31 January 2011

Epiphany 4 A

The Reverend Elliott Siteman Readings: Micah 6:8

St. Luke’s, Burlington Matthew 5:1-12

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

30 January 2011

(With the children)

What do you think of rules? Where do you have rules that you need to follow? What rules do you have at home, at school, with your friends?

What rules do you always follow? What rules do you wish you didn’t have to follow?

Why do you think rules are important?

Today we heard about some rules that God wants us to follow, and keep in our hearts.

Jesus had been teaching and healing a lot of people and he was getting tired. He decided to go away from the crowd by climbing a mountain. After a time his friends came to see how he was doing and they told him that the people have been wondering about the rules they should know if they were to follow him.

Jesus looked out and a whole bunch of people were sitting there, waiting for Jesus to tell them what to do. What are the rules? What should we do? Jesus thought about it and started to talk to his friends. Jesus told his friends to be good to each other. Jesus said being good to each other would make people blessed – which is another word for happy.

Jesus gathered some friends around him and started to tell them what God wanted them to do; they wanted to know the rules. What are they supposed to do? Jesus helped them understand what God wants them to be doing.

So tell me what things we you do when we are friends. What happens when two of us want to play with the same thing? What do we do when one of us is really sad? When we have a job to do, like, for instance, putting all the toys back in their box, how can we make it easier for all of us?

When we do these things then we are beginning to follow the rules that Jesus told us through his friends. And when we do these things then we become blessings to others.

Thanks, now I have to have a word with the older folk…



We all have them, we all follow them, and we all hate some of them – judging by the way some people drive in this part of the world, some people really hate some rules – yet, in the end, we all need them…

Rules, keep our lives orderly and civilized.

Today we hear about the rules we are to follow in this life if we are to be blessed. First a bit of a piece of translation: the word we hear today in Matthew’s Gospel we translate as “blessed” in the original Greek - μακάριοι (mak-ar'-ee-oi) - has more of a feeling of contentment with ones life, a sort of happiness that surpasses giggles and enters the realm of being at peace with yourself.

So, “contentedly happy are the poor in spirit; contentedly happy are they that mourn; contentedly happy are the peacemakers; contentedly happy are those who are reviled and persecuted.”

And in contemporary Greek this word goes even further, as currently this word means “blissful”.

Anyway, I’ve gotten ahead of myself here…

As I said, Jesus had just spent a lot of time and energy teaching and healing a huge crowd of people. They were all reaching out to him in their need and he gave of himself until he could give no more. So he escaped from them.

I know that the normal reading of this passage is to think that Jesus got up on a hill and preached to the crowd but when you read this passage a little more closely that is just not the case. Jesus went up a mountain to be refreshed and renewed.

The people he has just been with are hungry to be fed spiritual food. They are in need, with illness, poverty and full of fear. They are also hungry to know how they should live if they are to be rewarded by God.

They know the words of the prophet Micah who tells them “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” but they want to know HOW to do this… what RULES should govern them as they attempt this.

The crowds are probably becoming quite curious and start asking the disciples to tell them these rules. The disciples have no answers for them so they go up to Jesus, they seek him out.

Jesus gathers them together and then teaches them some very radical things.

The very people that they have been ministering to are the ones who are to be content, and who will be rewarded. The lowest of the low, the saddest of the sad, the outcast, the sick, the people who are so often overlooked – they are content, happy, blessed… blissful.

You can just see in your mind’s eye the reaction of the disciples as they hear these words for the first time. Their mouths would have hung open, their eyes would have bulged out of their sockets, and they would have been left speechless.

Jesus is saying to them that when you are at your lowest point in life it is then that you are blessed, you are content, you are happy, you are – dare I say it – blissful and through that you will receive great rewards.

Jesus says “blessed ARE the poor in spirit; blessed ARE those who mourn; blessed ARE the meek.” He does not say “blessed will be…” No! Jesus is saying something much more astonishing here. He is saying that for those of us who consider ourselves blessed by power, wealth, position, or what have you, we are the ones who need to take a long hard look at what it really means to “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”.

For what we also miss many times in this Gospel reading is that Jesus only tells these rules to the disciples, this “sermon on the mount” is a sermon for 12. After he tells them he would then mandate them to go and teach the crowds of people who have gathered seeking the rules they should follow.

So what does all this have to do with us? What do we do with all this here at St. Luke’s, Burlington? How do we integrate this into our lives?

So many times in my ministry as a priest I have encountered people who are in great pain – physical, spiritual, emotional – and they often wonder what it all means. What does all the pain of this life mean? Why are we forced to endure such pain?

We have all had pain in our lives: the pain of loss, the pain of betrayal, the pain of confusion, the pain of conflict. What Jesus wants us to know about that pain is that within it is the source of our strength; within that pain is the source of our ultimate joy. For when we let go of all that holds us back from living as Jesus asks it is then that we will know the true power and presence of God. When we are in the greatest pain this world has to offer it is then that we are vulnerable enough to let God into our lives and feel the bliss that is being in relationship with him.

Today, in our hearing, Jesus turns life on its head! Jesus tells us today that the transient THINGS of this life are not truly blessings. Yet the true blessings of this life are found in how we build good, loving, honest relationships with each other. The true blessings in this life are found when we are open to the Grace and Mercy that flows from our God into our painful wounds.

So take this opportunity to look at what it means to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to be a peacemaker, to be persecuted for righteousness sake, to be reviled because you dare to turn the world upside-down and proclaim that blessing, happiness and bliss cannot be purchased or earned. Blessing, happiness and bliss can only be experienced though the pain of our lives.

Go from this place renewed in how you see the world! Go from this place renewed in how you feel blessed by being blessings to every person you meet. And then, THEN, you will be doing justice, and loving kindness, and walking humbly with your God.”


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