“Who May Abide Upon Your Holy Hill?” – 02-02-14 – Epiphany 4 – Cycle A

Listen to the sermon here:

Scriptures: Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12

Who has God’s favor? Who is blessˊed? Who is blest? Does each of us start at the same “start line?” How many times can we expect God to welcome us into his open arms after we have turned our backs? Not only turned our backs but were busy doing hurtful actions and speaking vile words. How many times, Lord? When Peter asked that question of Jesus about how many times shall mortals forgive mortals – 7 times – Jesus answered seventy times seven! Wow! This is to say “endlessly.” Yes, we shall forgive endlessly because God forgives us endlessly.

How can I say “God forgives endlessly” when we have strong admonishments in the Bible about our bad behavior? We do have strong admonishments spread throughout the Old and New Testaments. Today our Psalm is Psalm 15 in which the Psalmist is asking who will abide on the Lord’s holy hill. The answer seems to be, “Those who lead a blameless life and do what is right, who speak the truth from their heart; they do not slander with the tongue, they do no evil to their friends; they do not cast discredit upon a neighbor. There is more, but this is enough to establish that the holy hill is going to be quite empty.

Let us not give up. There is still hope. Jesus came along with a solution for the population of the holy hill. We call this solution “The Beatitudes.” See if you can find yourself in this section of scripture.

Matthew 5:1-12
5When 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:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 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.

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Did you fit into one of these qualifications? Maybe you fit into more than one. There is nothing here about being perfect; about being righteous. If you heard the word “righteousness,” it was saying that we are blessed if we are persecuted in our attempt to be faithful and obedient in our life as a follower of this creator and sustainer of the world and all creation. We are blessed if we seek and strive to be perfect – to be righteous. We will be rewarded for our attempts.

This is my kind of challenge. I have gradually learned to accept myself as traveling the path toward obedience and being righteous. I will never reach that final point until I have been called out of the earthly kingdom. The older I become, the more I realize my consistent failings. But God is merciful as well as awesome. The more I have this accurate picture of myself, the more I thank God for his mercy.

One of the so-called beatitudes says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Do you notice that the “be merciful” comes before the “receive mercy.” First we need to give mercy. Then we will receive mercy. For healthy psychological state of being we need to be merciful toward ourselves. There is a balance. Being too merciful would give us license to loosen our self-control – to loosen our restrictions on ourselves – to do what feels good.

I challenge all of us to find anywhere in the Bible the permission to seek enjoyment, to seek fun, at any cost. Joy comes after we seek the Lord. Joy is always related to God. That is my statement. Joy is always related to God. What do you think? Maybe a momentary elation. Maybe a burst of laughter. Oh, laughter is good. Medical doctors tell us that as well as psychologists. Laughter releases some substance in our bodies which brings relaxation and a synchronization of cells and muscles and all systems in our body interiors.

But, in addition to this burst of good feeling, there is a long-lasting, even continuous, feeling in the middle of our being which has our systems running like a well-oiled engine. Call it contentment. Call it peace. Storms may come against us with great force – you know hurricane or blizzard or a sharp thunderstorm or a flood. But having developed this inner calm, the outward storm does not break in. Can we develop this inner calm by ourselves? Have you tried to do this as a mental discipline and did it work? Have you tried deep breathing and it helped at first but then a storm came and shallow breathing was the style of the day?

It is only with God’s help and maintenance that we can feel the breakthrough of peace. Do you think breakthrough is an oxymoron with peace? Maybe “flow” would be a better word. We can feel the “flow” of peace into the center and the far reaches of this thing we call body and mind. Did you hear “Joy is always related to God?” So a slight revision says, “Peace and contentment are always related to God.” Hear this from 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. Paul writes, “God is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Whatever rightness, whatever goodness, whatever contentment and peace, whatever joy we feel must be acknowledged as not our own doing but that of this person in God named Christ Jesus. We can offer ourselves available for Jesus Christ to work through us as Jesus Christ has made himself available to God so that God’s love and mercy has a channel to reach our inner being.

Sometimes it may feel that love and mercy are coming by waterfall upon us. Let it be. Accept it.

Rejoice in it. Share the joy with the world – that is anyone who willingly stands still to hear or even hears as he or she keeps moving. Put in on social media; therefore, literally telling the world permanently. However, this waterfall type of blessing is normally not repeated often or at all. On a regular basis, love and mercy come into our being more like a gentle stream or a sprinkle or even as a steady drip.

Where shall we keep this love and mercy in our being? Shall it be pasted on our faces? Not a bad idea. Shall it go into a secret compartment in our arm or leg with a lock and key? That is a bad idea. You know how we are with keys. We could give the key to Jesus. We say anyway that Jesus has the key to our hearts. That would be one master key even though we each have different locks as well as different contents. The key Jesus has to our hearts is totally unnecessary, just an image to visualize the idea that Jesus knows each of us intimately and has access to our intimate thoughts and yearnings and sins. He watches endlessly. He wants a return on his investment. Does he find the “interest” for his giving his own body as our sacrifice?

Jesus can invade our hearts and minds even if we resist. He likes us to extend an invitation. I picture Jesus being polite much of the time as he stands by the door to our heart waiting for us to open it. But Jesus is given power from the Father to come right into our hearts without any warning and to do his transforming work without our knowledge until one day – one day when the transformation bursts forth and leaves no doubt that we are feeling and acting and thinking differently.

When before we tended to be selfish, we are now generous. When before we were a nasty, hurtful, complaining person, we are now kind and gentle in our thoughts and actions. When before we pushed congregational worship experience behind all kinds of other involvement, now we look forward to coming to worship with our precious friends. When before we thought the world revolved around the United States, we now see ourselves and our country as part of all creation.

When we arrive at this point, we hear Micah in the Old Testament, vaguely from the years 750 – 686 B.C. during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah in the kingdom of Judah, prior to Isaiah. Micah is charged by God to proclaim peace and the welfare of the people being provided by a shepherd leader, but only after first being punished for their huge disobedience. These words from Micah are my favorite “recipe” from God for our world of humanity.

“God 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?”

Let us pray. Holy God, you confound the world’s wisdom in giving your kingdom to the lowly and the pure in heart. Give us such a hunger and thirst for justice, and perseverance in striving for peace, that in our words and deeds the world may see the life of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen