What does the LORD require?

File:Volunteers of America Soup Kitchen in Washington, D.C..gif

Watching for the Morning of January 29, 2017

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Sunday takes us to the Sermon on the Mount and the familiar words of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are the meek…Blessed are the merciful.” They are great and powerful declarations about what is honored in God’s sight.

We sometimes miss the meaning of these potent declarations. They sound gentle and kind to us – at least until we get to the one about persecutions – but these are thunderclaps, imperial proclamations reversing the values of all the kingdoms that have come before.

Words like ‘meek’ and ‘blessed’ convey something different in a modern western society than in the ancient Mediterranean. Jesus is not talking about those who are fortunate in life, but those who are honored in God’s sight. Honor belongs to those at the bottom of the heap, not those who have climbed to the top. Honor belongs to those who embody God’s mercy and faithfulness, not those who lead the parade. Those working in the soup kitchens of the District of Columbia this last week are the nobility of God’s kingdom, not those ushered about in limousines.

So Sunday we listen as the prophet Micah utters those famous words: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” And the psalmist will sing that those who are welcome in God’s presence are not the ritually clean but those who live faithfully towards their fellow human beings. And Paul sets out his opening gambit in the first letter to the Corinthians talking about the folly of “the wisdom of the world” versus the wisdom of the folly of God.

And then we will hear the beatitudes. They are not the “be-happy-attitudes”; they are the broad sweeping scythe that cuts down all that is exalted in the empires of this world and raises up those of generous heart and kind spirit, who weep at the walls and weapons we build, who hunger for a world of mercy and peace. Their prayers will be answered. Their prayers are being answered, even now, as Jesus speaks.

The Prayer for January 29, 2017

Lord of Life,
by your word and deed you overturn the values of our world,
declaring honorable what is often despised:
the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers.
Help us to hear your Word,
and in hearing to trust,
and in trusting to live as you call us to live;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for January 29, 2017

First Reading: Micah 6:1-8
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” – Through the prophet, God brings charges against his people, summoning the surrounding hills to hear God’s case and render judgment. God has done great things for this people and asked for justice and mercy, but the people have been faithless.

Psalmody: Psalm 15
“O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?” – The poet describes the one who is worthy to enter the temple precinct in terms of faithfulness to others rather than ritual purity. Where we expect to her about ‘clean hands’, we hear instead about justice and mercy.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” –
The values of ‘the world’, the things honored and treasured by a humanity that has lost its harmony with God, are shown to be foolish and empty by God’s revelation of himself in Christ crucified.

Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – The beatitudes begin Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the first of five blocks of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus speaks of what is honorable in God’s sight and declares God’s favor.

The comments from this and previous years on this Sunday of the church year can be found under the list of Sundays or by clicking here.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AVolunteers_of_America_Soup_Kitchen_in_Washington%2C_D.C..gif By Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



Psalm 89

File:Cskt-zarandoklas a cedrusokhoz libanonban (1907).jpg

Zarándoklás a cédrusokhoz Libanonban (Pilgrimage to the Cedars in Lebanon). by Tivadar Kosztka Csontvary, 1907

15Happy are the people who know the festal shout,
who walk, O Lord, in the light of your countenance;

A friend finds herself for the first time tending a loved one in that strange realm of tubes and monitors and the alien sights and smells of Intensive Care that is our modern version of the valley of the shadow of death. I do not expect that she will be anywhere else but riding the rollercoaster of emotions that attend such times of trial. But in the midst of a harrowing night, she found the hospital chapel. And there, for a moment, found also the peace of God.

15Happy are the people who know the festal shout.

This word ‘happy’ means more than happy. It used to be translated blessed, but these are slippery and changing words that now seem to distort the sense of the text. Blessed has come to mean ‘lucky’. “We are so blessed” translates to “We have been very fortunate” and, as contemporary Americans, such ‘blessings’ refer to material prosperity, security and health. But ‘happy’ or ‘blessed’ here means something more like ‘at peace with God, oneself and others.’ We use phrases like “I’m in a good place, now,” or a simple but heartfelt, “Life is good,” though even these don’t convey that sense that our lives rest securely on the Rock which is Christ – an awareness that can come to you even in a hospital chapel.

15Happy are the people who know the festal shout,
who walk, O Lord, in the light of your countenance;

Those who know the ‘festal shout’, who share in the great festive celebrations of the nation, who walk into the temple among the pilgrims with God’s face shining upon them, are in a good place. They are rightly aligned with God and others.

This word, ‘Festal shout’, is also used for the sound of the shofar, the ram’s horn, that is the nation’s call to worship, the reminder of God’s goodness, the trumpet blast of God’s victory. Happy are the people who know the sound of the shofar, who know the God who frees the bound and gives land to the landless. Happy the people who know the God who commands justice and mercy. Happy the people who know the God who guards the weak and vulnerable. Happy the people who know the shofar that sounded at Sinai and sounds in Zion and will herald a day when all things are made new. To know the ‘festal shout’ is not only to know the joy of the great festal services, it is to know the God worshipped in those liturgies.

Centered and whole are the people who know the Easter “Alleluia,”
who walk in the light of the resurrection.

Happy and at peace are the people who know the God who raised Jesus from the dead.

Happy and at peace are the people who know that the sins of the world are forgiven.

Like fruitful branches on the vine are the people who know that the world moves towards justice.

Like the stillness of dawn’s first light upon the lake are those who see God’s mercy and life in all things.

Exultant and joyful are those who find their place among the community of God’s pilgrim people.

Centered and whole, free and joyful, deep and steadfast, happy and at peace are the people who know the Easter “Alleluia,” who walk in the light of the resurrection even when they travel the darkness.