Rev. Anna Woofenden
The Garden Church 1.29.17
Readings: Micah 6:1-8 & Matthew 5:1-12
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6:1 Hear what the LORD says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice.
6:2 Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the LORD has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel.
6:3 “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
6:4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
6:5 O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.”
6:6 “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
6:7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
6:8 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?
5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.
5:2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
5:11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
5:12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Beatitudes, an Adaptation by Rev. Emily Scott:
Blessed are the poor.
Blessed are the meek.
Blessed are the refugees.
Blessed are the immigrants.
Blessed are the compassionate.
Blessed are the uninsured.
Blessed are those with preexisting conditions.
Blessed are the pure in heart.
Blessed are the activists.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Blessed are the persecuted.
Blessed are those who have suffered oppression.
Blessed are those who speak the truth.
Blessed are those who seek liberation.
Blessed are those who cry, “Black Lives Matter.”
Blessed are those who are black and blessed are their bodies.
Blessed are those who are indigenous and blessed are their bodies.
Blessed are those who are differently abled, and blessed are their bodies.
Blessed are those who are trans and blessed are their bodies.
Blessed are those who are women and blessed are their bodies.
Blessed are those who are LGBTQ and blessed are their bodies.
Blessed are those who are Queer and blessed are their bodies.
Blessed are those who are Muslim, and blessed are their bodies.
Blessed are those who live below the poverty line.
Blessed are those who work two jobs.
Blessed are the merciful.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
–Matthew 5:1-11, adapted by Rev. Emily Scott
Friends, it’s been a tough week. In one short week, our country has been bombarded with wave after wave of policy and rhetoric that flies in the face of the dignity and care of all people. I have woken up each morning lamenting the fact that I’m on the West Coast, and I haven’t even had my tea yet when I see what’s happened next.
I want to respond—to do something—and then I feel paralyzed. Then I want to run away and hide, and then I want to go do something.
I’ve heard from many of you that I am not alone in this. There was a big part of me that just wanted to cancel church and go to LAX to march today. And I know some of our community did, which I fully support, because God is in this. But I also believe that it’s essential for us to gather here, now, in this sanctuary as well. What happens here, and how we go out from here is actually crucial in the sustained and grounded work of justice and love in the world. We come together to make church together, not because it takes us away from the world or to avoid it, but because we come together to be reminded of the gospel mandate—to love our neighbor, to welcome the stranger, to be part of the movement that turns the world up-side-down so the poor are blessed and merciful are lifted up.
In a week where there are no words and too many words, our lectionary texts really seem to say it all.
We read together this first sermon recorded from Jesus’ public ministry, where we find the Beatitudes front and center. And as we read it, we remember that this sermon is set in the midst of a world ravaged by unrest and fear of a tyrannical leader. We might picture the people surrounding Jesus would have their protest signs in the making, looking to this leader to give them a message of hope, something to cling to, to act on. And then Jesus preaches this message of who is blessed, and it is a shocking reorientation of what people were hearing from the propaganda of their government. It showed the disciples that Jesus was here to preach an agenda of peace; an agenda of mercy, an agenda of blessing, and it showed the disciples that Jesus had a preferential option for those who were in places of oppression and powerlessness.
Friends, here we stand in this moment. If you identify as a Christian, or a person of faith, a human being, an advocate of love, we are in that moment. As we are painfully reminded by leaders such as Dr. King, when he says: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
The option for us to just sit by and wring our hands and watch is, well not in my best understanding a faithful response. We need to take active part in the works of love and justice in our communities, in our nation, in the world. So, how do we do that?
This is where I invite us to turn back to our first text, from the Hebrew scriptures, from the prophet Micah:
God 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?
This is our call, as individuals, as a church, as human beings.
We need to do justice—we can’t do everything, but we have to be strong and consistent with what we can do. Focused. Vigilant. Courageous. Tackle the issues right here in our community, and also, as a faith community and people of faith, be right there in the public square making a stand for justice in the broader world.
