A few weeks ago we witnessed the inauguration of a new President of the United States. And the country is still coming to terms with a Trump administration. Already we are seeing plans to build a boarder wall. And already there is a ban on refugees coming from predominately Muslim countries, including an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees.
But before this inauguration there was another kind of inaugural address 2000 years ago. The Sermon on the Mount could be seen as Jesus’ inaugural address as the Messiah of the world stepped onto the scene in a very public way and addressed his disciples and the crowds who had gathered. And what an address it was. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes some very strange, counter-intuitive claims about blessedness and who is blessed. The blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the peace-makers, those who hunger for righteousness, those who are reviled. These are God’s people. They are beloved by the God who created them, and they are blessed.
Yet, how laughably strange these words sound in such a consumeristic culture as ours. In our culture the blessed ones are those with power over others, those with wealth or wisdom or symbols of status. The blessed are the boastful, those who are well-fed and content with the status quo. It seems foolishness to think that the poor, whether in spirit or in actuality, would be blessed. Or peacemakers. Or the meek. Or those who mourn. Or those who are reviled.
We say ‘God bless America.’ But what does that mean today, when we see immigrants and refugees detained at airports around the country just yesterday morning, after an executive order was signed on Friday? Some of these are people who had worked as interpreters on behalf of the United States, or a grandmother in Dallas, Texas whose family was waiting for her at the airport with signs saying ‘welcome home.’ What does it mean when we idolize our own perceived safety and national security at the expense of families who flee from war and violence in desperate search for shelter and safety for their children?
So Jesus turns the wisdom of the world on its head in his sermon. He declared the counter-intuitive ways of God, and the counter-intuitive blessings of God. He lived out the beatitudes by blessing the poor, by blessing those who mourn and the meek, by blessing those who were despised and marginalized by his society. His ministry lifted up those who were overlooked, forgotten and persecuted. He took those who lived at the margins of society, and drew them into the center of God’s kingdom. May we take Jesus at his word when he says that these are the blessed of God.
But it is not just our culture that thinks of blessing in terms of good fortune. The Corinthians too, thought about blessing in worldly terms as well. Rather than being united in Christ, they wanted to divide themselves into factions based on the leaders they followed. Some of them may have thought that their ecstatic spiritual experiences made them superior to others. Or that a noble birth brought blessing. They may have thought that wealth or power were the hallmarks of blessedness.
But Paul counters all this by proclaiming Christ crucified. He wanted to know Christ only, and him crucified. For Paul, following the crucified Christ meant letting go of all claims to privilege, power, righteousness, status and boasting. This is because God in Christ became a humble servant, and gave up his life for the sake of the world. Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross and sacrifice his life for the world’s salvation showed the wisdom and love of God. In Christ, God chose not power, wealth, status, or security. He followed the way of humility, the way of vulnerability, non-violence and love. Christ crucified is a sign that God is united to those at the margins, as Paul states, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”
This puts to rest any claim of blessing that connects good fortune with God’s favor. Jesus’ beatitudes points to a reversal in the order of things in God’s kingdom. Paul’s claim that God chose what is foolish and weak, low and despised, and things that are not, points to this reversal too. For God’s blessings are counter-intuitive. God’s blessing in shocking to the world. God’s voice declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.”
God calls us to a different way. In Micah, we hear that “the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel. “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!” Through Micah, God reminds the people of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness throughout their history. He reminded them of God’s blessing over them as a nation. But the Israelites had lost their way. They lost their way from being a people who followed the merciful justice of God.
And today too, I think the Lord has a controversy with the church. God is contending with us too. We have lost our way as a church, (and I’m not talking about Ascension here, I mean the American Church, American Christianity in general). We have chased after the false blessings of power, glory, wealth, relevance and security. The American church has settled for a Christianity devoid of discipleship or prophetic witness. We have lost our voice as we market our faith to the general public in the cheapest, most crass ways in order to satisfy the demands of our consumer culture, rather than live more boldly into the prophetic witness of the scriptures.
Yet, God calls us back again. God has told us what is good, “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” These are the hallmarks of blessing. To do justice is to draw near the poor and meek, refugees and Muslims, and any who are persecuted, in order to be an ally with them in the struggle for justice. To love kindness is to offer compassion and mercy to our suffering neighbor. And to walk humbly with our God is to renounce the idols of power, wealth, status and security.
This is one of those Sundays where the readings just kind of weave together into one message. In them we see the counter-intuitive ways of God, the counter-intuitive blessings of God. God’s blessing is found where we least expect it- with the poor, the pure in heart, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who mourn or are marginalized, those who are persecuted. Christ crucified further demonstrates the counter-intuitive ways of God, as the wisdom of the world is turned on its head, as God’s wisdom is made manifest in the foolishness of our proclamation, and God’s strength is made manifest in weakness. But as we learn through Micah, God calls us to repent, to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.
We are also the blessed of God. Even when we don’t feel blessed, or the ‘facts’ would say otherwise. We have received the blessing from Christ which is made manifest in through our baptism and faith. And may this blessing permeate throughout our lives, not just here at church, but at your work place, in your home, out in the margins of the world. May we renounce the wisdom of the world, and our own claims to status, security, wealth, and power. May we be those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the peacemakers who draw near the suffering of the world for the sake of Christ and his light. May we actually become such a vocal and ornery prophetic voice that we are reviled and persecuted and slandered for proclaiming the gospel. May we boast only in Christ crucified, the one who became a servant, and poured out his life for the sake of the salvation of the world. Amen.