Sunday’s Sermon: Are We Ready for Solid Food?

  • Boys have recently started eating “solid” foods → It’s funny how this one change has made such a significant impact on our lives. It’s turned every meal in our household into an adventure!
    • What will the boys eat today?
    • How much will they eat? In conjunction with that, how much will they be wearing by the end of the meal?
    • This step = become a very tangible representation for us of how much and how quickly they’re changing – learning, growing and maturing
    • Learning to eat = not the only way to be adventurous with our food → constantly learning, growing and maturing in our own tastes, too
      • If you love to cook …
        • How often do you go into your kitchen and just start putting things together?
        • How often do you try a new recipe, especially one with some exotic ingredient?
      • If you prefer to eat out …
        • How often do you try something new at your favorite restaurant?
        • How often do you try a new restaurant, especially one that serves real ethnic dishes?
          • Americanized versions don’t count
      • Just like the boys are learning to try new things and finding appreciations for new foods, our own culinary preferences are often developing and changing.
    • And as I was thinking about the Scripture passages this week, it struck me that both as individual people of faith and as the church together, we’re not so different.
      • Constantly learning, growing, and maturing in our faith
  • Learning = messy process!
    • When it comes to baby food – Ian and Luke are constantly covered in all manner of foodiness → inevitably end up with food in their noses, eyebrows, hair, etc. … but this is how they learn.
      • Learn about consistency → soft, smooshie, crunchy, wet
      • Learn about feeding themselves → Have you ever thought about what a complex action it is trying to get your spoon up to your face and actually getting it into that small hole that is your mouth?
        • Developing coordination
        • Developing muscle control
        • Learning about gratification (sometimes instant, sometimes delayed, depending on how coordinated they’re being!)
    • As someone who likes to cook – trying a new recipe can be messy, too
      • Pulling out bowl after bowl after bowl
      • Trying to find space on the counter for …
        • Ingredients
        • Necessary equipment (bowls, mixer, cutting board, etc.)
        • Recipe (card, book, iPad) → must be easy to see but not easy to spill on
    • And when it comes to all the learning and growing and maturing that we do in our faith, that’s a messy process, too!
      • Messy because it’s a series of choices – Deut text: See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. … I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.[1]
      • Choices, choices, choices … and choices can be tricky things. Simply making a – any choice! – choice is difficult enough sometimes.
        • Story of trying to choose a Barbie dress as a kid
      • And choices are also messy because when we look back, there are always some choices we’re glad we’ve made, but there are also some we wish we could take back and do over.
        • Deut passage = Moses speaking to the Israelites → What an exceptionally messy history of good choices and bad choices! So why is it so hard? How can things get so messy so fast?
    • Paul answers our question with a question this morning: For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?[2] → So Paul wants to know what it is that we’re basing our decisions on. Do we base them on our own desires and imperfections – imperfect perceptions, imperfect understandings, imperfect mindsets – or do we base them on God?
      • Paul makes it clear – choices based on something other than God end up a mess
        • Divisiveness
        • Quarreling
        • Finger-pointing
        • Accusations
    • Now, wait … is Paul talking about the church in Corinth at this point, or did he have some window into today’s Church? Because this sounds awfully similar to the mess that Christianity has become today. We’re more focused on the ways we’re different than we are on the connections that we share in this amazing gift called “faith.”
      • Paul’s opinion about this type of behavior is clear: For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. … For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.[3] → Paul’s saying, “It’s not about who does the planting. It’s about who does the growing … and for each and every one of us, that’s God.” – reminder that we are always growing, learning and maturing in the light of God’s guidance and love
  • And thank God for that guidance and love because the choices out here are endless!
    • You know, when it comes to baby food, one of the craziest and more unexpected things that we’ve discovered is the varying degrees that fall under the umbrella term “solid food.”
      • At least 4 levels of “solid” when it comes to baby food (at least according to Gerber[4]): food for supported sitters (REALLY runny puree), food for independent sitters (sorta runny puree), food for crawlers (puree with small pieces of food), actual solid foods (flavored baby puffs, Cheerios, etc.) → start with the thinner stuff because that’s what their little bodies can handle – build on that
      • And sometimes, it all just gets to be too much. There are nights when the boys are too tired or too crabby from teething or too whatever to be able to handle that crazy “other stuff” we’re trying to give them, and we have to go back to a bottle – what’s familiar and uncomplicated and comfortable.
        • Sometimes even when you think you’re ready, there’s still lots of growing, learning, maturing to do
    • Paul to Cor: I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh.[5] → basically, “You still have a lot of growing and maturing to do.”
      • See this in the Gr. – “not ready for solid food” = not able → literally aren’t equipped/prepared to process this yet
      • Scholar explains further: The problem with the Corinthians is not their desire to grow in divine wisdom. The problem is that they have been seeking the wrong kind of wisdom from the wrong sources! Genuine insight into the plans and purposes of God is given only through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.[6] → As Deuteronomy put it, the Corinthians are trying to choose life. They’re trying to choose prosperity and blessings. They’re trying to follow God. They’re trying … but somewhere along the line, they ended up focusing on the wrong thing.
        • Focused on which disciple they followed – “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos” – instead of focusing on the universal message imparted by all disciples: Love God. Obey God. Hold fast to God.
        • Reminds me of Megan and Phil with their kids – “Make good choices”
  • As Peter, Luke, Ian, and I are all navigating this labyrinthine world of “solid foods” together, we’re constantly growing and learning and maturing.
    • Process of trial and error → Are they ready for something like Cheerios yet? Are they ready for water from a sippy cup? Are they ready to try some softer, very small pieces of our food?
      • Some nights = yes, some nights = no
      • Some foods = yes, some foods = no
      • Not the same for both boys either
    • Process of going back to things again and again → not big fans of peas or green beans right now … but we keep trying!
    • And when it comes to our faith, we’re also in a constant process of growing and learning and maturing. Following God doesn’t come down to one single choice that happens easily overnight. It’s a process of discovery. Faith – both our personal faith and our shared faith as this church and as the wider Church – was never meant to be a stagnant sort of endeavor.
      • Deut: If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous.[7] → Heb. “observing” = being attentive to, protecting, retaining
        • This implies that we are to take an active role in continuing to grow and learn and mature in our faith. We’re not supposed to be passive observers, just catching glimpses of God from afar without really getting involved. We’re supposed to be attentive to God’s commandments, decrees, and ordinances, protecting God’s way and retaining God’s Word.
  • Think about your favorite food – that thing that you just love to eat more than anything, that you relish and savor and eat super-slowly so you can make it last as long as possible. Now think back. Do you remember the first time you had that favorite food? Is it a food that you started eating when you were a baby? Or is it something that you grew to appreciate and eventually love over time?
    • Story of having a sip of Mom’s mocha for the first time → Now, what would I do without my coffee?!?
    • That’s kind of the way it is with our faith. Every morning, we get up and make the choice. We choose life. We choose faith. We choose belief in the face of the world’s disbelief and despair. We choose to follow God, even though most of the time we don’t know where that path may lead.
      • Won’t always make the right choice → learn as we go
      • As we choose, we continue to learn to choose → It’s messy. It’s a process of discovery that we return to again and again and again … but each time, we learn a little something new. We uncover a new part of our faith and ourselves. And like that favorite food, we grow a little more familiar, a little more comfortable, and a little more fond of the whole experience until we can’t imagine our lives without it.
  • So let me ask you this: If Paul were standing in front of you now and said to you, “Are you ready for solid spiritual food?” … what would you say? Amen.