We’re called to love mercy—we have to keep being that sanctuary friends, that place where people who wouldn’t interact otherwise are coming together and seeing each other as beloved children of God. This work is imperative. We need to keep working together, side-by-side with people from different backgrounds and races, housed and unhoused, and worshiping together, from different faiths and traditions and ideologies, teaching and preaching and living a faith that is rooted in a just and a generous Christianity. We need to continue being people of faith who are grounded in inclusivity, honoring and loving our neighbors and the stranger, and all people. And we need to keep eating together, week after week. That powerful, so simple, so incredible, tool for transformation—to break bread together.
We need to be that place where people can come and know that they are going to be treated with mercy and kindness and respect, no matter who they are, or what their story is. The world needs sanctuaries like this.
And finally, we need to walk humbly. We need to listen, we need to be gentle, we need to be that community place where we can both be lifted up, and where we can gain the perspective to be in the world. We need our comminutes, we need to get our hands in the dirt, to be with others, to seek solace in God and community, we need to be listening, and discerning, and being wise about how we engage and show up, so that we can keep doing justice and loving mercy.
The world needs us. We can’t be taken down by the overwhelming feelings outside us or inside us.
And in order to do this, to keep showing up, we’re going to need to find places of renewal and of care. I’m afraid this movement—the need to love courageously and fiercely—is not going anywhere soon, so we need to be wise and pace and prepare ourselves. Our bodies and minds and spirits can’t sustain a state of emergency consistently, and we are being collectively re-traumatized every time we turn on the news or scroll through Facebook. As we work tirelessly for justice, we need to factor places of rest and gentle care into our rhythm. We need to keep Sabbath as part of our plan for resistance and response. We’re given Sabbath in the very beginning of the Bible, in that great story of creation, we find Sabbath….
After vibrant images of stars and moon, tender herbs, and sorting birds we find these words…“On the seventh day God had finished all the work of creation, and so, on that seventh day, God rested. God blessed the seventh day and called it sacred.” Genesis 2:2-3
And then one book later, in Exodus, we receive the third commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy! For six days you labor and do all your work, but the seventh is a Sabbath for God. ” Exodus 20:8-11
Swedenborgian theology is often inviting us to look deeply into scripture. As we know well, the Genesis account is no exception. As we discover the unfolding of the story of Creation as one that is more than the creation of the natural world, we find that it’s a metaphor for our unfolding, our spiritual creation, regeneration, recreation.
This is no ordinary week we’re talking about in the beginning of Genesis, this is the weaving of creation, the cosmic blueprint of being and life, as the Divine moves over the face of the waters, speaking into existence mountains and trees, animals and people. And it is here that we find, in these sacred and creative words, written into the Divine cycle…rest and blessing. God rested, blessed that day and called it sacred. Imprinted onto the very fibers of our beings in creation is the time of rest, is a space of ceasing from working and creating, is an invitation to be present to the sacred.
As we show up for justice and actively engage kindness and mercy, we need to weave into the patterns of our lives these times of humble walking with God, times to be quiet and rest in God. This might be a walk on the beach, or digging in the dirt, it might be a yoga class, or an early morning time of meditation and prayer.
This humble rest in God can manifest in many different ways. What is important is the reminder of its imperative in our ability to keep showing up to the work that is ahead of us. We need these practices because they are what shape us to be able to be people of courageous love.
Because this work of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly is a spiritual practice. It is something that we choose, and we choose again, and we don’t suddenly attain over night. Like any spiritual practice, we have to build our muscles over time.
The author and theologian Brian McLaren puts it this way:
”A way of life is formed by practices. By practices we mean doable habits or rhythms that transform us, rewiring our brains, restoring our inner ecology, renovating our inner architecture, expanding our capacities. We mean actions within our power that help us become capable of things currently beyond our power.”
So friends, the practices we create, the things that we choose to do, they shape us, and they shape our world.
I want to give us a little time to work on this together, to make church together.
You each have a little booklet to think about how we can integrate these practices into our lives.
Do justice—What are you going to commit to doing?
Love mercy—How are you going to commit to acts of mercy and compassion and love?
Walk humbly—What Sabbath practices are you going to work into your lives to keep sustained through this work?