Monday, February 20, 2017
Community UMC, Quincy
“The Great Invitation: And Now for Your Reward”
Pastor Andrew Davis
February 19, 2017
Matthew 5: 38-48
What happens when someone hits you, says something that hurts your feelings, or does something to hurt you? Do you hit that person back, yell at that person, or do you resist, or turn away? I admit that my years in elementary and middle school were not the happiest years of my life, but taught me a lot about turning the other cheek and not getting even. I was often picked on, bullied, or harassed on nearly a daily basis, sometimes making it unbearable to get up and even go to school. Yet in some ways, I was a socially awkward kid, which made me an easy target for those who decided they liked making people’s lives miserable. But I also didn’t hit back either, partially because I didn’t believe in fighting back, but was more afraid of being suspended even if I was acting in self-defense. Now while I would defend myself, my family, or anyone here today if needed (differentiating between self-defense and retaliation), not retaliating is an embedded value that I still hold dear, along with turning the other cheek where I can and not holding onto grudges. But while those years in school weren't always happy, they were also very formational. Even amidst enduring the ugliness people brought and still bring today, there may be a reward for that, even if it may not be readily available in this lifetime, but in heaven.
As we continue along with Jesus’s teachings from the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew's gospel, we are actually continuing with the antitheses this morning, the ‘this, not that’ statements that we encountered in last week’s text. Today, we have two more of these ‘this, not that’ statements when Jesus says “you have heard that it was said/but I say to you” statements as we continue with last week’s theme of ‘this, not that.’ However, Jesus does mention a reward in today’s text, while continuing to raise the bar on what it means to be his followers and his disciples by living with a greater sense of integrity. While we dealt with some pretty heavy stuff last week in hearing what Jesus had to say about murder, anger, adultery, divorce, and oaths, which may have also been a little unsettling, we deal with retaliation and showing love towards our enemies this week.
Now I think that when Jesus mentions “you have heart it was said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ and “’you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’” it’s easier to look to that, the old way of living (Matthew 5: 38, 43, NRSV). In the old way, when someone does you wrong or hits you, you hit back. When someone shouts at you, you shout them down and put them in their place. In other words, retaliate and obliterate those who do you wrong, at least if you read that text literally. But that’s not what Jesus is saying in this, the new way of living. Instead, Jesus says do this: “don’t resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also,” or even the even more radical and challenging teaching, “love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5: 39, 44, NLT). However, it doesn't mean allow an enemy to walk all over you, but Jesus's challenge also points to the ugliness we may encounter here and there and that our reward is in how we respond and navigate the sometimes ugly waters that are out there.
I have to admit that when I first heard of this idea from Jesus early on in Sunday School, my first instinct upon hearing “love your enemies” was heck no!! I cannot love my enemies!! They don’t deserve to be loved!! I also remember several times growing up with an "it's them or me that goes attitude" in the church and would often got a long lecture about forgiveness and loving my enemy or those who persecuted me from our pastor, Sunday School teachers, or my mother, as I was very fickle and petty as a teenager and very young adult (I still consider myself young, for the record). Nevertheless, this gives us food for thought about how we treat everyone, including people who have hurt us through their words and actions and even people who we may have hurt through our words and actions. Professor Karoline Lewis explains that
Jesus now helps his disciples realize that following him will mean meeting up with those with whom you would rather not come in contact, with whom you might consider your enemy. Love your enemies. You will come across those outside of your immediate circles with whom the principles you learned from Jesus you’d rather not share. You will meet others for whom you’d rather the Kingdom of Heaven need not apply.
Now I'll also admit to you that God's still working on me on this, as it's much like building upon what Jesus says about anger from last week’s lesson, that if we “call someone an idiot [or other mean-spirited names], [we] are in danger of being brought before the court,” as Jesus is saying we need to get a grip on our anger and check our words before we speak (or today, post on social media), something where I am constantly checking myself when I feel myself getting overheated at times. In fact while watching Match Game on Wednesday nights, or when I get too into the Kings game, I have to bite my tongue and think of these words Jesus is telling us, trying not to call contestants or players stupid or other names. Same goes for when politics come up in the news, a very powerful exercise in trying not to call them bad names. It’s like that little song “o be careful little lips what you speak…” Amidst these challenging lessons, Jesus is also taking this new teaching a little further this week.
