Date: January 29, 2017
Bible Text: Micah 6:1–8; Matthew 5:1–12 | Reverend Dr. Jo Forrest
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” — Matthew 5:5
Although Christmas and the arrival of the three wise men seems long ago, we are still in the season of Epiphany, celebrating the light of God revealed in Jesus. In this season, we are reading Jesus’ word as related by the Gospel of Matthew. In a week of wondering what to trust and to whom should we listen, the common lectionary seems divinely inspired guide. In addition to the text from Micah, it prescribes one of the most beloved and oft sited passages in all the Christian scriptures: the Beatitudes.
But, sometimes, the most dangerous passages in the Bible are the familiar ones, because we do not really listen to them. When we memorize verses, we run the risk that rather than etch them in our heart, to guide our daily living, we tumble over the words as if hypnotized and become immune to their message.
Another problem with such familiarity is we begin to think the person who offered them, Jesus, is more like us, rather his words calling us to be more like him. Have we dressed up these beatitudes and tamed Jesus to be what we want so they can no longer inspire us?
I am not advocating against memorizing Bible verses, but for us to read and recite them with so the spirit moves in.
Before I read this text, please pray with me.
In this season of Epiphany, silence the world around us, shine your light on these words and into our hearts, that we may grasp the truth revealed by your son, Jesus. Tune us to hear your promises, that in hearing we trust you, and in trusting, follow the ways of our savior, the Christ. Amen.
Listen for God’s word as I read from Matthew chapter 5.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
In my corporate life after I left IBM, I went to the opposite extreme to work for the founder and CEO of a small consulting firm. Joe came from nothing, had little higher education, and was a scrappy fighter from Brooklyn who always seemed to have his fists clenched. His style was hit them with a hammer, make them pay attention, fight for the deal, and earn respect with brutal honesty. His lawyers loved his thirst for litigation to protect and defend. In a short period of time, I learned he was such a risk-taker, I believed he would truly take a flying leap off the Brooklyn Bridge if there were a commensurate pay off.
He took pride in making deals by lobbing grenades into clients to expose how poorly their operations were or he would threaten to go up the chain of command disrupting relationships. He would win big or sometimes get us shut out for years.
Charlie occupied the office next to me. He was smoothly polished, held a respected pedigree, and acted as the firm’s spokesperson when needed. He built relationships on his gentile nature and by golfing at Canoe Brook or Baltusrol. He would also back down from confrontations and, as a result, sometimes lose, hurting the firm and his credibility.
One Friday afternoon I sat in Charlie’s office lamenting some client dilemma. I don’t remember if it was trouble motivating the client or if we were getting shut out of a part of the client’s organization—or access to their data. I needed to do something to break the impasse. He listened and we strategized. As I left his office, I started to thank him, but Charlie reminded me, what was glaringly obvious, “you came in here because you knew how I would assess the situation and the type of advice I would offer. Slow and steady. Don’t rock the boat. You also knew if you had talked with Joe, he would expect your strategy to include detonating some type of bomb or confrontation. You need to decide what you see and believe.” Charlie was right.
Our dispositions, our comfort-levels, and our responsibilities—they all shape the lens through which we look and filter the truth we see.
Inspired by God, the prophet Micah saw the plight of the Israelite people and blasted the elite by speaking the truth as he saw it. At that time, the top 10% in economic wealth had engaged in widespread and dishonest business practices—placed false weights on the market scales, taken ancestral lands by deception, and the list goes on.
In addition to what they did, they also did not care for the starving poor, the widow and orphan, and immigrant—all members of society God had commanded them to care for since the earliest of time. Perhaps aware of their shortcoming, these same 10% thought they could atone for their blatant sins with measly sacrifices and rituals. In other words, they attempted to buy-off God and look good in front of others, rather than embody the command to love others. They had corrupted the truth of righteous living for so long they could not see the reality of their lives: what it was doing to others, themselves…or God.
The prophet Micah took the big risk, to expose their evil and turn them back toward God by leveling a threefold requirement: the lord requires you to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Micah disrupted the affluent with the harsh truth: they were not God and these requirements compelled them to not just feel sympathy, but to act for others by seeing and treating them as beloved by God.
This month, we have posted a blog series on these three requirements Micah proclaimed, reflecting on what they mean in the workplace. To remember what God desires, at all times and in everyplace—most importantly Monday through Friday—is the way we center ourselves with God regardless of how we swim in a culture that offers little rewards for justice, kindness, and humility.
The founders of this church literally etched this passage in stone years ago to remind a privileged community, what we earn or possess is not what matters to God. God requires us to love our neighbors, the poor, and those who have been denied justice. The windows in this Sanctuary and in the Malott Chapel commend us to be leaders who braved new paths in all walks of life to hold up God’s truth. The windows also inspire us to become leaders who are willing to claim God’s truth and reaffirm it in our new age.
