Monday, January 31

Sermon 4th Sunday after Epiphany

Micah 6:1-8
Psalm 15
Matthew 5:1-12

As I read these passages this week one word remained in my mind, humility. Of course the word appears in the Micah text. Yet in various ways both Paul, in Corinthians, and Jesus, with this passage called the Beatitudes, are speaking about humility. However, I wish to be careful. I do not want to extend a discourse that has been used to keep certain people in their place. In some sense the language of humility can and has been used as exclusively for the other. Others are to humbly submit. In this discourse there is a subtle but key distortion of the Biblical language of humility. I will begin by addressing this distortion, that is addressing myself as one privileged in our society, as one who is generally not exhorted to be humble, that is as white and male.
Micah addresses quite directly this distortion. God brings charges against Israel, that is the representatives of Israel. Read the powerful the privileged, those in positions of authority, to those of us who White those of us who have a high level of education even if in some ways we may also be members of less privileged classes. I hear God say to us there is a case against us the white European Christians, to the powerful and those who benefit from the powerful. God comes and has a case against us.
Perhaps we say okay God (as the representative of Israel does) your right, what do I need to do. Do I need to give away more of my money, do I go on protests, do I demand that the government support higher standards of morality and responsibility from the Poor. Do I get arrested for a cause, do I take my family to a war zone and put them in harms way?
These are not exactly analogous to the list in Micah, since the spokesperson for Israel speaks the abominable to God human sacrifice. Though, perhaps he is remembering the binding of Isaac, and Abraham’s radical obedience. So perhaps this representative of Israel is simply asking what radical sacrifice will make him right with God.
In the face of what is so often clearly the failure of the church to witness to Christ and the Gospel we too run about asking God what do I do; is it this, or this or maybe it’s advocating for this or that, and we will argue amongst ourselves Liberal conservative, traditionalist/progressive. We all are very actively trying to repair what we have so clearly messed up.
Yet God in his chaotic courtroom seeks silence, pounding his gavel trying to get our attention. “Hold on you don’t need to ask questions you don’t need to run around and argue amongst yourselves. You already know what it is I require. This ain’t a secret folks. I have said it all long. What I require is to do justice to love hesed (mercy/kindness) and to walk humbly with your God. That is it, no sacrifice, no placing you and your family in harms way, no set of programs, social or moral. You the privileged and powerful be just in your dealings do what is just, love mercy/kindness. Walk with me as your God. Be humble submit to my ways and me.” Granted the sacrifices and other things will follow from this but it must begin with admitting that all comes from God your power your privilege your identity has its origin in God. Live according to that truth.
In essence to do justice and to love kindness and to be humble before God are the same thing. If we all lived this way in the Church in our nations political life, if we lived this way in every encounter with the homeless, with confronting corruption and immorality in our neighborhoods city and country, what the world would be like?
Jesus envisioned such a world. Now I should warn you Jesus in the passage before us isn’t talking to the privileged though I think Mathew’s take on Jesus’ words here does attempt to broaden their application.
Jesus places in front of us the radical release of the will and self-assertion. All of these are about the release of the grasping after our own self-identity.
This causes some discomfort especially when Mathew account is compared to Luke's. Matthew some argue is spiritualizing, and undermining Jesus’ preferential option for the poor. Matthew it can be argued leaves us without means to resist oppression and in fact hands the oppressor the very tools he needs to “Christianize” his oppression. I agree that a certain reading of Matthew’s beatitudes has been used for the perpetuation of oppression. Yet, what is not taken into account that if God has a “preferential option for the poor” it is because God is radically opposed to the ways of the World, its Powers and its structures and speech of power. For the powerful there is no such thing as a good poverty, except in the other. Mercy and meekness are weakness. Righteousness is the right to do as one pleases; one is pure of heart if one deals fairly with those with whom one does business. If you are treated unfairly you sue, or retaliate in some form. The world interprets the Beatitudes in terms of self-interest. Yet, The beatitudes are directed away from the self. The radical reality of this is that