It’s Not That Complicated

Happy Super Bowl Sunday!  Here is this morning’s sermon …

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 2, 2014

Psalm 15
Micah 6:1-8
Matthew 5:1-12

It’s Not That Complicated

On Friday evening WPRI 12 ran a story on the Wheels for Bella fundraiser that many of us have been supporting over the past several months. As soon as the story aired, donations began to appear online – a true testament to the kindness of strangers.

While I was overwhelmed by everyone who was reaching out, I was touched by one contribution in particular; a $10 donation with a note attached that said, “Every little bit helps.”

I am not sure truer words could ever be spoken.

All too often we think that in order to make a difference in the world and in our faith and in our community, we have to perfectly and extravagantly give of ourselves and then some.

But every little bit helps. It is really not that complicated.

In the reading that we just heard from the Old Testament, the prophet Micah reminds Israel of this very same thing. The setting for this passage was in a courtroom; Israel was being accused of breaking their covenant with God.

Micah makes it clear at the beginning of this passage that he is addressing a very serious matter. “Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD,” he starts off by saying. “For the LORD has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel.” The prophet opens his case by telling the people of Israel that they will have to defend themselves. “Hear what the LORD says,” Micah demands. “Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice.”

Israel was in trouble; they had broken the covenant that God had made with them through Moses. This was a very serious matter.

The prophet asks how the people of Israel can atone for what they have done.

With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of ram, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

Micah is offering up some very serious things, extreme ways for Israel to reconnect with God.

And yet that is not what God wants.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?

The prophet did not say that the LORD requires perfection. The prophet did not say that the LORD wants us to give all of our time, money and possessions. The prophet did not say that the LORD requires us to understand and live out an overly complicated faith.

No; God wants us to seek justice in our lives. God wants us to love one another and to be kind to one another. God wants us to be humble in our journeys through life and faith.

It is not that complicated.

If ever there was a passage of scripture to underline and memorize – this would be it.

You know, Jesus called us to live our lives as radical and progressive proclamations of the Gospel. But in so many ways that radical and progressive proclamation of the Gospel is not that complicated; in fact it comes from doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God.

Jesus’ words in this morning’s Gospel reading are called the Beatitudes; they begin his well-known Sermon on the Mount, a series of teachings that contain the Beatitudes, the Golden Rule, the Lord’s Prayer and various other sayings and proverbs that have sustained our lives and faith for 2,000 years. This sermon lays the foundation for our faith; some surveys have identified the Sermon on the Mount as the most widely read chapters of the bible.

So what did Jesus say when he spoke to the disciples on the mountain? What did Jesus say as he laid the foundation for a lives as baptized disciples? Did Jesus say, “Blessed are those who achieve perfection”? Did Jesus say, “Blessed are those who are able to give away millions of dollars every year”? Did Jesus say, “Blessed are those who rise to the top in their jobs, who are in the public eye and famous and who achieve material success? No! Jesus said:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

I promise that being Christian and living faithfully is not as complicated as we often make it out to be.

People sometimes tell me that they are not sure that they can come to church and be involved because they do not know much about the bible. People sometimes tell me that they are intimidated to talk about church because they are not sure of how to use the big words and fancy phrases. People sometimes tell me that they do not want to pledge to our stewardship campaign, because they do not have a lot to give. But guess what? Jesus never said that he wanted us to be highly educated, eloquently speaking and richly giving Christians. Jesus said that he wanted us to be humble and pure in heart, to seek peace and justice and to love others.

Sometimes it is hard not to over-complicate our faith. We read well-edited books and think that we need to be able to think and speak and write like that. We see news reports and documentaries highlighting people doing extraordinary things and feel inadequate. We flip through magazines filled with beautiful people, homes and food and think that we are doing something wrong if our lives do not look like that.

We live in this pinterest-inspired world that often gives us the false impression that we have to be perfect all the time and it is just not true. It is not about perfect faith; it is about humble faith. It is not about giving the most; it is about giving faithfully. It is not about understanding complicated theological dogmas; it is about connecting with God on a personal and spiritual level. It is not about being able to pray using big words and beautifully crafted sentences; it is about speaking to God from your heart.

