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Simple Truths

January 23, 2023

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

Sometimes a sermon strikes a chord deep within our souls, and the words spoken stay with us for days, weeks, months, or even years.  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount[1] was such a sermon.  It is one of the best-known and remembered of his teachings–particularly the introduction, called the Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 3-12).  Dr. Bill Creasy explains that Jesus undoubtedly delivered this teaching so many times that his followers were able to recall it years later. 

We stood with Dr. Creasy and other pilgrims on the hill known as the Mount of Beatitudes, located at about 11 o’clock on the Sea of Galilee.  The area is near Capernaum, Jesus’ home base during his three-year ministry.  This particular part of the hill was a favorite spot for Jesus to teach because of the acoustics of the place.  Jesus would have stood at the base of the hill, and spoke up to his audience on the hillside.   A person speaking in a normal voice can be heard in that spot by many people.  A sound engineer tested the acoustics and said that it has the same acoustics as the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.  The breeze comes off the Mediterranean, over Mount Arbel and carries sound up to that amphitheater, serving as a natural amplifier.  

Dr. Creasy explains that Jesus’ introduction to his teaching consists of nine statements, each of which has a built-in apparent paradox or contradiction. And each statement builds on the last.

For example, when Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he was referring to the person who has a gaping hole in his or her heart—a hole that can only be filled by God.  Recognizing that the heart yearns for and needs God is the first step to loving God.  It is the first of a series of verses (Matthew 5:3-6) also blessing those who mourn, who are meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness—which all describe what our posture before God should be.  We should recognize that the hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God; we should mourn the absence of God; we should humble ourselves and thirst to be close to God—to see his holiness. Meek does not mean weak in this context. Jesus is referring to the person who is humble before God by choice.

The next three verses (Matthew 5: 7-9) are a call to action.  Jesus explains what we must do for others: be merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers. We respond to God’s mercy by being merciful to others.   Being pure in heart means that we come to God because of who he is, not for what he can do for us.  And we are called to do our best to mediate disputes–to resolve our differences instead of escalating them. 

Jesus brings it home by emphasizing that those who insult and persecute you because of him [Jesus] are blessed, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5: 11).  Jesus is not saying that you will be blessed if you are insulted and persecuted because you are an evil person and deserve it.  He is saying that if you are insulted and persecuted because of him, you will be blessed.  We are sometimes insulted but rarely persecuted in our country on account of our faith.  

In a few weeks, many in our congregation will retreat to a monastery in the high desert in Valyermo, California.  The freedoms we enjoy as Christians in our country hits home when we visit St. Andrews Abbey in Valyermo.  The founders of the Abbey were Benedictine monks from Chengdu, China who were put under house arrest by the Communists on Christmas Day 1949, and were expelled from China in 1952. After fleeing to Belgium, they finally made their new home in Southern California and established St. Andrews monastery in Valyermo in 1954.  One monk, Peter Zhou, was imprisoned in Chengdu, China in 1955 for 26 years for refusing to denounce his Catholic faith.  He was finally allowed to leave China and join his brothers at St. Andrews.  He lived out the rest of his life there.  

 Jesus went even further in saying that if you are insulted and persecuted on his account, “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5: 12).  Brother Zhou is now enjoying his great reward. 

These simple but profound truths are the stuff on which faith is based.   Micah summed it up eloquently: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8. 

In the epistle lesson, Paul describes the reaction of the Jews to the idea that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.  They expected the Messiah to be a powerful ruler who would sweep them to victory and slay their enemies.  The idea that Jesus, born of peasant parents in a cave or crude stable, was to be their Messiah, was simply unbelievable to them—a foolish idea. But Paul admonishes that “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Corinthians 1: 27-28). 

The religious leaders of the day should not have been surprised, because the importance of humility before God is a theme that had been preached for centuries (e.g., Joshua 7:6; 2 Kings 5:9-15; Psalm 8:3,4; Psalm 131:1). 

What does God require of you?  He asks you to recognize and follow the simple truths of faith: to love justice; to practice kindness and mercy; to be humble before God; to recognize the God-shaped hole in your heart; to speak the truth in love; to seek him with all of your heart, soul and mind; to love others; to live peaceably with your neighbors; to love Him for who he is—all-knowing, all-powerful, everywhere, eternal, holy, merciful, sovereign, loving, forgiving–our guide, our Savior. 

Prayer: God of love and mercy, we recognize our poverty of spirit and mourn that poverty.  We recognize our position before you—our Almighty God.  Fill us with your righteousness, and help us to show mercy, to seek purity of heart, to speak the truth in love, and to reconcile with others.  Bless us and all who are insulted or persecuted on your account. Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Fourth Sunday After Epiphany are Psalm 15; Micah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 1: 18-31; Matthew 5: 1-12.  

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