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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Jesus Ministry Gods Agency - 01/29/2017

Over the next month or so, we will take a very close look at the beginning of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Today we have the beatitudes. Next week it's the salt and light part of Jesus' sermon. From there, we'll touch on topics of anger, adultery, divorce and oaths; retaliation and enemies; and finally serving two masters and Jesus urging us not to worry, not to live life in fear.

I have no doubt that we are in for an enlightening journey through these holy scriptures of ours and my prayer for us as we begin this study of the Sermon on the Mount is that it speaks boldly and clearly into our lives today, into our present time and place.

Thinking about the trajectory of the texts over the next few weeks might also prompt us to consider an even broader view, an eagle's view maybe, of what we are learning from Jesus as he begins his earthly ministry. 

You may remember last week I mentioned Jesus' first sermon following his baptism and the temptation in the wilderness. “From that time Jesus began to proclaim, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.'” (4:17)

This is the first instance of Jesus preaching – the cornerstone of his ministry. Repent – a Hebrew word that literally means turn around, turn back toward God, confess your sins, feel God's deep and abiding forgiveness in your bones, for God's reign has broken into this human experience and banished the stronghold of evil and sin forever.

There is another way, Jesus is here to show us. And this leads right into the next thing Jesus says, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (4:19) I get a pretty vivid picture of these soon-to-be-disciples of Jesus of Nazareth – coming to attention in the midst of their work when they see it is Jesus walking toward them. It's likely they had already heard the message about the Kingdom that John the Baptist was preaching and that Jesus was now proclaiming too. I imagine that when John the Baptist was arrested, it quieted the buzz around this ministry for a time. When truth speaks to power like this, power will react to shout over it or shut it down. The fisher-people and others must have been wondering … with John out of commission, what was going the happen to the ministry?

I imagine that is the reality Jesus walks into when the disciples see him coming, his stride is determined, there is an air of confidence and compassion about him. He's got the feel of a leader, they notice as their work and conversations come to a stop and they wait to see what Jesus says or does. And basically, what he says, is “Come on. I will not be terrorized by what they've done to John. This is on, let's go tell as many people as we can – 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.'”

Jesus and his growing entourage of disciples and seekers travel throughout Galilee from there, teaching and proclaiming in the synagogues and among the people. The healing ministry is revealed in these early days too. Word of this great teacher and healer spread like wildfire. “So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. ” (4:24-25) Beyond the Jordan – Herod may have shut John and his river ministry down, but Jesus was now taking it much farther than just that river – in more ways then Herod's spies or any of Jesus' followers could have known at that point.

And that is an eagle-eye view of what has gathered us in around Jesus today, gathered us with the disciples as we hear Jesus reveal exactly who the focus of his ministry is …

… the poor in spirit, people who beg for God's presence, who struggle to feel God working in their lives, and often due to circumstances well beyond their control

… those who mourn, the people who sing songs of lament and cry out for mercy, but too often are left to walk in their despair and doubt alone

… and the meek, people who strive to be faithful and trust God, but have little voice in this world and often wind up ignored or used as political pawns

In other words, the focus of Jesus' ministry is to bless people who really need a blessing.

Many of those early disciples would have found a lot of solace and comfort in those teachings. They felt poor in spirit often, cut off as they were by others who hoarded things and opportunities for themselves. They experienced more than their rightful share of mourning. They were not the privileged of their time, like many of us are in our time. They were second class citizens, poor people, often at the mercy of an empire that mocked their faith in “One-true God” and even demanded they worship the Roman gods and emperor – or pay the consequences.

And then there is a very subtle shift in Jesus' lesson of the beatitudes. Yes, these are the frequently forgotten ones the ministry prioritizes, the ones we disciples of Jesus are still called to prioritize today.

Yes, and there's more … here also is the foundation of what it means to be part of this ministry – you who are forgotten AND you who are privileged.

Jesus' first teaching about what it means to be disciples of his ministry fills out the rest of the beatitudes.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are merciful and pure of heart; blessed are the peacemakers and those who are ridiculed and dismissed and even persecuted for giving their lives over to this ministry.

It seems to me we see this over and over again in Jesus' teaching examples and his efforts to uphold God's law. It is about God's love for everyone, and especially those who need it most, and it is also about how God seeks to work through us to make that happen.

This is sometimes called God's agency – we are God's agents and when we become disciples of Jesus' ministry, God uses us to tend to the poor in spirit, those who mourn and the meek.

We talked about this in confirmation class this week. Our discussion topic was “Is the Holy Spirit a person or wind or fire or what?” We talked about how God sends the Holy Spirit to work through us to answer the prayers of others and, in turn, how God works through others to answer our prayers. In one exercise the students were asked to quiet themselves and think about their day and the people they encountered. Then they were to think of one person in particular and imagine what that person needed to hear from them. They wrote these messages on postcards … words of encouragement and friendship, words to cheer up and comfort. It was a simple but very powerful way of understanding how God seeks to work through us for the sake of others … of how when we do good, when we find ways to love our neighbor, it is so often the Holy Spirit – or God working through us. God's agents.

Well, this brought up another really good question from one of our budding theologians. If the good we do can be understood as God working through us, then is the bad we do the devil working through us?

Hmmmm. Good question, eh?

However you understand evil forces in this world, I think that is a fair and probably healthy way to see it. Many of us know how tricky these evil forces can be, convincing us that something is right or true or just only to find out that it is not, that it leads us to our sin and our failures, that it leads us to putting the many things the world says are good and necessary above our love of God and neighbor.

It is an age-old pitfall for us human beings.

But – Jesus gives us disciples what we need in these beatitudes to help us tell the difference between what God is trying to work through us and what may be manipulating the sinner side of our natures.

For instance, when thinking about our own privilege and our roles in systemic racism, the Beatitudes may prompt us to ask: Is this education or health or justice system one that mirrors our hunger and thirst for righteousness, especially for those who Jesus' ministry prioritizes? Or does it serve primarily to protect and serve those who already have access to good education, adequate health care, and justice?  Is it merciful? Does it reflect the pure heart of the one we proclaim to be the Redeemer of the world? Does it strive for peace or does it promote division and fear among people?

And if it doesn't measure up in these ways, how are we called to respond as followers of Jesus? Are we prepared to truly live into the final blessing of the beatitudes Jesus offers us today? “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (5:11)

These are life-long questions and points of checks and balances in the lives of us Jesus-followers and they should be, because, I guarantee you, none of us will do this perfectly.

That is why we come here where we repent, hear words of forgiveness, taste our salvation in the bread and the wine and let it turn us back toward God.

No, perfection is not required anywhere in the beatitudes. What they require of us is that we seek to act as disciples of Jesus' ministry, to claim the blessings they offer and let them work through us so that we are a blessing to others and especially to the poor in spirit, those who mourn and the meek.

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you?” the prophet Micah appropriately asks us to day. The Lord requires that we “do justice,” “love kindness,” and “walk humbly with our God.” Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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