Every single person in this room has the grace and ability within them to be a good Christian and a faithful member of this church. It does not matter if you are male or female, old or young or rich or poor. It does not matter if you have been coming to this church for your entire life or you are new to the community. It does not matter if you have the entire bible memorized or you do not understand a single thing it is saying. It does not matter if you are loud and outgoing or quiet and like to keep to yourself. There is a place set at the table for all who seek God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation and no one – no one – should have to jump through hoops to get there.

You are all in different places in walks of life and in your journeys of faith. But today I invite you to pause for a moment and step back. Peel back the complicated layers that have formed around faith and religion and spirituality in your life – and I know that for many of you they are very complicated! – and see yourself first and foremost as a blessed child of God.
Give what you can, even if you wish that you could give more. Reach out and serve others, even if you wish you had more time. Every little bit helps!

Read the bible, even if you do not have the slightest idea what is going on. Choose a succinct and easy passage of scripture – like this one from Micah – to read, post somewhere in your house or office and memorize.

Pray often; do not worry about find the “right” words or the “perfect” words. Just talk to God like you would talk to your best friends.

Talk about your faith using words that make sense to you.

And be blessed.

Do not make it complicated.

It is your life; it is your faith. Let it be you!

Thanks be to God!

We Shall Be The Ones Of Peace

This morning’s sermon – enjoy!

Micah 5:2-5a
Luke 1:39-55

We Shall Be The Ones Of Peace

Rumi once said,

“Love calls – everywhere and always.
We’re sky bound.
Are you coming?”

Today we lit the fourth candle on our Advent wreath, the candle of love. Year after year this candle reminds us of the true meaning of the Christmas season. By now I am sure we are all stressed to the max, trying to simultaneously clean our houses for guests, prepare food for Christmas dinners, do last-minute shopping, (finish Christmas Eve sermons) and finish wrapping our gifts so that everything is in order by the time the clock strikes midnight on December 25th.

No? Just me?

Over the past several days, I have found myself saying often, “I just need to get through Christmas.” But “getting through it” is not what it is all about, is it?
This fourth candle that now burns brightly on our Advent wreath is a wonderful reminder that love really is all that matters this time of year. Everything else – clean houses, perfectly presented elaborate meals, presents and stocking stuffers – is secondary. Love, to steal a line from The Beatles, is all you need.

This year, especially, we have been reminded that love is all you need. Many of us are still trying to process the tragedy that happened in Newtown a little over a week ago. Suffice is to say we are all holding on to our loved ones a little bit more closely right now and letting go of the things that really do not matter.

Last Sunday during our worship service we said a blessing over all of the prayer shawls that had been completed and were in storage at the church. This week almost 30 shawls were packaged up and mailed, through various agencies and connections, to Newtown residents. On Thursday night I received a message from one of the recipients of the shawls. I had mailed two shawls to this family – one for the parents and one for their six year old daughter. Attached to the message was a picture of their daughter wrapped in her pink and purple shawl. Her dad thanked me profusely and said it was the first real smile he had seen on his daughter’s face in a week. The next morning I received another message of thanks, this time telling me that she had insisted on sleeping with her shawl that night and asked if she could take it with her to school that morning.

I believe that there is good in this world. I believe in the four candles that now light up our Advent wreath; I believe in love, I believe in compassion and I believe that Jesus’ life and ministry taught us how to be good people.

I will not be naïve and say that there are not bad people in the world; I sadly acknowledge the evil that surrounds us and realize that it is not always easy to heed the call to love; but I truly do believe that each and every one of us has the strength within ourselves to be the face of Christ in this world. God gives us that strength. And we can spread God’s love throughout this broken world.

