Sunday, January 29, 2017

Year A 4th Sunday of Epiphany 2017 "The World Turned Upside Down"

Year A 4th Sunday of Epiphany 29 January 2016
“The World Turned Upside Down”
St. David’s Episcopal, Aylett, VA

“The World Turned Upside Down” That was the name of the song played when the British were forced to surrender to the Colonies, as they thought of them, in 1781. It all took place not far from where we are at the tiny hamlet of Yorktown. The British, the greatest Empire in the history of the world, could not conceive of having to surrender to the upstarts from a backwater region, rich in resources obviously, but dumb hicks nonetheless. And yet here there were, and they chose a British march when General Washington of the Continental Army would not allow them the customary honors of war.  “The World Turned Upside Down.” Interestingly enough, the song’s words were about the joy of Christmas, and why we should celebrate instead of being somber. And today, in our Gospel reading Jesus’ words scream that the REAL world, God’s world, is entirely reversed from what we normally think, and what we normally expect. From God’s point of view, this world is turned upside down.

It is this upside down world that is the nature of Christianity. It is the nature of the faith before Christ even came. In today’s reading from Micah, the prophet’s cry was the same. The world thinks that bigger is better. The world thinks that more is best. The world thinks that a rich gift will impress anyone, even God. But Micah reminds us that thousands of rams sacrificed does not touch the heart of God, but honest living does.

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?
It echoes the Psalms from today, Psalm 15:2. Who may reside with the Lord? “Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right.”

We were told, and yet we so easily forget. We live in a world that says that he who dies with the most toys wins. The world says that there are Winners. And if you have Winners, the world says that there are Losers, and God does not like Losers. Well thanks be to that same God invoked, who came in the flesh to tell us that we had it upside down. Jesus and his message goes directly against what the world says, what the world is still saying. Some of the people who claim to be the followers of Jesus say that Jesus was for the Winners, and that he wants us to be Winners. These ideas are what is called Prosperity Theology. It teaches that God wants you to be rich and successful! That sounds great till you actually read what Jesus said.

You see in the Kingdom of God there are no Winners, there are no Losers. There are God’s Children. In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus taught us that Everyone is our Neighbor & that Everyone Belongs.

It was the same in Paul’s day, as it is in ours. When something good happens, or when people have a nice house and a nice lifestyle, the words that come rolling off our tongues is, “You have been blessed.” It was the same with Paul. Somewhere along the way we have been deceived, that the blessings of God are things. In fact most of us know, things cannot make us happy. Helen Keller, wise beyond belief because all she had was her mind, not seeing, not hearing, and yet she still knew the truth. “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart.” Jesus, Micah and Paul would all agree. (In fact, Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:18 says as much. “The eternal is those things that cannot be seen.”)

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.

Foolishness here, is not true foolishness, but what seems Foolish to the World. The World is convinced that they have it all figured out, and yet, at the end of the day what brings us comfort?
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.

Think about it. We still claim to follow a leader and teacher who was hung with the worst of criminals. In fact, one of the earliest images portraying Jesus was a piece of graffiti with Jesus with a donkey’s head. It makes fun of a man named Alexamenos, and Jesus. The inscription says, “Alexamenos worships his God.” It is basically saying that Jesus and any who would follow him are asses. It was found in Rome on Palatine Hill, and is the earliest known depiction of Jesus. []
The world sees us and this man’s teaching as nice, not revolutionary. The see it as a cup of warm milk, not a miracle. They see it as an opiate for the masses, not the linchpin of human history. Paul continues:

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.”

Let us boast in the Lord. No one would look to the resumes of any of the disciples as a world-altering marketing team. Yet, they were. They shared a good news that still has the power to change the world, to change you, to change me.

Jesus starts his Sermon on the Mount with a listing of things that are Blessed. Now we use that word, in the English all the time, and I did a deep dive on it to make sure I knew what I meant.  It comes from the Greek makarios. Makarios means to be Happy, to be Blessed (made holy or sanctified) or even to Be Envied. And in light of that, Jesus words do not make any sense. Listen:

Matthew 5:1-12
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."

Now who of you are “Happy” when you are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker, or persecuted? Most of those things make it hard to be “Happy.” It was the same then. Now I have seen all kinds of explaining around this passage. I have heard it as a list of things we should be, the Be-Attitudes. I have heard it said that this is what God wants from us. I do not and cannot believe that. God does not want us to mourn. While he may want us to be peacemakers, that work is hard and often unrewarding. So how can we read and see these words. They must be pretty important. They start the longest straight teaching of Jesus to the masses given to us in the Gospels.

I will admit that I looked at this very differently after reading Dallas Willard’s great book, The Divine Conspiracy. In it, this passage is not a checklist of things we must do to be blessed. It is an observation of those who were around him and people he had seen. Jesus often taught with what was at hand, and on this day, on this hillside, people were at hand. And picture it, Jesus is walking through the crowd and declaring that the way the world sees thing are not the way God sees things.

You are able to be happy, even if you are poor in spirit, for yours is the Kingdom of heaven.
You are able to be happy, even if you are mourning, for you will be comforted.
You are able to be happy, even if you are meek, because you will get everything and more.

And how will these miracles happen? It can happen because God’s ways are not the world’s ways. God’s way is the way of Grace. God’s way is the way of unconditional, never-ending love. When we have nothing left, God has everything and more. And because Jesus declares that the world is Upside Down from the way we imagine or expect it, he seems Foolish to the Greeks and is a stumbling block to the Jews. Wherever we are, whatever we have done, we can be Blessed. That is the Good News, the Gospel. That is Grace. That is the Reality of the Real World.

We are called to live and act in ways that are Upside Down to this world. We are instructed to:
  • Love our enemies
  • Pray for those that persecute us
  • Turn the other cheek
  • Speak truth to power
  • Live in such a way to show we are Christ’s own
  • Love with all we’ve got
  • To not be afraid, for perfect love drives out all fear

Some of you may be upset that this sermon has turned to politics. I am so sorry you are upset. My role as a priest is to proclaim Christ and his Gospel. If the Gospel message has become political, I must admit an unapologetic Jesus bias. The Gospel has not changed. Maybe the politics have changed and are contrary to the Gospel.

Jesus said:
  • I was a stranger and you welcomed me
  • When you have done it unto the Least of These you have done it to me
  • Fear not
He said these things then, and he says it now. In our Baptismal Covenant we promised some dangerous things, dangerous to this Upside Down world: (Turn to page 304 and read with me)

Celebrant: Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?
People: I will, with God's help.Celebrant: Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People: I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People: I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People: I will, with God's help.
Celebrant: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People: I will, with God's help.

The Gospel is first and foremost Good News. It is a source of strength when we are weak. It is a source of healing when we are hurt. It is a source of discomfort when we let ourselves get too comfortable. God loves you. God loves them, whoever “them” is. God loves Obama. God loves Trump. That thinking is Upside Down to this world. If you are angry with me, let us sit down and lovingly talk it through like we talked about last week.

In closing today, I want to finish with one of my favorite translations of this passage, from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. In it, it makes sense to those who have never heard it before, and it makes us who know it too well listen again for the first time.

The Message of Matthew 5:1-12
1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

I picture Jesus walking through the crowd. Pointing at people, touching shoulders, blessing people as he walked by. And he declared them blessed in God’s Kingdom, no matter how they were seen, or what they had done. You are blessed, too, wherever you are, whoever you are, because God loves you just the way you are. And that news is Upside Down to this world we are living in. Be blessed, and thanks be to God. Amen.

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Blessings, Rock