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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Jesus Ministry, Gods Agency - 02/02/2020

In these next winter weeks of our worshipping life together, we will hear some of the beginning of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Today we begin with the beatitudes.

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 that Jesus’ first sermon in Matthew was just following his baptism and the temptation in the wilderness. We just heard it last week. “From that time Jesus began to proclaim, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.'” (4:17)

It 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 are already noticing all of this as their work and conversations come to an abrupt 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 than 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 – to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus – all you disciples who feel forgotten AND all you who are privileged.

Jesus' first teaching about what it means to be disciples – what it looks like when our disciple-feet hit the ground – 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.

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?

Jesus’ ministry. God’s agency.

As another instance, let’s think about our annual meeting this weekend within the framework of this idea that 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.

During our meeting I will read an overview of the ministry of this faith community, and I suspect you will recognize places where we have already served as God’s Jesus-following agents. We celebrate these things and give thanks to God for working these things through us. We offer them back to God and tune our hearts to hear how God continues to use us now.

And, during our meeting, we will also hear about places in our ministries and worshipping lives together that need some bolstering. We have committees that need your time and knowledge. We have a general fund that started the New Year in the red and demands that we look closely and sacrificially at our spending and our giving. We have projects that require some labor and skill. We have opportunities for spiritual growth and community connection that need people to take advantage of them.

And, as we consider these reasons for thanksgiving and these reasons for concern, Jesus calls us through the teaching of the beatitudes to also ask: Does our worshipping life together and our ministry mirror our hunger and thirst for righteousness, especially for those who Jesus' ministry prioritizes?

Or does it serve primarily to nurture and serve those who are already here?  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?

Jesus ministry. God’s agency. It reframes, or it should reframe, our approach to the ministry and business of our annual meeting.

And if any of these instances I mention explicitly right now, or anything that comes to your mind when you hear the beatitudes-way – if any of it doesn't measure up to what Jesus is teaching us here, how are we called to respond as his followers, his disciples? 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 on-going 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.

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 today? 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 ~

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