We heard a reading this morning from the Book of Micah, one of the later books in the Old Testament. It is thought to be written by a prophet from Moresheth during the reign of Kings Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. Micah was prophesying during a dark and distressful time – Jerusalem was under siege and the kings were suffering. The infrastructure of the nation was completely unstable and the people living there saw no hope in their lives and in the world.

The beautiful thing about this book, however, is that Micah never lost hope. Despite the circumstances that they were living in, Micah believed that better times were ahead. He acknowledged the despair of their world, but he held fast to the truth that God promised a world filled with hope, peace, joy and love – and he believed that this world was within our grasp.

I am here to do the same this morning.

It is neat to reflect on these prophetic passages from the Old Testament during the Advent season and look at how these prophesies were revealed through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In a way it gives more meaning not only to the Christmas story, but also to the Christian story. Jesus fulfilled prophesies spoken hundreds of years before his birth.

Let’s look at this morning’s passage from Micah, for example:

But you, O Bethlehem … from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel
Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord … And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.

When you think about this passage in the context of Christmas, you immediately think that Micah is talking about Jesus. It would make sense to connect Mary’s labor to the phrase, “she who is in labor,” and connect Jesus to the baby who shall be brought forth and one day lead God’s people and bring peace to them. It is intuitive from a Christian standpoint to think that the prophesy Micah spoke was fulfilled in the New Testament and that the story is now complete.

And in a way – that is true. “[Jesus] shall stand and feed his flock … and he shall be the one of peace.”

But I also think that may be a complacent way to read this passage.

Sometimes I wonder if we are closing the books of the Old Testament too soon; I wonder if the story is, in fact, still unfolding before our very eyes and within our lives. I wonder if we, too, are called to fulfill these prophesies of the Old Testament. The story did not end with Jesus, it couldn’t have; if it did our lives would not have meaning.

Jesus has come and gone and we need to continue to be a fulfillment of these prophesies – in our lives, today.

These ancient texts of the Old Testament are only relevant in our lives if we put ourselves inside of them. Think, for a moment, how much more meaningful this morning’s reading would be if we replaced every “he” – every implication of Jesus – with the word “we”. What shape would our lives take if we decided that we, too, wanted our lives to also be a fulfillment of Micah’s prophesy?

Let’s look at the passage again; what if God said, through Micah …

From you shall come forth for me ones who are to rule …
And we shall stand and feed our flock in the strength of the Lord …
And they shall live secure, for now we shall be great to the ends of the earth;
And we shall be the ones of peace.

We shall be the ones of peace.

I am not taking away from the Christmas story, from Jesus’ divinity or from the fulfillment of prophesies through Jesus’ life. But God needs us, too, to be peacemakers here on earth; God needs us here, today. God needs us to help fulfill the prophesy that better times are coming. God needs us to bring love and joy to those in despair. God needs us to knit prayer shawls; God needs us to be Church School teachers and Lay Shepherds; God needs us to be teachers and first responders and volunteers in the community. God needs us respond when opportunities for mission and service arise. God needs us to love the people around us, even when that is not an easy thing for us to do.

God needs us not to ignore the pain in the world, but to be part of the healing that desperately needs to happen.

This morning’s Gospel reading comes from the Book of Luke. It is known as The Magnificat, which means in Latin my soul magnifies. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” Mary sang, “and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”

Mary sings this song after her encounter with Elizabeth. She gives great glory to God, who is using her as a vessel of his ministry, to fulfill prophesies of hope, peace, joy and love in this world. She thanked God for entrusting his people to her care, to tend to the work that needed to be done in the world, to bring love to God’s people.

Let us do the same thing in our own lives.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For he has given strength to people in this world to do good things, to bring hope, peace, joy and love to those who cry out in pain.

Let us, this Christmas season, be a fulfillment of the prophesies spoken by a man in Moresheth nearly 3,000 years ago. Let us, members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church (and friends around the country and around the world who one day may read this), remember that the story of a faithful people living in relationship with God is continuing to unfold here on earth, today. Let us stand tall and, with the strength and love of God, nurture and build up the people in our lives.

We shall be the ones of peace.

Thanks be to God!