Even in the moments when we have been attacked at one time or another, even in this time of high tensions, political/ideological differences, and other petty differences that do more to divide us, and a culture that oftentimes feels like it encourages us to act with an ‘eye for an eye’ mentality over such differences, Jesus is calling us as his disciples to take the higher road. It’s not rewarding in the long-run to act out in retaliation to those who hurt us or wrong us, even though it may feel rewarding in the heat of the moment. Jesus is saying don’t act out and return violence with violence. But Jesus is also saying to pray for those who do you wrong, challenging as it may be. That also does not mean praying for ill will or vengeance on them either. Yes, it's stuff that is easier said than done, but still rewarding when we are willing to practice this. Instead,
Jesus is calling me, and you, and all of us who would call ourselves his disciples to move beyond that way of responding. Because a righteousness that only involves loving those who are easy to love, while at the same feeling hatred and wishing vengeance upon a person who has brought us harm will not generate a lasting reward, nor will it generate a real and lasting society…it will not bring justice. It will only bring more harm.
Living righteously, or a life pleasing to God, requires this, the new way that Jesus teaches each of us as we seek our reward in heaven. As we have also heard before, or if you are hearing it for the first time, Methodism’s founder, John Wesley’s three simple rules are to ‘do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God,’ echoing Jesus’s words to practice non-violence and to pray for our enemies, even when it means turning the other cheek at times. Even back in the Beatitudes earlier in this chapter, Jesus says in Matthew 5: 11-12, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it!! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven” (NLT). Your reward is in how you act, how you do no harm, how you do good, and how you will stay in love with God. Yeah, revenge, punching someone back who has hurt us, or shouting down and obliterating that person might feel rewarding in the short-term, but won’t be rewarding in the long-run. I think about Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. who constantly turned the other cheek, refusing to fight violence with violence. But, they also practiced love, even love of their enemies that Jesus is encouraging those who are still listening to him at this point in the “Sermon on the Mount” and each of us to do today.
In Eugene Peterson’s translation of verses 43-47 from The Message, Jesus is telling the disciples “I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.” Now that’s what taking the high road entails when people give us trouble and that’s where our reward is. We let it bring out the best in us when we don’t retaliate. In his commentary on this week’s passage, Jason Byasse writes in Feasting on the Word that
We are called here to love as God loves. This cannot be done out of our own resources. So this is no admonition to try harder – if it were, it would indeed be a recipe for despair. It is a plan of action rooted in the promise to be made “children of your father in heaven” (v. 45). The Sermon here and elsewhere is a portrait of the very heart of God, one who loves the unlovable, comes among us in Christ, suffers our worst, and rises to forgive us. Turn the cheek, give the cloak, go another mile, lend, love the enemy – because that is how God loves. If you want to follow this God, fleshed in Jesus, you will be adopted into a life in which you find yourself loving this way before you know what you are doing.
The good news in all of this is that Jesus is showing us about how to love even the unlovable, to be able to look beyond our enemies and let those who try to bring us down try to bring out the best in us. We as followers of Jesus can rise above all of the push and shove, the name calling, the mean-spiritedness and instead show everyone how we love through practicing non-violence, showing words of kindness, and exercising forgiveness. Not through retaliation or getting even. It's like the song, "they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they'll know we are Christians by our love." Jesus is showing us and teaching us that we can be better than those who retaliate, that we can be better than those who persecute us or lie about us. This is the life that Jesus is inviting us into in the great invitation , to have a reward that awaits us in heaven by practicing this. I think of Barbara Elsken whose life we celebrated yesterday and Geri Bernard whose life we will celebrate on Saturday, as they are now receiving their reward in heaven, their new life because they embodied their earthly life as “children of their Father in heaven.” In just my short time of knowing them, I saw how strong their faith was, even while waiting to go home to receive their reward in heaven.
