Sunday, January 29, 2023

Epiphany 4-A, 2023: Happiness-making partners

 Note: Today is also our Annual Parish Meeting day. 

Lectionary: Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; and Matthew 5:1-12 

Are you happy? That’s a loaded question, isn’t it? My mother used to ask me that after I’d screwed something up and the answer, of course, was, “No. I’m not happy.”

Being happy is a complicated thing, yet it is something we value so much it’s secured in our Declaration of Independence as an inalienable right. True happiness is an internal state of being not dependent on external circumstances, and it encompasses contentment, peace, satisfaction, completion, connection, joy, and bliss.

In today’s reading from the prophet Micah, the people have strayed from God, and they are not happy. It seems they have forgotten who God is and what God does, so God, who is also not happy, asks them to remember… remember how I brought you out of exile … remember how I redeemed you from slavery… remember that I sent you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to comfort and guide you… remember how I brought you safely across the Jordan into the promised land. Remember who I Am and what I do for you.

Hearing this, they do remember, and they want to reconnect because they know it is only by reconnecting with God that they will have happiness. You’re right, God, they say. How can we make this right?

This is where Micah reaches his prophetic pinnacle: God has already told you: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Such elegant simplicity and power in that statement.

Micah teaches us that God seeks an internal conversion from us, a shift in our attitudes toward God, ourselves, and the world. The question, then, isn’t what do we do, but what do we expect God will do?

This is what Jesus is teaching in today’s gospel. The context is this: Jesus has been going around Galilee teaching, healing people, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. He’s become a phenom. Huge crowds were following him everywhere he went, pressing in to get from him all kinds of physical and spiritual healing, and as the gospel writer said earlier, he cured them all. (4:24)

Our story picks up here. Another crowd is closing in, so Rabbi Jesus takes his disciples apart and sits down (as Rabbis do) to teach them.

This lesson, however, isn’t what it may seem at first. Theologian and Anglican Bishop NT Wright says, “If we think of Jesus simply sitting there telling people how to behave properly we will miss what was really going on… This is an announcement (Wright says), about something that’s starting to happen… It’s good news, not good advice.” (Matthew for Everyone, Part One (Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 36.

What is the good news Jesus is announcing in the Beatitudes? That in him, in this moment and forever more, the kingdom of God is happening on earth as well as in heaven and everything is changed as a result. Then Jesus explains how this will work and it seems upside down and inside out – until we remember who God is and what God does.

Recently, a woman came to the church to ask for help with a car repair. Her request was outrageously high, and we couldn’t come close to giving her what she needed. Some of us were put off by her audaciousness and flabbergasted when she told us that our contribution wasn’t enough and demanded we do more.

This woman was simply asking for what she needed. Rather than blame her for our inability to meet her need, we should have thanked her for her courage in asking and for demanding that we do more because that made space for God to work. The woman was able to get her car repaired because our contribution, together with her portion, along with a gift from another church made it possible.

The transformation we experienced in that example is the same one Jesus is teaching his disciples: how to perceive and connect with those who are coming up the mountain to get what they need and how to make space for God to act in every circumstance. As Henri Nouwen once said, 
“Living a spiritual life requires a change of heart. Whether we are asking for money or giving money we are drawn together by God, who is about to do a new thing through our collaboration. To be converted means to experience a deep shift in how we see and think and act.”

In our world today there is war, unrelenting gun violence across our country, growing numbers of unhoused people struggling to survive winter, hunger, and the indignities heaped on them by so many. That is the way of the world.

The Good News is that the way of God is different. God’s way is a way of happiness-making, connecting us, and bringing us contentment, peace, satisfaction, completion, joy, and bliss no matter the external circumstances.

When we walk humbly with God, seeking justice and practicing kindness, the world will push back on us and those with the power to do so may try to harm or otherwise stop us from making God’s happiness happen.

It’s OK, God says, they do that to all my prophets. Stand firm. I will bless you, care for you, and protect you - and together we will not be stopped.

After our Holy Eucharist, we will gather for our Annual Parish Meeting and steep ourselves in God’s happiness as we celebrate our life as a church devoted to God’s way. Together we will remember who God is and what God has done for us, how God has redeemed us, cared for us, and brought us to this day. And we will give thanks that God continues to choose us to be happiness-making partners in the world. Amen.

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