First Reading: Micah 6:1-8
1Hear what the Lord says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
2Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the Lord has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.
3“O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
4For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
5O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”
6“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Psalm: Psalm 15
1Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle?
Who may abide upon your holy hill?
2Those who lead a blameless life and do what is right,
who speak the truth from their heart;
3they do not slander with the tongue, they do no evil to their friends;
they do not cast discredit upon a neighbor.
4In their sight the wicked are rejected, but they honor those who fear the Lord.
They have sworn upon their health and do not take back their word.
5They do not give their money in hope of gain, nor do they take bribes against the innocent.
Those who do these things shall never be overthrown.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
18The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
26Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12
1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Children’s Sermon: The Bear and the Bees by Aesop
A Bear roaming the woods happened on a fallen tree in which a swarm of Bees had stored their honey. Just then one of the bees came home. Guessing what the Bear was after, the bee flew at him, stung him sharply and then disappeared into the hollow log. The Bear lost his temper and sprang upon the log to destroy the nest. This brought out the whole swarm. The poor Bear had to take to his heels. He was able to save himself only by diving into a pool of water.
What is the bear in your life? Who is in your swarm?
Let us pray. Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, My Rock and My Redeemer.
Today starts the fourth week in Epiphany and we are finally getting to Jesus’ State of the Union Address, the Sermon on the Mount. It may not be January 20th when our President addressed Congress about the condition of affairs in the United States but Jesus is giving a similar overview of his kingdom. We see Matthew opening this gospel by presenting Jesus, “Son of God” as the great teacher and revealer of truth about how life works best. Jesus is going to tell us about life in his kingdom. It will help us clarify whom we are seeking and where we can find him.
Jesus sees the crowds, the people who are checking him out to see if he is the person John the Baptist was speaking about, the promised Messiah, the one who would “deal with” the Romans and the horrible living conditions in Israel at the time. I suspect those people longed for life to be like the days of Solomon when silver was so common, no one kept track of it. Even we long “to be great again.” Perhaps we don’t call it that but for some of us, memories of our youth when we could do so many things, haunt our present leaving a sour taste in our mouth. Ah, for the good ole days. The unknowns of tomorrow can appear to us like that bear sniffing around the log. And perhaps we feel like that little bee, guarding our little contribution to life. Jesus opens the scene, not in the forest where we might find a bear but on a mountaintop, that liminal space between heaven and earth.
According to Matthew, Jesus, in the face of the call to ministry to the needy people following him, first climbs the mountain and teaches his disciples who join him. It is a scene reminiscent of Moses who went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. Jesus will go up a mountain for the Transfiguration. Jesus is crucified on Mount Calvary. Important things happen on mountains, those liminal spaces between heaven and earth. Many of us retreat to the lake cabin or some quiet place away from the bustle and confusion of life to sort ourselves out. Some of us have developed the journaling discipline. Before we start a challenge, before we start tomorrow, we must know what we believe and whom we are facing. We must know whom we are seeking and where to find him. It is here on the mountaintop that Jesus gives us a picture of the Kingdom of Heaven that he is ushering in and the sort of God he is.
The kingdom of Heaven is different than the Kingdom of this World. The kingdom Jesus is telling us about is unlike this world where bears seek to devour our honey. In this world we are plagued by discouragement (poor in spirit), grief (mourning), pride and arrogance, cruelty, deception, war and persecution. Do I hear anyone saying, “Amen!” or are we comfortable in our wealth? The wolf of Little Red Riding Hood may wear Grandma’s clothes and promise her all sorts of goodies if she would use his products for health and beauty, use his investment schemes for wealth and prosperity, buy his insurance products to deal with those hard times or vote his philosophy into government but the solutions the world offers are temporary. Jesus presents a different perspective. He starts with the truth. Life is hard. Bears are sniffing around the log where we are storing our honey. But that is not the whole picture?
Jesus encourages us to look closer and he shares the “bee – attitudes”. His kingdom confronts the Kingdom of this World with “Bee” “Attitudes”-beatitudes. He tells us where true blessings are found in this opening section of his sermon. The Kingdom of Heaven is not going to defeat the bear with a gun and war but by the person we will become as we follow Jesus and learn to live in kingdom ways. We will not defeat the bear by being bigger and stronger. Like a tiny bee we will be armed with the Spirit of God so that
- Those times that discourage us and make us feel poor in spirit will become times when actually we are forced to find strength in the kingdom of heaven. Our problems lead us deeper into God’s love. Tough times are times of grace.
- Those times when we mourn and are overcome with grief, the Holy Spirit will draw close and comfort us. He will wrap his arms around us. And! And we will be comforted by the body of Christ. Comfort is not found in alcohol, drugs, sex or worldly pleasures. The God we seek is a God that comforts the mourners.
- Those times when violence reigns, the meekness of the kingdom that loves the enemy and helps the helpless will help us inherit this world, not war. Hate cannot produce love but love covers a multitude of sins.
- Those times when we give mercy and forgiveness rather than vengeance, hate and anger, we learn to receive the mercy and forgiveness of God that we need when we blow it.
- Those times when we are confused by doubt and seek God with our whole heart, he will reveal himself and not be far off and busy in Washington. We do not climb up to God but he is here with us in our hard times.
- Those times of war, persecution and misunderstanding, God will not flee from us and we will be known by his presence in our lives.
It is in the midst of the bears of life that seek to destroy us that we build our faith, find our God active and involved, and learn to recognize God actively fighting evil. It is in hard times that we find the Kingdom of Heaven, grace and a God who cares enough to enter the messes of life with us. Jesus is the Son of God revealing the Kingdom of Heaven to us.
The beatitudes are not a Christian formula for getting the good life. They are not a new set of laws. The beatitudes tell us that life in the kingdom of this world is hard but there is another reality, another kingdom being built, that is not so apparent. That kingdom defeats the ugliness of this world and that kingdom is a gift of grace from God. We see glimpses of it in the beauty of sunrises and sunsets. We see it in the laughter of children. We experience it in hugs of friends and family. We cry in relief when we are forgiven as we come to the table of communion. The bear does not come to create beauty, love, joy and forgiveness. The wolf is wearing Grandma’s clothes only to deceive us. Jesus is not wearing human forms to deceive us but incarnates along side us and lets us know he cares and will rescue us as we turn to him.
12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Jesus reminds us that when rough times come, the company of saints experienced our same situations. We are not alone. We are part of a swarm. The little bee in our story, all by itself is way out matched by the bear. The bee has a “swarm” that it is part of and Jesus is ushering in a kingdom of bees to support each other and to remind us of the truth of God when we feel attacked by the bears of life. Little Red Riding Hood could not fight the wolf by herself but it was as the woodsman came to her rescue that she was saved and able to free her real Grandma.
So whom are we seeking? Are we seeking a god who will promise to come in and kill the bear for us and give us the good life or are we seeking a God who walks with us, partners with us, in the midst of the problems of this world, creating a better world and ultimately declaring, “Well done my good and faithful servant. Enter into your father’s delight.”
So where do we find the God Jesus is the son of? We find God in the midst of problems. He is there with us, enabling us, encouraging us, and involved in his creation.
The bear runs away and jumps into a pool of water. Sounds like baptism to me. As we believe and identify with Jesus in our baptism, the Holy Spirit comes to live in us and help us conquer the bears of life. And we join a body of believers that is world wide, the Kingdom of Heaven.
Let the people of God say, “Amen,” may it be so!