Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
The interrelated themes of mercy, justice, and humility tie the text from Micah and the Beatitudes of St. Matthew together. Both texts are concerned about getting down to the fundamental understanding of what it means to be godly in the Old Testament or Christian in the New Testament. There must be a manifestation of “God in me” that is both visible and dependable helping people decide who is on the Lord’s side. The good news is that there is.
In Micah the people are complaining against God. Anyone can whine, but there are times when one stands up and feels justified in calling for God’s attention. A few examples from my thirty years of ministry:
1. A young girl, having graduated from college and begun working, comes for premarital counseling with her fiancé. They are so in love and have such a bright future. The wedding, now only a few months off, is in full production and planning. She calls his apartment and gets no answer. She goes over to find him dead of a massive heart attack in his early thirties.
2. A mother aware she has cancer asks for God to give her a few more years to finish raising her young children. She becomes obsessed with the belief that God will do this for her. Setting all evidence to the contrary aside, she goes forth unwilling to talk about her coming death with her husband. She weakens and weakens and finally still in full blown denial dies. Her husband has profound questions.
3. A parent asks a child for a kidney. The child agrees to give one of her kidneys to her mother. The grandmother wonders, “What if her future child needs a kidney and she has only one because she gave her other one to her mother? Shouldn’t parents be giving kidneys to children and not the other way around?” One can build a pretty good case with which to complain against God, if this life is all there is to Life.
Judge not, lest you be judged. One story is true until another story is told. Now God tells His story. In the New Living Translation God asks, “What have I done to make you turn from me? Why is your patience exhausted? Answer me! I brought you out of Egypt, redeemed you from slavery, sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to help you. Don’t you remember...when I, the Lord, did everything I could to teach you about my faithfulness?” Micah 6:3-5. It sounds like it’s personal. His tone sound like a lover spurned. The assumption that God would change sides, be double-minded, or torment His children galls the divine Heart. Jesus once said, “How long must I be with you?” The implication being that over time you come to know the quality and character of those you run with in this world.
God’s thundering questions stun us into guilty silence, as they did Job when he brought his complaints.
The Beatitudes expand the theme of Micah 6:8. They answer the question: What would it look like if a person decided to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with his or her God?
Who was Jesus talking to? His disciples were young in their discipleship. Their hearts had not been tested. As Clarence Jordan says, “They had not given much thought to the really big issues of life. That was because the physical eye cannot see anxiety and greed and selfishness and lust and hate. But you sense these things and know that they are real. They were far from any clear understanding of these things.”(Clarence Jordan, Sermon on the Mount [Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1952], pp1-2) It is important to note that one does not “do” the beatitudes to become Christian. One becomes Christian and one’s life becomes a beatitude for those around us. We are who we are when the car door is slammed upon our hand, not who we posture to be in public arenas. Justice, mercy, and humility are unable to be counterfeited for long in this world. If one has an issue with God, it cannot be hidden for long beneath a cloak of religiosity.
Clarence Jordan calls the Beatitudes a stairway to spiritual life. The first seven beatitudes are linked. The poor in spirit step up and become children of God. As his children we mourn, become meek, hunger and thirst after righteousness, show mercy, allow a new heart to be formed in us (a pure heart), and finally become a peacemaker. This expands Micah’s do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. What is one to do with this new life? We are to make the kingdom of this world become the kingdom of our Lord and God.
It is as if Jesus said, “Who is the one who yearns to live and desires to see good days? Look! I am showing you the thing for which your soul hungers! Understand the way you have so long sought without success. Here is the way of true pleasure, the path to serenity, and the road to joyful peace. It is the way to heaven below and heaven above!” (John Wesley, The Sermon on the Mount [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002], p 41). Here is the secret of being human in the world. Here the One who created us gives us our instruction manual which was not sent along with us at the time of our birth into this world!
