Epiphany 4A

203: January 29, 2017

Psalm 15, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

Voice in the Wilderness: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Scott Maderer

Featured Musician: Bryan Sirchio, “What Does Our God Require of Us?” from the album, “Something Beautiful for God”

Tasty Wafer of the Week:

49: February 2, 2014

Exegetical Notes

Matthew 5:1-12

Initial Thoughts

  • One of the most well known and most confusing/misunderstood pieces of scripture
  • Warren Carter - 10:51-12:02 includes “The beatitude is actually an intensification of poverty rather than a spiritualization The poor spirit are those who are literally poor and facing the devastating impact of poverty, not just externally, but in their very being.”

Bible Study

  • Mountain
    • “Up the mountain” - Matthew’s Moses Christology
    • “went up the mountain” is used very often in the OT in relation to Moses
    • Not important physically, but theologically
    • Mountain of revelation - like Sinai
  • “Beatitude” - Latin
    • Makarism (Greek) - happy, in a privileged circumstance, well-off, fortunate.
      • Religiously known as Blessed by God
      • Occurs in Jewish and pagan literature
    • “A statement in the indicative mood beginning with a form of the adjectivemakariosdeclaring certain people to be in a privileged, fortunate circumstance.”(W. Carter, NIB VIII)
  • Happy or Blessed?
    • Not a subjective feeling of happiness but a declaration of an objective reality - hence “Blessed”
  • Marks of the Church - declaration of what is: indicative, not should be: imperative
    • Indicative - declaration of a simple fact or statement
    • Imperative - command, descriptive of those focused on the Kingdom of God
    • Read a great commentary on this by David Lose, “God Bless You”: “There is a trap hidden in the Beatitudes that I know I have fallen into countless times, and perhaps you have, too. The trap is a simple as it is subtle: believing that Jesus is setting up the conditions of blessing, rather than actually blessing his hearers.”
  • Richard Rohr, (adapted from Jesus’ Plan for the New World) - “The Eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3 - 12) offer us a more spacious world, a world where I do not have to explain everything, fix everything, or control anything beyond myself, a world where we can allow a Larger Mystery to work itself out through us and in us. These things are done to us more than anything we can do. The Beatitudes are about changing me, not changing other people. Wonderfully, it is not about being right anymore. Who can fully do the Beatitudes “right”? It is about being in right relationship, which is a very different agenda.”
  • Frederick Buechner on Beatitudes
  • Traits of Beatitudes:
    • Ethical - community changes in reaction to the indicative declaration
    • Unconditional - there is no condition for blessing (not “if x then Blessed”)
    • Prophetic pronouncement based on the authority of the speaker.
    • Eschatological, not historical - they are tied to a future event
    • Subject is not nine distinct groups but a blessing on the authentic Christian community
  • Eight Blessings:
    1. Poor in spirit-is- kingdom of heaven
      • Literal poverty and a lack of arrogance and sense of one’s own need rather than endless desires
      • Also, are those who find their identity in true relationship with God, not in material possession or self aggrandizing.
      • “mindfulness” or “emptying”
    2. Mourn - will be - comforted
      • Not personal grief, but those who lament the current state of the world and how far we are from the fullness of God’s kingdom.
      • Cf. Isaiah 61:1-11 and Matthew 9:15 (personal mourning is not a blessed characteristic)
    3. Meek - will - inherit the Earth
      • Right out of Psalm 37:9, 11
      • Not about being a holy doormat
      • Meekness identifies “those who are aware of their identity as the oppressed of God in the world, those who have renounced the violent methods of this-worldly power.” (W. Carter, NIB VIII)
    4. Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness - will be filled
      • Righteousness - actively doing the will of God
      • Not a foolish hope- their desire to see the Kingdom of God will be satisfied
    5. Merciful - will be - shown mercy
      • Mercy-eleamon refers to acts of mercy, not an attitude of mercy
      • Example of mercy includes 1:19- Joseph’s merciful act
    6. Pure in heart - will - see God
      • Psalm 24:3-4
      • Purity of heart is not in response to being impure, but rather pure as in refined and focused and undiluted - single minded devotion to God
    7. Peacemakers - will be - children of God
      • Peacemaker and Son of God was given to Roman Emperors who established the pax romana through brute force and domination
      • This is a new peacemaker and son of God who works through acts of mercy, devotion to God and anticipation of the Kingdom for acts of reconciling justice and grace.
    8. Persecuted for righteousness - is - kingdom of Heaven
      • What about vs. 11-12? Not considered a separate blessing but a commentary on the eighth beatitude
  • Eschatological:
    • The first and last of the beatitudes are historical declarations of the culminating, emerging kingdom of God - the middle six are eschatological vision of what that Kingdom will (not could, but will) be.
    • The Beatitudes “do not describe nine different kinds of good people who go to heaven, but are nine declarations of blessedness, contrary to all appearances, of the eschatological community living in anticipation of God’s reign.Like all else in Matthew, they are oriented to life together in the community of discipleship, not to individual ethics.” (W. Carter, NIB VIII, emphasis added)

Sermon Thoughts and Questions:

  • Who in your congregation needs to hear that they are blessed when all else seems to declare them cursed?
  • Many of us find ourselves on the endless treadmill of “should”. The Beatitudes are not a list of should but a declaration to be responded to - not how can I be a peacemaker, how can I become poor in spirit, but rather- what does it mean if the true reality of the world is a place where those who mourn are blessed? Where those who are meek inherit the earth? How does that change my view of the world given these 8 statements of fact?
  • Clear rejection of the prosperity gospel. Note the verbs: are and will be. Those who are living in Christian community (poor in spirit, focused on God, anticipating the kingdom, working for reconciliation, showing mercy) will receive vindication eventually, but not now.
  • Are we living “Blessed” lives or are we doing everything we can to avoid being “Blessed”?
  • "are" and "will" - the two verbs of Beatitudes can’t have the will without the are
  • When was the last time you blessed your congregation? Are we waiting for perfection?

Micah 6:1-8 What does the Lord require?

Initial Thoughts

  • Don’t skip ahead to verse 8
  • Think about using three different readers. One for verses 1-5, one for verses 6-7, and another for verse 8.

Bible Study

  • Courtroom setting -John Holbert, Patheos
    • “Just where is YHWH summoning the people to be as the punch line of verse 8 is delivered? And the answer is: a courtroom. The legal language winds its way through the passage as a way for us to locate ourselves in it.Micah 6:1 is clear enough: "Stand, plead the case before the mountains; let the hills hear your voice." The scene is thus set immediately. We are in a courtroom.”
    • Jury: Mountains, hills, foundations of the earth.
    • Defendant: Israel (us).
    • Prosecutor: God
    • Case: God saves. God has tried over and over. God tried a prophet, a priest, a woman, and a gentile. Nothing worked
    • The case is made, so the defendant begs mercy. What should I do?
    • “Yet, the verdict is clear enough; we are and remain guilty of denial of YHWH until we begin to focus our full attention on the doing of justice for all of God's people.”
    • What follows is the sentencing
  • Not a courtroom setting -Terrence Fretheim
    • “The language of “(covenant) lawsuit” is sometimes used for this text, but that is an unlikely designation, for such language tends to reduce these verses to matters of legal import. The fundamental issue at stake between God and Israel has to do with a relationship that needs close attention. The repeated use of the word “what” (6:3, 5, 6, 8) serves to raise questions and issues that are to be addressed by both people and God.”
    • The language suggests that the people have been complaining - that they are the ones that are prosecuting God, who they claim to be silent. God’s response is a quick recap of the saving actions of the past.
    • Given this story of God’s saving grace, the people should be grateful, not complaining.
    • “The openness of God to engage in such a dialogue with the people is remarkable (cf. Abraham, Genesis 18:25-33; Moses, Exodus 3-7). God interacts with the people about their concerns; God does not dismiss their complaining as inappropriate or bring them into court because they have dared to question God! Quite the contrary, God develops reasons as to why they should be appreciative of God’s activity in their story even though life has been difficult.”
    • “The orientation toward both neighbor and God is clear. In effect, give yourself on behalf of others, particularly those who are needy, by doing justice and loving kindness (“steadfast love”). At the same time, walk humbly (or attentively) with your God. The “walk” with God (4:2; see Deuteronomy 26:17; 28:9) has to do with life’s journey and the shape thereof. That God’s call for action on behalf of the less fortunate is joined with the call to journey with God is important; the one will deeply affect the other. “

Sermon Thoughts and Questions:

  • Justice or charity or politics? What does it mean to do justice? This is an important question that we must face squarely. Charity alleviates suffering, but does not get to the disease. Charity should and must be undertaken, but the purpose of justice work is to make charity obsolete. Justice is about building communities of caring, where all lives matter to one another as much as they do to God. Politics may be a means to working for justice, for government yields much power, but the politics cannot be the end. Winning a political battle does not mean justice has been reached. Working for social justice in political realm without also doing the work of building relationships with those whom you advocate for is a recipe for replacing one unjust system with another.
  • “The verb darash has undertones of affection, or the healthiest sort of dependency, as in “the child requires his mother’s love,” or “the flower requires rain and sunshine.” There is a mood of seeking in darash; lovers seek each other out, and a shepherd seeks his lost sheep—and in the Old Testament, both situations use darash. So when the Lord “requires” justice, kindness and mercy, it isn’t that the Lord “insists on” or “demands” these things. God seeks them, yearns for them, and frankly needs them from us as intimate partners in God’s adventure down here.“ (Rev. James C Howell, in an email interview on the United Methodist Reporter)
  • Possible connection between “Walking humbly” and “Blessed are the meek.”
    • “A genuinely holy humility is hard to come by. There is a kind of humbled smallness that is unhealthy: Maybe I feel I’m no good—but that isn’t divine humility. Then there is a self-indulgent, cultivated humility that isn’t much different from good manners—or even a smug, vain form of spiritual pride that struts about as humility” (Rev. James C Howell, in an email interview on the United Methodist Reporter)

Thank you listeners and get in touch!

Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and The Steel Wheels for our transition music(“Nola’s First Dance” from their album Lay Down, Lay Low) and Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).