A sermon for Epiphany 4: Micah 6:1-8, Psalm 15, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12
You all know the Judge Judy show where Judge Judy acts as both Judge and Jury to settle disputes. Well, this morning we have a dispute. It is in the 8th century (BCE), and it seems Israel has forgotten everything that God has ever done for them. So, God, as plaintiff, calls them to court. Only God, not Judy is also the Judge, and the prosecutor (Harrelson). As Judge, God calls on the mountains and hills to be the jury; after all, they have been around for a really long time and have seen everything that all the nations of the earth, including Israel, have ever done (Simundson).
The trial begins with God’s testimony a short history of what God has done:
- freeing them from slavery in Egypt
- inspiring Balaam to reverse Balak’s curse into a blessing
- enabling them to move from Shittim across the Jordan to Gilgal and into the promised land (Harrelson; Simundson).
God wants to know what has been done that caused them for forget all that has been done.
Israel is speechless; I would be; wouldn’t you be? So, as do so many folks with extravagant liturgical traditions Israel turns to their traditions. They discuss their options. What would please God the most? Now, remember they aren’t from our deep Anglican background. Their liturgical traditions are centered around the sacrificial rites of the Temple. So, the options they discuss are:
- what about a burnt offering of a year-old calf?
- that is a prescribed sacrifice (Lev 9:3)
- maybe a thousand rams would be better?
- although it seems excessive,
this is the only mention of a thousand anything as a sacrifice
- or better yet, ten thousand rivers of oil!
- we really have reached the heights of absurdity at this point
- but maybe ~ just maybe the life of my first born will atone for the sin of my soul ~
- and this is a drastic change; a sacrifice that God has rejected over and over and over and over again (Deut 12:31; 18:10; Jer 19:5; Ezek 16:20) (Harrelson; Simundson).
The entire conversation reveals just how shallow Israel’s understanding of God has become. As Doug Bratt notes God doesn’t want anything from Israel, God wants Israel (Bratt). Israel is so far off base the prophet Micha step in and says:
God has told you
and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).
Now, all that is left is for us is to figure out
what is justice?
what does mercy look like? and
how do we walk humbly?
When I read the suggestion that ‘walk’ is actually the key word in all this, and then suggest that we walk with God as our constant companion, I saw how reversing the order brings a kind of clarity (Simundson). Walking in intimate relationship with God enables us to love mercy or kindness, and that encourages mutual interdependent relationships across all social boundaries; and that enable us to do justice working through churches, communities and whole societies reflecting the image of God (Bratt).
Walking with God is just a little bit more complex than a journey through the valley of shadows and darkness (Psalm 23). Paul is oh so right; the message of the cross is foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18). Think for a minute, back through this last week, back through this last month, have you heard anything that holds up: the poor, those in mourning, the meek, those who are hungry or thirsty, those who are merciful, or kind or pure of heart, or who make peace, or who are persecuted because they stand up against the elite and powerful, or who those name evil as evil, even when evil parades around in glory, laud and honorific trappings.
Jesus has been traveling all around Galilee. He has seen how the people react to him. He knows people are coming from all around, as far away even as Jerusalem. He realizes the crowd’s growing expectations. There are those who see Jesus becoming a “bold and brash political leader.” There are others who believe he will draw powerful, assertive allies to his side. Nearly everyone expects “swift liberation from Roman” and the end of centuries of oppression by foreign peoples (Hoezee).
Jesus takes his disciples up the mountain, which is a place of theophany, a place of the presence of God, and basically, gives them, and us, a definition of discipleship, that we hear in the beatitudes. All the surrounding nations and for the last several centuries with a distorted emphasis on the exactness of the Law, the Jewish religious leaders focus on attitudes and declarations of doctrine. God desires righteous behaviors, and remember that for Matthew ‘righteous is all about relationship, or always journeying, with God. Jesus’ 9 little sayings turn the world upside down and hint at a future reversal of imperialistic values, that, in fact, is already in process in Jesus ministry way back then and right now (Harrelson).
I have a dream. I dream of Judge Judy perched high on the bench. I dream of WormWood challenging that St. Stephen’s is devoid of the presence of God at anywhere and at any time. I dream that without reference to doctrine or liturgy that by story after story after story of one journey after another where we’ve faithfully held God’s hand as we traversed the darkness sharing kindness and doing justice for all right here right now.
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