Jan 29, 2017 What rattles your cage?
What rattles your cage? What gets you shook up? I was on a cruise, by myself, a few years back going from Los Angeles through the Panama Canal and up to Ft Lauderdale. I got rattled when the boat was slamming into waves so hard it literally shook the whole boat. I hate that feeling that things are happening around me that I can’t escape from. I nearly got off the boat in Aruba and came home – mainly because I was missing Dana but also because the weather and seas kept getting rougher as the trip went on. That feeling… of being trapped, of being hemmed in, of having wild things happen that were out of my control was and is disturbing.
The idea of ‘walking humbly with God’ from the Old Testament lesson should be one of those things that rattle our cages and is disturbing to us. If you ever read the chronicles of Narnia or saw the first movie, there’s a line in there regarding Aslan, a lion, who’s the Christ figure in the story that goes, ‘it’s not as if he were a tame lion’. God is not tame. Nor is He confined by our knowledge of Him. He is big and wild and He shakes things up.
One of the things God does that shakes up our world is that He revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. He came to us as a total perfect human so we could know Him. But in His coming to us we’re left with the question of, how are we to respond. How do we act in the face of the God of creation being with us? Again, the answer is in the Old Testament lesson. We’re to walk with God – in humbleness – not in pride or arrogant confidence in ourselves.
Humbleness is not our default position. We like to be in control; and humility and humbleness seem to be incompatible with how we like to view ourselves. We like to think we have God contained in the ‘Jesus box’.
Even the bible itself suffers the same fate as its author Jesus Christ. Since He came into this world in the humble form of a man, many people throughout history have refused to consider Him anything more than a man. They simply can’t accept Jesus’ divine nature, even though Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And since the Bible was written by men – in human language – many people throughout history have refused to accept it as anything more than the words of men. They can’t accept the Bible’s divine nature, even though the Holy Spirit inspired its writers to speak the very words of God.
So, we must tread carefully with our understanding of both the bible and Jesus, its author. Because we can read and comprehend language we can sometimes feel we’ve mastered those parts of the bible that are important to us. And in doing that we think we’ve grasped the whole thing. But in truth, if we read the whole of scripture, it rattles our cages. It upsets our world. That’s because we think it must submit to our understanding.
And that same fallacy is where we get into trouble with God. We like to think that we have cornered the unknowable that is God and have put Him in our pocket. Pocket crosses are nice when they remind us that God is near to us. But that should make us tremble lest we become proud and arrogant in our knowledge.
Listen again to the last phrase in the Old Testament lesson which shakes up our world. It reads: To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
If the idea of leaning to walk humbly with God shakes us up, what about acting justly and loving mercy? These words call us to look at our actions. Is how we live reflective of God’s mercy? Do we act justly toward others? Again, this shakes us up because it puts others ahead of ourselves.
And that is exactly what Christ did in coming to earth He put us ahead of Himself. He acted in mercy toward us. And that allows us to now act justly toward others. In going to the cross to die and rise again to new life in our place He shows us what it is to be merciful – to love mercy.
To love mercy and to act justly is costly. It cost Christ His life. His life was spent – given up totally – on the cross so that we could know; could know that God loves mercy more than any sacrifice we could make. His sacrifice, of Christ for us, shows us mercy.
In the gospel lesson today Jesus gives us the beatitudes. These words are there to help us with what can be our attitude in life. As Jesus lists those who are blessed, that list reflects His attitude toward us.
He died so those attitudes could be ours. Not simply because we have read them and understood them superficially, but so that by His grace alone those attitudes would become part of us. For the most part, the beatitudes are not things that you do, but they should affect everything that you do.
When you read the beatitudes, you see Christ reflected in them. And you see how we as Christians can reflect Christ to the world. As we ponder the beatitudes, they also shake up our world. To bear in mind the humbleness they speak of changes us.
As we bear in mind poorness in spirit, as we bear in mind an attitude of mourning and meekness, as we hunger and thirst for righteousness, as we show mercy and maintain a pure heart, as we seek to be peacemakers and as we find that; because of righteousness we are persecuted, by these attitudes we’ll find ourselves changed and our world shook to our core. Can we do all these things; can these things be truly in our life? Not in our own strength.
It isn’t a matter of what we can do. We live in a ‘can-do’ culture – bursting at the seams with self-confidence. Walking humbly with God, bearing the beatitudes in mind, makes it clear that there’re things we cannot do, problems we cannot solve on our own, forces we cannot control, needs that we cannot meet on our own. This humble ‘can-not’ admission clashes terribly with our world’s ‘can-do’ arrogance.
And that shakes up our world. Only by God’s grace will the beatitudes become our attitudes. Not by our effort but by the effort of Christ to grant them to us. And that He has done: on the cross and in our baptism and through confession and Holy Communion. But for those attitudes to shine through in our life we need to listen to what the Old Testament lesson tells us, to walk humbly with our God.
Let me point out one other thing from the beatitudes. As I read them there is one that really stands out as something to “do”. And if we seek to ‘do’ that one thing it’s like smiling before you pick up the phone and answer it. You know what I mean. Turn to your neighbor right now and say hello. Ok now, look back at me. Now put a smile on your face and turn to your neighbor and say hello. See how doing that affects your tone of voice and your expectations of what comes next?
The same is true with this one beatitude. If we seek to act this way it affects everything else in our world. It’s the one where Jesus says, blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy. Mercy is something that can only be shown. There’s no way for mercy to be known other than by how a person acts and by what they say to others. And mercy cannot be shown without it affecting your world, like putting a smile on your face.
Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action is a book written by our synod president Matthew Harrison. In it are his stories of how he has seen God’s mercy in action in his travels around the world on behalf of Lutheran World Relief. From one review I read it says that the book is not as much a list of what to do, but rather how God’s mercy shown through His people can and has changed the world.
It is mercy, God’s mercy in us and through us that changes things, that shakes up the world. The beatitudes are there to help guide us in doing what we read from Micah, to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. If that doesn’t shake up our world nothing can. After all that’s what Jesus has done. In His name, amen.
Sermon #869 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
Old Testament Reading Micah 6:1-8
6 Listen to what the Lord says:
“Stand up, plead my case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say.
2 “Hear, you mountains, the Lord’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel.
3 “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me. 4 I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. 5 My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”
6 With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Epistle Reading 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
18 For 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. 19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.
Holy Gospel Matthew 5:1-12
5 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.