Micah 6:1-8; Matthew 5:1-12
In November my family said goodbye to a lifelong friend named Doug Nicholas. Doug was also my Pastor. He was appointed to my home United Methodist Church when I was six years old and I remember it because he preached in a different style than the pastor before him. He told stories— stories I could relate to. One story in particular I remember him telling was about what he would tell his daughters each morning before they left the house. He would make sure to catch their eye and say, “Remember who you are. Remember whose you are.” He said this in reference to their baptism— that they are children of God and should carry that knowledge with them wherever they go. This past November, at Doug’s funeral, a colleague of mine, younger than me, got up and shared how much it had meant to her that Doug had been her mentor in the ordination process. And then she said, “And I’ll always remember what he often told me and his congregation— remember who you are. Remember whose you are.”
What would our lives look like if we were able to remember from moment to moment and day to day that we are truly God’s beloved? That we are created in God’s image and that God loves us without end?
The prophet Micah is trying to help the people remember who they are and whose they are. The people have turned their back on God— this is one of the times, of course. And Micah has, in our reading this morning, set the stage as a courtroom. Here it is that the people will face the living God and will hear God’s allegations against them. But when the Word comes from the Lord, what we hear is not condemnation, but a plea— like a parent dealing with a teenager. “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you?” Remember? God says, Remember when I brought you up from the land of Egypt? Remember when I redeemed you from slavery and sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to guide you? Remember all of the ways that I have been there for you?
Micah’s message from God is a message of love. A message of yearning and desire for the people to remember who they are and whose they are— that they are children of God— that they don’t need to be treating each other horridly and suffering so much. Instead, they could be coming together with God and one another to begin a new way of being in the world.
What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
This well known phrase comes at the end of God’s pleadings for the people to remember who they are. The word require in Hebrew is not as lawful as it sounds in English. In Hebrew the word shows connection. It’s meant in the way that a child requires a parent’s love or a plant requires sunshine. It’s a word of relationship showing need on both sides. God desires for us to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with God; but it’s also that we will benefit and be able to grow and flourish when we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. It’s for the benefit of both.
Our baptism vows are the same way. We take these vows— these vows that have been a part of the church baptismal rite for hundreds of years— and we often are not even sure what to make of them. What does it mean to fight evil and oppression when you’re a baby? But that’s exactly why we make those promises on behalf of our children. If not for them, then for who? It takes all of us together to figure out how to walk in the way of Christ; how to bless one another by how we live; and how to do this not only in our own actions, but help create policies in our communities and in our nation that reflect God’s blessing.
In the book, Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers, Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove write about their experience of intentionally living in Christian community in neighborhoods that other people would rather not live in. What they have seen is that so often our imaginations are limited by our political discourse. They recognize that people on the political right want to reduce poverty by giving tax breaks and creating new jobs. And people on the left want to put money into government programs that address the needs of poverty and the issues that are causing it. Claiborne says in the book, “We’re not sure who’s right, but we have noticed that the debate doesn’t seem to do much for people in our neighborhoods. What it does, unfortunately, is divide the church… Rather than share what we have in common so that no one has a need, we self-segregate into conservative or liberal, black or white, upper-and lower-class congregations.”
We have to remember who we are. We are not just people who voted one way or another. We are not just people who grew up here or didn’t. We do not have to be defined by our divisions. Instead, we can come together, we are called to come together, and to work on our relationship with one another and with God right here in this space, in this community, because it is required. Not required like prerequisites to take a class, but required in the Hebrew sense of the word— required in that it will be mutually beneficial; it will be life-giving; it will be joyful; it will be as God intended— for us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. We have to remember whose we are. And bring all of our creativity and tenacity and even joy— to addressing the problems that we have as the St. Cloud region community, remembering that we are all children of God.
That is the message of Micah, and it is also the message of the beautitudes. In the Gospel of Matthew we have this list of blessings. This is the beginning of Jesus’ sermon in Matthew. It is most likely a compilation of sermons, things he frequently preached wherever he went. And this is how he begins— with blessing.
Karoline Lewis from Luther Seminary in St. Paul says, “The beatitudes are identifiers of discipleship; characteristics of the faithful; attributes of believers. They name our blessings but also what is at stake in these blessings. This is why this sermon has to be preached here and now to the disciples and not later. They have to know who they are in order to be able to hear the rest of what Jesus has to say about who he needs them to be.” She goes on to say that these blessings mark not only the joy of discipleship, but also what it will take to walk in the way of Christ; to walk humbly with our God.
So I want to read these blessings to you this morning as translated in The Message. These words from Jesus’ sermon that I hope will bless you today, but not only bless you with joy; also bless you with what it will take to remember who you are and whose you are; so when you are feeling that you must be going the wrong direction because you don’t feel so blessed, remember these words instead. That as long as you are seeking justice; loving kindness; and walking with God, you are blessed.
3“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God. 4“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. 5“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. 6“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. God is food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. 7“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for. 8“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. 9“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. 10“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. 11-12“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
Go— get into that kind of trouble. The kind that blesses others. the kind that is a witness to the God we serve. Go and seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. It is what is needed in this world for us all to be blessed.