Thursday, January 26, 2017

Reflections on Sunday's Readings, Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A: What DOES God Expect of Us!?!


Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things 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. (Collect for the 4th Sunday After the Epiphany-Contemporary, BCP, p. 215)
I will confess a pet peeve to you. It is one, I am ashamed to say, of many in my life. Most of those peeves, I admit, are things that people do of which I am also to blame. I grouse about poor driving when I am admittedly a terrible driver. I complain about aimlessness in crowds, when I am often one of those who wander and stand in places where I would make "a better door then a window." I don't listen, and then complain about not being heard or heeded. When it comes to sin, I am one of the world-record holders. It's true.

But, I must admit this pet peeve, because without it this blog post would be worthless. You see, in liturgical leadership, I rankle at leaders who "pronoun punch." For example: when the text reads, "The Lord be with you..." they lead with, "The Lord be with YOU..." Read it out loud. Try it. Yes, sometimes that hits me like nails on a chalk board, and I admit it makes me a less admirable and worthy person. No tongue in cheek at all. I am ashamed that it bothers me.

Yet this Sunday, I will be looking around me for pronoun punchers, and might even need to be one myself. You see, the middle of the Collect for Sunday (the prayer above), has as a petition a request that God do this: "mercifully hear the words of YOUR people, and in OUR time grant us YOUR peace." The difference in emphasis creates a new weight in the prayer. We allow that we are not in control of things and are in fact not only in relationship with God...we are God's. Moreover, as allow that our prayer is that we might in a time when we can perceive it see God's peace (and not one that we attempt to impose) on the face of the earth and in our own hearts made manifest.

In the prayer, with pronouns proverbially punched (and alliteratively allowed), we are consciously submitting to God's agenda and opening ourselves up to embracing it. The prophet Micah offers a succinct summary of what that agenda looks like in chapter 6, verse 8 (noted in the image above). When I googled the interwebs for images of that citation thousands of images came up. Clearly, that passage is a favorite of many. The moving beauty of the designs swept me away, but I refused to release the profound accusation being leveled at us all...because the prophet is stating this directive in accusation. We have fallen, are falling, and will continue to fall short of living this directive out.

Our task, therefore, is today and always to punch the pronouns on this prayer. We are to give over to God the control of our agendas. We are to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly before God.

What does that look like for Christians? After all, we are followers of Jesus, the one who modeled that beautiful way of being in such a way as to open the gate of peace to all who are willing to believe and then act on that belief.

It is, truly, found in the Gospel...in the Beatitudes from Matthew's Sermon on the Mount. For decades, I have seen these blessings (of the poor, those who mourn, the meek, etc) as calling upon us to be outwardly directed. They are powerful "standing directives" to people who profess to follow Jesus to put their attention on those who embody those realities.

They are also a guidebook on how WE are called to live! If we read these beatitudes are directives on how to be OURSELVES, then a new path is forged through the challenges of adopting Micah 6:8 as a core lifeway:

  • Blessed are the poor...we have nothing that is ours, really. So, poor we are and we recognize that all we have is from God, and thus we are utterly reliant on God's mercy in our poverty
  • Blessed are those who mourn...for in being reliant on God we recognize how out of tune the world is from God's will. What greater sorrow is there than this, that the world under our stewardship should fall so far short of that divine hope?
  • Blessed are the meek...not the weak, but the meek. The ancient definition of that word portrays a meek leader as one who is self-aware, reliant on God and who scorns self-directed certainty and pride
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst....for in recognizing that the world falls short, we should experience that fallen brokenness as a goad, like hunger and thirst, that drives us forward to slake and fill the world with justice and the restoration of God's peace and mercy
  • Blessed are the merciful...we must practice mercy in order to receive it. There is no entitlement that does not first begin as an obligation to fulfill
  • Blessed are the pure in heart...the ancients saw the heart as the center of self, not the brain. When the self is purified by God's justice, then we can become agents of that justice
  • Blessed are the peacemakers...for that is the real heart of justice, and God's work in the world. We cannot but become peacemakers if we are open to all that is listed above
Sadly, living out these beatitudes carries a cost. The world does not turn on the tune of God's song of justice. Most elements of human culture do not, and sometimes dramatically fail, to conform to that ideal of being just, loving mercy and walking humbly. That means dissonance and displacement for a Christ-follower who hopes to live outwardly a life that is inspired by the indwelling of God's Spirit. It also means that we upset the systems out there in the world that don't like to be upset. 

In the end, it means that we have a template in front of us, made manifest in Christ HIMself, to fully live into what God expects of us....something that is not transactional but is durable: to be agents of justice, who act with mercy, even as we walk humbly....

...and all before our living God.

Truly...may the Lord be with YOU.

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