Epiphany 4 – 30 January 2005

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It’s the fourth Sunday after Epiphany which I thought I might declare “cheat week”. Having read the reading, I thought, there’s actually no point in preparing a sermon because for once the readings are stunningly obvious. They really don’t need anything to explain. So I thought, fair enough, so I’ll come down and say that then go and sit down. But I couldn’t quite do that, which says something I guess. So then I thought, OK, I’m not going to say a lot. And then I swung the other way and thought, well we’ll have two sermons then. And I borrowed one. So I just want to say a few words of mine and then I borrowed another sermon which, it’s not very long and I thought I would read it to you.

My few words centre on the Old Testament reading. It’s a great reading because it’s almost a courtroom drama. It is God, it is the Divine, asking of humanity: what on earth has happened here. “Plead your case before the mountains, let the hills hear your voice. For the Lord has a controversy with his people and he will contend with Israel .” And the place that the Divine comes from is to say, What have I done? It’s not looking for blame, it’s seeking an answer. And the answer is short before the mountains and the enduring foundations of the earth. The answer is sought in relation to the whole of the cosmos and if we skip ahead to the New Testament, have another read through the New Testament, Paul makes stunningly clear the point that Christ is not there for Christians. Christ is not there for religious people. Christ is there for all. And equally with Micah. It’s a conversation that involves and is related to the whole cosmos. Anyway, we’ve read it, we’ve heard it and many of us then know the punch line: “Oh mortal, what is good. What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with our God.” There’s no sacrifices required, no ??? burned or year old calves. We don’t need thousands of rams nor tens of thousands of rivers of oil. And great news for those who love their children, we also don’t need to give up our first born. It is much, much different to that. It is to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.

We often get confused with the first part of that. There’s a question in there that we often sit with: the question is: what is good? Last night I went to dinner with some prophets and we sat around the table and as prophets do when they get together we drank some wine and we ate some food. And it’s quite fitting today being the last Sunday in January, this is the last time this notice is going to appear in the sheet, which is the Archbishop’s appeal for the tsunami disaster. We got onto this question of what is good, thinking about it in relation to what is good. We have taken a collection each Sunday in January for victims of the tsunami disaster. Halfway through we did a count and I think we came up with $579. What we got caught up in last night is, “What is good?” Well that’s good, isn’t it? Is it? Is it good? Well, of course it is because it’s $579 which they wouldn’t have if we hadn’t done it. So it’s good. The conversation that we got caught up in was then related to a request that has just gone before the US Senate to increase the amount of money that will be spent maintaining the war in Iraq . The increase – this is on top of what’s already been spent – is 105 billion dollars. Now when you hold the two together, we start to get a perspective. What looks good when one hand is behind our back and is good suddenly changes a perspective when we look at the whole. When we declare our goodness before the whole universe, it’s really important, and Micah saw the importance, “do justice” came first. Our good, if it is not in the balance of justice, does become questionable. Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.

The second sermon, which isn’t mine, is one that doesn’t require us to do those sorts of number games. We can use our heads to think about it and start balancing and look at the socio-political context and all of that. And there’s another way that we can discover that which is good, and that is to listen not with our heads but to listen with our hearts. This short sermon that was written is not for our heads or for our ears but is rather for us to listen to in a much deeper way. It isn’t mine so you might like to shut your eyes so you can picture someone other than me whose words I share. It was written a long time ago by someone who sought to teach others the way of the Divine. And this is what he said:

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blesses 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 Lord be with you.