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Epiphany 4 January 29, 2017 - The Rev. Janet Campbell

Micah 6:1-8, Psalm 15, I Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, January 29, 2017
The Rev. Janet Campbell
Last week,
we heard Jesus call
Peter and Andrew
          and James and John
away from their fishing boats and nets,
and, in the case of James and John,
          also away from their father still sitting in the boat,
                    at the sudden desertion of his sons . . .
On a moment’s notice
they left their families,
their homes,
their work,
their expected lives . . .
everything . . .
to throw in their lot
with this strangely compelling man.

In those heady first days,
Matthew writes,
they went with Jesus
all around Galilee
          as he taught,
          healed the sick
          in body, in mind, in spirit,
          and proclaimed the arrival
          of God’s Kingdom.
Imagine their growing wonderment
at his wisdom and power.
Imagine their excitement
at being part of it all.
Imagine their sense of self-importance
as crowds gathered around Jesus . . .
and they were seen
to be with him.
It was time for Jesus
to open up for them
the meaning
of what they’d been experiencing.                                          

He led them up a mountain,
sat down,
and began to describe the life
to which he had called them,
telling them
this is what you’ve been seeing
in me:
the way of being
for which God created the world,
the way of being
the world rejects,
the way of being
                    I’ve come to restore.
The Beatitudes –
God’s vision
of a blessed and beautiful community . . .
a community
          full of grace,
living now, in this world,
as if God’s Peaceable Kingdom
were already here.

A community of people                                      
poor in spirit,
recognizing their poverty,
willing to be empty so as to be filled with God . . .
           leaving behind
                   the false enticements and
                   assurances of the world
                             to rely solely on God.
A community of compassion,                             
mourning in solidarity with
          all God’s wounded world,
willing to suffer in and with the world,
          and, in God,
steadfast in hope for the future.                           
A community of simplicity and humility, knowing its right size,
gentle with each other
and with all God’s creation,                
nurturing open, honest, loving hearts;                 
passionate seekers of justice, peacemakers, reconcilers,                                    
forgiven by God
and so,
          forgiving of others.                          

A community leaning always
toward God’s Peaceable Kingdom,
undaunted by
opposition, ridicule, persecution . . .
A costly way of life,
          since the world,
          even our own government it seems,
is at war
          with the Peaceable Kingdom.
The Beatitudes
show us
the beauty
of fully-realized humanity
          (this is who God made us to be):
          fully-realized humanity
in complete harmony
with God’s desires – 
This has been God’s dream
for humanity,
for all of creation
from the foundation of the world . . .

The dream that began
in the Garden of Eden . . .
and ended in the rude awakening
of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace –
          when a snake in the grass
                   enticed them into wanting
what they didn’t need . . .
persuaded them 
they knew better than God
                                      what was good for them . . .
A dream recalled time and again
by the prophets
throughout Israel’s troubled history –
“What does the Lord require of you?”
asks the prophet Micah . . .
God’s desire – so pure in its simplicity:
“[God] has told you what is good . . .
To do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God.”

This dream of God’s
became flesh,
in the life and ministry of Jesus,
who did justice, loved kindness
and walked humbly with God,
proclaiming and embodying
God’s Peaceable Kingdom . . .
a new paradise of blessing,
of right relationships restored:
humanity with God,
humanity with creation,
humanity with itself.
Jesus came
to put God’s world on the way to restoration,
a way of hope and joy,
a way of sorrow and struggle,
a way of self-emptying and self-expenditure,
a way of loving sacrifice,
a way that led him to the cross,
and to death,
          and to the new birth of resurrection.

The way to restoration . . .
a way of paradox,
of success that looks to the world like failure,
of victory that looks to the world like defeat,
of strength that looks to the world like weakness,
of wisdom that looks to the world like folly.
The way to restoration . . .
a way that counters the desires
of a world that looks at the paradise
already at hand
and foolishly wants something more,
absurdly thinks it knows better than God
                    what is good,
and stretches out its hand
          to pluck that apple off the tree . . . 
          the poison apple
                   of power,
                   of arrogance,
                   of ignorance,
                   of greed;
                   of self-aggrandizement,
                                                self-serving indifference
                                                to the plight of others.
“What does the Lord require of you?”
“To do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God,”
As Paul said to his fractious church in Corinth,
chewing on their own apples
of spiritual uniqueness
          and superiority . . .
“God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom,
and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters:
not many of you were wise by human standards,
not many were powerful,
not many were of noble birth.
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise;
God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
God chose what is low and despised in the world,
          things that are not,
          to reduce to nothing things that are
so that no one might boast
          in the presence of God.”

how did Jesus’ first disciples do,
the ones sitting with him on the mountain,
with his call to become
God’s beloved and blessed community?
As we follow them through the gospels
we will see them time and again
get Jesus and his mission all wrong,
jockey for pride of place among his followers,
compete with each other as to who is the greatest,
distance themselves from his sacrifice,
betray and deny him . . .
And yet,
weak and foolish
though they were,
through them
Jesus’ work
of proclaiming and living the Kingdom
With God’s help.

Through all the weakness and foolishness
that has been part of the Church’s life
          through the ages,
the Church has also been,
          through the ages,  
God’s beloved and blessed community
          coming into being,
continuing Jesus’ work
          of proclaiming and living the Peaceable Kingdom . . .
With God’s help . . .
. . . a kingdom, by the way,
whose citizens are all immigrants,
all of us,
immigrants . . .
Christians, Muslims, Jews,
Buddhists, Bahai,
Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians, Libyans,
Somalis, Sudanese,
Yemenis . . .
everyone who seeks God with a sincere heart . . .
all welcomed by the hospitality of God.

Christ Church,
weak and foolish
          though we may sometimes be,
God has entrusted to us
a part in this work of Jesus,
this establishing of the Peaceable kingdom
as day by day
we continue,
          in all our imperfection,
I and you,
and we together,
practice the Beatitudes –
poverty of spirit,
solidarity with the wounded of the world,
humility and mercy,
purity of heart,
always hungering and thirsting
          for righteousness and peace,
and undaunted by
opposition, ridicule, persecution.
Our practice may not make perfect,
but it will give growth
to us and to the Kingdom . . .

Of this way of life,
          Christ crucified and risen is our sign.
For this way of life,
          Christ crucified and risen is our wisdom,
          Christ crucified and risen is our strength.
So, let the one who boasts
boast not of spiritual prowess,
intellectual acumen,
political power,
the perks of high office,
or the luxurious accommodations
          of the White House . . .
Let the one who boasts,
boast in the crucified and risen Lord.