St. Mary Nanoose Bay
February 2, 2020
Micah 6:1-18 / Matthew 5:1-12
Come holy Spirit, fill the hearts of us your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.
I spent the weekend at St. Paul’s in Nanaimo in a room full of people to learn from Rev. Dr. Pat Dutcher-Walls from the Vancouver School of Theology about how to understand and enjoy the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, as we usually call it. Pat was one of my professors at seminary and I knew what a dynamic teacher she is. We were not disappointed!
As Christians, why do we keep the Old Testament as part of our Scripture? People have asked me, “Can’t we drop it? Haven’t we moved on?”
The short answer could be – Today, so many people work hard to discover their family tree. They take genealogy courses and spend countless hours discovering facts and stories about their family through the generations. As Christians, with the Hebrew Bible, we have our genealogy! We know our history as a people of faith, we know the tradition and scripture Jesus was raised with and spoke and lived out of. We can trace our roots back, like Jews and Muslims, to our common ancestor, Abraham.
So, does it make sense to you that we need to keep our family history alive, as Christians?
Every Sunday we have 4 readings: two from the Hebrew Bible – a psalm and an another reading, then we have 2 readings from the New Testament – part of a letter from Paul to one of the early Christian communities, referred to as an Epistle, and a reading from one of the four Gospels.
The readings are chosen for us by an ecumenical group of scholars who combine the 4 readings each Sunday in a particular order. The cycle of readings repeat every 3 years. Not everything is the Bible is covered. This prescribed order of readings is called the Common Lectionary. And many churches use it: Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran and others.
So, enough with the factual stuff. Let’s dive into today’s readings. In bible study on Wednesdays, we read all the readings for Sunday out loud and pay attention to where our attention is caught. We might be confused, curious, moved, excited by something we hear, so we share that word or line with the group. That helps us see where the Spirit is leading us. And then we start sharing – our ideas, questions, stories from our lives and so on.
Today from the first reading, from the prophet Micah. We hear the words: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” What wonderful words, what a short prescription for how to live well.
And then in the psalm we heard the question of who may live near God answered with “Those who walk blamelessly, and what is right, and speak the truth from their heart.”
We’re being given qualities to hone, not a list of activities to complete.
In the New Testament reading from the letter of Paul to the community in Corinth, we heard “Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?” and we can understand that with all our learning, education and growth in wisdom, we can never understand the mind of God. That’s not ours to do. Our focus need be on living our lives with integrity and compassion.
And finally, the gospel reading where we have something new and different. Instead of the ten commandments – a list of “thou shalt nots” that can be read as a warning of what happens when you go against the way God has created and ordered the world. In the beautitudes, we have the same ideas offered in way that invites us to see how the divine order works. These almost read as cause and effect statements.
It sounds like Jesus is saying, “Look here, this is how it works, pay attention. Blessed are the poor in spirit – those who yearn for God, who know that everything comes from God, will receive the kingdom. We hear this in a different way elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew: Knock and the door will be answered.
Blessed are those who mourn; for they will be comforted. If we are honest about what emotional state we are in, we will receive the support and comfort we need. When we aren’t open, we can’t receive. How many of you here like to help others? How many are comfortable receiving? Jesus is telling us we need to be able to give AND receive or else we constrict the divine flow of love in all its forms.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Those who work to bring peace to others through their willingness to walk with others through their troubled times, to stand with people who are being persecuted and unjustly treated, who speak up when racist comments are being made or a specific group of people targeted, these people are working on God’s behalf and will be known as such.
So I won’t go through all of the reading from Matthew. I simply want to make the point that not only is the Bible a living word – meaning that the words of Scripture speak to us today, at this moment, in this place, if we are open to hearing what we need to hear, but also, that the Bible speaks within itself, referring back and forth to stories, events and predictions.
Jesus was shaped by the words and ideas and wisdom in what would become the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. The Jews were still sorting out what would be in the canon when Jesus was alive. So much of what we read in the New Testament refers back to, re-shapes, and sets the foundations for the radical message Jesus brings – that love is the fulfillment of the law. And we are the ones to help do the fulfilling.
This morning, we are hearing words of love, being bathed in love, and will be nourished by a meal given in and for love.
We are beloved. The Scriptures tell us in so many ways over hundreds and hundreds of years. So listen to the call. Open your hearts and receive. And know that you are blessed.