Micah and Jesus make humility the key to the godly life. The Latin language did not produce a single word for humility. It fell to St. Paul to coin a word for the Greek language for “humility.” Until Paul reached for a word and could not find it, even in the expressive language of Greece, we were without a word in the classical languages that expressed humility as Jesus used the word. Kenosis means to empty. Paul coined this word to speak of what Christ Jesus did when he came to earth. Philippians 2:5-11 is called the kenotic hymn. It speaks of Jesus emptying Himself and taking the form of a human being.
Micah and Jesus drew a line across the lives of the people who listened to them. This was not to be a mystery religion, nor one filled with such complexities that it required a priest and a Philadelphia lawyer to sort it out for common folks. No! There is a way of blessing open to everyone. It is simple, but it is not easy. It requires humility, not power; mercy, not judgment, and justice, not privilege. The golden gate bridge of blessing is suspended above the world by the towering words of Micah in one testament and the words of Jesus in the other testament. The blessing comes from walking the way blessed by God.
Many years ago, there was a dramatic movie about the first test pilots to break the sound barrier. No plane had ever flown faster than the speed of sound. Many people didn’t believe it was possible. Some thought the plane would disintegrate under the forces that would be generated. Eventually, in the movie, various pilots took their planes over the magic figure of 735 miles per hour, only to have the planes disintegrate with the huge vibrations, or to crash. The controls, it seemed, refused to work properly once the plane came to the sound barrier.
Finally, at the climax of the movie, another test pilot figured out what to do. It seemed that when the plane broke the sound barrier the controls began to work backwards. Pulling the stick to make the plane bring its nose up sent it downwards instead. Greatly daring, he flew to the same speed. At the critical moment, instead of pulling the stick back, he pushed it forwards. That would normally send the plane into a dive, but his hunch had been correct. The nose came up, and the plane flew on, fast and free, faster than anyone had travelled before.
The story is not historically accurate. Chuck Yeager, the first human to move faster than the speed of sound in real life, was often asked whether he’d done it the way it was shown in the movie, but he insisted it wasn’t like that. However, the story gives a graphic illustration of what Jesus is doing in these apparently simple words. He is taking the controls and making them work backwards.
The only explanation seems to be that he thinks he is taking God’s people through the sound barrier—taking them somewhere they’d never been before. The one thing most people know about planes going through the sound barrier is that you hear a loud explosion. Many of Jesus’ contemporaries would have said that this was a good picture of the effect he had.
Jesus wasn’t simply a great teacher, and if we try to describe him like that we will misunderstand him. This passage is the beginning of the famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’, which runs through chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Matthew’s gospel, and sets out, in Matthew’s presentation of it, the main themes of Jesus’ proclamation. People often say what wonderful teaching the Sermon on the Mount is, and that if only people would obey it the world would be a better place. But if we think of Jesus simply sitting there telling people how to behave properly, we will miss what was really going on. These ‘blessings’, the ‘wonderful news’ that he’s announcing, are not saying ‘try hard to live like this.’ They are saying that people who already are like that are in good shape. They should be happy and celebrate.
Jesus is not suggesting that these are simply timeless truths about the way the world is, about human behavior. If he was saying that, he was wrong. Mourners often go uncomforted, the meek don’t inherit the earth, those who long for justice frequently take that longing to the grave. This is an upside-down world, or perhaps a right-way-up world; and Jesus is saying that with his work It’s starting to come true. This is an announcement, not a philosophical analysis of the world. It’s about something That’s starting to happen, not about a general truth of life. It is gospel: good news, not good advice.
Follow me, Jesus said to the first disciples; because in him the living God was doing a new thing, and this list of ‘wonderful news’ is part of his invitation, part of his summons, part of his way of saying that God is at work in a fresh way and that this is what it looks like. Jesus is beginning a new era for God’s people and God’s world. From here on, all the controls people thought they knew about are going to work the other way around. In our world, still, most people think that wonderful news consists of success, wealth, long life, victory in battle. Jesus is offering wonderful news for the humble, the poor, the mourners, the peacemakers.
