Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
29 January 2023
Sermon By: Rev. Dr. Robin A. Reed+
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Church of Pakistan (United)
Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Wales
All Saints’ Church, Lakeland
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
God’s Joy: Here and Now, Then and There.
Upon my first glance at this week’s lessons, I blurted out to Deacon Rose “How am I going to preach on all the Beatitudes?’ “You are not...” she calmly replied, because I am not, and I suspect no one else is willing to sit in church until 12:30 PM Sunday afternoon to hear you pontificate on all nine Beatitudes!”
The Beatitudes open Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, a series of sermons Jesus preaches to his disciples, and no doubt the growing crowd across a series of days, a Jesus’ Revival of sorts.
As we hear this morning, with imagery alluding to Moses and Mt. Sinai in the Book of Exodus, Jesus ascends a hillside near Capernaum to refocus people’s attention away from the law and meeting external conditions toward living in a new way, living inwardly from an obedient heart.
As you and I know, no one was, is, or ever will be able to meet those 613 Torah laws only Jesus was. When we focus on meeting external standards, as the Jewish people did in Torah law, and our worldly society does today a climate of competition and fear emerges in which people wrestle and step upon on another for more status and authority and a bigger bank accounts. The Beatitudes call us back to the Kingdom of Heaven already begun in our hearts to follow Jesus’s teachings, have a simple faith, let our heart lead our outward action. In doing so we continue to invite God to cleanse us of our sins, open our hearts and fill us with compassion until our hearts are completely converted in love to live fully in the Kingdom of Heaven when either we enter heaven or Christ comes again whichever is first.
In the Beatitudes Jesus appeals for us to stretch our typical dualistic thinking our limited perspectives which tend to oppress others and even ourselves creating dichotomies we know all too well, us and them, red and blue, haves and have nots.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus reminds us God, our lives, and our very selves are quite complex, we live in and between various tensions in a world filled with various shades of grey, a world of the paradox of YES AND.
As we grow spiritually, Jesus reminds us God invites us to live into the tension between the YES AND, to be reminded that blessings often harbor loss and loss often harbors blessings.
How many of you have experienced the blessing and joy of sending a child or grandchild off to school or to college or to join the military only to find yourself caught up in your fear at what might become of them or your sadness at their departure.
How many of you have lost a loved one only to discover in your deep sadness and loss, the blessed experience of being surrounded by loving friends and family and of course, many of your favorite casseroles.
The Beatitudes remind us of life’s tensions the paradox of YES... and... we live in. In our struggles to act like saints when we want to sin, listen for God’s voice when the worlds’ voices are so loud, experience God’s joy when the world’s sadness can be so deep. Jesus’s nine Beatitudes are actually exhortations with two common threads.
First of all as I am sure you noticed all the Beatitudes begin with the word Blessed or Makarios [me-kair-ious] in Greek which means fortunate or blessed. Makarios is God’s blessing, the joy God imprints on our hearts before we were born, the Holy Spirit re-kindles at our Baptism and God continues to gift us with as we listen to the Holy Spirit shift away from meeting the worlds’ wisdom, as St. Paul writes and turn toward God’s wisdom.
We receive God’s joy as we study God’s Holy Word, receive the Holy Sacraments
experience God’s mercy and grace in fellowship and intentionally seek and are grateful for Gods’ presence in creation and in our brothers and sister’s kindness.
The world’s joy or happiness as you know is fickle. Happiness depends upon the right external circumstances. How often has your worldly happiness faded quickly and easily with a change in the weather, your health or the relationship with family and friends.
The Blessing of God’s joy is permanent nothing that the world can take or even we ourselves can lose even though it feels from time to time we lose our connection to God’s joy within us.
Secondly all the Beatitudes begin in present tense, the here and now and move to God’s promises in the then and there, we live in the tension that God is filling us with joy in the midst of sorrow and the tension that God is here and will reveal God-self even more fully, deeply, broadly, and widely when the Kingdom of Heaven is fully realized. God’s gift to us, God’s joy will astound and amaze us. What we see now is not what we will get then.
Not only do the Beatitudes have two common themes but they are organized in three different sections. The first four Beatitudes address that Jesus meets our needs
and has called us to COME AND SEE, we who are poor in spirit, mourn, meek, and or hunger and thirst for righteousness are called to fill our cups with Jesus’ love, joy, and wisdom.
In response to being filled by Christ, the next three Beatitudes emphasize Jesus’s hope for his disciples: We who COME and SEE are instructed to GO and TELL, to the world tell of Christ’s love as peacemakers with mercy and pureness because Christ first transformed our hearts.
But, the last two Beatitudes speak to the reality of being Jesus’s disciples, we who COME AND SEE to GO AND TELL need to BE READY to face the opposition, oppression and evil in the world. Jesus blesses us, and all who proclaim His Gospel,
for our willingness to anchor our lives in His wisdom and to spread God’s word to all the nations and warns us at times, the way may be very challenging and costly.
The Good News is that just like the Ten Commandments the first Beatitude is the foundation from which all the Beatitudes emerge. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. If you embrace the first beatitude, the other eight will fall into place. Poor in spirit? What does that mean?
To be poor in spirit is to recognize who we truly are human beings limited and pleasure seeking who not only fall short the mark of God’s standards but also cannot make ourselves worthy. We cannot earn our way into heaven, we receive God’s message, mercy and grace. God longs to be at the center of our awareness and our hearts and for us to recognize with humility and admit all we have and all we are is through God’s gifts, mercy, and grace - we NEED God.
Our worldly wisdom tell us we will be happy and fulfilled as we earn, strive and gain more on our own which leads us away from God’s wisdom. God’s wisdom teaches us that security and lasting joy are not to be found in people, places, and things but rather in God.
God’s wisdom encourages us to invite God into our daily lives to journey with us and guide us, forgive our sins and open our eyes to the worlds’ complexity, live into the world’s and our own shades of grey, embrace the tension of YES AND NOW and NOT YET and to transform us to live inside out from the heart.
Over time God invites us to realize our own limitations, our own helplessness without God and learn to trust over time God’s promises of God’s presence, provision, and peace knowing that Jesus himself walked before us, living into the tension of being both human and divine showing us he could receive God’s love even in the most dire of situations.
Eugene Peterson translates in The Message about being poor in spirit.
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.
With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
Just as John the Baptist proclaimed several weeks ago in our lessons being poor in spirit means that there is less of me and more of HIM in my heart, I must decrease while he must increase.
This week I encourage you be aware of the tensions you are living in and the presence of God’s joy with you remember God is at work in your heart here and now and calls you to the realization of the Kingdom of Heaven then and there. Be humble, open your eyes and hearts to be filled with Jesus’ simple faith, hope, and compassion and let go so there is less of you and more of Him your heart.