February 2, 2014

02/02/2014

 
Picture
Epiphany 4
Micah 6: 1-8
Matthew 5: 1-12

Years ago I was preaching a sermon and I was trying to get my congregation to respond to me.   You are familiar with the style of sermon because I do it from time to time.   I ask questions, I invite responses; we go back and forth. 
Well this one time I started my sermon off with a question and there was immediate silence.   Then this one member of the congregation piped up and said, “Is that a RHETORICAL QUESTION?”  He stopped me in my tracks. 

Is that a rhetorical question?  First of all, what is a rhetorical question?                                    
A rhetorical question is a figure of speech, formed in a question that is designed to make a point.   It is not designed to get a response or an opinion, it is simply meant to encourage the listener to acknowledge, or to draw someone into a discussion.   Often it is spoken in order to hammer home a point.  

A common example is the question, "Can't you do anything right?"   This question, when posed, is intended not to ask about the listener's abilities, but rather to suggest a lack of ability.

Today, in the Old Testament reading from Micah, the prophet Micah asks a rhetorical question on behalf of God.

Rather than re-read the lesson from Micah, it might help to paraphrase. 

In Micah 6, the prophet Micah begins by quoting God; God has a problem because Israel and God are in “controversy.”   God starts out by asking, “What’s going on around here?”  And God wants an answer and God wants it NOW!

BEFORE Israel can answer God, God provides a little history lesson, reminding the people of Israel of all God has done for them.   God recalls the “saving acts of God” on Israel’s behalf which includes:   the exodus from slavery in Egypt; the leadership of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam; the deliverance from the Moabite King Balak through the agency of Balaam as the people made their way through the wilderness; and the move into the promised land itself.                          

The purpose of listing these “saving acts,” is stated clearly:   “that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”  Such divine actions are “saving,” for God has brought life, health, and well-being to individuals and community. The people are to “remember” so that they might “know,” that is, that they might come to a fuller realization of what God has done and then respond appropriately.  

Given all that God has done for them, God wonders why they are complaining, why they are constantly sinning and disobeying God.   What is going on here?   What are you people doing?                                                                                                                                                  
The people of Israel seem to understand that God has a problem with them, so they wonder how they can get into God’s “GOOD BOOKS.”

So, HOW do you get into God’s “good books?”   The first reaction is that they simply need to get better at what they do.  They wonder if they should improve their worship services.   Maybe if they sang better songs and sacrificed more animals in church, God would be pleased with them. 

Finally, Israel asks, Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"  

The willingness to consider child sacrifices suggests that Israel understands the urgency of God’s problem and frustration with them. 

But the prophet Micah tells us that God does not want better worship, nor the sacrifice or dedication of Israel’s firstborn.   Instead, Micah quotes God.   God responds with a rhetorical question.   Micah says, 

“God 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?

What DOES God want from Israel?  The rhetorical question says it all.   What God wants, is clear:  to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with “your” God.                         

What does the Lord require of you, you who have been “saved” by God?   God does not need actions which might make you think that you will earn your way into God’s “good books.”  Given the saving acts of God, there can be no argument; what God WANTS, is justice.   

If God wants justice, then we have to understand what that justice means.  A very simple and brief definition is this:   Justice means sharing what God has provided us with any who are in need.                                                                                                                                                            
Justice is an orientation and awareness of both neighbor and God.   In effect, give yourself on behalf of others, particularly those who are needy, by sharing that which God has given, that which God desires for everyone.  In order to do justice, we need to walk humbly with God, listening to the direction of God, journeying with God and inviting others to join us on that journey of caring and sharing. 

That orientation, that journey, is advocated by Jesus throughout the gospels; and no less in today’s reading from Matthew, famously known as the Beatitudes.   The justice of God, advocated by Jesus, is an orientation towards "mercy."                                                                                     

Twice in Matthew, Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6:   "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."                         

In the first of these, he illustrates mercy as being a physician to those who are sick. It is spoken in the context of eating with sinners and tax collectors. In the second instance, the context is feeding those who are hungry.                                                                                                                        


For Jesus, being just means being merciful.  In a basic sense, then, "the merciful" are healers, people who seek to put right that which has gone wrong. They want to change everything that prevents life from being as God intends.  That means reversing things like poverty, ostracism, hunger, disease, demons, debt.                                                                                     


The blessing pronounced on the merciful is that they will receive mercy, they will see mercy prevail.   They will receive mercy not only for themselves but also for those on whose behalf they have sought mercy.   The advent of God's kingdom is a blessing to those who value mercy, because God also values mercy and, when God rules, what God values will become reality.                                                                                                                                                             
In God’s justice, the merciful are “peacemakers.”  The peacemakers whom Jesus pronounces blessed, are best regarded as agents of God who are actively establishing shalom, God’s peace.  Or, as Biblical scholar, Jack Kingsbury says, they are "those who work for the wholeness and well-being that God wills for a broken world."                                                            

Or, more specifically, "peacemaking" is not a passive attitude, but exerting positive actions for reconciliation. In general, "peace" in the New Testament refers to the relationship between people.                                                                                                                                    


In the fourth beatitude, it was God's activity to bring about a just world.   Here, it is our human activity to participate in what God is doing.   The virtue being promoted is commitment.        

