What Now?

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Anyone else feeling a little worn out after this past week of news headlines?

Here are just a few news headlines from the past few days…

  • Trump Gives Green Light To Keystone, Dakota Access Pipelines
  • Hospitals Worry Repeal Of Obamacare Would Jeopardize Innovations In Care
  • Big city mayors confident they’ll remain sanctuaries
  • Russian President Attempts To Court Trump Through Fighting ISIS
  • At Anti-Abortion Rally, Pence Tells Protesters: ‘Life Is Winning In America!’
  • Mexico wall: Trump condemned over imports tax proposal
  • Trump suspends refugee program, vows priority for Christians

…and this is just news about our newest President. Believe it or not, there is news that does not have to do with President Trump…

  • Israel Says It Will Build 2,500 New Settlement Homes In The West Bank
  • Colombia Faces A Challenge: Turn FARC Guerrillas Into Civilians
  • ‘A Nightmare Without An End’: Wildfires Burn Out Of Control In Chile
  • Yemen: Food crisis could become famine this year, UN warns
  • Al-Shabab fighters attack Kenya military base in Somalia
  • Russian MPs pass bill to soften domestic violence law

How in the world are we to hear today’s scripture verses from Micah and Matthew, and respond accordingly? Well, I guess we can look to our social media feeds. Perhaps we can respond like many of our ‘friends’ do. “There should be no problems if we actually speak to other human beings face to face the same way we post on Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat…right?” (please note sarcasm here)

When browsing through the various posts of the news headlines, social media posts, or even conversations overheard at the local coffee shop or YMCA, I pick up on a variety of emotions from those making such statements, posting such article links, or asking such questions. Fear, anger, and sadness are just a few of these emotions that many of us are experiencing these days.

Some of us have celebrated the last few days of news, “Finally, something is going to be done!” Some of us have simply mourned the latest transition of presidential authority here in the US; many young adults especially jolted by such a change in the political landscape; something that they have not witnessed in the last eight years of their lives…since they were children in elementary school, or even younger.

Some people, especially women, voiced their frustration, anger…and hope at one of the various women’s marches just down the road in DC, or around the world. Some people marched at the anti-abortion rally this past week. Regardless of political leaning, several people have contacted their local government representatives, joined political organizations, or have made personal vows to take action in the days and years ahead.

But for the vast majority of people in this world, such news headlines are not as black and white as some would like for us to believe. For many of us, there are more questions than answers after this past election and transition of power. It seems as if the world is screaming at us from all angles to choose a side, yet, much like the November election, the ‘sides’ still seem to be blurred and convoluted.

So what are we to make of the latest news headlines? Are we to be proud and excited Americans? Are we to be, in the words of the movie ‘Network’, ‘mad as hell’? Are we to sit back and allow for things to sort themselves out? Or are we to take action? What now?

 

Our scripture readings this morning begin to help shape our response to such questions in our lives today. We begin with the words of the prophet Micah, and a selection of scripture text that has helped inspire social activists and peacemakers for centuries now. The author asks how we are to live our lives in response to God’s love for us.

6  “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? 7   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?” 

And the second voice, the voice of the prophet on behalf of God, responds, perhaps in a way that is surprising to this religious figure who thinks they knew what God wanted from a righteous person:
8   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?

In a few, short, words the prophet shares with us that God is not looking for us to respond to the love of our creator through a ritualized formula or acts of purification. No, the Lord wishes for us to do, to love, and to walk.

Years later Jesus would read these words, along with the words of many of the same prophets that we have read in our shared scriptures today. He would be baptized by John in the River Jordan. He would be tempted by Satan in the wilderness. And he would begin his public ministry. He would call his first disciples to follow him.