Our reward in heaven is what we need to be striving for as followers of Jesus Christ, as we need to do our best to put these words that Jesus is showing us into action in our daily living and keep on doing so, along with encouraging everyone we encounter to join us in embodying those actions. We can also invite others to join us in doing no harm, doing good, staying in love with God, turning the other cheek, and praying for those who persecute us or who may be our enemy. Don’t go down to the level of those who persecute or lie about us by retaliating and being angry, but rise above and do everything in love, especially praying for your enemy or one who did you harm. Even though Jesus challenges us in the final verse that “you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect,” we know that we are not perfect and this is where we put our ultimate trust and faith in Jesus, as Jesus is able to do that part for us as our Lord and Savior. Like many who I know, “I believe [Jesus] when he says that seeking the reward of my heavenly Father is worth more than any temporary human feeling of worldly satisfaction, but I believe that the really difficult teachings like this one give us a portrait of the very heart of God.” As we prepare to fully live into this great invitation when Jesus invites us to follow him, we have our reward waiting for us as we strive our hardest to live like Jesus and love like Jesus did, today, and each day that lies ahead of us.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say AMEN!
Jason Byassee, “Theological Perspective” on the Gospel reading for the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Feasting on the Word – Year A, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 382. Italics Rev. Dr. Pam Chesser.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Community UMC, Quincy
“The Great Invitation: This, Not That”
Pastor Andrew Davis
February 12, 2017
Matthew 5: 21-37
Do ‘this, not that’ seems like a random statement. But, how many of you have encountered the phrase or been told by a parent, a boss, a family member, coach, doctor, or teacher to do ‘this, not that?’ I think everyone who has kids (even if we’re big kids) has used or heard that phrase before in order to get us to behave or listen. So, if you eat your veggies (this), you’ll get dessert (that). If you get your homework done (this), you can play your videogames or watch TV (that). OR, do your chores (this), but don’t just sit around (that). Or my personal favorite, eat your veggies (this), but don’t eat that dessert (that). It can go on and on and on.
Cutting right to the chase here, our Gospel lesson from Matthew this morning gets into some very challenging and perhaps unsettling material here when Jesus talks of this, not that, also known as antitheses when we hear that “you have heard it said” and “this I tell you”. As we are in the midst of Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount” as part of our series, “The Great Invitation,” Jesus is getting more into the nuts and bolts of what it means to BE his disciples. Now, upon hearing some of these words from Jesus, it might make us think twice about taking up the great invitation because of how challenging it is, maybe even get us overheated a little because some of what Jesus is saying feels like it may be impossible to do. These last couple weeks, we have been hearing how Jesus is bringing in a whole different way of life from what people are used to living, as God’s kingdom will not be like the kingdoms that the people were living in, and even today in the kingdoms that we live in. But this morning, it’s like Jesus is raising the bar just a little bit higher on us in laying out some of the expectations when he says “but this I tell you,” which is part of the law that he says he came to fulfill when he says “you have heard it said.” And as we have just heard, it is far from easy, even in today’s context to hear Jesus’s words about murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths or vows given some of our own experiences with what Jesus is talking about.
Now what Jesus means by the law from what he talked about last week is the Mosaic Law, or Torah. As the New Interpreter’s Commentary explains, “Matthew is a scribal teacher who is concerned not only to declare the absolute will of God as expressed in Jesus’ radicalization of the Torah, but also to provide counsel for day by day living for imperfect people who fall short of this call to live by the perfect will of God.”[i] So it’s basically a guide on how to live righteously in God’s kingdom, but Jesus elaborates and even takes things a little further when it comes to the this, but not that. Basically,
the this in the text refers to the commandments as they have come to us not through Moses, but as interpreted in light of the person and message of Jesus Christ. Jesus is calling his disciples, and us, not just to understand the law differently, but to live differently because of this new understanding. As we talked about last week, again Jesus calls us not so much to “do” something as his followers, but to “be” something as his disciples.[ii]
In three of the antitheses that we hear in the text this morning, Jesus is inviting the disciples into a new way of being when he tells them to live like this, not that: “you have heard it said,” but “I say to you.” In the first of these antitheses, Jesus says in verses 21-22, “you have heard it said to those of ancient times, ‘you shall not commit murder;’ and whoever murders shall be liable to judgment. But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment” (Matt. 5: 21-22, NRSV). Jesus is raising the bar a little bit higher when it comes to living righteously by saying that simply just being angry with someone is equivalent to murder. Yet in our context today, it would probably create great stress on our legal system if we charged people with simply being angry with each other. And given the level of anger out there right now, may God have mercy on humankind.
