Sunday, January 29, 2017
Epiphany 4: Matthew 5:1-12
Rev. Jenny Shultz-Thomas
In this Epiphany season we have been journeying alongside Jesus as his ministry begins on Earth; birthed by the Spirt of whom God says, “She will descend upon and remain with Jesus”. Witness to this holy baptism, this christening with light into a world where domination and political corruption were codependent, we are entreated by this Rabbi, to Come and see, to follow, to sit with a while, to taste the freshness of transformational life. Not unlike these early followers, Once we ourselves are caught by the net of incriminating love we not only keep coming back for more; hook in mouth, we look for ways to keep fishing, to widen our cast, to continually re-define what it means to catch or be caught…to live in this rogue fisherman’s world, to keep telling the story.
This morning, as we bear witness to this mountaintop experience of a Holy Teacher with his students crowded around, it would be easy to paint the stars above someone else’s night sky, one cliche after another; it would be even easier to denounce what is and forget what is more than possible, bereft of dreaming and curating, cultivating and depositing; time, energy, love, tears, and endless courage.
You have read the headlines, the fine print, heard story after story, some of you from personal friends or family members of the hate, the harm, the willful and calculated evil actions taken towards thousands of people, friends of this country, who in the name of nationalism, protecting our sovereign land from the evils of terrorism, The President has all but shown the inverse of what Jesus is describing here— a truth so upside down for us today that all we can do is stop, come together and imagine a better way.
As we STOP, I pray that we might hear the echoes of Jesus’ uttered blessings as hopeful participation in the DREAM, a DREAM that will take each one of us to realize, and that today we might join in the dreaming.
As human as the crafted ego upon which Jesus’ offerings are perched, as sacred as the eyes of the gathered ones sat circled around him; Jesus-imagined out loud, each word a boxed sorrow, each Blessing a crafted and faith-filled destination, a world upon which ours depends. There on that hill, with his new followers and friends, one by one peering out over the hillside and back into the faces of those who’d been caught, caught from the belly of their beastly souls, they dreamed of what this call to transformational living might actually look like?
Of this Beatitude text, Theologian Mark Allan Powell suggests that these stanzas are to be "interpreted as promising eschatological reversals to those who are unfortunate. Theologically, then the point of the beatitudes is not to offer 'entrance requirements for the kingdom of heaven' but to describe the nature of God's rule, which characterizes the kingdom of heaven, the Beloved Community.” (Monson, Glen, Law and Gospel Everywhere: Two Types of Blessedness, Jan. 1, 1970)
In offering these mountaintop blessings; Jesus is in complete opposition to the law of the land; suggesting already an intentional pathway of otherness, a highway made plain by what has been made low, by who is cast out, one immigrant and refugee after another, by crafting from the resistance an offensive strategy; he flees the crowd, grabs his trusted few, and takes to lofty HOPES and DREAMS.
With brush in hand, Jesus is illustrating with blended and bold colors, some soft as if a whisper, others fashioned by the righteous anger heard in the Prophet Micah’s tone. Yet, a fully anticipated and complete picture of what we can expect of this, our Beloved Community, emerges.
I think of these blessings then as a kind of map; not a roadmap that will take us where we need to go, but rather a map that when visiting a new city, I love to read: a colorful map of the city center with pictures and icons that illustrate and point out important historical landmarks, that place encircling golden stars around significant buildings, subway stops, bridges or ticket offices; so that you will recognize them when you see them. This kind of map illuminates the journey, but even more so the destination, so that there is no question about what it is you are journeying towards. The landmarks are keenly marked, bedazzled with bright colors, the names are stamped in bold ink, and there is a clear pathway paved for your journey and on some maps there are even little footsteps strategically placed as a guide for pointing the way.
Whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not, we have been called into this story, placed strategically on the map, written into the main plot, both explicitly as followers grazing upon the shoreline, and in-explicitly as fish in a sea that is raging and thrashing around us, quite literally as the temperatures continue to rise. As I hear Jesus words, coupled with the Prophet’s sense of urgency, calling the people to an inside-out way of living, to accountability, to repentance, to a counterintuitive lifestyle, contrary to the prosperity gospel of the day, and quite possibly a death sentence for some, I hear this call as deeply rooted in “covenantal” relationship..not unlike that which was birthed on that first night; as Jesus, John, and Andrew talked, laughed, and shared by candlelight—Souls inexplicably bound by love and its power to transform.
The prophet Micah depicts a courtroom, calling on the mountains and the valleys as witnesses to the ancient Israelites betrayal of the YHWH of their deliverance. Saying, “Rise, and plead your case…and Answer Me! O my people, what have I done to you?” This call to covenantal relationship which is the backdrop whereupon Jesus has called his first disciples to transformational living, is a reminder of just how important this connection to our Creator God, the Spirit within and with us is. Who else can stand three inches from your face and call you to “order," to “accountability” — stating, I carried you, I delivered you, and it almost killed me! Answer me, now!