[1] Deut 30:15, 19.

[2] 1 Cor 3:3b.

[3] 1 Cor 3:4-7, 9.

[5] 1 Cor 3:2-3a.

[6] P. Mark Achtemeier. “Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany – 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 352.

[7] Deaut 30:16.

Sunday’s Sermon: A Salty Sort of Faith

  • I’m guessing a lot of you may not be familiar with the wild and wonderful world of children’s literature, but there’s a fairly new character on the scene. Trust me … you want to know who this new guy is.
    • Description
      • Cute
      • Funny
      • Just a little bit sassy
      • This character is a pigeon, but he’s not just any old pigeon. He’s THE Pigeon – a loveably annoying character created by Mo Willems in 2003.
        • Debut: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus![1] – simple story about a bus driver who leaves you (the reader) in charge of his bus for a little while with one very important instruction: Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus. –> Of course, what’s the one and only thing that the Pigeon wants more than anything in the world? To drive the bus!
          • Begs, pleads, cajoles, tries to bribe and even threaten you (reader) in all sorts of outrageously entertaining ways
        • Many other Pigeon books available now: The Pigeon Finds a Hotdog! (2004), Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late (2006), and most recently The Pigeon Needs a Bath! (2014)
    • Now, when you look at Mo Willems’ Pigeon books, at first glance you may wonder why they’re so popular and entertaining. The illustrations and the plotlines are pretty simplistic. They aren’t full of adventure or non-stop action. So why are so many children so enthralled by this simple Pigeon?
      • Easy answer: Pigeon has spunk – definition of “spunk” is “being spirited” –> Pigeon’s vibrant spirit is contagious
    • Now, even if you aren’t familiar with this crazy pigeon, there are plenty of other characters whose spunk has earned them a place in our hearts.
      • Little orphan Annie
      • Anne Shirley – Anne of Green Gables
      • Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings
      • These are all characters that bring life to their stories with their spunk – their heart, their wit, and their enthusiasm. They fulfill a need within their stories – a need for authenticity and uniqueness, for that spark that keeps you coming back for more. Imagine what their stories would be like without their infusion of spirit.
        • Dull
        • Uninspiring
        • Even tedious
    • And sometimes, I think our faith ends up feeling like this. It becomes dull and uninspiring, something we do because we’re supposed to – because we know we should, not something that enlivens every part of our lives. Sometimes, our faith needs an infusion of spunk because when our faith has life, we cannot help but be God’s light in this world.
  • Jesus is all about the spunk this morning! – Gospel: You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?[2] –> This is Godly spunk that Jesus is talking about! Think about it …
    • One main purpose of salt = flavor
      • Enlivens bland dishes
      • Tickles our taste buds in a way nothing else can
      • Introduces zest/essence that enhances food experience
    • By likening his followers to salt, Jesus …
      • Speaks to nature of their mission –> to bring that Godly spunk; that unique, dynamic element to faith
      • Emboldens them in that mission
        • Scholar: Jesus’ followers seek to live justly as an expression of their worship of God; they have been blessed and are passionate about being participants in God’s vision for the world.[3]
        • E.g. – listening to “The Splendid Table” driving between service –> The passion with which people describe food and the way it’s seasoned is astounding sometimes! And by calling us salt for the world, Jesus is challenging us to bring that same kind of passion and zeal to our faith.
  • Jesus’ next words: You are the light of the world … Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.[4] –> encouraging us to embrace that spunk
    • For some reason, we are often urged or even forced to deny that spark within us – that special bit of amazing that God has given to each and every one of us.
      • Story of seminary friend – took her 35 yrs. to get to answer God’s call and go to seminary
      • The dark patches in the world – the apathy, the weariness, the pessimism, and the unbelief – can sometimes threaten to swallow up our light. They can make us feel like that special flavor that we alone can bring to this mix of faith isn’t necessary or isn’t worth the effort … like the light we carry and the light we are isn’t going to make a difference. But that’s not what Jesus says to us. In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus points to us and says …
        • Unique flavor you bring to faith is essential
        • Special light you shine on this world is vital
        • Scholar: Jesus encourages his followers to bring light to a dark and broken world. The light is the light of the gospel, and it draws all people to its warmth and radiance. … In order for the light to be seen, we must be willing to go where the darkness exists, to engage and walk through it, so that, in time, the light can overcome it.[5]
