Sunday, January 29, 2017

Father Riley's sermon for January 29, 2017

EPIPHANY IV - A - 17                     MATTHEW 5. 1-12

One of the oldest images of Christ depicted in an early Eastern icon is that of Jesus as teacher. He is seated, the traditional position for teaching with authority, wearing his priestly vestments and holding an open book containing the gospels. Matthew’s fifth chapter begins with Jesus going up on the mountain. After he is seated, he begins to teach the crowds that have followed him, including the disciples.
His being on a mountain is significant. Throughout the Old Testament the place where divine action enters human history is always on a mountain. It is where God reveals himself to man. In the Old Testament only a select few were chosen to hear God directly. Here God Incarnate speaks to the multitudes face to face.
What is it Jesus is offering? These first few verses of the Sermon on the Mount, we know as the beatitudes or blessings. They serve as an introduction to chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Matthew that constitute the Sermon on the Mount. The beatitudes (blessings), are not clear - easy answers to life’s situations by any means. In some cases they speak of the cost of discipleship. Many appear to be unfulfilled aspirations of God’s people then and now.
What Jesus is offering is a new set of attitudes; criteria for kingdom living, if you will, that places the Christian smack dab in the midst of this world, which runs cross-purposes to the will of God, with promises of the world to come. It is the life God intends for us to live. The reward is in heaven, but the vocation we are called to is here on earth.
Micah, God’s prophet some 700 hundred years before Christ, taught what man needed to do to be living the life God intended. His response was the classical definition of ‘true religion.’ In one verse Micah knits together the basic themes of the book of Amos( righteousness - to do justice),Hosea( steadfast love - to love mercy), and Isaiah( humility and faith - to walk humbly) with the Lord your God.
In the beatitudes our Lord draws the outline of the character of the “Sons of the Kingdom.” They describe not different types of men, but different aspects of the one type the Lord desires. Here Jesus introduces the kind of life those who seek the kingdom of God must lead. They refer to the proper attitudes we as the people of God should display in the face of the world around us.
“Follow me,” Jesus said to his first disciples; because in him God is doing a new thing. Today’s gospel is an announcement. It is about something that is starting to happen. Its gospel: good news, not good advice. So when do these promises come true?
Most of us would answer in heaven. Isn’t that what Jesus is saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And where then is heaven? Heaven is God’s space. A thin veil separates heaven from earth. But one day the two will be joined. “The meek shall inherit the earth,” as Jesus said.
Heaven, then, is where full reality exists. At present it is out of sight, but one day will be unveiled. It is something which is beyond, behind and within; real, yet waiting to be realized. As Jesus taught us to pray, God’s kingdom will one day come as it already is in heaven, and then heaven and earth will be joined.
What Jesus is teaching is the life of heaven, the life of the realm where God is already King. This life is to become the life of the world, transforming the present “earth” into the place of beauty and delight that God has always intended.
We who choose to follow Jesus today are to begin to live by this rule here and now. That is the point of the Sermon on the Mount, and these beatitudes in particular. They are a summons, an invitation, to live in the present in a way that will make sense in God’s promised future; for that future has arrived in the present in Jesus of Nazareth.
How do we do it? Where do we begin? Jesus begins his teaching by blessing the “poor in spirit.” Who are they? The poor in spirit are not just those who are materially poor, but are the faithful among God’s people. They are totally dependent on God with a complete confidence in God. God is their only source of strength and they trust in Him.
Jesus says theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Second there are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. In Jesus’ time they literally were, and even in our own time we hear of it happening to Christians in different parts of the world. We can’t imagine a time when we would be so tested.
We are not all called to be martyrs in the literal sense. We are called to uphold the truth. There is only one gospel and we who follow Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, are to refuse to compromise with the ways of the world. Again, Jesus says, to those who are persecuted for up holding the Truth, the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
In the same vain, Christ says that those who suffer persecution for their devotion to Him should rejoice and be glad, literally leap for joy. For they walk the road of the prophets, the saints, and the martyrs. Their reward, Jesus says, is great in heaven, as is ours who are reviled and falsely accused because of our devotion to Him.
To point out these three “attitudes” is not to take away from the other blessings Jesus speaks to in today’s gospel. But only to emphasize these three aspects of the life of heaven we are called to live now: our total dependence on God, our steadfastness of Faith, and the realization of our place in the company of the Saints in Light.
This is not to say that we will always be successful in living the new life to which we have been called. The intent and aim of our lives is the all-important thing in the sight of God. The grace that is discovered in our struggle to live out these “attitudes” is our coming to a fuller knowledge of God.
Jesus is the heavenly Rabbi who invites us to wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge of God is learned in discipleship and service that comes through our accepting Christ’ invitation to live in the present in a way that will make sense in God’s promised future.
God is the source of our life in Christ Jesus, whom God makes our wisdom. Such wisdom enables us to live in this world until the fullness of God’s Heavenly Kingdom is ushered in and earth is transformed into a place of beauty and delight as God has always intended. AMEN+

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