However, this new way and embellishing what has already been is one of the challenges that Jesus presents that takes things a step further than what is already written in the Mosaic Law (that). It’s also about living with a deeper level of integrity to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, something where Jesus is still inviting us to live today. Instead of just talking of murder, Jesus invites us to let go of anger, let go of resentment, and let go of ill-will towards others.[iii] Think of how we can change the world for the better when we do this, not holding onto that which may hold us down and keep us from fully living out our faith. Are we willing to take that part of the great invitation and take it seriously?
Jesus goes on and talks about adultery and divorce, which might be unsettling upon hearing, but instead Jesus is more so talking about relationships. “Again, Jesus is pointing not to ‘that’ – the laws themselves around the actions adultery and divorce – but rather, to ‘this,’ one’s motivations, one’s heart, and one’s thought…[instead, Jesus’s] words could be expanded to help us consider not just how we act toward other people, but what is inside each of us, in terms of how we think about other people.”[iv] In fact, in this passage on adultery, Jesus uses hyperbole, or exaggerated statements to make a point, especially when he says to gouge out your eye or cut off one of your hands if they cause you to sin. Instead, “we need to pay close attention to what is on the inside, on our thoughts and our feelings, on what is deep inside our hearts.”[v] This is what Jesus is talking about when addressing murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths.
In the antithesis about oaths, Jesus is talking more about being honest, “think[ing] about our character by concentrating on our roots,” thinking of where we came from and keeping our honor and ancestors’ honor, especially in this day where the truth may be hard to find. On the other hand, no matter how this text is presented, these are extremely difficult words to hear from Jesus, much less to preach about. However, Jesus is showing the disciples and us that there is a higher ideal that is at stake when he says to do this, not that.
The “Sermon on the Mount” is unlike anything people have heard, but when it comes to this, not that, we are dealing with the new way of living as disciples, letting go of anger and destructive behavior, honoring our relationships by practicing love towards everyone, and being honest by “honoring our commitments.”[vi] This is what Jesus is showing us, light and love, even if it doesn’t feel really lovey-dovey in the text (maybe tough love), as we have to let go of the that, the destructive and harmful practices we may do in order to live into the new way, this that Jesus is showing us. As my New Testament professor at Wesley, Dr. Carla Works explains,
The antitheses are daunting -- refuse to harbor anger, honor oaths whether in marriage or to your neighbors, desire justice so much that you would rather suffer a wrong than impose one on another, love your enemies and pray to God on their behalf. These teachings indicate that what a person does is only part of the problem. This kingdom demands radical discipleship so that even a person’s thought world is transformed by contact with God’s reign.[vii]
So, like Jesus is showing us, the purpose of “The Great Invitation” is to raise the bar on our own discipleship. How do we take the invitation seriously if we aren’t willing to let go of anger or ill-will towards others? Do we take the great invitation seriously if we do not care for our sacred relationships with friends or family members when we hold onto grudges and resentment (and yes, I’m asking myself this too)? Do we take the great invitation seriously by being honest and honoring our commitments?[viii] We do have some good news here, as we will fall short and that’s where God’s grace comes in when we end up failing to “do ‘this’ perfectly.”[ix] We have the time to work on practicing the ‘this’ that Jesus encourages us to do, not ‘that’ which is the old way of things. We have this awesome opportunity to be renewed when we practice this, not that as we approach the end of our series and next week, we learn of what our reward is when we practice this, not that and all that Jesus talks about in “The Sermon on the Mount.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church say, Amen.
[i] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 189.
[ii] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘This, Not That — Preaching Notes’. 2017. Accessed February 9, 2017. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/this-not-that-preaching-notes.
[vii] Lose, David. ‘Commentary on Matthew 5: 21-37 by Carla Works’. February 16, 2014. Accessed February 9, 2017. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2033.
[viii] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘This, Not That — Preaching Notes’. 2017. Accessed February 9, 2017. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/this-not-that-preaching-notes.
Community UMC, Quincy
“The Great Invitation: Salt and Light and Righteousness Abounding”
Pastor Andrew Davis
February 5, 2017
Matthew 5: 13-20
How many of you enjoy watching cooking shows on TV? I have to admit that Food Network is a mainstay in my house when there’s nothing else on TV, or when I get bored with sports or tired of the news. Many times, I enjoy watching Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives,” “The Kitchen,” or "Burgers, Brews, and Ques,” to name a few. Just don't watch while hungry, though. But in the early days of Food Network when it first became available on Comcast in Sacramento in the late nineties, I found myself particularly drawn to Emeril Lagasse’s shows, more notably “Emeril Live.” Now if you’ve watched Emeril Lagasse before, his culinary style tends to focus on Cajun and Creole cooking. Basically, food that's loaded with flavor and spice. While we haven’t seen Emeril on TV very much as of late, what drew me to his show “Emeril Live” was his charismatic personality, his obvious passion for food and flavor, and his catchphrase, “let’s kick it up a notch!” Or whenever he’d sprinkle something with his trademark seasoning, called essence, he’d go “BAM!”
Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t like food that is bland or has no flavor. I need to have some salt or seasoning on my food, in which there is definitely not a lack of abundance of these days. In fact, whenever you go to Safeway or SavMor and walk down the spice aisle, you’ll see a number of seasonings and if you walk by the meat department at SavMor, will see a number of specialty seasonings and marinades on top of that island case. Yes, spices and seasoning, even salt has become sophisticated. It's as if it's a taboo not to have seasoning on our food. Of course, we also know too much salt or seasoning is not good for us, but there’s something about salt that brings out and enhances the flavor of food. And thinking of ourselves as salt can bring out something in us as disciples of Jesus Christ when we have salt and light and righteousness abounding in us.
As we continue with our great invitation to discipleship and following Jesus during this season of Epiphany, there’s something to be said about salt, light, and righteousness in this morning’s Gospel lesson from Matthew, as Jesus is calling for each of us to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” as he begins teaching the disciples and teaches us lessons in righteousness (Matt. 5: 13, 14, 20, NRSV). Last week, in verses 1-12 of Matthew 5, Jesus was pronouncing blessings on everyone gathered to hear him as he began the “Sermon on the Mount,” but as we roll up our sleeves and get into the rest of the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus is getting into the nuts and bolts of his sermon and what it means to be his followers and disciples. Jesus says who are blessed in the beginning of this sermon, but now is calling the disciples and each of us to be salt of the earth and light of the world, and to live righteously in God’s kingdom. But the most important role that we have as disciples of Jesus Christ is to share that great invitation with others, inviting people to come and see for themselves who Jesus is, then invite people to follow Jesus, then to think of how we are #blessed and how we can be a blessing to others. We're now being invited by Jesus to be salt and light and live righteously. Perhaps as Jesus is sharing this message of being the salt of the earth and light of the world, Jesus is telling us like Emeril would tell us, let’s “kick it up a notch!”
When we extend this great invitation to people to come and see who Jesus is, to follow Jesus, and to be blessings on those we encounter each day, we need to have this joy and zest to us, something like the specialty seasonings we come across at SavMor or Safeway. Although ordinary salt will do too. Just as I don’t like bland food, we also don't want to just sit around and become stagnant, as seasonings loose that zest the longer they sit on the shelf. As Jesus says in verse 13, “if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” It’s about keeping that zest for Christ! But of course, Jesus is also talking about the “wisdom and grace exhibited in speech” when he talks about us being the salt of the earth. Just like seasoning a piece of meat or some veggies with a little salt, we are called to season the earth and season our community with the hope, joy, love, grace, and peace that following Jesus can bring us and that we as the hands and feet of Christ can bring the same to others throughout our community. It’s more about BEING a disciple and showing how to BE a disciple when we are the salt of the earth, not so much about the doing part, as “the life of discipleship is conceived throughout as life within the community of faith, a community charged with a mission to the world.”
Our mission to the world is not just about going around and kicking things up a notch and going “BAM!” Like Emeril does when he seasons his dishes. Yet when we are salt of the earth, Jesus also calls us to be the light of the world. Light of the world, or being a “city on a hill” is not about being superior to others if they don’t follow Christ, but more so that it’s about what people are going to see when they see our light shining bright and our zest for Christ, particularly when Jesus tells us to “let your light shine before others, so they may see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven” (Matt 5: 14, 16, NRSV). How are we going to shine for others, especially so others can see the good work that we do? But more importantly, how are we going to BE disciples, especially in a rapidly changing world?