The movie, Hidden Figures, based upon the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, traces the story of three African-American women who were gifted mathematicians working as “human computers” at NASA in the early 1960’s. This was at the height of the Cold War race to space and the heating civil rights movement. Both movie and book showcase the need to see through the oppressive practices of culture and politics and beliefs—what were heartfelt truths—that had been hard-baked into society and the workplace. The courage of these women—and their desperately needed intellect—inspired others to literally take a sledgehammer to break the walls in the buildings at NASA and work practices to free them to work. At the time, it was scandalous. But, they worked with white men to launch John Glenn into orbit and bring him back safely.
We like these compelling true-life stories of those who risk saying “I see things differently” to the powers that be and then stand up for their convictions. The reforms at NASA were small and large, but always disruptive. They were freeing. And, literally life-giving for everyone. We have never turned back.
In each of our gospels, Jesus’ first speech, sermon, or his first saving act, set the tone for the portrait painted by that particular gospel writer. The evangelist, Matthew, wrote for an audience, who understood the tradition, the stories, the laws—both temple and Roman—and who lived in a culture that was just as hypocritical as the conditions Micah railed against. So, just after Jesus cried out “repent for the kingdom is near” Jesus sidestepped the synagogue and city square for his inaugural address.
He ascended a mountain, symbolically close to God, and taught his disciples to recognize the first people to be blessed with the kingdom were those disenfranchised by ingrained prejudices that labeled them as “unclean,” the Gentile, and the “unworthy.” He included those born on the wrong side of wealth, who no matter how hard they worked, they could not raise their families or themselves from poverty. Those who shouted for the justice, kindness and humility Micah preached are to be blessed.
Jesus taught the truth—not as God’s messenger—but as God incarnate. He blessed those who are poor in spirit, the ones who have tried and readily admitted they missed the mark—like the Prodigal Son—only to find he always has the father’s love.
Jesus blessed the ones who mourn since they have experienced what it means to love deeply.
He showered with blessing those willing to be persecuted for believing in God and not the manufactured peace others have passed off as truth.
For those who have experienced what it is like to not be able to manage everything for themselves, who understand what total dependence upon God is like, Jesus blessed. Jesus wanted them to know God dwells with them in the midst of their brokenness.
Preacher James Howell writes the ancients did not harbor a superficial “fun”-oriented view of happiness, or of being blessed. For this crowd, blessedness was a possession of the soul, something that one acquired and that once acquired, could not be taken away. Being blessed designated living in harmony with a human’s deepest aspirations.”
On Friday morning, I thought I had finished this sermon and had written the following lines “This is the truth, the gospel truth, concerning divine favor. Those who know this to be the case never again need to be intimidated by the wealthy, the haughty, the satisfied, the cruel, the crafty, and the violent.”
But, how naïve could I be? On the anniversary of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the day survivors of Auschwitz, an executive order closed the US borders to refugees fleeing the humanitarian crisis in war-torn Syria and impose a de facto ban on Muslims traveling to the US from parts of the Middle East and North Africa. This is more than intimidation. Intimidation is the least of what these beloved children of God face.
Jesus taught they will be blessed in their oppression and Jesus also taught us to not stand by while these dangerous decisions are made. God is blessing them and holding us accountable to our baptismal promises to teach and behave as Jesus taught.
This past week, we have been so challenged by the truth, alternative truths or interpreted truths that we must question the motives behind the sources. Given that a lens filters any person or organization’s version of the truth, we should be skeptical.
Now is the time in our lives also to check the lens through which we see. We need to question if what we accept as “truth” is what we want to hear, to comfort us, to confirm our worldview or recognize if it damages God’s kingdom.
Now is the time to listen to Jesus’ disruptive and comforting truth…blessed are those who hunger after integrity and thirst for justice…and be strengthened to stand up to oppression. Blessed are those who mourn for a world on the brink of losing justice, kindness and humility so they may be comforted by God’s strength to speak out.
Now is the time to hear the truth Jesus was willing to die for as told in Matthew:
Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” —Matthew 25:34-36, 40
Now is the time for the church to hold up the one truth that has endured since the beginning of our Judeo-Christian heritage: God blesses the poor, the oppressed, women and children, the outsider, the one who loves the other. The Beatitudes are the gospel truth.
 John P. Meir, “Matthew 5:3-12,” Interpretation 44, no. 3 (July 1990): 281-285. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed January 12, 2017) 281.
 James C. Howell, the Beatitudes for Today, ( Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006) 35.
 David L. Tiede, “Let Your Light Shine: The Sermon on the Mount in Epiphany,” Word & World, Vol IV, Number 1, (1984) 93.
 Sabrina Siddiqui, “Trump signs ‘extreme vetting’ executive order for people entering the US” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/27/donald-trump-muslim-refugee-ban-executive-action?CMP=share_btn_tw (accessed January 26, 2017).