  • David’s encounter = perfect example of this
    • Israelites’ situation – earlier in the chapter: The Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. … All the Israelites, when they saw the man, fled from him and were very much afraid.[6]
      • Goliath
        • Massive guy – estimates anywhere between 6’9” and 9’9”!
        • Aggressive guy – utters one-on-one challenge to the Israelite army –> “Send out your best warrior, and we’ll fight. If he wins, Israel wins. If I win, the Philistines win.” And understandably, this enormous warrior has the Israelite army pretty darn scared. Any confidence, any conviction, and any faith that they had in themselves and even in their God is gone.
          • Intimidated
          • Afraid
          • Basically lost hope
    • At this point, the Israelites need something to believe in, something to lift their spirits and restore their courage. They need a powerful light to shatter Goliath’s darkness. They need someone to bring that salt, that spunk, that essence back into their faith. Enter little David. Remember, at this point, David is still just barely a teenager – a kid who takes care of his father’s sheep. And yet he approaches this situation with Goliath with boldness and conviction. David comes with spunk!
      • Has plenty to fear – Goliath’s threats: The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.”[7]
      • And at this point, David is not only facing the ridicule of his enemy, he’s also facing a glaring lack of belief from the Israelites – his family, his friends, even his king.
        • His brothers have told him to go home
        • Other soldiers have told him him to go home
        • King Saul:  “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”[8]
        • All people urging David to ignore his light – to hide it under a bushel basket, using Jesus’ words … but David refuses. David unflinchingly claims his salty faith, his Godly spunk.
          • Claims it in the face of his enemy: But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied … for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”[9] –> Modern translation: Big whoop. David says to Goliath, “Sure, you’ve got a sword. You’ve got a spear. You’ve got a javelin. But I’ve got God. So there.” In the face of a giant, fierce, aggressive warrior. Salty, salty spunk.
          • Also claims Godly spunk by shining light on his friends’ doubt – response in the face of Saul’s reservations: Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.[10] –> Saul wasn’t trying to be malicious. He wasn’t trying to crush David’s spirit. Saul was trying to save a little boy from what looked like certain doom.
            • Evidenced in the way Saul tries to dress David up in his own (too big) armor for protection
      • But David’s Godly spunk – that special God-given light of his spirit – would not be dimmed.
        • Marched out to meet Goliath
        • Exchanged battlefield trash talk with the giant
        • Put his money where his mouth was – felled Goliath with the first stone
    • And through it all, David remembers the most important element – that the salt, the light, the spunk doesn’t really belong to him.
      • Text reveals his reason for taking on Goliath: So that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s.[11] –> It would be so easy for David to take all the glory at this point – to let the Israelites lift him up on their shoulders and sing his praise – but instead, David points to God. “God did this. This is God’s work, God’s doing, God’s strength … not mine.”
  • So how do we do what David did? How do we become that salt and that light? How do we claim that Godly spunk for ourselves and our family of faith? Well, let me ask you this: Where do you find joy? Where do you find purpose? When you think about your faith, what makes you excited? Where is that spark? Like the spunky characters in the stories we talked about, what keeps you coming back for more?
    • Is it prayer?
      • So many different kinds of prayer
        • Visual prayer
        • Audible prayer
        • Enacted/body prayer
    • Is it worship?
      • Also so many different kids
        • Visually stimulating
        • Aurally stimulating
        • Provides a full experience – sight, sounds, possible feels (think children’s sermon on a grand scale)
    • Is it God’s word?
      • Reading Scripture = part of it
      • Bigger part = interacting with it
        • Breaking it down, wrestling with it
        • Various ways to do that (writing in your Bible, circling/highlighting, “contemplative doodling,” etc.)
    • Is it community involvement?
      • Places that need your flavor
      • Places that need your light
    • Or is it something else … something about faith that makes you so excited, so enlivened, so lit up and spirited that you feel like you want to shout it from the rooftops and share it with everyone you know? Because that’s how God wants us to feel about our faith.
      • Supposed to add that flavor
      • Supposed to shine that light
      • So where is your Godly spunk this morning? Amen.

