Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Readings – Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; I Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12

This morning’s reading from the Gospel according to St. Matthew is where we begin today.  It is immediately recognized as the Sermon on the Mount.  St. Luke has a similar passage called the Sermon on the Plain.  Scholars tell us that both texts are a compilation of teachings that Jesus gave over the course of his ministry, rather than one long sermon.  Also of note is that both gospel passages were modeled after Moses on the mountain top, Exodus 19 and following.  So, to better understand the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain, let us listen to excerpts from Exodus 19 and 20.

…if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my                                          treasured possession out of all the peoples.  …the Lord God said                              to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order                                            that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you                       ever after.  …the Lord God said to Moses: Go to the people and                                     consecrate them today and tomorrow.  Have them wash their                                       clothes and prepare for the third day, because on the third day the                              Lord God will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the                            people.  You shall set limits for the people all around, saying, “Be                           careful not to go up the mountain or touch the edge of it.  Any who                                   touch the mountain shall be put to death. … On the morning of                                             the third day there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick                                                cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all in                                the camp trembled.  …When the Lord God descended upon Mt. Sinai,                        to the top of the mountain, the Lord God summoned Moses.  …Then                                  the Lord God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who                             brought you out the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;  you                                   shall no other gods before me. …

I have stopped with the first of what we call the Ten Commandments.  These ten commandments are followed by verse after verse describing how the People of God were to be formed through discipline to be distinct from their neighbors. 

Now listen again to the introduction of the Sermon on the Mount.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after                             he sat down, his disciples gathered around him.  Then he began                               to speak, and he taught them, saying:                                                                                Blessed be the poor in spirit…                                                                                                     Blessed be those who mourn…                                                                                                  Blessed are the meek…                                                                                                                 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…                                           Blessed are the merciful…                                                                                                   Blessed are the pure in heart… Blessed are the peacemakers…                                                                                                  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness…                                           Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you… on my account…

Jesus was seated among the people, and Jesus said:

You are blessed, you are embraced, you are in God’s presence                                          in hard times, in mournful times, when feeling inadequate, when                             seeking justice, when merciful, when wearing your heart on your                                sleeve, when standing between waring entities, when assaulted                               for living out the way of Jesus. 

Unlike the Ten Commandments when the People of God were to be shaped by discipline, here Jesus sought to embrace and pull lovingly toward himself the people.  Instead of being shaped by rules, the people were shaped by the loving embrace of Jesus. 

Today we are the people invited to sit down and hear his words reaching out to embrace us with overwhelming love.  Today we are the People of God shaped by the loving embrace of God. 

Now please open the hymnal Lift Every Voice and Sing, Hymn 69. I will read the verses and then at the very end we will all read the chorus together.

I come to the garden alone, While the dew is still on the roses                                  And the voice I hear, falling on my ear The Son of God discloses

He speaks and the sound of His voice Is so sweet the birds hush their singing       And the melody that He gave to me Within my heart is ringing

I stayed in the garden with Him Though the night all around me is falling               But he bids me go, though the voice of woe His voice to me is calling                                      

Chorus :

And He walks with me And he talks with me                                                                          And he tells me I am His own                                                                                                         And the joy we share as we tarry there                                                                            None other has ever known. 

One final word, as the love of God embraces us, we are to do the same as the People of Jesus.  As we are in partnership with the God we know through Jesus, so we reach out our loving arms to embrace all, all our sisters and brothers. 

Let us be about loving as we have been loved, as we are being loved, and as we will be loved forever. 


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