The word for ‘wonderful news’ is often translated ‘blessed’, and part of the point is that this is God’s wonderful news. God is acting in and through Jesus to turn the world upside down, to turn Israel upside down, to pour out lavish ‘blessings’ on all who now turn to him and accept the new thing that he is doing. (This list is sometimes called ‘the Beatitudes’, because the Latin word ‘beatus’ means ‘blessed’.) But the point is not to offer a list of what sort of people God normally blesses. The point is to announce God’s new covenant.
In Deuteronomy, the people came through the wilderness and arrived at the border of the promised land, and God gave them a solemn covenant. He listed the blessings and the curses that would come upon them if they were obedient or disobedient (chapter 28). Now Matthew has shown us Jesus, coming out of Egypt (2:15), through the water and the wilderness (chapters 3 and 4), and into the land of promise (4:12–25). Here, now, is his new covenant.
So when do these promises come true? There is a great temptation for Christians to answer: in heaven, after death. At first sight, verses 3, 10 and 11 seem to say this: ‘the kingdom of heaven’ belongs to the poor in spirit and the persecuted, and there’s a great reward ‘in heaven’ for those who suffer persecution for Jesus’ sake. This, though, is a misunderstanding of the meaning of ‘heaven’. Heaven is God’s space, where full reality exists, close by our ordinary (‘earthly’) reality and interlocking with it. One day heaven and earth will be joined together for ever, and the true state of affairs, at present out of sight, will be unveiled. After all, verse 5 says that the meek will inherit the earth, and that can hardly happen in a disembodied heaven after death.
No: the clue comes in the next chapter, in the prayer Jesus taught his followers. We are to pray that God’s kingdom will come, and God’s will be done, ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. The life of heaven—the life of the realm where God is already king—is to become the life of the world, transforming the present ‘earth’ into the place of beauty and delight that God always intended. And those who follow Jesus are to begin to live by this rule here and now. That’s the point of the Sermon on the Mount, and these ‘beatitudes’ in particular. They are a summons to live in the present in the way that will make sense in God’s promised future, because that future has arrived in the present in Jesus of Nazareth. It may seem upside down, but we are called to believe, with great daring, that it is in fact the right way up. Try it and see. (Wright, T. Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 [2004, London] pp. 35–38)
Without humility we cannot learn, for the ﬁrst step to learning is the realization of our own ignorance. Quintilian, the great Roman teacher of oratory, said of certain of his scholars: ‘They would no doubt be excellent students, if they were not already convinced of their own knowledge.’ No one can teach people who know it all already. Without humility there can be no such thing as love, for the very beginning of love is a sense of unworthiness. Without humility there can be no true religion, for all true religion begins with a realization of our own weakness and of our need for God. True humanity can only be reached when we are always conscious that we are the creatures and that God is the Creator, and that without God we can do nothing.
Praotēs describes humility, the acceptance of the necessity to learn and of the necessity to be forgiven. It describes the only proper attitude to God. So, the third possible translation of this beatitude is:
Blessed are those who have the humility to know their own ignorance, their own weakness, and their own need.
It is this meekness, Jesus says, which will inherit the earth. It is the fact of history that it has always been those who possess this gift of self-control, those with their passions, instincts and impulses under discipline, who have been great. Numbers says of Moses, the greatest leader and the greatest law-giver the world has ever seen: ‘Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth’ (Numbers 12:3). Moses was no milk-and-water character; he was no spineless creature; he could be blazingly angry; but he was a man whose anger was on the leash, only to be released when the time was right. The writer of Proverbs has it: ‘One whose temper is controlled [is better] than one who captures a city’ (Proverbs 16:32).
It was the lack of that very quality which ruined Alexander the Great, who, in a ﬁt of uncontrolled temper in the middle of a drunken debauch, hurled a spear at his best friend and killed him. We cannot lead others until we have found our own direction in life; we cannot serve others until we have put aside self; we cannot be in control of others until we have learned to control ourselves. But those who give themselves into the complete control of God will gain this meekness, which will indeed enable them to inherit the earth.
