Thursday, January 20, 2005

PastorDan's Sermon for Inauguration Day

As many of my regular readers know, I am now officially unemployed. I have no preaching commitment for this coming Sunday, and yet here I find myself writing up a sermon anyway.

Reminds me of a retired Mennonite pastor I knew in Atlanta who came to church every week with a sermon tucked in his pocket, whether he was preaching or not. "Just in case," he'd say.

More than once, we had to prevail upon him to preach that sermon. So it is in this case.

More below the flip.

Today's texts--Micah 6:1-8 and Matthew 5:1-12--are favorites of many progressives, and rightly so.

There's some disagreement over the setting of the Micah text. It could be an "entrance liturgy," meaning a responsive reading used upon entry into the Temple. Or it could be an example of a "covenant suit," in which God calls the people of Israel to account for their faithlessness. (Here, as in many places, Israel doesn't get a word in edgewise.)

In either case, the result is the same. When confronted with the sudden presence of God, Israel must answer a fundamental question: what does God want?

The answer is literally no-thing: not burnt offerings, not calves, not rams, not precious oil, not Israel's firstborn (in human sacrifice or in dedication to priestly service). Nor (Welshman) does God require us to make a doctrinal confession. All who can do what Micah terms good are included in the covenant of Israel:

What does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

And what, precisely, does that mean?

  1. To do justice, as one of my commentaries points out, is not an attitude or frame of mind, but is
    to be actively engaged in the redistribution of power in the world, to correct the inequalities that marginalize some for the excessive enhancement of others.

  2. In the same way, to love kindness is to seek a world transformed, and to challenge "the way things are". "Kindness" is a laughably weak translation of the Hebrew word hesed, which means God's faithful love. Hesed restores the world to right relationship, and mirrors God's faithfulness to the people of Israel. It means to participate in the healing of the world. It means to participate in the work of reconciliation.

    It means to participate in a world where this little girl can be restored, and where her parents will never again be ripped away from her by violence.

    To live in fidelity to the promises of God means to be peacemakers, and those who do justice.

  3. To walk humbly with the Lord means more than simple humility. It is to travel with God with the understanding that none of us truly knows the mind of God, and that all of us are prone to stray from the path of righteousness. The emphasis here is on the verb to walk. Another of my commentaries describes what this means:
    In Judaism the word for ethics is halacha which means "walking"; the idea is that the task of ethics is to describe how one ought to walk one's day-by-day life. This call to "walk" is similar to the call of Jesus, whose most characteristic invitation was not "believe" but rather "walk" or "Follow me." One who so walks with God will not be exempt from the dark places of life. That person does have the assurance though that this walk is not taken alone: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me..." (Ps. 23:4).

Appropriate for Black Thursday, don't you think?

Well, Jesus was no partisan, so leave that be. The point (for Christians those covered by the covenant) is this: if Micah is the theory, the Beatitudes are the praxis.

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.

If we can do justice on behalf of the poor, the the hungry, the meek, those who mourn; if we can love kindness for them and so become the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers; if we can walk humbly, and know that even when we are persecuted and reviled and have evil uttered against us that God stands for us and with us, empowering us for love and service--if we can do these things--then we will know that God is faithful, and the saving acts of the Lord are not yet done.

Like the man says, it's no guarantee of a smooth ride. But it's better than the alternative, which is despair and the lingering sense that we knew what was required of us--and we turned away.


At 8:31 PM, Blogger Dr. Andrew Abshier said...

Great sermon, Pastor. The Beatitudes are still words of comfort for me, after all these years. It was good to be reminded of them once more, on what I believe will be a black day in our nation's history.

At 2:59 AM, Blogger jjayson said...

I was a question about one small sentence you wrote: "Nor does God require us to make a doctrinal confession."

While a "doctrinal confession" isn't required, and we cannot claim to know the salvation of anybody, the primitive church was very agressive against heresy. Ignatius wrote:

"For some are in the habit of carrying about the name [of Jesus Christ] in wicked guile, while yet they practise things unworthy of God, whom ye must flee as ye would wild beasts. For they are ravening dogs, who bite secretly, against whom ye must be on your guard, inasmuch as they are men who can scarcely be cured. There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible, even Jesus Christ our Lord."

Little-o orthodoxy always seemed important, and orthopraxis was derived from it.

And that definition of justice really bends me in the wrong way. It sounds too much like the Liberation Theology that was used to incite violence for strictly materialistic reasons. And of course, the underlying communist connection -- that in order to be just, you must be a good socialist -- really, really bothers me.

But the funny thing is that I like to be bothered in sermons. If I don't feel uncomfortable, I don't feel challenged. I cannot stand hearing pulpit rants that are meant to make you feel good about being a better person than others, such as when a conservative preacher opens up into one of those "we are better than liberals" often connection to things like the public square Christianity and abortion, or not to let the other side off the hook, when liberal preachers lauch into one of their patented "we care about the poor so much more than those ugly conservatives."

One last quick thing about citations. You should cite the source you have taken some of the structure and observations from. It's always nice to give credit liberally to others. (When searching for a lengthier version of the justice quote, I ran across half a dozen version of this same sermon, with similar structure, order, and etymological insights.) Not to bust your balls on this or anything.

Being poor in spirit seems more important than many seem to acknowledge, too. Being humble in spirit is to not just realize that we cannot know the mind of God, but that we have nothing to teach God either, and all that is good, we received from Him. You can see people manifest this lack of humility when they try to bargain about doctrin, "if I just do this, He won't care" or "if God is not like I want Him to be, then He isn't worth the worship." Both attempt to remold God, as if He is subservient to us. Islam is on to something with that whole submission thing.

At 5:23 PM, Blogger pastordan said...

Note the emphasis here. It's God that doesn't require doctrine--the church is a different story.

As for the citations, what can I say? I've linked to the books I drew from, and I didn't rewrite anybody's material. Just goes to show how "great" minds think alike.


Post a Comment

<< Home