 

 


[1] Mo Willems. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. (New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children), 2003.

[2] Mt 5:13.

[3] Marcia Y. Riggs. “Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany = Matthew 5:13-20 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 334.

[4] Mt 5:14a, 16.

[5] Charles James Cook. “Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany – Matthew 5:13-20 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 334.

[6] 1 Sam 17:3-4, 24.

[7] 1 Sam 17:43-44.

[8] 1 Sam 17:33.

[9] 1 Sam 17:45, 47b.

[10] 1 Sam 17:36.

[11] 1 Sam 17:46-47.

February newsletter piece

Recently, I received an email from a seminary friend. Her husband – also a seminary friend – was about to be ordained, and she wanted to put together a special gift for him. She sent out the call to all of their friends from seminary asking us a number of questions, one of which was, “What is your favorite Scripture passage and why?”

That’s a difficult question to answer. There are so many passages that have enlightened my own journey of faith … so many passages that are appropriate for someone about to be ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament … so many passages rich with meaning.

And yet as I sat there reading her message, it was clear to me which passage I would send:

[Jesus] put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” ~ Matthew 13:31-32

Maybe it’s the farm girl in me, but I love that Jesus chooses to compare the lifecycle of our faith to a seed! It begins as a small, inconsequential-looking thing, but it doesn’t stay that way for long. Once it’s been planted, a mustard seed only takes 5-10 days to germinate. In that short amount of time, it begins to sink its roots deep into the soil and to stretch its little bud up toward the life-giving warmth of the sun. And only a few short months after that initial germination, the mustard is already ready to harvest.

When Jesus compares faith to a mustard seed in this parable, he speaks of a faith that is dynamic – always moving, always growing, always changing.

Ahhh.

Change.