It is clear that this word praus means far more than the English word meek now means; it is, in fact, clear that there is no one English word which will translate it, although perhaps the word gentle comes nearest to it. The full translation of this third beatitude must read: O the bliss of those who are always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time, who have every instinct, impulse and passion under control because they themselves are god-controlled, who have the humility to realize their own ignorance and their own weakness, for such people can indeed rule the world! (Barclay, W. The Gospel of Matthew [2001, Edinburgh] Third Ed., pp. 112–114)
O the bliss of those who are always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time, who have every instinct, impulse and passion under control because they themselves are god-controlled, who have the humility to realize their own ignorance and their own weakness, for such people can indeed rule the world! There is real power in these simple words.
O the bliss of those who are always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time, who have every instinct, impulse and passion under control because they themselves are god-controlled, who have the humility to realize their own ignorance and their own weakness, for such people can indeed rule the world! There is real power in these simple words.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Letting someone ahead of you in line when you see they are in a hurry is an act of humility. Cleaning the bathroom of your office, even though you own the company, is an example of humility. ... An athlete who credits his success to his teammates, even though he has great skill, shows humility.
Humility appears in all walks of life. People give up their own privileges in order to serve those who have less. For example, Mother Teresa dedicated her life to minister to the poorest people in Calcutta.
Stop talking. One way to practice humility is to spend more time listening than you do talking. ...
Give other people credit. ...
Admit when you're wrong. ...
Go last. ...
Ask for advice. ...
Praise others. ...
When I was much younger my dad came home from work one lunch hour covered in soot. He didn't say anything about it but changed his clothes and got ready to go back to work for the afternoon.
We found out the next day that on his way home for lunch he passed a house down the street that was on fire. No one was around so he stopped to see if anyone needed any help.
As it so happened, an elderly woman with a walker was trying to get out of the house and needed help. Dad went into the house and carried her out, effectively saving her life. Then she asked him to go back in to the burning house to get her dog and he went back into the still burning home to find and rescue the little dog who was not at all happy about a stranger picking him up.
By the time my dad had retrieved the dog from the house the fire trucks had arrived and the woman was being taken care of.
On the way back to work after changing his clothes dad saw a news crew there interviewing a man outside of the house. Thinking nothing of it, Dad continued on to work to carry on with his day.
The next day when the newspaper arrived at our door we saw an article about how a brave man had rushed into the burning house and gallantly saved an elderly woman and her dog…
The man in the picture was the man my dad saw being interviewed by the news crew. He took all the credit for saving that little old woman even though he hadn't even helped.
My dad just laughed and said that it didn't matter. All that mattered to him was that the woman and the dog were safe.
To me that is humility.
He didn't even mention what had happened until the newspaper came to our door and we put two and two together about the soot on his clothes from the day before. He didn't need praise or even for anyone to know it had happened.
That's why my dad was my hero. Strong but humble is a phenomenal combination. (https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-examples-of-humility-you-have-seen-in-a-person)
God’s Kingdom has certain characteristics according to Clarence Jordan. First, its foundation is the revelation that God is a Father and that Jesus Christ is His Son. We become His children by identification with the Son. The result is a community, or family. Second, in this new relationship one can have no conflicting loyalties. The kingdom takes precedence over everything else. To accept this kingdom is to put first things first. Third, the kingdom is not a department of life set off by itself, but like blood in the body, it extends to every area of human life. It is the way of life. Fourth, the doors of the kingdom are open to all without respect to race, caste, class, color, nationality, education, or wealth. Finally, “He that hearth my words and doeth them is like a wise man...” Jesus put action into the very core of the Christian life. Real learning comes through doing. (Clarence Jordan, Sermon on the Mount [Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1952], pp5-6).
