Living as Light to the Bedraggled.
Epiphany 4, CommonÂ Lectionary Year A
Â©2014 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones
So, after a hiatus of a few weeks, we finally make it back to our Gospel for this lectionary year, Matthew. As Nancy already summarized, 30 years or so have passed since our last encounter, with an infant Jesus, on the feast of Epiphany. To quote Sue Bell to the Tiny Tots class; â€œJesus Grew!â€
All grown up indeed! And about to embark on his public ministry. You could say that what we read today Matthewâ€™s version ofÂ Jesusâ€™ first sermon; his inaugural address to the people of God ; what he says here is going to set the tone for everything that follows; itâ€™s going to lay out the agenda,Â the â€œFive Year Planâ€ of Jesusâ€™ ministry.
Now, each Gospel has a slightly different â€˜takeâ€™ on the person, purpose and ministry of Jesus; to Luke, he was a Spirit-filled prophet on the margins; to Mark, he was a healer, exorcist and man in a hurry to preach the kingdom, but to Matthew,Â Jesus is the great teacher, and liberator of the people. He is Godâ€™s new Moses, Â and like Moses, he comes out of the wilderness, sent by God to rescue God`s bedraggled children from the clutches of all that chokes off abundant living in the present and future Kingdom of Godâ€™s Dream.
Now, to make sure that his listeners get the comparison of Jesus the teacher with Moses the teacher, Matthew sends Jesus up onto a mountain to deliver what we all know a the â€œSermon on the Mount.â€ To a predominantly Jewish â€“Christian community, they get it immediately: â€œJust like Moses!â€ they say to one another. And they remember a time 1200 years earlier, when Moses went up a mountain and preached to a vast gathering of their ancestors the 10 Commandments, the Law of God, the way of life for the people of God.
And so they sit now, the crowd around Jesus; the two-generations- later community of Matthew, and us,Â we sit too, all expectant, waiting for Jesus to tell us what we have to do to live as light in the world. And because itâ€™s a sermon, they expected, and so do we, a list of instructions,Â a set of imperatives: Â â€œBe meekâ€¦. then youâ€™ll inherit the earth! Â â€œMourn, grieve, be desperate, be persecuted, Â be poor in heart, be oppressedâ€¦â€¦. then, maybeÂ youâ€™llâ€¦..â€
Now, seriously, would you have stayed for the rest of the sermon if thatâ€™s how it began? Wouldnâ€™t you have turned off the hearing aid,Â or snuck a peek at your FB page on your cell phone, or turned to the announcement flyer, or doodled on your bulletin, if Jesus opened his mouth for the first time in your hearing and told you to live a miserable life?
So what is going on here? What is he saying? â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦.
â€œBlessed.â€ That first word out of his mouth is a declaration, a statement of fact, not a command nor a plea. Imagine JesusÂ Â Â – perhaps with a few butterflies in his stomach Â and a heartfelt prayer to God, (as happens to most preachers any given Sunday) Â his silent prayer,Â â€œGod help me to say something close to your truth, a word of life and hope. Amen.â€ Imagine him stand up, look around him. What he sees is Godâ€™s beloved, bedraggled sons and daughters, and he says what comes straight from the heart of God. Â A word of life and hopeâ€¦. â€œBlessed!â€Â Makarios.Â Touched by the grace of God. â€œBlessed are you!â€
He looks out over a crowd of the have-nots, the put-upons, the rag-tag bottom rung of Judeo-Roman society, theÂ poor in heart; the meek; the fishermen, the peasants, the slaves and day labourers; the ones who mourn and grieve losses multiple and unimaginable, the desperate, the hungry, the old and infirm, the forgotten, persecuted and ridiculed.
And he sees before him, in them all, nothing more, nothing less than the blessed company of Godâ€™s beloved, bedraggled children!
Itâ€™s probably not what the world had, has taught them, us to believe about themselves, ourselves. But Jesus well knew, and knows that unless we can count ourselves Godâ€™s blessed, we have no hope of being able to be a blessing to others.
So, over and over again, he whispers, breathes, calls, shouts over every soul in that crowd, this crowd, â€œBlessed are you.â€ Touched by the grace of God. Blessed. Â This is not Jesusâ€™ sermon! Not yet, all those teaching moments about Godâ€™s Dream, and how we can learn to live as Godâ€™s light in the world, all that comes later. These repeated declarations â€œBlessed are youâ€ are more like a Call to Worship! Or more like a huge, holy â€œWelcome!â€ sign on the front lawn. â€œBlessed are youâ€ he calls to all who are searching through the rubble of your world Â Â for the touch of the mercy of goodness, Â Â for the whisper of the promise of hope, Â Â for the taste of the fruits of justice, Â Â for the healing of broken and weary hearts Â and bodies and mindsâ€¦â€¦ â€œBlessed are you, for yours is truly, and always the kingdom of God. It is to you and for you that God sends me (Jesus) to live as light among the bedraggled.â€ Â So, come, see the light, come, break bread and share a cup of blessing in memory and hope. For until we know ourselves to blessed by God, how can we possibly be a blessing to Godâ€™s world?
See my sermon for All Saints Day 2011, â€œBlessedâ€Â – to be touched by the grace of God.