When we invite people to come and see who Jesus is, to follow Jesus, and when we are blessings for the different people we encounter in the community, we are showing them our light, but as Jesus also says, we don’t want to hide our light “under a bushel basket” either, but instead put it “on a lampstand” because “it gives light to all the house” (Matt 5: 15, NRSV). It’s just like producing fruit; in a perfect world, we share that fruit with everyone, not keep it to ourselves. We share our gifts and talents, we share our time, we share compassion, we break bread with each other like we will do at the Communion table shortly, and many other ways that we can be salt of the earth and light of the world. We need to let our light shine, not hide our light under anything that will stifle it. Just like speaking words of wisdom and grace when we are salt of the earth, we can shine our light of love, grace, hope, peace, and joy on each other, but also on each person we encounter during the week when we get beyond the walls of our church.
Now shifting gears a little, some of the nitty-gritty of this part of Jesus's “Sermon on the Mount” is also when Jesus tells us that he comes “to fulfill” the law in verse 17 (NRSV). Jesus speaks to us about righteousness, or living a life pleasing to God. Yet once again, Jesus is showing how God’s kingdom will not be like the kingdoms or world of now, as Jesus was preaching to a rapidly changing world at the time he was preaching in, not really any different from what our world is like today. But there’s still the law and as Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser explains,
The law is about doing. It is about practicing righteous living by following the commandments of God. We need the law, so we can know what to do and what not to do. When Jesus says he has come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, I think he is suggesting that being his disciple is not as much a matter of DOING as it is a matter of BEING.
Being a disciple, being salt, and being light is something we need to strive for, while also holding the law in balance. It’s also like balancing the different tasks we do each day, especially work and play! Yet, what really stands out is when Jesus says in verse 20, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20, NRSV). Kind of a high bar there, but it's about living into the word, living the Gospel, living a life that is pleasing to God, being salt and light regardless of what's happening around us. As Dawn said above, it’s about BEING and how we are to be disciples in our own rapidly changing world of today. It’s about being salt and light and living righteously, although as I've said before, be careful not to confuse righteousness with pride.
More importantly, we as followers of Christ need to rise above when things are testy or in conflict, loving one another unconditionally, shining the light of grace on each other and those we encounter, and speaking words of grace when we have salt and light and righteousness abounding. I don’t really need to dwell too much on and quite honestly am becoming very weary of what we see in the news each day, yet in a rapidly changing world that we are living in and times we presently live in, we need to be that salt of the earth even more, sharing that zest with one another by encouraging and loving the people we encounter unconditionally. We need to be showing grace, be compassionate, be a listening ear and kind presence to everyone, be willing to extend help, and be willing to engage in sometimes difficult conversations. At the same time, we have this great opportunity to let our lights shine through our action. Such acts are how we show our righteousness and let our lights shine and show that zest for Christ as salt of the earth. There is good news that we receive by being salt and light for the world, in that we have this teaching from Jesus and this encouragement to share that salt and light for others to see when we have salt and light and righteousness abounding.
So like Emeril Lagasse would say, “let’s kick it up a notch” this week as the salt of the earth and light of the world and let our righteousness abound within each of us and around this great invitation to BE a disciple of Jesus Christ. Let’s keep our zest and maybe go “BAM!” when we show others our joy and hope in Christ. But let’s also be light, shining brightly so that others will be curious why we shine, and invite people to come and see who Jesus is when we are salt of the earth and light of the world. Plus with the big game on this afternoon, I'm sure we’ll be tasting some salt since Super Bowl Sunday tends to have its share of salty foods and will see some bright lights from the pregame and halftime show. As we jump into this new week, how are you going to be the salt of the earth and what does it mean to BE a disciple of Jesus Christ? And how are you going to let your light shine for everyone whom you encounter this week? Don’t hold back or let your salt lose its flavor and don't hide your light, as we keep inviting others to come and see, invite others to follow Jesus, be a blessing to others, and let salt and light and righteousness abound in all of us.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN!
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
February is one of those months when I’m not exactly sure what to write about. We’re still in the throes of winter, Lent doesn’t begin until March 1, the Winter Olympics won’t happen until next year, and we do have Valentine’s Day, Shrove Tuesday on the 28th, then Ash Wednesday on March 1. However, we do have more daylight, sometimes the weather might tease us with a hint of Spring, and we do have Fellowship 6 and the beginning of my attempt to visit each one of you one on one or as a family unit. In some ways, February is like the calm before the storm, as we will be gearing up for the Lent and Easter cycle.