What does God require? A belief in the future. “Our doxologies of gratitude at being the most blessed nation in the world seem to have been replaced by slogans meant to bolster our fading spirit.” (Tony Campolo, Wake Up America! [San Francisco: Zondervan, 1991], p 13) “What I fear is a growing sense of entropy. I have an anxiety that stems from a feeling that this nation, which I love, appears no longer to have any good reason to go on living. I have a sense that our country no longer has a dream or vision that it seeks to realize.” (ibid, p14)
Quotes from Flannery O’Connor, the southern writer from Milledgeville, Georgia, who wrote Wise Blood, and All Things That Rise Converge.
1.”Whatever way God leads you will be good.”
2.”It is better to be held to the Church by habit, than not to be held at all.”
3.”I do not believe grace is something you have to feel.”
“You have found Jesus when you are concerned about he suffering of others and not your
4.”Any Catholic or Protestant is defenseless before those who judge his or her religion by how well its members live up to it or how well they are able to explain it.” (Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being [New Yard: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1979])
Will Campbell tells the story of the little church that had seven or eight deacons. One of them had gotten a divorce and married another woman. Both of them were very decent people. They had just tragically gotten a divorce. There was a movement by the preacher to have the deacon reprimanded by the church because he had sinned. At the crucial meeting, before the motion could be made, the deacon stood up and said, “I hereby resign as the church treasurer.” It was accepted. He stood again and said, “I hereby resign as director of music.” It was accepted too. He rises again and resigns his deaconship. It was done, but the young preacher smelling blood, and thinking he had the other deacons’ support said, “I just think we ought to go back to the old ways where we would discipline people in the church, so that when someone sins like this, they have got to come before the church and repent and ask for forgiveness, and then the church decides whether to restore them or not.” No one said anything, but someone turned to Will’s Daddy, Lee Campbell and asked, “Brother Lee, what do you think? You’re the senior deacon.” He said, “Well, if you hadn’t asked Uncle Lee, Uncle lee wouldn’t have told you, but since you did, Uncle lee is a-thinking, who’s gonna make the motion? And who’s gonna second it?”
It was like a mule had kicked them in the belly. They looked around and every one of them except Will’s Father was either divorced themselves or was married to a woman who was divorced and had a living ex-husband. (Susan Ketchin, The Christ-haunted landscape [Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994], pp228-9).
Barry Lopez believes that the stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. We are the sum of our stories. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. Never be afraid to share your story with another person. It transcends all attempts to appear wise or important. Jesus told stories and invited us to see ourselves in them. If the stories of one’s life provide a prison for one’s soul. Listen again to Jesus as He tells stories. Remember, one man’s story is true, until another man’s story is told. Humankind and creation are the beloved in all of Jesus’ stories. They do not start, “Once upon a time...” They being with “Truly, Truly, I say unto you.”
God is ultimately interested not in the sacrifices that we offer but, in the way, that we live our lives. Yohanan ben Zakkai is a revered figure in rabbinical Judaism. One day one of his fellow rabbis lamented that the Jews were doomed because, with the temple in Jerusalem destroyed, they no longer had the ability to offer sacrifices to atone for their sins. Yohanan ben Zakkai responded, “My son, be not grieved,” and he continued by reminding his friend what the prophet Hosea said: “We have another atonement as effective as this, and what is it? It is acts of loving-kindness, as it is said, ‘For I desire mercy and not sacrifice’.” (Jonathan Kirsch, God Against The Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism [New York: Viking Compass, 2004], p 88)
When it comes to dealing with our fellow Christians, it often seems to be the case that we find it difficult to embody the way of life spoken of in Micah and Matthew. Rather than treating one another with loving-kindness and mercy, we frequently display anger and animosity. In the early centuries of the Christian faith, there were constant heated disputes over the church’s theology, particularly the church’s definition of the nature of Christ. A particularly vicious battle raged for years between the followers of Arius—who claimed that Jesus was of a similar substance with God the Father—and the followers of Athanasius—who asserted that Jesus was of the same substance as God the Father. The bitter disputes led Ammianus to remark, “No wild beasts are so hostile to mankind as are most of the Christians in their savagery toward one another.” (Jonathan Kirsch, God Against The Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism [New York: Viking Compass, 2004], p 211)
A church in Texas is trying to encourage people to walk in the right way. According to the Los Angeles Times (1/25/04), the pastor of the Oakcrest Family Church in Norwood regularly stops in the parking lot of a nearby adult theater. He takes out his digital camera and photographs each car in the lot, along with a close-up of each license plate. Then the church sends the vehicle owners a postcard with a picture of the person’s car in the theater’s parking lot, and on the reverse side is a message: “Observed you in the neighborhood. Didn’t know if you were aware there is a church in the area...please stop by next time. We’d love to have you visit.” In Texas, license information is a matter of public record. For a fee, the church is able to obtain on-line the ownership information for each license plate. The owner of the adult business doesn’t appreciate what the church is doing. The pastor, however, shrugs off the criticism, saying, “I want these people to know someone is noticing them.” The cost of tracing the license plates, and making and sending the postcards, could total $15,000 a year, but the cost is being underwritten by local businesses and individuals who are opposed to the XXX-rated businesses being in their area.