Such a difficult word for the church. We say that we’re open to change, but when it comes time to actually start trying new things and perhaps letting some of our time-honored traditions go by the wayside, we become hesitant. After all, our traditions are just that – long-established statements, beliefs, and customs handed down to us by those who have come before us. We turn to phrases like, “But this is how we’ve always done it,” and “This is what we know how to do.”

And yet, at the Z church annual meeting, an important point was raised – an anecdote that is both powerful and poignant: What are the seven last words of the church?

We’ve
Never
Done
It
That
Way
Before

It’s true that sometimes change can be scary. It’s true that sometimes the new things we try don’t work out. But where would we be if the world based all its movements and decisions on this anxiety? Innovations only come when we’re willing to step out in faith.

Think of the way that plants grow. They’re always shooting out a new branch, popping out new leaves, and sending their roots deeper and deeper into the earth. This is the kind of faith that Jesus describes in the Parable of the Mustard Seed – a vibrant and active faith that is rooted in the deep, nurturing soil of tradition but isn’t afraid to reach up and out to find life-giving warmth and nourishment in the glory of the Son. We may feel more like the mustard seed right now, but we have to recognize our potential for growth and maturity if only we open ourselves up to change.

Image

Sunday’s Sermon: In an Upside-Down World …

  • Today is February 2nd … do you know what that means? … Super Bowl 48, baby … wooooooo!! Literally THE most watched TV event every year!
    • More than 151 million people watch the Super Bowl[1]
    • Cost of this single event is astounding …
      • Halftime show = $4 million[2]
      • Combined team costs (salary/operating costs) = $323 million[3]
      • Cost to taxpayers of New York and New Jersey $17.7 million à security, mass transit, local promotions, etc.[4]
    • Now, I know that some of you couldn’t care less about the game … and that’s totally okay. Super Bowl parties aren’t just about football … there’s also the food! Who could forget about the food?![5]
      • 28 million pounds potato chips
      • 53.5 million pounds avocados
      • 1 billion chicken wings
      • 10 million  hours spent preparing all that food
      • Leads to 20% rise in antacid sales day after the game
    • Ahhh … the fun, the entertainment … the overindulgence. This one sporting event – this single 7-8 hr. block of time – is such an interesting illustration for what our culture hold up as paramount: power, prestige, excess. The bigger, the glitzier, the more expensive … the better.
    • And yet juxtaposed with that ideal, we have our Scripture readings this morning, readings that remind us that we as Christians are called to be reflections of God in a world in need… and often that means turning those treasure parts of our current culture – the power, the prestige, the excess – upside-down.
  • Notion of being counter-cultural = far from a new idea
    • Paul’s word to Christians in Rome: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and [complete].[6]
      • Lots of way to interpret this
      • My take: we participate in the world in which we live but are also called to effect change in that world at the same time, to be transformed but to also be transforming –> We haven’t been called to live in our own insulated Christian bubble. We’re called to be counter-cultural, not anti-cultural.
        • Working in and through the culture, not hiding from it
        • Change the way we deliver God’s message of love and forgiveness –> doesn’t change the message itself, doesn’t change the way God asks us to live
          • Let our love be God’s love
          • Let our compassion be God’s compassion
          • Let our mission be God’s mission
          • And let people know about it! Tell people why you wear a cross. Tell people why you already have plans on Sunday morning. Tell people why you’re going to help out at the homeless shelter or the food shelf. Better yet … show people! Bring them along!
    • This is what our psalm is all about this morning. It starts off with a question not so different from one we may find ourselves asking. – text: O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?[7] –> God, who can be with you? How do we get to that place with you?
      • Answer = rest of the psalm
        • Speaks of wholeness and sincerity – “walk blamelessly and do what is right”
        • Speaks of integrity – “do not slander … and do no evil to [your] friends”
        • Speaks of dealing honestly with people – “do not take a bribe against the innocent”
      • Totally upside-down from parts of the culture we live in today
        • Gridlock and backroom deals among politicians –> don’t exactly “walk blamelessly”
        • Countless celebrity gossip magazines, TV shows, and websites à don’t exactly avoid slander
        • Shady banking practices that led to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression –> certainly not dealing honestly with people
    • But like it or not, this is the culture we live in, and whether or not be like to admit it, culture exerts a strong pull on our lives. And so to counteract that pull, we turn to Scripture to help us reorient ourselves and to remind us what it means to reflect God for the culture around us. And so we turn to the Beatitudes … Jesus’ counter-cultural blessings.
  • Culture says: fight for yourself
    • E.g. – emphasis we put on winning
