Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Again, I want to commend those of you who have agreed to serve in a leadership role in the church this year and following. Make no mistake about it: this is an important decision, especially during these times. I sit in meetings and I know that you care. It requires the gift of your time, your talents and expertise, your treasure, and your support and goodwill. Leaders lead and take that responsibility seriously.
When it comes to the church, the pastor is only as good as the people willing to follow and work with him or her; people who have the same goal and dreams in mind, even if they disagree on how to get there. Because if we have the same goal, the same desire for the same outcomes, we can find a way to get things done, and it’s something that I never take for granted.
It takes something to think and act on behalf of others as we journey into the unknown, not knowing what might happen, where the church is going to end up, who will cross the threshold of our doors, or ow the world will change. It is a courageous responsibility to be able to step outside of one’s self, one’s own viewpoint and perspective, or that of a small group and represent the wider body for the greater good.
Good leaders take into account the long view. They know that decisions made in the present can have a long time impact that takes years and years to unravel or years and years of good to build upon. They want others coming behind them to have a fair shot and speak for those here and now but also for those to come. It’s not something to take likely. We plant seeds knowing full well that time and circumstance may take any of us elsewhere, and we may not see the harvest, but it’s okay.
It occurs to me that what is most lacking in our world today is thoughtful leadership – ethical, moral, compassionate, and committed leaders who care about people. And it’s not about being perfect; it’s about caring with the long view and the broad view in mind.
So I am grateful to you and excited about what we might be able to accomplish together for this season along with all the members and friends gathered in this place. And I hope we can honor the vows spoken here to support one another with prayers and good will, and a spirit of understanding, love, peace, and unity. May it be so.
Our gospel lesson this morning that Gemma read so beautifully is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew tells us that great crowds had begun to follow. Jesus had healed the sick and cured their diseases. He was going about in their synagogues preaching a message of good news, hope, and change. Oh, how we need that today.
His words were revolutionary and counter-cultural in almost every way. Jesus speaks not to the powerful or the elite or those with impeccable faith or credentials. No, he speaks to and of the most vulnerable; the peasants and fishermen, the parts of ourselves and of others that we would most rather ignore, hide, be in denial about.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. Well my goodness, who wants to be poor in spirit? We hate it, don’t we? How dare Jesus call that blessed!
Blessed are they who mourn. Really?
Blessed are the meek. We know what happens to the meek. We must be strong and assertive or pretend if we are not.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—but only to a point.
Blessed are the merciful.
Blessed are the peacemakers. Wow. Peacemakers. When we have in our hand weapons of lies and gossip ready to be distributed, and half-truths, alternative facts, and mediums to get the word out quickly: blessed are the peacemakers.
But then, Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be glad,” Jesus tells the crowd, “for your reward is great in heaven, for that is how they persecuted those before you.”
There seems to be hardly any salvific purpose in such things. We kick and scream and say, “Not me Lord! This is not the mark of a happy life!” And yet Jesus points it out as having meaning and purpose.
We fear this kind of stripping away, these points of vulnerability. We fear it most of all because we know how people are, don’t we? We know what it’s like to be so vulnerable or we can imagine and having to depend on the mercy of others; surely there appears to be nothing of salvific power in it at all.
But what if they really do have their purpose? And don’t get me wrong, I hate it as much as anybody. But what if there is something to be learned from it all? Because how else can we know? How would we know what’s really worth fighting for?
If you have never been poor in spirit; never lost your way somehow. If you’ve never been overwhelmed and burdened by life – job worries or illness; financial woes – never overcome with the pressure of looking for a decent place to live or how to take care of your family. If you have never been weighed down with grief over the loss of a loved one, never been poor in spirit— you won’t know fully what it’s like. You may not be able to put yourself in the shoes of someone who is going through. It might be easy to turn your back and walk away.
If you have never been denied something or received less than you deserved – just because. Never got equal pay; never had doors slam in your face – just because of the way you look or how you spoke or what you believed. You were denied while others were privileged – just because – and you long for righteousness; you hungered for somebody to take a stand on your behalf; to cry aloud and say something. Or perhaps they did and you remember what that was like and now you know what you must do. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.
In those moments of weakness and vulnerability, we learn what to do. We learn who we are and what we are made of. We discover what we really believe. We learn about God and faith. I suspect most of us came to God in the first place out of some place of vulnerability. When things weren’t going right, we found our way.
We learned about the church; who is truly welcome and who our real friends are. We learn that it’s ok to not have to depend on ourselves all the time. We can let people help us and love us. We learn that it’s alright to make a mistake or two, for grace prevails—or it should. Somehow we learn that there are people willing to walk with us. It’s not all bad. We learn that it’s ok and that everything is going to be ok.
Jesus was calling them and us into a new reality. Into the kingdom of God now and coming.
Our work is to be blessed and to bless. To change the narratives of people’s lives. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. May it be so.