“A Ribbon of Possibilities”
January 29, 2017 – 4th Sunday after Epiphany – Year A
There is a story about a woman who asked the great Teacher, “What is the key to religion?” The teacher replied: “Once there was a magic ring which gave its bearer the gifts of grace, kindness and generosity. When the owner of the ring was on his deathbed, each of his 3 sons came separately and asked him for the ring. The old man promised the ring to each of them.
“He then sent for the finest jeweller in the land, and paid him to make 2 rings identical to the original. The jeweller did so, and before he died, the father gave each son a ring without telling him about the other 2.
“Inevitably, the 3 sons discovered that each one had a ring, and they appeared before the local judge to ask his help in deciding who had the magic ring. The judge examined the rings and found them to be all alike. He then said, “Why must anyone decide now? We shall know who has the magic ring when we observe the direction your life takes.
“Each of the brothers then acted as if he had the magic ring by being kind, honest and thoughtful.
“Now,” the Teacher concluded, “faithfulness is like the 3 brothers in the story. The moment we cease striving for justice and loving kindness and walking humbly with our God – it is then that we cease living on the path of faithfulness.”
Our lives can get rather complicated when we forget the simple directive for faithfulness. Yet, 3 short words summarize the key to religion – justice, kindness and obedience.
That is the proclamation of the prophet Micah, as well as the sage of old. The Good News translation of the Bible states: “do what is just, show constant love, and live in humble fellowship with our God.”
The account from the prophet Micah begins with a court room scene. God directs you to respond to the question “what have I done to you?” Then God lists some of the care and saving acts directed towards the people saying:
- “I’ve brought you safely from Egypt
- I freed you from slavery
- I sent leaders to help you
- I protected you from the devastation of the Kings
- and I revealed to you so many of my saving acts.”
That is a pretty impressive list, isn’t it?
The people of the 6th century BCE find themselves struggling with the timeless question, “what is the key to religion?” or to put it in more basic terms “How do I live faithfully?” – asks the people of Micah’s day and the people of Penticton United Church in 2017.
The answer throughout time remains – live the way of righteousness, gentleness and meekness. This simple 3 word directive has been the motto for many of you as you have sought to live out your faith. I remember being a teenager and participating in a workshop where I really heard this passage. It was perhaps the first time that it touched my soul. “What does the Lord require of you … but to do justice, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” That was a tough call for a teenager, and continues to be a challenging directive. But, as seekers and companions of the Holy One, we walk the walk and talk the talk.
Our journey takes us to a mountainside overlooking the Lake of Galilee. We hear Jesus saying words that touch us in a profound way. It is as if Jesus is speaking directly to me, and to each one of you personally. How is it that Jesus knows us so well? But it is not some bland porridge that he offers. Instead he heralds a radical message. Speaking in the present tense, Jesus relays the very active presence of God.
The “Whole People of God” Sunday School Curriculum suggests that “This amazing Sermon on the Mount has Jesus naming blessings that reverse the world’s conventional wisdom and values. They are not so much an urging to be this or that, but a statement of God’s intention to bless despite human injustice and misfortune. Abraham Heschel, the famous Jewish theologian stated “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” Perhaps Jesus refers to the blessedness of simply allowing oneself to be what you are rather than trying to be something else. Those who are seen as poor and less fortunate may in fact be far richer than those with wealth because they are much closer to the true gift of life and can appreciate the blessings that are inherent in even the simple necessities of life.
We find an emphasis upon the blessedness of being as opposed to striving, achieving and becoming. With all the mountains and the hills and all the “holy ground” of this good earth we are invited to say, ”Blessed be!””
It seems to me that coupling the Micah passage with the Beatitudes is a mixed blessing. Both are profound statements that encourage us to draw close to God’s way of faith-filled living. As we reflect on both texts we are surrounded by the deep assurance that God is present. We are called to fully surrender our lives into the care of the Holy One. For it is when we are truly dependant on God’s mercy and grace that we are called “blessed.”
May we share in communion and recognize the blessedness of one another. May we do justice – love mercy – and walk humbly with our God. Amen.