Scouts came forward to say their respective oath/promise
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Yr. A
Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12
For half a dozen years I had the privilege of serving first as a Brownie Leader and then as a Girl Scout Leader for our middle daughter’s troop, GS troop 451. I, myself was not a scout as a youth, but my girls were, each in turn.
Scouting is terrific. You get to wear special clothing and earn patches show to all who see them the accomplishments you and your troop have made in learning about life: technology, finance, outdoor skills and so forth.
There is another part of scouting that is equally important, and that is the law or promise that each scout says at the opening of a meeting. Week after week, month after month - it helps the newbie to know what behavior is expected of and as the scout matures, it serves as a reminder of who and what you are.
If you aren’t a scout, there plenty of times when we make oaths and promises – promises to friends, or in the court of law to tell the truth, at a baptism when we make promises in our baptismal covenant.
These oaths, promises, and covenants serve as a guide, a compass, to keep us living and moving in a direction that is good not just for ourselves, but for society. We do better in life when we have rules for the road.
Jesus, early on in the Gospels, gives similar direction to anyone who will listen. The words we heard in this morning’s Gospel were said to a crowd, out in the open air. These were people who had followed Jesus because of what they had seen in his miracles and heard of Jesus and his teachings. As any good teacher would do, Jesus takes advantage of having such a crowd and begins to teach.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are those who mourn; blessed are the meek; blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness."
You may recognize these words as the words of the Beatitudes, part of the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus opens the Sermon on the Mount with a series of sayings that would clearly arouse the interest of those who came out to hear him.
But they are strange, may we say bizarre words to start a teaching with people now as well as in Jesus’ time.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit."
I don’t any of us would say that feeling lack-luster or blah is a way to feel
"Blessed are those who mourn."
I think we are in agreement that mourning is hard work. Life is at a standstill and strangely upset when a loved one dies. There is a void in life that we know can never be filled.
"Blessed are the meek."
That statement makes no sense. I grew up with the understanding that we pull ourselves up by our boot straps. The week and timid don’t become leaders
Those who first heard these words of Jesus must have puzzled over what Jesus was dong.
In the sermon that was to follow, Jesus unfolds what the kingdom of heaven is all about. In the weeks ahead we’ll hear about becoming the salt of the earth or the light that cannot be hidden under a bushel. He will tell us that he has not come to abolish the Law of Moses, the 10 Commandments, but a new way to live out these same commandments.
In the meantime, Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount begins here this morning in Matthew’s Gospel in these rather oddly worded blessings. But they make little sense, so as a school teacher and pastor I suggest we look at them again. That is always a good way to handle something that doesn’t make sense.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit."
If you were to take out your bible or look at the scripture insert – you would be quick to tell “Pastor, there is no period after “spirit”. There is a comma.”
And if there is a comma, we then know that there is more to come in the sentence. Coming forth from this blessing is a promise: "Theirs is the kingdom of heaven." We need to look at the statement in its entirety. Being poor in spirit is no blessing all by itself, but it does not stand alone, because attached to it is a promise. This promise is powerful, it has life-changing power.
"Blessed are those who mourn." -- "For they will be comforted." There is comfort for us when we mourn.
"Blessed are the meek."---"For they will inherit the earth." This does not mean we sit by twiddling our thumbs passive to life that is around us. We inherit the earth when we recognize form whence our strength and help comes. It not from lashing out, name calling, or human violence, but by the recognition that are strength comes from God alone.
Part of the promise is now, and part comes later as the kingdom of heaven unfold. It’s Paul’s already, but not yet way of understanding our relationship with God. We have part of the promise now, right now, and will have them completely in a time to come. In the words of Paul “12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
Have you ever stopped to think about how much your life depends upon promises? Like the Scout law and promise these promises or rules help us to live a better life.
Wait your turn
Drive on the right side of the road
Be kind to others.
Don’t prejudge people.
Even when we enforce such things in laws and rules and etiquette, at their heart they are really simple promises upon which we all depend.
There are even larger promises to make:
Our marriage vows
The promises of faithful friendship.
The promises of honoring the dignity of every human being
The promises that bind us one to another.
The Bible is filled with promises made by God to God’s people:
God’s promise to Noah – God will never again flood the earth
To Abraham and Sarah and to their descendants who numbered more than the stars of heaven.
To Moses - a murderer - who was called to lead God's people out of bondage.
To the coming of a Savior, Jesus who promises to be with us always
To everlasting life for in my father’s house there are many dwelling places
And my favorite
As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.
There is something interesting about promises – they are only as good as the people making them. Scouts know that truth as do the rest of us. Our faith teaches us and our hearts know, God can be trusted to keep the promises that have been made.
What about us?
There are some things that happen in life when we live by the promises
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy."
I think of those persons who have welcomed me into their lives, not because I had any right to be there, but because the joy of welcoming the stranger is part of their DNA – God has welcomed them and so we welcome one another.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."
And peacemakers- there are well-known names - Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former president Jimmy Carter, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, maybe your mom or best friend fits in the category, among many others, whose devotion and tireless efforts have made our world a safer place to be.
They blessings continue...and they do abound if we will only have eyes to see.
I think we have all had a an experience of mercy - from a teacher, a boss, a scout leader, a kind stranger,
The words of Malachi are most appropriate here: “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”
Faith, the beatitudes, all of life in not a one way street where collect things for ourselves. Sometimes we need to make the difficult choice to stand up for our faith. The church has sometimes been painfully slow to do so.
This past weekend we had our annual Diocesan Convention. There is normal business to be done including worshipping together, voting and filling roles in the church, workshops and passing resolutions. This year was very unusual in that there were no resolutions. There were also no major newspapers to report on the proceedings of Convention, a major change from years past.
The proudest and most energizing moment for the Convention for me came close to the end. It wasn’t a resolution but a point of privilege given to one of our local clergy. He and a group of clergy came forward to ask the Bishop and the Diocese to take steps towards becoming a sanctuary Diocese. We had learned overnight that people, refugees and others, were being detained at Kennedy and other area airports. Caught in midflight with nowhere to go people who had plans and futures in this country were put on hold.
In short order nearly the entire room was standing in agreement that we need to live, with God’s help, into our baptismal promise to uphold the dignity of every human being and to seek and serve Christ in others. The Bishop promised to meet with clergy and lay leaders this week to move forward.
It’s a first step in the long road of living life in a new world. May God give us the wisdom to discern what it best and good.