      • Pro sports – absurdly inflated salaries and doping scandals abound
      • Reality TV shows – outlasting, outsmarting, and out-deceiving, everyone else
      • Capitalist economy – those who do well are rewarded in massive quantities while others struggle on a daily basis
    • But in contrast to that “fight for yourself,” God calls us to a different way – Gospel text: 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.[8] –> Jesus reminds us that there is blessing in peace.  
      • Doesn’t guarantee it’s going to be easy all the time … quite the opposite, in fact: Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely … when people do this, not if. At times like this, we …
        • Want to stand and fight … but God says, “Peace.”
        • Want to nurse a grudge … but God says, “Peace.”
        • Want to reciprocate out of fear and frustration … but God says, “Peace.”
      • Remember Jesus’ words to the disciples in the Gospel of John: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.[9] –> Culture may say, “Put up your dukes,” but God says, “Put down your sword.”
  • Similarly, culture says: strength is what matters/counts
    • See this in classic plotline in literature and Hollywood – protagonist overcomes weakness, finds inner strength, and finally prevails –> Think about it. Do we ever hear stories in which the protagonist ends in a place of weakness, deficiency, and subjugation? Not really.
      • Culture exalts individual, “pick myself up and dust myself off” strength
    • Again, God sees things differently – Jesus: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. … Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.[10] –> Jesus wants us to understand that there is blessing in dependence, in relying on other people.
      • Our faith is a relational faith – illustrated time and time again
        • Relational nature of God, God the … – Creator, Son, and Holy Spirit
        • Relational nature of Jesus’ ministry – all about meeting people where they were at, in the midst of whatever they were experiencing, good or bad
        • Relational nature of Scripture – God working in the hearts of many, written by many hands, all parts of Scripture involve relating to others, parts of Scripture speaking to other parts
      • See blessing of dependence in Heb. of the psalm, too – text: O Lord, who may abide in your tent –> “abide” = connotations of staying as a foreigner or sojourner … one who is dependent on the hospitality and generosity of strangers. While culture tells us that the greater value lies in having enough strength to shoulder our own burdens through anything and everything, it’s clear that God places value in those who can embrace their need – need for one another and need for God’s strength above all else.
        • Paul in 1 Cor: God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.[11]
  • Finally, culture says: everything should be fine all the time
    • See this in the way we greet people on the street –> So often, we spit out the phrase, “Hi, how are you?” like it’s all one word. We get it out quick, and we expect a quick response. “Fine, you?” How many times a day do you think we hear this question? How many times to we ask it? And in contrast, how many times do we get or give a real answer? “I’m dealing with a lot of stress today. I’m dealing with some personal struggles today. I’m feeling lost and lonely today.” This isn’t the face our culture expects us to present. Instead, we are constantly given the pretty face, the happy face, the I’ve-got-it-all-together face.
      • E.g. – advertisements = smile after airbrushed, bleached-white, perfectly glowing smile
    • Once again, thankfully!, God has a completely different vision for us – text: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. … Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.[12] –> There is brokenness all over these verses, and there is brokenness all over our lives. And instead of trying to gloss over it – minimizing our pain and trivializing our struggles – God acknowledges how tough it can be sometimes.
      • Acknowledges that sometimes our spirits feel defeated
      • Acknowledges that sometimes we have to grieve
      • Acknowledges that sometimes we crave justice in our lives more than food and water that physically sustain us
      • And God knows how important this acknowledgement is because God’s been there! – Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane: And going a little farther, [Jesus] threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” … Again, he went away from the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”[13] –> Jesus knew what he was facing. He knew about all of the horrible, painful things that awaited him. There’s no “stiff upper lip,” no “all’s well that ends well,” no “spoonful of sugar” to mask his overwhelmed spirit, his mourning, and the thirst for righteousness in his prayer.
  • Today, we are surrounded by mountains of empty and superfluous things that our culture lifts up as important. And yet we have declared ourselves Christians – followers of the same Jesus who was counter-cultural right from the beginning.
    • Eating with sinners
    • Touching lepers
    • Healing on the Sabbath
    • Calling his followers to live in such a way –> way of compassion and love
    • And today, God continues to call us to turn the culture upside-down – to be that presence for peace when the world calls for a fight; to show that grace in dependence when the world goads us to “stand alone on our own two feet”; to embrace our humanity in the face of the unattainable perfection that the world holds so dear … to be that reflection of God. Amen.