MICAH 6:6-8 AND MATTHEW 5:1-12
Sunday, January 30th
Rev. Dr. Anta Farber-Robertson
Scriptures: Micah 6:6-8 and Matthew 5:1-12
"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?
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?"
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?
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
"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."
"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."
“The mother watches, expressionless; instinctively she reaches for them, her children who will never again be children. How far they've come in just weeks -- not just in miles, but in years, ages, pain and horror. The children's cheeks and eyes are less haunted now, the youngest even leaving his father's arms. …
They aren't receiving aid from organizations. Every so often they call the Hurricane Katrina survivor aid number, but have never reached a human being, or been called back.
Yet they're lucky. Funds were raised to purchase a year's rent in a low-end, cookie-cutter townhouse. Cramped, the kids sharing a bedroom, but better than four in one room in a stranger's house.
They have no possessions, but furniture arrives. Used -- but usable. Here, says a plump matron, these dishes for four, a gift, never used. The little boy's jaw drops, "WOW!" at the colorful rooster decorations. His mother hugs the lady. She doesn't cry; she hasn't shed one tear. …
The children (those around decide) need more attention than public school provides, but -- no money. Inquiries are made. The "progressive" school has no transportation. The Catholic School says no. The Mosque School says yes, has a bus.
An old turbaned man arrives. "We're Catholics," says mother. "Yes," he replies, then says to the boy, "Soon you'll be a Catholic who can read."
An elegant white-haired lady whisks mother and daughter off to shop. Outside an old brown man plants pansies, masses of them. Those hanging curtains and art from every continent have also stocked the kitchen with a global selection of edibles. The gracious lady returns. "Tea," she orders her driver, her great-grandson.
A fearsome street gang of young men from Mexico and Central America arrive in a burst of shouts, tattoos and alarming automotive sounds. They demand beer and rides home, leaving an automobile they made for father to drive to his new printing company job. Proudly, they concede it hideous and noisy -- but promise it goes forward and backward.
The mother looks around at her new neighbors, her new family, in soft white cotton robes of Ethiopia, in saris, salwar kameez, jeans and T-shirts, low baggy pants revealing underwear waistbands. The teenaged street gang, the antique couple, all ages between. She goes quickly to the kitchen. "I don't think we have beer," she begins, then opens the refrigerator, to find beer from Lebanon, Belgium, India, Mexico and Palestine.
She leans against the open door, unable to stop the tears.”1
Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek and the merciful. So Jesus says. I think of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof who says he knows it is not a sin to be poor, but confronting God states clearly ‘but it is no great honor either.”
In an effort to deflect the judgment that we make on ourselves for allowing the poor to be poor and the hungry to go hungry, we may wrap ourselves in Jesus reassurance that they are blessed and since safe in God’s blessing, we need not worry about them.
It is a theology the privileged have long used to shield themselves from judgment yes, but even more importantly, from empathy.
The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina is with us still. The rebuilding not yet finished, it appears to be to some extent under control- but we are not off the hook of sorrow, or compassion. No sooner does one disaster end when another surfaces- mine disasters, earthquakes, mudslides, floods, disease. Are we ever to be given a break? Are we? And what would it look like?
Sometimes the sorrows of the world bear down on me, from Tsunami’s in Indonesia to hurricanes in New Orleans, from Cholera epidemics in Haiti, to shootings in Tucson, Arizona. Reading the newspaper can be a discipline affirming solidarity, or it can feel like an exercise in masochism. And then there is my own life, in which I sometimes feel like the recipient of the heady privilege of God‘s favor, and at other times feel besieged by the trials of Job. In either extreme it is difficult to get out of myself and engage the world with all its needs and sorrows.
I have two wonderful resources to help me stay on track when the weight of world’s sorrows feels like it could crush me. The prophet Micah is one. He reminds me that God is not desirous of sacrifice, God has no need nor even a wish to see me crushed under that weight. All God desires of me, of us, is to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.
Oh. Ooohhh. … to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. That I think I can do. To live out the saving acts of justice, kindness and humility in my own life, in my own sphere of influence seems do-able. Hard, but do-able.
This is where I turn to one of my other favorite theologians, Ann Lamott.
“How are we going to get through this craziness?” I asked.
There was silence for a moment.
“Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe,” (my friend) said.2
That is always how we do it; how we do what we know has to be done. That I am sure is how the mother and her family survived their evacuation from New Orleans, and it is how all of those people got them set up safe and situated to begin again. No one did it all alone. No one did it with the speed of light. Each one took each day following Lamott’s advice, “Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe,” and Micah’s command to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
One step at a time we walk in faith and do God‘s work. Yes it is hard. Sometimes we must rest. But it is do-able. And there is no surer way to feel that one is walking in God’s grace, than by keeping on, doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with our God - left foot, right, left foot, right foot- breathing in the Spirit of Life, breathing out the Spirit of Love.
When you feel weary from the world’s cares and crave a break from it all, what would that break look like and feel like? Would a break for you be a break from empathy, from compassion, from the altruistic impulse? What would be the cost to you of such a break?
What other ways might you find to renew, restore and resource yourself, ways that pull you closer to your humanity and to your God?
Jesus tells us what constitutes blessedness. Are some of those blessed folks people who are rendered invisible in your daily life? How might the commandment Micah conveys offer you a way to recognize those people and embrace them, pulling them into your circle of care?
Gracious, loving God how fortunate to be who we are and where we are, now, in this very time. You have filled us with life, with hearts that can care and hands that can help, words that can heal. You have put us here to be your hands and feet, your agents of compassion. We fall short. We do not always do what we might to alleviate suffering. Forgive us.
We are surrounded by a world that is populated with people who have gifts and wisdom. Yet often our sin of pride, or our illusion of self-sufficiency prevents us from accepting the help and healing that others might offer. Forgive us.
We sometimes forget that we are your beloved, that we can rest in the assurance of your love and your acceptance. We forget that we are loveable, and act as if we were not. Forgive us.
Oh God, lover of life, bestower of grace, help us walk to humbly with you, trusting that your path is our path, and your way is our way. Help us to remember that your deepest desire is that all of your children should thrive. We are a part of that, receivers of your blessing; may we ever be doers of your justice, and dispensers of acts of kindness and mercy wherever we go.
May the ways of the prophet Micah be our ways. And the love of God sustain us always. Amen.
1 In the Aftermath, Story Editor: Joyce Schowalter, by A Grandfather, Heroic Stories #672: 26 August 2006
2 Anne Lamott Plan B- Further Thoughts