“You have heard it said……But I say to you….” Jesus, Sermon on the Mount.
When Jesus gets into the meat of his sermon on the mount, with the very practical applications, he starts many of his paragraphs with “you have heard it said.” When he says this, he’s referring to the Bible. The Bible says this, but I say this. Jesus doesn’t contradict the Bible, but he does interpret it. The Bible says don’t commit adultery. Jesus says don’t even look at someone with lust in your heart. Jesus expects more from his followers than just obedience to the Bible. We are to be obedient to Jesus. Jesus is the one who will tell us what the Bible means, not just what it says.
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God -1 Corinthians 2: 9-11
How do you know when the Holy Spirit is moving within you or is trying to reveal itself to you? It can be difficult at best to open ourselves to the presence of the Holy Spirit, and at other times it can be so obvious that God is at work that we know it can’t be anything else. But when I read the 9th verse of this passage, in it I find great comfort that even though I may not know what God is doing, he has still prepared all things for me. My job is to be open to living into whatever it is that God has prepared for me. In the gospel reading this week we are told that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In those gifts, revealed to us by the Spirit, we can join Christ to feed the hungry, care for the homeless, clothe the naked as called by the prophet Isaiah in the first reading for this week.
In the darkness of this winter season, we can look to the light of Epiphany and remember that we are called to embody the spirit and mission of God. To be light to the world and the salt of the earth. We are indeed created in God’s image, therefore the spark of the divine is alive in all of us. The light shines through us as we live out God’s mission for our lives each day. As Epiphany continues, we should all be prepared to let our light shine and share the good news.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 5:3
We call these the beatitudes because each teaching of Jesus starts with “blessed are.” They are the core of Jesus’ teaching. They are the start of a sermon that lasts for three chapters in Matthew’s gospel. If you want to know what Jesus really was about, this is a good place to start. The words still challenge us, because it’s very clear that Jesus has a special place in his heart for the underdogs in life. He focuses on the poor, the sad, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, the persecuted. In our culture of success and achievement it can be hard to admit that we fall into any of those categories. And I think maybe that’s the point. Each of the beatitudes is about someone who is incomplete, who is failing, who has weakness. If we want the blessings Jesus gives, we must start by admitting our need for them.
“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” 1 Corinthians 1:10
Paul had to deal with conflict in a congregation. From the very beginning of the church there have been arguments and disagreements within. People argue about theology, about politics, about carpet color. We are after all people. Sometimes we find ourselves surprised that this kind of thing happens in a church, of all places. But it does, because the church is full of people and people have opinions.
Paul “appeals” to the Corinthians to get along. Getting along, being united, working toward a common purpose all takes effort. It doesn’t come natural to us, we need to be constantly encouraged to put others ahead of ourselves and seek unity. May God help us to love one another enough, especially those we disagree with, to put in the effort to come to agreement.
“When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi, …“Where are you staying?” He said to them “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying and they remained with him that day. it was about four o’clock in the afternoon.”
How would you answer that question from Jesus, “What are you looking for?” How many of us go through life and are too busy and distracted to ever settle on an answer. What are we looking for? I know it’s crass, but I can’t help think of that phrase scratched into bathroom stalls ‘looking for a good time, call…’ Some never explore what they really want in life and just bounce from one good time to another-forever distracted. Others of us are more like that song lyric “Looking for love in all the wrong places.” We know we’re looking for love, but we either haven’t found it or have resorted to unhealthy habits to fill the void. Our faith proposes an answer. We are all looking not just for love in the abstract, but for a loving relationship with the Divine. We are looking for the source of life who can provide us with meaning and acceptance, purpose and security. Our faith proclaims to the world the good news that the person we are looking for, who can provide all that we long for, has come. We are looking for Jesus. Whether we know it or not. And Jesus has come. Our answer to Jesus’ question is modeled by the first disciples. “Jesus where are you staying, you are what we are looking for, let us remain with you.”
The second reading for this week comes from Acts and begins with Peter saying, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality… All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” I love this! God shows no partiality, that means whether we are at our worst or at our best, God comes to us. It might be a good lesson for us to remember as we lean into the new year. Where are the places that we could show less partiality? How can we reach out to love those who are maybe a little extra work for us or who don’t make loving them so easy? Things aren’t always as they seem or appear for so many, perhaps we should be able to offer a little more mercy and grace and a little less judgement, because God shows no partiality. Peter finishes by reminding us of the forgiveness that we receive in the name of Jesus. I encourage you to take a minute and read these verses from Acts, they offer us Peter’s succinct description and the gift we receive in Jesus Christ by his birth, death, and resurrection through the impartiality of God. God whose impartiality gave us his only Son yesterday, today and tomorrow so our sins maybe forgiven. Impartiality because God always comes to us.
“Her husband, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.”
Joseph was righteous, meaning he obeyed the laws of scripture. But this verse reveals that righteousness is not enough. He still intended to thwart God’s plan of salvation for the world because of his commitment to be righteous. Sure, he tried to find a middle ground, choosing not to expose her publicly, but his plan was still to abandon her to bear her child alone. Righteousness is not enough if it only means following the rules. Righteousness has to be more, it has be about doing what is right and good for all people at all times with a good heart. That kind of righteousness is impossible for us, but not for Jesus. He alone is righteous and his righteousness is a gift to us.
“What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?” Matthew 11:7
This is the question Jesus asks of the crowds that went to see John the Baptist. Maybe they didn’t’ know the answer. Why had they gone out? What did they hope they would find from a desert preacher dressed like the prophets of old? Had they found it? Jesus’ question makes me think about our own religious searching and how we mostly come back with more questions and uncertainty. Or maybe we just don’t put in the work to really come to grips with the answers God gives us. Sometimes, I think, we like the uncertainty and mystery because it means we don’t have to take action.
Jesus presses the people who went to see John the Baptist. He tells them what they went out to see, in case they were still wondering. John was the prophet sent to prepare the way for the Messiah. Jesus is declaring himself the Messiah to these questioners, these undecideds, these seekers. And he is telling us that he is the Messiah, the one God has promised. With his question Jesus serves up a call to commitment, a call to action. How will we respond? What does it mean to claim Jesus as the Messiah? How does that claim challenge us to live differently?
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ ”
Do you find yourself following the same paths most days? I think about my daily routines and the worn paths that come with it each day and I wonder if I lose the bigger picture in my ordinary routines. The voice crying in the wilderness invites us to deviate from the ordinary and to make a path for the Lord. Not just a path, but to make that path straight. At it’s most literal it tells me that I need to make the most direct connection to the Lord that I can in all that I do. Does my daily routine include a straight path to God, am I taking time this Advent season to prepare the way, do I hear the voice crying in the wilderness? It’s so easy to get caught up in the rush of the holidays rather than expectant waiting, to be easily annoyed by the mess and clutter of decorating, baking, and wrapping instead of dwelling in the joy that is shared in the receiving of the preparations, and to lose the path when we can’t see beyond the one next thing on the schedule. It’s time to remember that our path to the Lord is only a winding, twisting and turning mess when we let “things” get in the way of our relationships, especially our relationship with God. During this season of Advent, change up your path. Take time to hear the voice in the wilderness and let it direct you to the hopeful, joyful, and peaceful path that guides us into relationship with the Lord our God. -Pastor Carrie