January 29, 2023
Micah 6:1-8 Psalm 15 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 Matthew 5:1-12
In the Episcopal Church priests do not select the scriptures that are read for worship. We do, however, occasionally have choices to make. Today is one of those Sundays – not in all churches, but here at St. Paul’s. I had to choose between the scriptures that were read this morning for the fourth Sunday of Epiphany or the readings from Wednesday’s celebration of the feast of the conversation of St. Paul. Since he is our patron saint, I could have chosen to read those scriptures today.
It was not an easy choice. The readings from the feast of the conversation of St. Paul includes the story from Acts of his experience on the road to Damascus where he meets the risen Christ. He is on his way to persecute those who believe Jesus is the Messiah. Hearing his story is a reminder of the transforming power of Christ’s love for us.
Saul, a persecutor of Christ’s followers, changes his name to Paul and becomes responsible for spreading the good news of God’s love to people everywhere. And what is the good news? It is what we find in the Beatitudes which Jesus shares in his Sermon on the Mount found it today’s Gospel reading for the fourth Sunday of Epiphany.
It is one of the most important sermon’s Jesus preaches. So, with an acknowledgement to St. Paul for answering Christ’s call to him to share this good news with others, let’s look more closely at the Beatitudes which Jesus shares in his sermon.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
In short, blessed are those who suffer, for God will have mercy upon them – upon us. We all suffer, we are all in the same boat. We are often weak in spirit, we suffer loss, we see injustice all around us. Jesus promises that we will be comforted, and we will see justice in the kingdom of heaven.
It is important to note, however, that this promise of justice means more to our brothers and sisters who experience injustice first hand. In our Education for Ministry group, we talked about this. Our experience of justice is not equal, so for some of us this message needs to be a call to us to work for justice for all.
I am reminded of what St. James said in his letter, “faith without works is dead.” As we continue reading the beatitudes, I am also reminded of the Lord’s Prayer in which we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus says,
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemaker, those who seek justice, and who are persecuted because of this.
Jesus offers hope to those who know what it means to live without, to those who are oppressed. And Jesus offers hope to those of us who know what it feels like to be poor in spirit and pure in heart at times in our lives.
Then Jesus challenges those of us to live in comfort to show mercy and seek justice. Which is what we heard in today’s lesson from the prophet Micah.
Do we show mercy, do we seek justice – even when it is unpopular? After confronting the people of Israel with their transgressions against their covenant with God, Micah says,
The Lord 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?
Through Micah, God is rejecting burnt-offerings – the people’s ritual for seeking forgiveness, and God is calling upon the people of Israel to offer instead, a life that reflects a pure heart. God wants us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.
St. Paul is an example of someone whose life is changed by Christ. Before his conversation, he believes he is called to protect his faith by persecuting the followers of Jesus. His faith is misguided. After meeting the resurrected Christ, he willing endures beatings and imprisonment for preaching the good news Jesus offers.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account,” Jesus tells us.“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Are we willing to show mercy and speak out against injustice – even when it is unpopular? It is what Jesus challenges us to – he, too, calls upon us to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.
Let us pray.
O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.