As I write this month’s Adventure’s, I have just returned from the annual Gathering of the Orders at Mt. Hermon near Santa Cruz. I also took a little extra time in Santa Cruz to renew my spirits and enjoy my other favorite part of God’s creation, the ocean. I love the mountains and I love the ocean and find being in them to be highly renewing and where I feel closest to God. And with all the snow we have had, I am hoping that it will help to renew our part of the earth here in CA after several years of drought.
Renewal is something very important, along with regular rest. I intentionally take Friday as a day of Sabbath (rest) and renewal, finding something I really enjoy doing whether it is reading a book, going for a long walk, a drive to one of the lakes, fishing, or right now, enjoying the winter sports thanks to the snow. What do you find renewing? Although I have said it before, I encourage each of you to make sure that you too are taking a day out of your week to rest and do something renewing and enjoyable. And as we are only a month away from Lent, Lent is also a time to renew ourselves and help us to look at ourselves in the mirror and what kind of new life we are called to live when Easter comes around. So as we go about this month, let us think of ways we can renew ourselves individually, but also how we can renew ourselves as a church too!!
Peace & Blessings,
Community UMC, Quincy
“The Great Invitation: #Blessed”
January 29, 2017
Pastor Andrew Davis
Matthew 5: 1-12
All throughout my life, I have often heard the saying, “I am blessed.” How many of you have come across that saying this past week or month, whether it’s on TV, in a magazine, on the radio, or while perusing the internet? It’s one of those common sayings, especially when things are going right and everything is good. Case in point: I’m so blessed that my team won. I’m so blessed to have this fancy sports car. I’m blessed that I have a roof over my head and food on the table. I’m so blessed to know this person or that person. I’m blessed to belong to a great church. Or in my case, I’m blessed to serve a great church!! We hear it everywhere, whether from celebrities, athletes, or people like us.
Now, you’re probably wondering why the little number symbol is in front of the word blessed in the title of our sermon this morning. If you happen to be on social media, it’s called a hashtag and if you were to click on the hashtag, you'll see a whole bunch of similar stories that pertain to #Blessed. So, if you were on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and clicked on the hashtag-blessed, you would see how many different stories that are out there where people feel that they are blessed. But, how does blessed work, especially in the case of this morning’s Gospel lesson, also known as the Beatitudes and beginning of Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount?”
As we just sang our Gospel lesson, David Haas’s “Blest Are They,” we hear this word blessed come up in Jesus’s first sermon to the public after growing up, being baptized by John, spending forty days and nights in the wilderness, and calling his disciples to come and see, and follow him. Jesus is now ready to witness to, to heal, and to teach the many crowds who flock to him around Galilee, as they come and see for themselves who he is. In the part we didn’t sing about in “Blest Are They,” Jesus has encountered this great crowd and goes up to a mountain with his disciples, sitting down and teaching everyone around him when he talks about the different ways that people are blessed. But, it’s not what the crowd would expect when he says from Matthew 5: 3-11:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (NRSV)
As we hear these words from Jesus, these are blessings that are proclaimed on the entire crowd, but also the beginning of lessons in righteousness which is how we live a life that is pleasing to God. We will be unpacking these lessons a little more in the next few weeks, yet Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount” also tells us who Jesus is and what shape his earthly ministry will take.
When Jesus addresses the crowd on the mountain, it all starts with a blessing, in which Jesus is setting up a whole new way of life as he pronounces each of these blessings on the people. He is turning the world that people knew at the time upside down. However, look at particularly who Jesus is blessing: the poor in spirit, the meek, those who grieve, the hungry and thirsty who want to live to please God, the merciful, the peacemakers, the pure in heart, the persecuted, or those who get flak for following Jesus. These are the people who Jesus is going to minister to and hang out with throughout his earthly ministry, but these are also the same people we need to be ministering with and inviting to follow Jesus today. Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser explains that
Jesus is blessing [the people] for a purpose. He is blessing them to think differently about the way the world works because of what he is teaching and doing. He is describing how we are to live as God’s people in the world – not simply by calling attention to all the many ways God has #blessed us personally – but [by] being a blessing to others.
Being #blessed is not really about what we get, but a way that we can live out our faith when we think of what it means to be #blessed and to be a blessing to others, as Jesus is also pronouncing a blessing on us too when he says “blessed are they,” and showing us a new way to live and think differently today. It’s kind of like that saying, “what’s old is new again.”
