1st Scripture Reading: Micah 6: 1-8, Psalm 15
In our first hymn this morning we sang; “The church is wherever God’s people are gathered”. And here we are: God’s gathered people. We are here to learn how to be God’s people, and to support each other as we turn away from the foolishness of the world, to walk in obedience to God’s will for us.
But what is God’s will for us? Do we really know what that is? The prophet Micah tells us first what it is not... God does not want burnt offerings of animal or human sacrifice, or of precious oil, he says. “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.” Basically that says to me that you can’t buy your way into the kingdom of God. We need to stand up for that which is right and just; be kind to others, and respect kindness in them; and walk quietly and gently, acknowledging the supremacy of God our Creator, and expecting no praise or gratitude for any of that.
Psalm 15 elaborates on the same theme: what is God expecting of us? How do we live as God’s people? And does the psalmist really mean “who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?” The suggestion here to me reads, “who gets to be intimate with God – who gets to live in the presence of God?”
In other words, it’s not really about whether or not you go to a building called a church, or a mosque, or a temple. Can this great, amazing presence we call God be contained in any kind of a building, do you think? In the past, as part of our spiritual evolution many of us did think something like that. We went to church on Sunday morning to be with God. Our religious authorities reinforced that kind of thinking, and punished those who said differently. (we remember the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, for saying something along those lines.)
So as we sing together, “Let us Build a House” from More Voices, we remind ourselves that we are not talking about a literal house, or any kind of human construct – we are talking about a gathering of God’s people, with the intention and the awareness to join a fellowship of people who want to live according to God’s will: people who understand Micah’s words and intend to follow them, “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
And then the whole world will be God’s church.
Hymn #1 MV “Let Us Build a House”
2nd Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 1: 18-31, Matthew 5:1-12
In Paul’s first letter to the early Christian church at Corinth, we heard him last week berating that gathering of God’s people for the divisions among them. Those were heady and exhilarating times, folks. There was at first lots of diversity of opinion about what a follower of Jesus should believe. There were no written records at that point – only oral history, which is often not very reliable.
This week’s reading from the same letter tries to get them all on the same page about Jesus as the Son of God and the embodiment of God’s power and wisdom. Paul makes the comparison of their own calling to become followers of Jesus with the wise and powerful rulers and leaders of the secular world. He tries to show them that because they are tapped in to the power and wisdom of God thru Jesus, their wisdom, though it might look like foolishness to those others, is actually much greater, because they are being led and informed by the wisdom and power of God.
And so we come to the Beatitudes. This much loved passage from the gospel of Matthew might well be the basis for this thinking of Paul’s – though he most certainly had not read it.
Compared to worldly thinking of the day, these ideas must have seemed pathetic and foolish to those who had power, or who sought power. The poor in spirit, or the meek, or the merciful, or those who seek a better, more humane world, the peacemakers for Pete’s sake! All of these might have been perceived as weak and ineffective, when the ruling mantras were such as “might is right”, or “he who holds the gold calls the shots”, or “survival of the fittest”, or “an eye for an eye” – weak and foolish in a culture not yet truly conscious of God’s dream for humanity – even though they had the scriptures – and they may well have heard Micah’s words and recited the Psalms.
But now: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light...” Jesus, more than 2000 years ago, brought great light and illumination into the consciousness of humanity. It cost him his life to bring us God’s message of love and mercy. He warned us that we too would be reviled and persecuted for promoting this teaching. He knew the trajectory would not be straight forward and up. He knew human nature too well not to warn his followers, and to tell them not to be afraid to speak up for the truth and value of his teachings.
Jesus said, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” We are spiritual beings. Our spiritual evolution is the only way God’s kingdom will eventually prevail on Earth. We have seen the Great Light, people of God. We have been called to speak for God’s wisdom and to lean into the power of God who will guide and instruct us, and who is with us and calls us Beloved.
God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.
Hymn #171 MV “Christ has no Body Now but Yours”