January 29, The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany: Baptism, Welcoming New Members, and Annual Meeting

Kristin White

Micah 6:1-8, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12

“Oh my people,” the prophet Micah says in today’s first reading. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?” He’s trying to remind them of who God has been for them throughout the ages, to show them what matters in their own lives and in the life they share.

“Consider your own call,” the apostle Paul writes to the church at Corinth, a church that has become consumed with its own internal politics, forgotten who they are and what they are meant to be.

“Blessed are you,” Jesus teaches his disciples. He only just called them after his return from the wilderness, and immediately began teaching and healing and casting out demons and doing miracles, and the crowds have grown grown. Jesus sees them, and he goes up the mountain. His disciples follow behind him. He sits down, begins to teach, offering blessing with the strength of commandment, blessing that confers itself in the speaking of it.

These scripture passages bounce off of one another, weave together, and resonate with each other. Taken together, they offer the church “a call to action, a call to be church.”[1]

“Blessed are the merciful,” Jesus says to his disciples. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake…”

“What does the Lord require of you?” the prophet asks, “But to do justice, and love kindness…”

“We proclaim Christ crucified,” Paul writes. “To those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

Taken together, these scriptures offer a frame to see the world without being overcome by it. Taken together, they can show us a way forward with simplicity, and hope, and compassion.[2]

Let yourself experience these passages of scripture simply, without needing to offer expert interpretation. Simply put, what do these passages mean to you? What claim do they make on your life? I’ll show you my pictures and tell you my stories about it later, but how do you imagine Jesus walking up that mountain, away from the crowds that had followed him there? Did the crowds follow, and jostle the disciples, or did they stay at the base of the hill? Did Jesus look across the Sea of Galilee toward the Golan Heights as he taught, or was he looking at a baby, or an elderly man? “Blessed are you….blessed are you…” Where are you in the story, and how does it land on you differently to find your way into it?

Sometimes hope is all upside down and sideways. It doesn’t look like we expect it to. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” Paul writes to the Corinthians. Sometimes hope is born of defiance, a sheer unwillingness to despair. “Consider your call,” Paul writes. “God chose what is foolish…God chose what is weak…God chose what is low…” What I learned in my bones of my time in Jerusalem is that the place that was Christ’s tomb was also the place of Christ’s resurrection. Defiant hope has always had a home in our faith. And defiant hope, I believe, paves a path to our future.

But the only way we will find our way is to find our way together, and for that we must have compassion. That’s what allows us to see ourselves in one another, to know that we’re made of the same handfuls of dust. “O my people,” the prophet says. We belong to each other. We’re made of the same dust, by a God who uses dust to make beautiful things.[3] And the God who makes beautiful things requires us to “do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly…”

My friend Kate and her church in Western Springs welcomed a refugee family from Syria to their community last summer: two parents and their three children. The Sunday before they arrived from their 20-hour journey, she preached that “one of the reasons we read scripture is to enlarge our imaginations…Not all of us grew up as immigrants or refugees; but we hold sacred stories of the Bible that remind us that once we were no people, but now we belong to God and to each other. It’s not just a story: it’s our story.”[4]

Woven together, these pieces are a fitting call to the church to be church, today, in the life of this church; today, in the life of this world.

Because everything that we do today will come back to the fact that we belong to each other, the fact that, together, we all belong to God.

Today in this church we will baptize a baby whose mother and aunt and uncles were baptized at this same font. Blessed are you, Baby Kayla. We will welcome new members who now join this Body of Christ that is the Church. Blessed are you. We will feast and give thanks and discern and hope for the future of St. Augustine’s. Blessed are you. We will welcome, as our guests here tonight and throughout the week, people who don’t have anyplace else to call home. Blessed are you. Blessed are you. Blessed are you.

And today as we go back out into the world, may we be guided by lessons of simplicity and compassion and hope found in this scriptural call to action. Remember who God has been for you, simply; recall yourself again into our story. Remember that we belong to each other; that we’re made of the same dust. Consider the call we share from the God who created the steadfast hope that burns within us, from the God who uses dust to make beautiful things. Consider your call to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly. O my people…blessed are you.

If this present moment has anything to teach us, I hope it teaches us that all of this matters. God’s calling on your life is not superfluous or haphazard. God’s gifts within you are not accidental. Our lives count. Our gifts matter. Hostility and isolation and cynicism will not prevail against simple compassion and defiant hope…they can’t. But it takes all of us, offering what we have to give with open hands, with open hearts. Remember: the place of Christ’s burial is the place of his resurrection.

So may we hear our call, on this day of baptism and welcoming new members and taking counsel at our annual meeting and hosting guests who stand most in need of our hospitality.

Blessed are you, O my people. Let us gather, now, at the font of our salvation.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4802

[2] Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 1. Charles James Cook “Matthew: Pastoral Perspective.” Knoxville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. 312.

[3] http://www.nadiabolzweber.com/uncategorized/some-modern-beatitudes-a-sermon-for-all-saints-sunday.htm

[4] the Rev. Kate Spelman, All Saints Episcopal Church, Western Springs, IL