Although Jesus extols the virtue of mercy, such forgiveness is not necessarily easy to grant. In fact, often it takes time for us to be able to muster the will to forgive. The nation of Ghana instituted proceedings similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission meetings that occurred after the dismantling of the apartheid system in South Africa. One day in the spring of 2003 the commission in Ghana heard the case of William Thomas Bruce, who was in his sixties. He proceeded to describe how on July 20, 1979—one month after a military coup had toppled the government—four soldiers entered Bruce’s restaurant in Accra. The eatery was a simple place, serving basic meals like okra, rice, and beans. The soldiers ate and enjoyed themselves until they were asked to pay the bill, which amounted to less than three U.S. dollars. They refused to pay. Instead they ordered Bruce outside, forced him into their truck, and drove him to a prison facility. There they proceeded to torture him. They shoved chunks of salt into his mouth and commanded him to chew them, causing his mouth to bleed. Next they had him remove his shirt and beat him with electric wires. Then they forced him to crawl across the floor as they kicked him and beat him. Finally the soldiers blindfolded Bruce and poked him with bayonets. When the soldiers at last decided that they were finished with their abuse, they drove Bruce to his house and deposited his battered and bruised body there. A few weeks later, the soldiers returned and ransacked his restaurant, carrying off all his liquor. Some weeks after that, they came back again, and when they found that Bruce had not replenished his supply of alcohol, they beat him some more. After hearing Bruce’s horrible tale, a Catholic bishop on the Commission asked, “If that soldier came back today and offered you a drink, would you accept it?” Bruce replied, “Yes, I would embrace him and tell him I have forgiven everything.” When he was asked to explain why his initial bitterness and hatred toward the soldiers had disappeared, Bruce explained that while at first the lingering pain from the torture caused him to hold on to his anger, now that he had finally begun to heal physically, he was able to let go of the resentment and move on. His suffering no longer defined his life. (Ellis Cose, Bone to Pick: Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Reparation, and Revenge [New York: Atria, 2004], pp 43-45)
Although God calls upon us to walk with humble spirits, pride tends to be a problem for many of us. But boasting about your accomplishments can end up backfiring. That’s what many high school students are realizing when they apply for college. Bloomberg News (12/14/03) reported on how many high school seniors think they will increase the likelihood of their being accepted to the college of their choice by flooding the admissions office with letters of recommendation. The problem, however, is that many of the letters end up hurting the students’ chances, rather than helping them. Some letter-writers are so oblivious to what they are doing, for instance, that Barnard College in New York City, an all-women’s school, each year receives letters of recommendation for men to be admitted there. In addition, other letters that are received on behalf of female applicants have the institution’s name misspelled, something that does not particularly impress the screening committee. Some high school teachers send out form-letter recommendations to schools, often claiming that the student in question is the best student they have ever had. Many times, though, the teachers fail to notice that they are sending the same letter to the same school for multiple applicants, thus negating the weight of the teacher’s appraisal. Among the typos that admissions officers have reported are a letter stating that the student’s grade point average was 187.4 and another saying that the student was a record holder in the “1,600 milliliter race.” An admissions counselor at Harvard recalls one student who flooded the school with 85 letters of recommendation. One letter came from the student’s orthodontist, in which the doctor detailed the dental work he had done for the youth. That student, the Harvard official said, was not admitted. Many students, however, feel the need to boast about their accomplishments in order to increase their chances of admission success. A growing number of young people are turning to various services and counselors to help them with the admissions process, sometimes paying as much as $32,000 for the help.