if oppressor and oppressed each practiced these virtues toward the other, there could be no exploitation no wealth created on the backs of day laborers, slaves, migrant workers, no violent revolution, no cycle of violence. People who exhibit these traits are blessed because in the practice of these virtues the Kingdom of God is manifest. The reversal comes in the practice of poverty, of morning, of hungering, of peacemaking, of not seeking to self identify. This is brought home in the last beatitude Christ does not tell us his disciples that we are blessed if we are persecuted for our own identity, for being this or that for being alternative or for the poor or for democracy, or whatever other way the world seeks to have us identify but If persecuted because of our identity with Jesus for the name of Christ. If you walk humbly with Christ bearing his name, abandoning all other identities if for that one identity you are persecuted, great is your reward.
In a sense one might say that the beatitudes are simply a commentary on our Micah passage. Taken together with Micah what this passage says to the powerful is not “tell the poor and weak” to humbly submit to your will and do as they told, but to let go of power, to seek the good of the other. To the poor and the oppressed Jesus offers a way of righteous resistance that refuses the oppressors language of power and control and identity. For the violence to end both sides must relinquish self. Jesus isn’t sanguine here. He knows where these virtues will lead his flock, to the cross: to persecution and slander. Jesus doesn’t deny the reality of the Worlds power and violence. He does claim that the solution is never the grasping of power or the rejection of humility even if the World humiliates.
According to Jesus if we resist the world if we turn aside from its injustice we do not do so in order to assert our selves and our identities. The Worlds solution to oppression is precisely this terrain of competing identities in an arena of controlled violence, where there are winners and losers. We are then to argue over whether the loser’s loose because of the system or their own fault, and to what degree does the Government need to protect the losers from the winners.
Paul proclaims that this worldly wisdom is confounded by the logic of the Cross. If Mathew’s beatitudes seem a bit like pie in the ski and Micah’s presentation of God’s word to the powerful as wishful thinking, Paul gives us the solution, the basis of what Mathew and Micah present to us as God’s word.
My brother’s and sister’s the good news of Jesus Christ is the Cross. God’s wisdom is found in Christ’s life as the way to the Cross. God comes to a backwater part of the world lives out life as a human being and submits to brutal capital punishment. All, poor, rich, White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Third, World, First World, homosexual, heterosexual, gay, straight, male female… I could list out the identities out infinitely, end up here before the Cross. We all end up before the Crucified one who is God’s Son the Word the Second person of the triune God. We face God’s own self, given for each one of us.
It is all consummated in the Lord’s Supper, Communion, the Eucharist. This, what we do here, what Christians have done for two thousand years and it is foolishness to the World. We are judged when we as Christians fail to recognize this and then seek to live into the wisdom of the world and its identities, its dynamics of power, and its rejection of humility.
The way of God, in which we are to humbly walk is the way of the Cross. The way of the Cross is the beatitudes: a leaving ourselves aside for others and the Other, God. Christ’s teachings, the preferential option for the poor, the ethical demands of Jesus, and the law and the prophets are all without power separated from the way of the Cross. All our sacrifices all our endeavors even if seemingly wise and good to the World are foolishness to God if we have not first submitted to the way of the Cross, giving up ourselves, our privilege or our right to self-identify or both. This is the wisdom of God though it is foolishness to our culture and its politics of power and right. Without the Cross, we are alone each one of us looking out for our own rights. Or we are seeking to give access to others the privileges we have but which have been gained by violence.
At the Cross God takes up humanity in God’s arms and says hush. Stop, here is the truth of your existence stop all your striving. Stop, it is so simple here is all that I require; to stand and identify with me at the point that I give you everything and I take on all your failures all your alienation all your self-exultation. This is God, Crucified as a common Criminal for you. This is love. This is truth. This is power. This is wisdom. All else is nothingness. Here all truth is spoken, the law and the prophets fulfilled, the proclamation of the apostles the Good news of Jesus Christ of the Kingdom of God is summed up, all is said. There is nothing else. Shh, be still.