Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fourth after the Epiphany, 2011

Our Guest Preacher at St. Andrew's Church on Sunday, January 30, 2011, was the Rev. Carol Henley, former Priest Associate at St. Andrew's, recently retired from ministry as Chaplain at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.


Micah 6:1-8
I Cor. 1:18-31
Matthew 5: 1-12

In my guest bedroom/home office, I have a cartoon on my bulletin board, which has been there for a few years now. It shows a picture of an attorney sitting at a desk and reading a will to a large family, sitting in chairs, in rapt attention, facing the attorney’s desk. She reads this from the will: “And…to his meek son, Richard, he leaves the earth.” It’s a cartoon, it’s (supposed to be) funny. It made me laugh when I first saw it, and it still amuses me. I think it amuses me because it is so counter cultural. The meek will inherit the earth. Yea, right! But, then, didn’t Jesus say exactly that, in the sermon on the Mount? He said, among other things, “blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” And he said several other things, many of which just don’t seem to pan out in our society. Jesus says, “blessed are the peacemakers”. We want to believe this, we yearn for peace, all the while sending troops and more troops to the Middle East to protect our national interests. At home, we don’t even have peace between the Republicans and Democrats! Where can we find peace! “Blessed are the pure in heart”…. How many of us act with pure motives! We’re human. We are sinful. We want to make it in this world; we want to be successful. Our motivations are often self centered – personally, for our families, for our country. Do we really consider the big picture, the one that includes God? “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” These words probably speak to every one of us. Is there anyone here who doesn’t hunger and thirst for righteousness? I doubt it. We are church goers and a people of faith. Our faith, no matter how little or how much faith we have, leads us to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Unfortunately, we often don’t see righteousness or justice in our world. The distance between the rich and the poor gets wider and wider. We continue to live in the shadow of violence and terrorist threats. Self interests clog the machinery of government. And we get discouraged. But Jesus says, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” A cynic might say, “filled with what?” We might wonder about that, too. …What does it mean, ”for they shall be filled?”

We all have an emptiness in our lives. How is that emptiness filled? Is it filled by shopping? Those ads that say, “must have” … must have this, must have that. Who says? Our consumer culture tries to tell us that things, that stuff, will fill our innate emptiness. Some people try to fill up with food, or drink, or drugs, or even with work. These things might keep the void at bay, at least for awhile. But ultimately, we have to face that emptiness. And when we do, Jesus tells us that if we “hunger and thirst for righteousness” -- rather than things, stuff, food, drink, drugs, even work – “we will be filled.” Being filled is a blessing.

The blessings that Jesus talks about may, when we hear them in the Beatitudes , seem like some remote reward. If we just hang in there and be patient and trust God, we will be blessed. But the reality is that the blessings are not only for the future; they are also present to us right now. For God’s reign has broken into our world to the extent that we see glimpses of the Kingdom now. Right in the midst of an unjust, sinful world is God’s presence, perhaps as a still, small voice, but the fact is, God is present with us. Jesus says, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Being poor in spirit, that is, when we feel empty inside, when we recognize our own limitations, God is with us to work in us and through us. The Kingdom of heaven can only become a reality when God is working through us. It is a present reality to the extent that God lives in us now.

When we feel persecuted by an unjust world, God is with us. We walk both in the Kingdom of Heaven and in an unjust world right now. When we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we are in the right place. We are where God wants us to be.

When I hear people talking about where God wants them to be, the context of the conversation is often about vocation. …people asking: is God calling me to be a doctor working in Haiti? Is God calling me to work at the Food Bank? …and the questions asked by those who are thinking about ordained ministry: Is God calling me to be a priest? …or is God calling me to be a deacon? When we think about where God wants us to be, we are often thinking: what is it that God wants us to do in our lives. We may, at some level, think that if we work at the Food Bank, we would be more pleasing to God than if we worked at the Giant Eagle. If we were a doctor in Haiti, we’d be more pleasing to God than if we were working in a more prosperous community.

The Beatitudes are not about vocation. They are about what is in our hearts. They are about knowing that God is with us when we feel empty, when we mourn, when we feel persecuted. The Beatitudes are about living in Kingdom life when we let go of materialistic ambition, when we are pure in heart, when our motives are pure. We are living in Kingdom life when we are peacemakers – peacemakers within ourselves (that is, when we make peace with the warring factions within our own heads), when we are peacemakers in our families, or our workplaces, when we are peacemakers wherever our lives touch others. We are living Kingdom life when we show mercy. And we can show mercy not because we are inherently good, but because God is merciful to us. When we believe and acknowledge that God is merciful to us, we are freed to be merciful to others. The Beatitudes reflect the nature of our God who created us in His image. And it is God walking with us, now, that enables us to live out the Beatitudes. We don’t have to do it on our own, to get some future blessings. The blessings come as we open ourselves to God’s presence in our lives right now. And future blessings await us when we will see the Kingdom of God in its fullness. Amen.

Carol Henley

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