Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A   Leave a comment

Above:  The Prophet Micah (Russian Orthodox Icon)

What God Requires of Us

FEBRUARY 2, 2014

JANUARY 29, 2017

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Micah 6:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version):

Hear what the LORD says:

Rise, plead your case before the mountains,

and let the hills hear your voice.

Hear, 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.

“O my people, what have I done to you?

In what have I wearied you?  Answer me!

For 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.

O 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.”

“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?

Will 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?

He 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 15 (New Revised Standard Version):

O LORD, who may abide in your tent?

Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,

and speak the truth from their heart;

who do not slander with their tongue,

and do no evil to their friends,

nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;

in whose eyes the wicked are despised,

but who honor those who fear the LORD;

who stand by their oath even to their hurt;

who do not lend money at interest,

and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

Those who do these things shall never be moved.

1 Corinthians 1:18-37 (New Revised Standard Version):

The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.

Where 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? For 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. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Consider 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. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Matthew 5:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version):

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

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. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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The readings for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, are counter-cultural in the best possible way.  They point to a divine order distinct from the human status quo.  If you have doubts, read the psalm again and ponder the economic order in much of the world.

The Matthew version of the Beatitudes (distinct from the Luke version) fit neatly with the God-centered counter-culture depicted in Psalm 15.  They depict a great reversal of fortune–a world in which those who grieve receive comfort, the meek inherit the earth, and those who are persecuted have reason to rejoice.  Perhaps the traditional, King James rendering of the first Beatitude obscures its meaning.  What does it mean to be poor in spirit?  The late J. B. Phillips, in the second edition of his New Testament in Modern English (1972), got it right:

How happy are those who know their need for God, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!

Likewise the second edition of the New Living Translation (2004) has Jesus say,

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

All of this is consistent with the excerpt from 1 Corinthians, which reminds us that human standards do not bind God.

The reading from Micah is perhaps most famous for the glorious 6:8, but some references in previous verses require explanation.  God had delivered the people of Israel and led them through the wilderness to the promised land with the cooperation of human leaders.  Shittim was the location of the last camp before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into Canaan; Gilgal was where they camped first after crossing the Jordan.  King Balak had plotted to have Balaam, a prophet-for-hire, curse his (Balak’s) enemies; God made sure that Balaam spoke the truth, regardless of what Balak thought about it.  The capstone of the reading from Micah is 6:8, which contains a brief summary of holiness:  “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly” with God.

So we need to recognize our need for God, cease exploiting each other, and to extend kindness to each other.  This ethic negates much of the economic orders of the world.  As I write these words there is an ongoing corporate competition to decrease wages (and therefore the standard of living) due to lower wages elsewhere on the planet.  Then people cannot afford to keep the economy healthy or to purchase quality items, which have become too expensive for diminished budgets.  U.S. President William McKinley, in office  (whom I quote favorably rarely) stated correctly:

Cheap goods make for cheap men; and cheap men make for a cheap country.

(Historical note:  President McKinley was in office 1897-1901, assassinated early into his second term.)

I have learned of bail bondsmen in communities across the United States making deals with local judges to send non-violent accused to people to jail (not release them, bypassing jail and trusting them to keep their court dates), so that the bail bondsmen can bail these individuals out.  This, of course, is good business for the bail bondsmen, but what about the accused who are poor?  The wealthy accused can afford bail.  And this packing of local jails increases the public costs of incarceration, which is bad for communities.

Much of politics has relied for a very long time on impulses which run contrary to kindness.  Indeed, the great indifference, aversion, or even hostility to objective reality, hence leading to a “don’t confuse me with the facts” mentality proves destructive to the community and the nation.  And what would 24-hour alleged news channels do if they had to report only hard news–you know, the kind rooted in confirmed facts?  Kindness would kill their business model of stirring up the reptilian brain within their viewers–and facts be damned.  What matters most to these purveyors of punditry is a good mad.

Acting kindly can prevent many unnecessary problems for others.  This is not “rocket science;” much of this falls into the Lutheran category of “civic righteousness,” or good deeds we have the power to undertake on our own strength yet which cannot save us from our sins, or ourselves.  We can go far toward making the vision of Micah 6:8 reality, if only we will do so.  Selfishness is not a predetermined condition, for we can be altruistic.  Indeed, there is an evolutionary advantage inherent in altruism; it serves the common good, increasing the odds of the survival of the species.  (I like to listen to science programming on the radio via the Internet.)  So self-interest can take us far.  The missing piece is the one only God can provide.  Then, by grace, we can have a beloved community marked by true justice.

KRT

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/week-of-proper-5-monday-year-2/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/third-sunday-in-lent-year-b/

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