You see, #theworldwewant, the world where the kin-dom of Heaven belongs to the poor in spirit, where peacemakers will be called children of God, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be filled, demands an accounting for, our accounting.
Award winning filmmaker, civil rights advocate, and interfaith leader and storyteller Valerie Kaur reminds us of this accountability to which we will all be held saying, “As I said in a recent speech alongside Dr. William Barber: What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb? What if our nation is not dead but a country still waiting to be born? What if the story of America is one long labor? The midwife asks us to breathe and push. Because if we don’t push we will die.
If we don’t push now, our nation will die. So let us take one another’s hand
and push together.” (Kaur, Valerie: Groundswell Movement: The Time for Civil Disobedience has come. January 2017)
Carl Jung famously said, ”The most important question anyone can ask is: What myth am I living?" (Keen, Sam: Thinking out Loud Workshop: thesamkeen.wordpress.com. October 28, 2009)
Friends, we are only living a myth if we limit ourselves in this life; if we short sight our own place in the world as transforming fishers of people. We are called to action: to creating, nurturing, curating the womb, laboring towards the birth of this Holy destination, a lived and experienced Beloved Community of which Jesus spoke so plainly.
Isn’t it a wonder that the sermon for which Jesus is most known and holds the most authority in historical as well as contemporary spaces depicts a world unknown to us all; depicts a world wherein to be realized would mean the complete obliteration of this one, the one we know, the one we are chained to yet of which we are too afraid to let go.
At times such as these when “forsaken” feels like a generous depiction of how many of us feel as our country seems to have become inundated with infantilism at the highest level; we can depend on our story to help lead the way. Will it lead us to war? Will it lead to the largest demonstrations of civil-disobedience this nation has ever known? Will it lead us to life?
Since the Inauguration, there has been a cascade of executive orders that threaten the safety and lives of hundreds of thousands of people – refugees, immigrants, Muslims, the indigenous, Black people, and all working people in need of healthcare.
Lest I forget how I heard God’s words in these words this week, and become derailed by the false encroaching fear-fed narrative, I want to invite you to join me in dreaming into being #theworldwewant. Just as Jesus did, with friends, upon a hill-top. A world where those for whom the world we know has little to offer.
This is atypical of our Sunday morning experience, but as we come together as a community of faith, as a group of individuals each part of this shared worshipping life I feel strongly that our response to God, our worship, should include our deepest yearnings, most buried fears, and present anxieties about what is and what is to come. I also believe that if we are to labour together as if preparing to push our way into existence, to push for life in the face of death, to push to survive, to push to thrive, we must be able to articulate #theworldwewant.
I want to give you the opportunity to both share your fears and concerns as well as your deepest longings and hopes for this faith community, for our larger community and for our nation and world.
Doug is going to play some music for us as we gather around with those closest to us in our pews, forming groups of 4-6.
During the next 5 minutes you are invited to share with one another what has surfaced for you this morning or over these last few days and weeks. At the end of your pews there will be a piece of paper and a pen upon which you will be invited to either illustrate with a drawing, describe with a word, phrase or sentence what emerged during your group sharing.
To help get you started I will invite you to respond to 2 questions:
1. What is #theworldwewant? What does it look and feel like?
2. What is our role as the faith community in laboring, in birthing this Beloved Community?
As you speak you may want to begin with sharing a fear or deep longing that then spurs you to action, to HOPE, to BELIEF that #theworldwewant is within our reach.
At the close of the 5 minutes I will ask you bring your conversations to a close and that you use your pen and paper to tell the rest of us what you shared, via image or words, and then I will offer a brief closing prayer.
Before you close you can decide as a group if you would like to (anonymously) offer up your fears, hope and dreams by dropping them in the offering plates as they pass by. If so, I will make sure that we collect these offerings and share them via our community blog.
Let us enter this time of sharing and dreaming.
O Holy One, who longs for this world to be, the world we all want, the world we all need, the world we were created to experience, Receive the deepest grievances, fears, worries, and longings of our hearts; receive our intercession as living prayer for those most affected by the latest decisions of our nation’s leaders and build a wall around them, a wall of protection, of comfort, of deep knowing, of all-consuming love that alone can penetrate even the most vile and malicious of actions taken against them. Guide us now as we seek to listen for how you are calling us to participate in living into being the Beloved Community; draw us to accountability, to action and to steadfastness as we take one step closer to #theworldwewant.
May the Spirit lead the way, Amen.