When Jesus shared his “Sermon on the Mount,” it wasn’t so much about cause and effect, but more about how things will work in God’s kingdom, which will not be anything like what we have on earth here right now. See, Jesus is challenging each of us to be a blessing to others when we hear these words, as each of us also are #blessed by God whenever Jesus says “blessed are they.” It’s also not so much a pronouncement on individuals, but everyone within the community that we encounter. For instance, “among every authentic Christian congregation can be found persons of meekness (which is gentleness or humility), ministers of mercy, and workers of peace. Their presence and activity among us is a sign of God’s blessing and a call to all of us to conform our common life more and more to these [values of God’s kingdom].” Each of us that I look out upon have these values too, as some of us are meek, some of us work for mercy within our community, some of us work for peace and justice, and yes, there are times when we as followers of Jesus can even be reviled.
Given the time we are living in right now and the tension that is thick in the air from all the happenings in our nation and world, we need to hear these blessings and words from Jesus once again, but also allow these words to serve as a reminder of what we need to do as people of faith. Same thing with what we heard in our reading from Micah 6: 1-8, but we need to be the ones to bring hope, blessings, and peace to the same people Jesus names in the “Sermon on the Mount.” However, we also need to hunger and thirst to live lives pleasing for God, never losing our sense of hope or our joy in faith. We need to continue to bring hope and comfort for those who grieve, as we are one of the many means of support people can find in us. We need to be peacemakers and workers of justice and mercy, especially in a world when truth is often being distorted and called into question or this new phenomenon called “alternative facts,” but we also need to actively be peacemakers to a nation and world that is divided where differences are more likely to collide in sometimes aggressive and violent ways. Furthermore, we also need to keep in mind that when it comes to being #blessed, “being blessed is not just for the sake of potential joy, but also for the sake of making it through that which will be difficult.”
And there certainly are and will be times that will be difficult. In fact, right now is one of those times. One of my colleagues recently shared an article about the challenges we are currently facing as preachers of the Gospel and the new administration, but I also see this as a healthy tension just as many of us have differences which are healthy. However, in this article, the author explained what might be preached in the Gospel, might be seen by some as an attack from the pulpit against the new administration, which is something that I feel needs to be addressed. It’s along the same lines of this morning’s scripture lessons, what might be considered blessed, walking humbly with God, or seeking justice to one person, might be something completely different to somebody else. When it comes to preaching and living our faith, we do need to acknowledge and own the fact there is a great deal of tension between the Gospel and what is happening right now, just like there was with Jesus and the various leaders in his time. However, I also want to assure each of you that I will follow the Gospel, and will do my best to live out the Gospel even though I will fall short here and there. When it comes to being #blessed and even amidst the potential for some misunderstandings along the way, Jesus is reminding us that we still need to look out for and bless the poor, the hungry, the vulnerable in our society, but also to keep working for mercy and to keep being peacemakers, even in times where deep division exists. That is where we will be #blessed.
At the same time, you’ve gotta speak up, especially for the same people who Jesus is pronouncing these blessings on which will at times lead to people reviling you, regardless of how you preach the Gospel. But keep preaching and proclaiming the Gospel anyway, and I encourage all of you to speak up and bless others, even people you might not agree with. But also keep working for peace, mercy, and justice. Keep inviting people to come and see. And speaking up and out, or pronouncing blessings on the same people Jesus names in The Beatitudes can be risky as well, but each of us needs be willing to speak up, regardless of our theology or political ideology. By being #blessed and being a blessing for others, we can get through the challenging and difficult times, even when it feels easier said than done.
So, what does it mean to you when you hear the word #blessed? At the same time, how are you blessing others who you encounter? In these coming weeks, we will be learning from Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount” about what it means to be salt and light for the earth, to do this, not that, then see what our reward is in heaven, and will conclude with how we can shine for others. We have many reasons why we are #blessed, as God’s blessing is for everyone, as “in Christ, God’s blessing does not discriminate. God’s blessing is for all. God’s blessing is for you. God’s blessing is for me…#blessed is our identity. #blessed is our condition. #blessed is who we are because of God’s saving love shown in Jesus Christ.” And #Blessed is everyone who is here, as we go out and pronounce blessings on everyone who we encounter this week and as we continue to extend the great invitation to come and see, and follow Jesus.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
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