Those who show mercy and those who work to establish God's shalom are examples of people committed to righteousness and if these people are pure in heart, then their commitment will not falter in the face of persecution.   In every case, the people described by these beatitudes are virtuous.   They display qualities that reflect God’s justice; they reflect qualities that ideally, all people should display.                                                                                                                           
When God's kingdom comes and God's will is done, no one will have to be poor in spirit, mourn, be meek, or hunger and thirst for righteousness/justice, but everyone who is ruled by God and does God's will IS merciful, pure in heart, committed to peacemaking, and willing to suffer for the sake of righteousness/justice.                                                                                                            


Jesus’ remedy for a hurting world is mercy, purity in heart, peacemaking, suffering.  Justice.  And then…. Jesus changes the tone; now the teachings of Jesus come home to roost.  It is now about me and how I respond.  

Jesus says:  Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.     

Oh, oh.  

The sudden shift to "you" might have been shocking to the disciples and other followers.   Up until now in the gospel, the disciples have neither been the unfortunate in need of the reversal brought about by God’s kingdom, nor the virtuous waiting for their heavenly reward.   They just followed Jesus, but sort of standing on the sidelines, watching the activities, listening to Jesus.   They have been hearing about those other poor and virtuous souls and the blessings pronounced on them.                         
Suddenly the word you involves the hearers; the disciples of Jesus are now in the mix.  Suddenly Jesus' words aren't about those other people any more but the disciples, about me.  Why would you or me be reviled and persecuted and lied about?   Because you are committed to righteousness and because of this commitment, you will end up standing beside those lacking righteousness, those who are being unjustly persecuted. 

Suddenly, WE are on the firing line.  

The rhetorical question asked by the prophet Micah, the qualities of God’s justice, the encouragement of Jesus, put US on the firing line.                                                                                                
Yikes!  Like the disciples of Jesus we might wonder if we don’t have enough to do.   After all we have boats to keep afloat, nets to mend, families to feed….. and God wants justice?  And Jesus wants us to be blessed people?  

Yes.   God wants justice, Jesus wants blessedness because the God we meet through Jesus, wants us to know and to appreciate and enjoy the wonderful gifts God has given us.   

We have received the saving acts of God.  Jesus understands the blessedness and the joy of living in the warmth of those saving acts.  The prophet Micah asks the rhetorical question.   

And with all of that, we and all whom we meet, are gifted with a life of meaning, purpose and pure joy.  That is what God wants.  

Amen.  


Epiphany 4
Micah 6: 1-8
Matthew 5: 1-12

Years ago I was preaching a sermon and I was trying to get my congregation to respond to me.   You are familiar with the style of sermon because I do it from time to time.   I ask questions, I invite responses; we go back and forth. 
Well this one time I started my sermon off with a question and there was immediate silence.   Then this one member of the congregation piped up and said, “Is that a RHETORICAL QUESTION?”  He stopped me in my tracks.

Is that a rhetorical question?  First of all, what is a rhetorical question?                                    
A rhetorical question is a figure of speech, formed in a question that is designed to make a point.   It is not designed to get a response or an opinion, it is simply meant to encourage the listener to acknowledge, or to draw someone into a discussion.   Often it is spoken in order to hammer home a point. 

A common example is the question, "Can't you do anything right?"   This question, when posed, is intended not to ask about the listener's abilities, but rather to suggest a lack of ability.

Today, in the Old Testament reading from Micah, the prophet Micah asks a rhetorical question on behalf of God.

Rather than re-read the lesson from Micah, it might help to paraphrase.

In Micah 6, the prophet Micah begins by quoting God; God has a problem because Israel and God are in “controversy.”   God starts out by asking, “What’s going on around here?”  And God wants an answer and God wants it NOW!

BEFORE Israel can answer God, God provides a little history lesson, reminding the people of Israel of all God has done for them.   God recalls the “saving acts of God” on Israel’s behalf which includes:   the exodus from slavery in Egypt; the leadership of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam; the deliverance from the Moabite King Balak through the agency of Balaam as the people made their way through the wilderness; and the move into the promised land itself.                          

The purpose of listing these “saving acts,” is stated clearly:   “that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”  Such divine actions are “saving,” for God has brought life, health, and well-being to individuals and community. The people are to “remember” so that they might “know,” that is, that they might come to a fuller realization of what God has done and then respond appropriately. 

Given all that God has done for them, God wonders why they are complaining, why they are constantly sinning and disobeying God.   What is going on here?   What are you people doing?                                                                                                                                                  
The people of Israel seem to understand that God has a problem with them, so they wonder how they can get into God’s “GOOD BOOKS.”

So, HOW do you get into God’s “good books?”   The first reaction is that they simply need to get better at what they do.  They wonder if they should improve their worship services.   Maybe if they sang better songs and sacrificed more animals in church, God would be pleased with them.

Finally, Israel asks, Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"  

The willingness to consider child sacrifices suggests that Israel understands the urgency of God’s problem and frustration with them.