And then we pick up today’s reading with Matthew, chapter 5, as Jesus then shares with the disciples and the surrounding people teachings that will help shape his platform for what the Kingdom of God encompasses. It’s here where I imagine that Jesus truly begins to speak the words that have been welling up within him all of these years; words that have been formulating within him as he read the prophets, as he listened for God’s call in his life, as he compared what he experienced in the world with what God’s word says. I imagine it went something like this:

1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

The world says that the super religious, those who have their lives all together and have all the answers are to be admired…

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

 The world says that those who never allow anything to bring them down are resilient and to be respected…

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

 The world celebrates those who are the loudest, proudest, boldest individuals in the room who are the center of attention…

5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 The world says that if we dress the right way, and say the right things, then we should get what we need…

6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

The world says that only those who show no weakness are to be celebrated; that others need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps…

7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

The world says that we live in a messed up world; we need to do whatever we need to do to stay ahead first…

8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

 The world says that we are to use our strength and power to get what we want, and use force if necessary…

9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

 The world says that we shouldn’t get to close to others who may get us in trouble, even if they are working for something good…

10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 The world says that we need to take care of ourselves first, at all costs…

11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

In a few short teachings, Jesus shared with the world how he experienced the world, from the emotions of the broken, to the actions of a disciple.

In a few short teachings, he put voice to a desire within many who were wondering if there was another option to live as a person of faith besides the rituals, laws, and power structures of the time.

In a few short teachings, Jesus reintroduced the people to the words of God from generations before as he gave his disciples and the people surrounding them on the mountainside that day new identity and purpose.

 

What now?

Every now and again the people of God need a reminder of who we are, and what we are put on this earth to do. In the reading of Micah and Matthew today, we are reminded:

  • We are called to claim our citizenry in Heaven first, as children of God first.
  • We are called to see the world differently, and to value those whom the world does not value.
  • We are called to live our lives as an expression of these ideals, even at the risk of contempt, judgment, and discomfort.

The Good News this morning: When the world becomes muddled in headlines and social media posts, the word of God reminds us of how we are to embrace our emotions, our brokenness, our life experiences. God takes our hurts & brokenness, and transforms them into calls for action.

That’s it. These words are not meant to be confusing, or allow for apathy or inactivity. No matter your political leaning, nationality, education, age, race, sexual identity, or physical ability; as followers of Christ, today we are being called to the mountaintop. And as we sit with Jesus, we are reminded that we have work to do.

  • Do justice.
  • Love kindness.
  • Walk humbly.

The world may tell us that we are to live a certain way. We may be happy, angry, or sad, or afraid; only we know how we feel. Jesus understood that people were experiencing a variety of emotions in the world. The Sermon on the Mount teaches us to embrace these emotions as holy, and to then respond in action as we follow Christ to realize God’s kingdom here on earth.

So what now? What can we do here, today? Once we have gone to the mountaintop to hear God’s word, we are all called to leave the mountaintop, and we are called to help realize God’s kingdom with the world.

Here are some practical steps for us to think about:

  1. If you haven’t already done so, go back home and learn as much as you possibly can about the issues that you are feeling your heart broken for today. I don’t just mean clicking on Facebook links; go and do the research, learn the actual facts of what is happening in today’s world.
  2. Secondly, this can be tough while living in a pretty homogenous city like Lynchburg, but go and listen to other human beings who are being directly affected by what is going on in the world around us. Introduce yourself to someone who may not look like you, or sound like you, or worship like you…and ask to hear their story.
  3. Finally, as Christians we are called to act for justice. Whatever your heart is calling you towards, put what you have learned and heard into an action that will help realize a more just world. I realize I am just a guest here this morning, but I am here to continue such conversations outside these church walls.

 

When we live our lives in response to God’s call for justice, kindness, and humility, then the Sermon on the Mount becomes our daily teaching and guide to live by. Our lives no longer are separated in ‘real world’ and ‘church world’, but our lives become a holistic expression of the values we embrace, and the behaviors we act on.

Friends, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the news headlines around us. It is easy to be overwhelmed by opposing voices, and emotions, and thoughts. But remember that when we feel our most confused, helpless, and all together broken, God is there. God reminds us of who we are and the lives we are to lead in the scriptures. God calls us to follow as disciples, to share God’s love and grace with the world.

May we be so bold today, tomorrow, and every day of our lives, as to remember the words of God’s prophets, to follow Christ’s call in our lives, and to give our hearts to the Spirit; that our very lives may be transformed towards God’s will. Amen.

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