The way that we go in life is often influenced by the way that those who have gone before us have traveled. For instance, according to National Geographic (March 2004), motorists in England drive on the left because in olden days English cavaliers rode their horses on the left side of the road so they could draw their swords with their right hand to defend against any renegade highwaymen. In France, though, teamsters steered their wagons, which were pulled by six horses, by riding behind the left-rear horse and driving on the right so they could judge the clearance when they met oncoming wagons. When Argentine invaded the Falkland Islands, they required local citizens to change and drive on the right, as a way of communicating that the British were no longer in charge. In 1978, Okinawa went the other way. They began requiring motorists to drive on the left side of the road as a way of protesting against the 27-year postwar U. S. occupation of their land. Peter Kincaid, a transportation scholar, observes that the side of the road we drive on is “a powerful statement of who’s in charge. The rule of the road is part of national identity.”
The New Testament frequently speaks of how we clothe ourselves as a metaphor for the way that we live our lives. Fox News (5/10/04) reported that there is a growing recent trend among many Christians to quite literally clothe themselves with Jesus. Apparently because of the success of the movie The Passion of the Christ, many Hollywood stars have begun wearing clothes bearing Jesus’ name or image. A company in Los Angeles called Teenage Millionaire makes t-shirts that say “Jesus Is My Homeboy” and “Mary Is My Homegirl.” Other shirts display the Jesus fish symbol with the phrase “Go Fish.” Other t-shirts bear slogans like “My Savior Is Tougher Than Nails.” Not everyone, though, is wild about this popular trend. Many find the t-shirts and other articles distasteful and disrespectful.
Many media outlets today lack a firm grasp of what it is that the Lord requires. According to CNSNews.com (5/12/03), a study conducted by the University of Rochester found that daily newspapers have significant failings when it comes to reporting about religious beliefs and practices. The research noted that while stories about religion are regularly found in papers, rarely are the religions’ beliefs, values, and practices accurately discussed. Furthermore, they found that reporting about Christianity is often related to perceived local interest. In Dallas and Atlanta, where many of the elite attend church regularly, church news is rather common. But in cities like New York and Washington, where many of the elite are not active Christians, church news is much more sparse. A study conducted back in 1997 by the Media Research Center found that for every positive depiction of a devout layperson in entertainment television, there were ten negative ones.
The way of life to which Jesus calls us requires a lifetime of effort. At any given moment in our lives, there is always some part of the Beatitudes that we are struggling to improve at. Years ago people wore buttons that bore the letters PBPGINFWMY. The unusual string of letters stood for “Please Be Patient, God Is Not Finished With Me Yet.” (Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002], p 223)
To get a physical sensation of what it means both to be “meek” and to “walk humbly,” take the hand of a two year old child and walk with them for a couple of city blocks. You have to bend down, especially if you are very tall. You also discover that you see the world from a very different vantage point, a point in which there is much you cannot see, and many things you can see that you would ordinarily miss.
The Lord requires justice. God’s justice is not something relegated to a court but it is to be the guide of my conduct with my neighbor. It is as practical as keeping honest scales and as personal as keeping my eyes and hands off of what—and who—belongs to someone else. Justice is neither ‘fairness’ nor ‘entitlement.’ Justice is not the privilege of the few who have a slick attorney. Justice is impartial and is a right granted by God to all. Part of the good news is that God’s ultimate justice will correct whatever wounds our human ‘justice’ and sin has inflicted.