But the prophet Micah tells us that God does not want better worship, nor the sacrifice or dedication of Israel’s firstborn.   Instead, Micah quotes God.   God responds with a rhetorical question.   Micah says,

“God 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?

What DOES God want from Israel?  The rhetorical question says it all.   What God wants, is clear:  to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with “your” God.                         

What does the Lord require of you, you who have been “saved” by God?   God does not need actions which might make you think that you will earn your way into God’s “good books.”  Given the saving acts of God, there can be no argument; what God WANTS, is justice.  

If God wants justice, then we have to understand what that justice means.  A very simple and brief definition is this:   Justice means sharing what God has provided us with any who are in need.                                                                                                                                                            
Justice is an orientation and awareness of both neighbor and God.   In effect, give yourself on behalf of others, particularly those who are needy, by sharing that which God has given, that which God desires for everyone.  In order to do justice, we need to walk humbly with God, listening to the direction of God, journeying with God and inviting others to join us on that journey of caring and sharing. 

That orientation, that journey, is advocated by Jesus throughout the gospels; and no less in today’s reading from Matthew, famously known as the Beatitudes.   The justice of God, advocated by Jesus, is an orientation towards "mercy."                                                                                     

Twice in Matthew, Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6:   "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."                         

In the first of these, he illustrates mercy as being a physician to those who are sick. It is spoken in the context of eating with sinners and tax collectors. In the second instance, the context is feeding those who are hungry.                                                                                                                        
For Jesus, being just means being merciful.  In a basic sense, then, "the merciful" are healers, people who seek to put right that which has gone wrong. They want to change everything that prevents life from being as God intends.  That means reversing things like poverty, ostracism, hunger, disease, demons, debt.                                                                                     
The blessing pronounced on the merciful is that they will receive mercy, they will see mercy prevail.   They will receive mercy not only for themselves but also for those on whose behalf they have sought mercy.   The advent of God's kingdom is a blessing to those who value mercy, because God also values mercy and, when God rules, what God values will become reality.                                                                                                                                                             
In God’s justice, the merciful are “peacemakers.”  The peacemakers whom Jesus pronounces blessed, are best regarded as agents of God who are actively establishing shalom, God’s peace.  Or, as Biblical scholar, Jack Kingsbury says, they are "those who work for the wholeness and well-being that God wills for a broken world."                                                            

Or, more specifically, "peacemaking" is not a passive attitude, but exerting positive actions for reconciliation. In general, "peace" in the New Testament refers to the relationship between people.                                                                                                                                   
In the fourth beatitude, it was God's activity to bring about a just world.   Here, it is our human activity to participate in what God is doing.   The virtue being promoted is commitment.       

Those who show mercy and those who work to establish God's shalom are examples of people committed to righteousness and if these people are pure in heart, then their commitment will not falter in the face of persecution.   In every case, the people described by these beatitudes are virtuous.   They display qualities that reflect God’s justice; they reflect qualities that ideally, all people should display.                                                                                                                           
When God's kingdom comes and God's will is done, no one will have to be poor in spirit, mourn, be meek, or hunger and thirst for righteousness/justice, but everyone who is ruled by God and does God's will IS merciful, pure in heart, committed to peacemaking, and willing to suffer for the sake of righteousness/justice.                                                                                                           
Jesus’ remedy for a hurting world is mercy, purity in heart, peacemaking, suffering.  Justice.  And then…. Jesus changes the tone; now the teachings of Jesus come home to roost.  It is now about me and how I respond. 

Jesus says:  Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.    

Oh, oh. 

The sudden shift to "you" might have been shocking to the disciples and other followers.   Up until now in the gospel, the disciples have neither been the unfortunate in need of the reversal brought about by God’s kingdom, nor the virtuous waiting for their heavenly reward.   They just followed Jesus, but sort of standing on the sidelines, watching the activities, listening to Jesus.   They have been hearing about those other poor and virtuous souls and the blessings pronounced on them.                         

Suddenly the word you involves the hearers; the disciples of Jesus are now in the mix.  Suddenly Jesus' words aren't about those other people any more but the disciples, about me.  Why would you or me be reviled and persecuted and lied about?   Because you are committed to righteousness and because of this commitment, you will end up standing beside those lacking righteousness, those who are being unjustly persecuted.

Suddenly, WE are on the firing line. 

The rhetorical question asked by the prophet Micah, the qualities of God’s justice, the encouragement of Jesus, put US on the firing line.                                                                                                

Yikes!  Like the disciples of Jesus we might wonder if we don’t have enough to do.   After all we have boats to keep afloat, nets to mend, families to feed….. and God wants justice?  And Jesus wants us to be blessed people? 

Yes.   God wants justice, Jesus wants blessedness because the God we meet through Jesus, wants us to know and to appreciate and enjoy the wonderful gifts God has given us.  

We have received the saving acts of God.  Jesus understands the blessedness and the joy of living in the warmth of those saving acts.  The prophet Micah asks the rhetorical question.  

And with all of that, we and all whom we meet, are gifted with a life of meaning, purpose and pure joy.  That is what God wants.  

Amen.