Sermon for Epiphany IV, Random Lake 1/29/23
Theme: WALK HUMBLY
Text: Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5: 1-12
Introduction Well, I’ve just read the Beatitudes of Jesus. These nine blessings embody the stunning vision of our Lord for his disciples. The Sermon on the Mount is the first of five units of teaching recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. Up to this point, Matthew has established Jesus’ credentials: his amazing family
history and unusual details of his birth, including the visit from wealthy foreigners. Readers learned about his family’s exile in Egypt and their retreat to Nazareth. We saw Jesus’ baptism, his tough tests in the wilderness and heard his choice of four disciples. Good news of healing miracles raced through Galilee. Now we gather with the crowds and disciples on the mountain, not unlike Mt. Sanai, where the Lord spoke through Moses. Suddenly, with a gasp, we realize that Jesus is ushering us into a new world of thinking. It’s almost too much to comprehend. As one who takes the Beatitudes seriously, Robert Smith
describes these familiar words:
Jesus’ Beatitudes are bolts of lightning splitting the skies. They crack open the heavens, astonish eye and ear, and carry with them the smell of burning ozone. They are ecstatic , inspired declarations trumpeted from the mouth of the revealer, and they are brimming with infinite grace…[The kingdom’s] inbreaking is marked by a royal distribution of gifts.
Consider the opposite of Jesus’ Beatitudes, the worldly ones proposed by J. B. Phillips:
Happy are the “pushers;” for they get on in the world.
Happy are the hard-boiled; for they never let life hurt them.
Happy are they who complain; for they get their own way in the end…
Happy are the slave-drivers; for they get results…
Happy are the trouble-makers; for they make people take notice of them.
But we have not come here for worldly wisdom. We get enough of that every day. We come to hear our Lord share his vision with us, even though it challenges us to the very core. We hope and pray that his Holy Spirit will open us to the Biblical Word and help us WALK HUMBLY.
I Let’s start with Micah. The sermon theme comes from today’s first reading. For Micah reveals our trouble with God, or how much we need Jesus’ “teaching units.” Coming from a small town south of Jerusalem, Micah was shocked at the sins of an urban culture. He would be even more shocked by the stuff that we see and hear every day in the media.
The naive country prophet learned of the slick business people, devising evil schemes and seizing what belonged to others. He observed the haughty walk of those who uttered falsehoods and grand promises. When he saw people being ripped off by the unscrupulous, it reminded him of the skinning and chopping of meat. Judges and people in leadership were taking bribes.
So, the courtroom and trial that Micah describes in this week’s reading is definitely not Judge Judy’s. Israel wanted to take God to court for “wearying” them with the call for a just and holy life. They think that their feeble efforts are unappreciated. After all what does the Lord expect?
Well, God takes them to the court of all creation. He wants the mountains and hills to hear this case. The Lord takes the role of the plaintiff. He has a controversy with his people. “Oh my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!” says the Lord. The Lord appeals not to law but to memory. The Lord reminds them of how he brought them up from Egypt. He redeemed them from slavery, set them free. The Lord parted the waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan River. He acted, so that
they might know the saving acts of the loving Creator. When the Lord pauses in his case for the prosecution, Israel blunders in, asking what exactly would satisfy God:
With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings and with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?
You see with sarcasm and exaggeration, Israel mounts its defense, because it really has no case. Trying to get off the hook, the people whine, “What does God expect? Should I burn my firstborn child on his altar for the sin of my soul? Micah replies with one of the best summaries of the prophetic message:
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.
II Jesus sits before us on the mountain as the Great Giver. He is the Messiah come to save. He teaches with authority. The Lord himself has come among his flip and weak-willed people. The Son of God will be offered on the altar of the cross. In the Beatitudes, Jesus simply wants to draw us to his heart as disciples.
If we admit our deep need for his help and forgiveness, we will find life and blessings in Jesus’ words.
Those who have open hands, knowing the emptiness of life without him, will receive real value in God’s gracious rule. Those who mourn the losses of income, health, or even precious life, will find comfort in Jesus who came to save. Those who are meek in the Biblical sense of “serene and confident dependence
on God” will inherit the earth. Blessed are those moved to be merciful by the vast mercy of God. Blessed are the pure in heart who keep focus on the Lord, who alone ensures true peace.
Jesus won’t mislead his disciples. He acknowledges that those who adopt his vision will be persecuted, reviled, and gossiped about. Nevertheless, they can rejoice and be glad, for great will be their reward in heaven. C. S. Lewis underscored our need to grasp Jesus’ wider vision. He wrote:
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.
III People of God, I invite you to a humble walk with the Lord Jesus and his people. You don’t have to fully understand what Jesus is saying. Just follow him. You will be in good company.
The Apostle Paul reminded his friends in Corinth that not many of them were wise by human standards, ot many powerful or of noble birth. But God chose them through the wisdom of the cross to share a wonderful and eternal future. The world may boast of football victories, waving index fingers in the air.
Some may choose violence and arrogant words to achieve a kind of success and vision of life. But Jesus holds up another standard of measure. He invites us to walk humbly, to trust God as we act responsibly, with respect for self and others.
Conclusion On the Church calendar this week is a commemoration of Ansgar. I must admit I had to look up his name. Ansgar is not well-remembered. Who would want to answer a question about him on a TV show? Turns out Ansgar was a 9 th century monk, who didn’t accomplish that much in his lifetime, but he paved the way for the mission to Scandinavia, and came to be called “The Apostle of the North.” A pious disciple of Jesus, he was eager to explore new lands and organize the church. From his base
in Hamburg, Germany, Ansgar preached and developed missions, but in 845 A.D. the Vikings destroyed most of what he had accomplished. Yet three centuries later, God’s Word swept into Scandinavia, and Ansgar was remembered.
Who knows how the Lord will use us in small or large ways, as we follow the vision of the Beatitudes and Micah’s summary of good living? Don’t worry about results! Do justice. Love kindness. WALK HUMBLY.