Sermon at St. Mark's, Charleston
The Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany
January 29, 2017
From Micah’s astounding plea for justice, to Paul’s unnerving proclamation of powerlessness and the Cross as the way of life, to Matthew’s no-holds-barred assertion in the Sermon on the Mount of the blessedness of God’s people—all celebrate the exciting good news of the nearness of God present here with us and among us. We are here today, first and foremost, to offer thanks to God who gives us life and one another as a gift, including Philip your new priest-in-charge.
A question always before us as a people of faith is, how will we use the gifts God has bestowed upon us? Could it be that we are being called to be more excited about Jesus’ promise of the Kingdom of God among us – in the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek – more excited about that, than what is to happen next Sunday evening? For those from another planet, that’s the day of the Super Bowl. Did you know that the money spent on advertising for that spectacle, including the money waged on the game around the world, could feed every person on the earth for several years?
I am going to make what might be a risky statement, perhaps even un-American to some: God does not care who wins. God does care about the individuals who play, how they live, how they use their resources, how they promote justice, but God does not care who wins and probably not even whether or not there is a Super Bowl.
Some years ago I was talking with the parent of a child who tried out for an elite traveling soccer team. This is a high stress moment. After the try-outs were over, there was great relief for those who had “made it.” Even celebration. Perhaps that is as it should be, for it is good to delight in something well done and offer congratulations. At the same time, the parent whose child made the team, said that he could not take his attention away from those who had not.
One boy, obviously crestfallen, looked as if his world had ended. The boy’s parents and coach did their best to be encouraging. Yes, a part of maturing is learning through life’s disappointments and setbacks. At the same time, some of the gloating, even meanness from others, including parents, clearly passed on a message of unworthiness and rejection, wrapped up in self-righteousness. I could not help but think for that boy, “Blessed are you,” in the hope that he would have people around him to convey a word of love.
Jesus is always leading us toward a whole new world, in how we treat each other and in how we live on the planet. We talk a lot about values in our public discourse, but I don’t often there hear about Jesus’ values as we find them in the Sermon on the Mount. God’s vision for the Kingdom, more often than not, is upside down from ours. “Blessed are the poor in Spirit” – those who know their need of God and how far short they fall; “Blessed are those who mourn” – who see the pain of the world and seek to do something about it; “Blessed are the meek” – the powerless and have-nots of our world. Paul is clear as well in his assertion that salvation comes out of crucifixion, the giving up of power and status. For Micah the values of God’s reign are justice, mercy and humility. Compare that to much of what we hear being thrown around out of Washington these days. I am not talking here of politics, I am speaking of faithfulness. Even in the midst of our tendency to glorify winning and dominating and exhibiting superior strength – being number one – Jesus’ strength comes out of the power of self-giving love.
It was Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said, “Without always realizing it, we are invaded by the world’s success ethic. We don’t care what one succeeds in as long as we succeed. We transfer to our children the attitude that you must not just pass exams, you must sweep the floor with the opposition.”
Yet today we find Jesus making an amazing assertion about humanity. The blessed, the accepted, the truly happy and content, those favored by God are the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek. There are no conditions and no mention of what you must do first. Knowing you need God and the truth that you can’t make it on your own is enough. I hope the boy who didn’t make the soccer team discovers along the way that God always says, “I love you. That is why I created you. And the most important thing about you is that I love you.”
For you here at St. Mark’s, in this new relationship of priest and people, these scriptures invite you to be the persons, the community, that God created you to be. This community of faith is called to be a place where your humanity is honored, where you never have to be other than who you are. To be who God created you to be and know you are loved. To be a faith community that is blessed as you bless one another. We do this for each other, yes, but primarily so that we can be a more clear witness to God’s life out those doors.
We’re not perfect at it, God knows, but ringing in our ears is always the call of making God’s justice known, “on earth as it is in heaven.” It is why God’s Spirit has brought you together as priest and people – seeking “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” It starts right here, with us.
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Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.