Monday, February 12, 2007

Sermon for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany

Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength… Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation…

Good morning! Welcome to the wrath of God. It is fire and brimstone Sunday.

Well, not really. But it sure sounds that way coming from Jeremiah and Jesus.

Cursed are those says Jeremiah, whose hearts turn away from the LORD. Jesus said, Woe to you rich, Woe to you who are full now, Woe to you who are laughing now, Woe to you when all speak well of you…

It would seem that most of us here are damned, but Jeremiah did not come to the people of Israel simply to condemn them, nor did Jesus come down to earth to write us off…

Even in the midst of such curses and woes are blessings…

Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

When God speaks, things change.

Through the prophet Jeremiah, and through Jesus, God upsets the cart, the status quo, blessing things we don’t expect to be blessed…

When is the last time you saw an image of someone poor, or hungry or someone weeping, and thought how blessed are they!

Jeremiah was sent to help open the eyes of Israel, Jesus was sent to save us from our sins. With our riches around us, comforting us, with our bellies full,
And laughter abounding, Jesus reminds us that such things do not mean we are blessed, or that we have curried God’s favor.

In Jeremiah and with Jesus, God does something that we rarely do, God looks to our heart, and sees his blessed creation…

I the LORD test the mind and search the heart,
to give to all according to their ways,
according to the fruit of their doings.

Jesus said, “you will know them by their fruits.”
I am not saying we are saved by our works. We are saved by God’s grace. It is a gift we can never reciprocate except for how we live our lives and bear fruit.

So if it is not the faith that has us blessed, what is it?
If blessings are not just for the ones who kneel,
luckily, as the group U2 sings it, what is Jeremiah telling us about God? What is Jesus saying to us about the hurting in our society and their relationship to God and our relation to each?

I think Nigerian Poet Ben Okri’s poem may be helpful…

We are the miracles that God made
To taste the bitter fruit of Time.
We are precious.
And one day our suffering
Will turn into the wonders of the earth.

There are things that burn me now
Which turn golden when I am happy.
Do you see the mystery of our pain?
That we bear poverty
And are able to sing and dream sweet things

And that we never curse the air when it is warm
Or the fruit when it tastes so good
Or the lights that bounce gently on the waters?
We bless things even in our pain.
We bless them in silence.

That is why our music is so sweet.
It makes the air remember.
There are secret miracles at work
That only Time will bring forth.
I too have heard the dead singing.

And they tell me that
This life is good
They tell me to live it gently
With fire, and always with hope.
There is wonder here

And there is surprise
In everything the unseen moves.
The ocean is full of songs.
The sky is not an enemy.
Destiny is our friend.

There is such hope in his poem.
Such freedom. Such expectation for what is to come

It acknowledges the pain of the moment, the suffering, the poverty.
But it refuses to languish there.

There is always that looking forward when one day the suffering will turn into the wonders of the earth.

And I think that is what Jeremiah and Jesus were getting at. The poor, the sick, the hungry, those who weep, they have put their trust in God, they long for a future when they will be filled, will laugh, will taste and see the kingdom of God.

God’s blessing is upon them, for it reminds them and us that God is always at work and there will come a time when things are reversed.

But those who are rich, who have bellies full, have laughter, often put out trust not in God but in what we have in our lives, the stability we think we have, we trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh our strength. We can make it on our own we say.

We have our insurance, our pension, our health, our wealth, what more do we need?

Thus says the Lord:

Blessed are those who trust in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.

When the bad times hit, we need to learn from those who have gone through or are still going their own suffering to know that we don’t curse God for our circumstances, because we live in hope that indeed we will still bear fruit and our faith rests in God.

We are not in this alone. Together as this community of faith we walk our paths, hear the words of the prophet, hear and taste and see Jesus among us now, and know that God isn’t finished with each of us yet, for we must put our faith and hope there with God and bear fruit and be blessed.

For as Ben Okri put it…

We are the miracles that God made
To taste the bitter fruit of Time.
We are precious.
And one day our suffering
Will turn into the wonders of the earth. Amen.

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