What you are about to hear is Jesus' mysterious message of salvation, a new way of understanding how to be spiritual in a world that would like to devour you with messages that say you aren’t measuring up.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he began to speak and taught 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 receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Salt and Light13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 People do not light a lamp and put it under the bushel basket; rather, they put it on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
The Law and the Prophets17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
If you’ve ever felt poor in spirit, you know it’s a hard sell in that moment to believe you are blessed. At midnight this past Tuesday, a stomach bug hit me hard and wiped me out for a good 24 hrs. When I “came to” on Thursday morning, still pondering the meaning of this week’s scripture: “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, I laughed out loud. How is that possible? It’s hard to even feel human when your spirit is so low, let alone feel worthy of God’s presence.
And that’s when it clicked for me. I don’t have to “feel” God’s presence for it to be real. Maybe it’s most real when we don’t have the energy to even think about reaching out for God. You know that Footsteps in the Sand poem? It gets a bad rap in some ways for being overly sentimental, but I think it holds truth. “My child, when you see only one set of footprints, it was I that carried you.”
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus knows suffering, even at the point of preaching this sermon, he knows what’s at stake for his future. And that moment he’s on the cross and cries out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” That's when our salvation becomes real. It’s those moments of experiencing “poor in spirit, mourn, meek” that open us to the reality that we need a savior.
It’s not about what happens after we die so much as it is about how we live today…accepting the gift of faith that rises to meet us in our greatest suffering. How so? Because Jesus, in those final moments on the cross, declares it OKAY to question God and still, God’s love for us remains.
That’s what it means to be blessed, to be God’s beloved. We’re not special or unique, God’s blessing is for all…but it does require us to be vulnerable, to ask for help, to say, “God, I can’t do this on my own.” And Jesus knows it takes a meek, poor, grieving, hungry, thirsty spirit to be open to such faith.
I am profoundly moved by the testimonies of faith I’ve heard from each of you. I know you trust God with difficult things, because I’ve gotten to share many stories of suffering alongside you. You’ve heard many of mine. A refrain I often hear in these stories is, “I don’t know how people get through hard times without faith.” Amen. This week as every cell in my body rebelled against my best attempts at health, I had to rely on God more than ever- even when I didn’t have the strength to pray. I had to trust every part of my work that went undone into the hands of the one to whom we as a church belong: Jesus, the cornerstone. We worship a God who knows what’s on our hearts even before we utter a word. And with that same tender attention, Jesus is able to turn suffering into something sacred. Like a shared connection with another, a moment of inspiration is someone else’s journey, a confirmation of God’s healing touch.
I will live on this faith until the day I die, and I’m honored to share this life of faith with you in this season of my life. Our blessing is not always in the flesh, it is in what lies deeper still, a spiritual stirring that enables us to give salt to the earth and light to the world, even amidst the darkness of our own experiences. So shine your light, be salt for this earth in the unique ways only you can. We all need that from you, just like you need it from us. And in the work of amplifying God’s righteousness, we begin to see more clearly our own paths unfold with goodness. May your journey with Christ continue to be illuminated by acts of love.
We hear an invitation from Jesus to reset our priorities on what is truly life-giving. In the face of real earthly temptation, Jesus resists the allure of power, invincibility, and riches. This is how he begins his ministry to fulfill God’s promises to God’s people.
Matthew 4: 1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”
11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
This week our confirmation class studied this scripture using our contemplative process in which we read it three times, reflecting on a new question each round. One seventh grader, upon considering how this passage connected with his life, said something really profound.
“It reminds me that what is easy is not always the best choice. Sometimes we have to choose to do what is hard rather than what is easy.”
Yes! At the start of a new year, I can’t think of a better reminder to choose what is actually fulfilling, even when it’s hard. Because as tempting as it is to “push the easy button,” it almost surely will be fleeting happiness, only to leave us feeling empty once more.
When Jesus is offered the world’s riches and complete earthly power, he KNOWS what seems tempting in the moment isn’t the best choice. That’s the path of righteousness he forges for us. And when he says that our highest calling is to worship God- to serve God alone, I believe him… because time and again, he chose to deny his own comfort in favor of our care. That’s the kind of God I want in my life.
