(sermon note: 11-26 sermon note)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/ePKCHin8ysk)
Hear what the Lord says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the Lord has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.
‘O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.’
‘With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honor those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent.
Those who do these things shall never be moved.
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
However we gather on this holiday, online or in person, I’m reminded of a 4-year-old boy who was asked to offer the prayer before the Thanksgiving dinner. All the family members bowed their heads in expectation. The little boy began his prayer, thanking God for all his friends, naming them one by one. Then he thanked God for Mommy, Daddy, brother, sister, Grandma, Grandpa, and all his aunts and uncles. Then he began to thank God for the food. He gave thanks for the turkey, the dressing, the fruit salad, the cranberry sauce, the pies, the cakes, even the Cool Whip. Then he paused, and everyone waited–and waited. After a long silence, the young fellow looked up at his mother and asked, “If I thank God for the brussel sprouts, won’t he know that I’m lying?”
I mean, can you blame him?! Brussel sprouts?! Who in their right mind actually enjoys eating brussel sprouts? I think they were one of those vegetables forced on me as an early child in their most raw, inedible, absolutely grotesque form. Since that day on, I’ve never given them a second chance. My wife tells me she had a dish with them in it a few Christmases back that she claims was really quite delightful. Now, I can’t confirm her opinion having not given the dish a chance myself. And besides, she’s a fan of God’s worst ever, positively horrible, concoction ever made: mayonnaise! So her taste in food is already suspect in my book…
Well, whether you agree with her or that boy (or me!) on the opinion of brussel sprouts makes no difference to God. Eat ‘em or don’t eat ‘em, He couldn’t care less. There are plenty of other things He created that could both satisfy your recommended daily vitamin and mineral allowances AND your taste buds! Our God is both generous AND kind! For the most part, that little boy’s prayer conveyed a broad sense of gratitude for all his many blessings and that is what’s most important about it. He had enough sense to give thanks for not only the parts of the meal that he did like to eat but also for all the people that he had the opportunity to share the meal with. The meal is good but ultimately it’s just a meal, soon to be forgotten. What isn’t so quickly forgotten are the relationships that are formed and nurtured during that meal. And not just the relationships but the love and support that is shared. The love and support of family and friends are what truly sustain us in life, not the turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes and stuffing and cranberry sauce and cakes and pies. No, it’s love that satisfies our deepest hungers and you just can’t get that from food. We need each other to receive love.
Which makes this holiday, this year, particularly unsatisfying for so many of us. We can’t, or at least shouldn’t, gather with friends and family to share in that love that we’ve come to rely on for so many years. First Easter, then Mother’s Day, then Memorial Day, then Father’s Day, then 4th of July, then Labor Day, then Halloween…now Thanksgiving…all these big holidays throughout the year that we rely on to gather and celebrate the various relationships in our lives. Next it’ll be Christmas…will this year ever end?! Well, of course it’ll end in 6 short weeks and with any luck we can begin rebuilding our stunted relationships. At this point, 8 months into the pandemic, it’ll take a mighty act of mercy and compassion from God to enable us to begin that rebuilding process. God, and only God, can save us from this situation that we’ve gotten ourselves into so we’d best focus on asking him for mercy and compassion.
Not that God hasn’t been with us in this situation of ours. No, God has been with us ever since day one, revealing his mercy and compassion in countless little ways. God loves us, always has and always will, and we’d be fools to think otherwise. Some may suggest our situation is an act of God’s punishment. Others may suggest our situation is the direct result of unholy living. I don’t agree or disagree with either suggestions but I’d rather cling to the hope and joy found in believing in God’s absolute and unconditional love for us. God is with us, friends, and God loves us! We’ll celebrate just how God is with us in a few weeks when we celebrate the coming of the Son…Emmanuel…a name translated to “God is with us.” For now it is enough to give thanks for all the many blessings God has bestowed on us over the last year, both before the pandemic and during it. God has been good to us! God has been generous with us! God has shown his love to us! We can’t forget that, even as we celebrate a holiday apart from loved ones.
So, how do our readings for this morning convey what all God has done for us this year? In that first reading, we hear God’s great words of encouragement to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.” Friends, the world needs more justice and kindness and humility. We, humans, have not lived justly or kindly or humbly with each other and the world around us. Let us listen to God’s words and heed them. In the psalm, we are again encouraged to “walk blamelessly, do what is right, speak truth.” It is not mere coincidence that we hear these words now, at this time. God is speaking to us! God is encouraging us to change our lifestyles. The pandemic is demanding that we change our lifestyles! In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we hear how God destroys the “wisdom of the wise, the discernment of the discerning.” Why? To encourage belief and trust in him alone. You heard me say it earlier, only a mighty act of God’s mercy and compassion will save us from our situation…ultimately ourselves. Believe in this, trust in this! And of course, Jesus’ beatitudes enable us to see just how blessed we are even in adversity. God blesses us in so many ways, both apparent and hidden. We ought to give thanks for all his many blessings!
Which brings us back to that little boy at the Thanksgiving dinner. Friends, God is good to us and we need to recognize this through praise and thanksgiving. Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy, “for everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.” (4:4-5) Everything God creates is good! Rejoice in this! Take comfort in this! In 1 Chronicles, we hear those all-too-familiar words, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.” (16:34) I guess they’re most familiar in our household as they are the words of our table grace, except we substitute “mercy” for “love.” His goodness is enough to give thanks. Our God is a good and generous and loving God. We simply can’t deny this about our God! In the Psalms, we hear David sing to us, “let [us] thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.” (107:8-9) Friends, we have plenty to give God thanks for!
Though we are restricted in gathering with loved ones this year, we ALL can lift up our praise and thanksgiving to the one who is always with us. Let us heed Paul’s most apt words as given in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (5:16-18) Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.