Justice is the first word in God’s instruction manual. Our life falls apart because we have sought our own brand of justice, serving ourselves rather than our neighbor. We indulge our passions rather than being filled with God’s Spirit. We confuse ‘justice’ with ‘getting what’s due me.’ But for God ‘justice’ means ‘getting with God’s kingdom.’ If we align ourselves with God’s justice, we shall live and enjoy the blessings of God. ‘Justice’ in God’s lexicon means ‘giving someone else the blessing and respect they are due.’ They are due this justice by virtue of God’s love, not by virtue of their birth.
The Lord requires kindness. God’s kindness is not something that comes out of a guide book for the politically correct. Kindness is the affect which should guide my just conduct. Kindness is first of all directly linked to justice because injustice is decidedly unkind. There are no victimless crimes, for each trespass is unkind in addition to being a violation of God’s just law. Kindness lives in the tone of my voice and the pace of my walk by your side. Partiality is cruel in addition to being unjust, preferential treatment often solidifies injustice with a lack of kindness.
Jesus gives us a witness of God’s kindness. People were drawn to him by virtue of his kindness as much as by the persuasive power of his words. Jesus’ kindness catches us off balance, because we confuse kindness with laxity rather than seeing that kindness is respect for someone who may be in a bad circumstance. Jesus’ kindness challenges us because we equate kindness with weakness rather than seeing that kindness requires great strength. We see the strength in kindness especially when giving mercy, comfort, guidance in righteousness or seeking to bring peace to people in conflict.
Kindness is the attitude we need to have toward life in general and our neighbor in particular. If ‘justice’ is the driving force of the universe, then ‘kindness’ is the grease in the gears. If ‘justice’ is the gravitational principle of the universe, then ‘kindness’ is the ‘weak force’ which makes the other forces work together. If ‘justice’ is the symphonic theme of our best human efforts, then ‘kindness’ is the conductor, urging first one instrument and then another to come forward, take a solo riff and shine in the applause.
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: What is it that the Lord requires of us?
People: God calls us to do justice. God summons us to create a society where oppression has no place.
Leader: God calls us to love kindness. God summons us to care for one another with a deep and abiding concern.
People: God calls us to walk humbly in God’s presence. God summons us to put God’s will before all else.
All: Come, let us worship God! Come, let us do what the Lord requires!
Mighty Ruler, You do not hide Your ways from us. Through Your Word, You speak to us and show us what You require. But we confess that we tolerate injustices in our world, especially when those wrongs do not directly affect us. We often fail to love another, as we focus on our own wants and desires to the exclusion of our neighbors’ needs. And many times, we lack a humble heart as we walk with You, as we take pride in our own accomplishments and good works. Loving God pardon us for all the occasions where we do what is right in our own eyes, rather than doing what is right in Your eyes. Lead us once again to walk rightly. In the name of Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.
Holy Lord receive our gifts and use them to accomplish amazing things in Your world. Breathe life into our offerings and enable us, with humble hearts, to use these gifts to spread Your justice and Your love to all people. In our Lord’s name we pray. Amen.
Everlasting Lord, we often feel pulled in so many different directions. Yet amid the confusion that so often arises in our lives, show us Your ways. While we often pursue wealth and allow greed to influence what we do, teach us the value of contentment, so that we might seek not material things but the riches that come from You. In our times of despair and grief, comfort us with the embrace of Your compassion. And lead us not to be boastful or arrogant but teach us the true greatness that comes through humility and meekness.
Mighty Ruler, while we often try to satisfy our hunger with food and drink, lead us to look to You to satisfy that even deeper hunger that lies within us. We live in a world of revenge and retaliation but empower us to show forth mercy and forgiveness. We live in a culture of violence but guide us in the paths that make for peace. And even when others may oppose us, even when our enemies rise up against us, do not let us ever lose heart, for You are our Lord and Savior this day and forevermore. Amen.