfilling are the ones that are metaphors, signposts, parables and inspiration for the fullest expression of our humanity.” Well hello!!! That sounds like the Bible to me!
So the stories of the modern age are fiction and only serve to distract us from whom we are and from what God expects of us. These times are like many times before and like many times that will come. Our calling is to rely on God. So again, what is the church’s role in the world at this time? It is the same as it has always been and will continue to be. If you would, please grab a Prayer Book and turn with me to page 855. I hope you will answer these questions with me:
- What is the mission of the Church?
A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
- How does the Church pursue its mission?
A. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.
- Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
A. The church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.
It’s amazing what the Prayer Book has in it.
So, we all have our stories and the world has its stories, but time and time again we are called – we Christians, we Episcopalians, we the church, you and me – we are called to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” We are called to be reconciliation in the world. And we believe we can do this because we believe that God always gives us just what we need, right when we need it.
O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.