We are often tempted to believe that pursuing our own comfort is the same as pursuing self-care. I recently learned the distinction between the two, and I think it’s super helpful. Neither are wrong, per say. For comfort think: a pint of ice cream while watching a marathon show on TV. For self-care think: taking a walk on your favorite path to destress and unwind. Both of these activities can be good, but here’s the question to ask yourself when making a choice between the two: is seeking comfort getting in the way of self-care? You might say YES if your “comfort” choices are making you slip into distraction, numbness, and excessive soothing at the expense of your values. Self-comfort might actually be getting in the way of self-care if it prevents you from addressing the issue that is conflicting with what you value most.
We all face temptations, many of which promise us temporary happiness, but true joy is never found in earthly things. God has something much greater in store for anyone willing to open their hearts to their Creator: Our ultimate fulfillment is of a spiritual nature, never the glamor of the world.
CS Lewis makes this point clear: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” He speaks often of this temptation to pursue earthly things as a distraction from what really matters. He says, “If you live for the next world, you get this one in the deal. But if you live only for this world, you lose them both.
If there’s one reason to read the Gospels, it’s this: with every homeless night on earth, Jesus embodies what it is to find our purpose apart from material things. That’s what makes his reign on earth, his kingdom of heaven so very different. So obscure, in fact, that we still find it hard to fathom even 2000+ years later. He accomplished what none of us can on our own- true detachment from the temptations of power, wealth, and distracting comfort.
I don’t know what’s numbing your spirit or distracting you from your own best intentions, but I do know that Jesus keeps right on asking us to be mindful about our choices. How are you pursuing what is truly life-giving? Like most of scripture, there is no formula for right-living, and we don’t need one! The truth has been knit within our very souls. We need only pay attention to the still small voice speaking truth amidst the voices of temptation raging around us and within us. This I know: Jesus wrestles with temptation, and Jesus wins! We can conquer our own temptation for the sake of the life-giving way Jesus intends for us all- the life that really is life! A spiritual life of abundance and peace. Thanks be to God!
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw God’s Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from the heavens said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Here it is, again! That same self doubt in John the Baptist we heard a month ago. Whaaaat Jesus? You’re crazy if you think I have any power to help you. I’m a nobody, can’t you see? But Jesus answered him, “Please, John, you’re a part of my plan to help right this world. Do it, for me, for you, for everybody.” And he does, John says, “Yes, Jesus, I’ll help baptize you.” In the act of consenting to be a part of Jesus’ plan, John ushers in one of the most powerful moments in human history. He holds the body of Christ, affirming God’s full union with humanity, as the Holy Spirit flutters to earth…the moment our image of the triune God is born.
In the human act of baptism, Jesus opens the heavens to share with us all that heavenly voice of affirmation we crave: my son, my daughter, my child, you are beloved. With you I am well pleased!” I’m not sure any of us would truly believe the Jesus story if we didn’t crave these words in our lives. John got to be front and center witness to this truth, because he said “yes, Jesus, I’ll participate in your baptism.”
What a holy and exhilarating way to live- believing that Jesus wants to use US to make things right here on earth. In preparation to receive new members, I often ask myself, what’s my elevator pitch for why church matters. I think I’ve said it a hundred different ways. Here are a few reasons I believe joining in church together matters:
This week I’ve added a new one:
In a conversation with our new member Lori this week, she affirmed her why so well: “It feels like a true family here,” she says, “I feel so loved and welcome.” It’s because you are, Lori. Your whole family is loved and valued and appreciated, the way each person within our caring circle is. The power behind this statement is the “chosen family,” the “through thick and thin commitment” we forge for one another, with a simple and powerful YES.
Friends, Jesus’ invitation to be a part of his plan to help right this world is always open. Affirming our intention to be an active part of the body of Christ is a way of saying YES to what Jesus is already doing within our hearts. We are being formed into the likeness of our creator so that God's kingdom might come here on earth as it is in heaven; This is what we celebrate today. Like John the Baptist, we wrestle our self doubt and take one step of faith at a time, holding on to one another for support along the way. The intentional community we create is inspired by Christ’s desire to be among us when we gather. We celebrate our collective YES by installing our 2023 church leaders today.
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.