This is a sermon I preached on January 29th, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Bethesda, Maryland. The texts were Micah 6: 1-8 and Matthew 5: 1-12 (commonly known as the Beatitudes). It was my first sermon back, following a month of being back at St. John’s Georgetown (most of those sermons are posted below! Unfortunately, we were unable to record the Dr. Seuss or Harry Potter Sunday messages).
I have a confession for you all. I know, I’ve been away for a minute, and I’m going to reintroduce myself with a confession: I, Cara Rockhill, Transitional Deacon in the Episcopal Church, have a tattoo. Actually, I have a couple. But only one that’s important for today. A few years ago, when I was still a practicing lawyer and seminary wasn’t even a blip on my radar, I tattooed my favorite Bible verse on my wrist, in white. I did this because I knew I would need a reminder of what God wants from me.
My favorite verse, the one that reminds me of what God wants and expects from me, is Micah 6:8. God asks me to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.
Sounds easy, right?
Understanding these words, and implementing them into my life has been incredibly difficult. Today, I’d like to talk about Micah 6, and the Beatitudes, which is our Gospel reading today, and discuss how they can really offer us guidance in how to live our lives in times like these.
Before I start, another quick confession: for the longest time, I had no idea what Beatitude meant. So I looked it up, in English, because I took Hebrew instead of Latin or Greek. It means Blessed, or favored by God. I offer that in case anyone else is like me and curious, but also did not take Greek or Latin.
And so we begin.
Usually in sermons I like to offer my conclusion after a lot of dramatic build up, but today, I’d like to start at the beginning with my conclusion. I read the Beatitudes multiple times. I’ve spent more time studying Micah 6 than I can even begin to tell you. What I’ve come back to over, and over, and over, is that what God wants from us is a lot different than what the world tells us is good and important. What God offers us looks different than what society tells us is what we should aim for in life. The blessings of God, and the “blessings” of life can be very, very different.
To me, that is comforting, empowering, and utterly unsatisfying. It’s also why I don’t buy into the idea of the Prosperity Gospel, but that’s a topic for another sermon.
Let’s look at Micah 6 to begin. Micah 6 is the Holy Lawsuit. Even before I had spent a great deal of time with this text, I knew I liked it. It’s not often that Scripture gives you direct answers, and direct answers that convey over time. But this text does. “[A]nd what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” That’s fairly straightforward as far as Scripture goes. It takes a bit of unpacking to understand what justice, kindness, and humility mean. But for the most part, we can figure out that command. It’s a beautiful summary of thousands of years of prophetic teaching. It’s even a beautiful summary of what Jesus will preach once he arrives.
But it didn’t just appear out of the sky. Those words were spoken, through the Prophet Micah, because God was angry. God begins by demanding that humans, people who claim to follow God, defend themselves. They aren’t doing what God has told them to do, repeatedly, throughout time, through various Prophets.
What the people are doing is what society and their religious leaders have told them is what they need to do. They make sacrificial offerings, they tithe. Those are actions based on social responsibility. It’s what society says is enough to show you worship God. And you know what, maybe it was enough, maybe it is enough, to show society that you worship God.
But it’s not enough for God.
God wants us. All of us. Every part of all of us. To be just, kind, and humble takes all that you have.
I will admit to all of you right now that I am angry about what is happening in this country and our world. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get political, I just want you to have an example of what it takes to be just, kind, and humble.
I am angry. I want to resist. I want to fight. For my own rights, for those of my friends, and for the rights of people I’ve never met to live full and complete lives, for my friends and their families, some of whom are now trapped in foreign lands and unable to renter the US. But I have to remember that my calling by God is to be just, kind, and humble. My calling is both to resistance and reconciliation. Actually, I think my calling is to resistance through reconciliation. That requires me to do and be more than what society, and my friends, think I should do, and be different from what many of them are doing.
Never before had the words of the Beatitudes jumped off the page at me. I’m a white, American, woman. By American standards, I’m not overly privileged, but by world standards, I really, really am. I know this about myself. It’s why until recently I’ve struggled to see myself within the words of the Beatitudes. I’ve been physically and emotionally broken and weak in spirit. I know what it means to mourn. I was bullied, so I know what it means to feel meek. I understand what so many of these words mean in my own life and in the lives of my friends and family. But I still struggled to see myself within the words.
But now, I feel powerless by societal norms. Society tells me right now I’m fighting a losing battle. And that the only option I have is to fight.
And then I read the Beatitudes. With fresh eyes to see and opened eyes to hear.
What I see and hear is that God’s blessings, and the world’s blessings, just don’t always match up. And right now, they are not matching up.
Paul addresses this too in his letter to the Corinthians: “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.”
God chooses that which the world does not.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Blessed are those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you, and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely” on account of your faith in God.
This, God says, is something to rejoice in, for you are blessed and will receive your reward in heaven.
Society does not agree. At least not in this country and city right now. Right now, society tells us to be rich and powerful. To make sure everybody likes you. Use that for power. Use that power to gain more power. Once you have power, and money, and cars, and big houses, then, and only then, are you blessed.
You can have cars, money, houses, power. That’s fine. But what God is really interested is what you do with those things.
You have a car: do you use it to volunteer or take supplies to a worthy cause in need?
You have money: what do you do with your money? Where does it go?
You have a big house: is it filled with friends and family? What do you do with extra space? Have you thought about what you could do with that space?
You have power. What do you do with it? Society might say you don’t have power. But you do.
What God calls us to consider is how do we balance the calling of God, with the blessings of modern life. Really, right now, I think we need to consider what God is calling each of us to do. Each of us have a different reaction to what is happening in this city, nation, and world. What is that reaction, where does it come from, what lies beneath it?
I’m angry. But underneath my anger, is fear. I’m afraid. I’m afraid for my rights, even my life. And for those I care about. And for people I’ve never met, and I don’t know what’s going to happen to them.
I could take an easy way out. I could bury my head in the sand. Preach sermons on Sundays about God’s love and how everything that happens is part of God’s plan. But I flat out, do not believe that.
God didn’t make society, we did. God didn’t cause this mess, we did.
Yet, God calls to us from this mess. Calling out to us to search for God, and to be God’s hands and feet in this world.
Societies change. What society considers to be a sign of God’s blessing changes. What God asks of us has not changed. That’s why I tattooed Micah 6:8 on my wrist, to carry the reminder that no matter what, at all times and in all things, to follow God’s path, I must do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
What that looks like changes everyday. What that looks like right now for me, and for most of you, looks an awful lot like what Jesus is discussing in the Beatitudes. We’re called to do it anyway.
Be just, kind, and humble. Everyday. And do so while walking with God. You’ll get a lot further that way.