4th Sunday after Epiphany

January 29, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Micah 6. 1-8. God has delivered us from slavery. What, then, shall we give God in return? Obedience to religious rules? No: what God wants is for us to do justice, to be kind, and to walk humbly with God.

Psalm 15 commends people who live justly and gently.

1 Corinthians 1. 18-31. The world values power and accomplishment; therefore the cross seems to be a sign of powerlessness and failure. Yet the cross is the sign of our salvation, because it reveals God’s grace that overcomes our sin and failure. God uses what is weak in the world to overcome what is strong. Our wisdom is foolish when we try to use it to figure out God and God’s grace.

Matthew 5. 1-12. The Beatitudes, delivered on a mountain like Moses’ commandments, are the core of Jesus’ teaching: trust in God’s grace to bring blessing and life out of what appears to the world’s eyes to be weakness, barrenness and failure. In this trust, we live lives that are radically gentle, compassionate and courageous, serving for the sake of peace and healing.

Preaching Thoughts

Both Micah and Jesus give us clear, concise images of the life to which God calls us. They involve both the inner and outer life: inwardly our trusting companionship with God bears fruit outwardly in love and justice. Both Micah and Jesus attend to a three-dimensional faith: to live in life-giving relationship with God, with other persons, and with society as a whole. Both of these passages are worth repeating in worship regularly. I encourage you to incorporate them just about as much as the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostle’s Creed.

Note that in the Beatitudes what makes for the blessings is not the circumstance, but God. The poor in spirit are blessed not because they’re poor in spirit, but because theirs is the Realm of God. It’s not that it’s better to be in mourning than to be happy, but that God comforts those who mourn. Our society seems no less convinced than Jesus’ culture that what happens to us is somehow God’s judgment: sickness is God’s punishment; riches are God’s rewards. Our way of thinking is profoundly structured by cause-and-effect, and rewards-and-punishment dynamics. If you work hard, then you will get ahead. If you displease God, then you will suffer. (How often has someone encountered difficulty and said, “What have I done to deserve this?”) So of course if you haven’t gotten ahead, or if you’re suffering, it must be your fault. God must be mad at you.

Notice how this way of thinking is shaped not by spiritual wisdom but by fear. We’re afraid of suffering, afraid of loss, afraid of being vulnerable or in need or not in power. Our emphasis on “how to get ahead,” and all the ways to manage that endeavor, are built on the assumption that we need to get ahead—because life without getting ahead is unbearable. But the wisdom of Jesus contradicts all this. It departs from what seems like common sense because it contradicts the basic assumption that getting ahead is necessary. Jesus says, No, getting ahead isn’t what matters. What matters is intimacy with God. Being happy, and avoiding pain, isn’t what matters. Having a shining reputation isn’t what matters. What matters is receiving and giving the grace of God. It’s as if Jesus lives in a whole different universe. Well, yes, he does. He calls it the Realm (“Kingdom”) of God. The beatitudes are the “law of the land” in the Empire of Grace.

The spirituality of the beatitudes is one of radical trust in grace. In what society generally views as unwelcome circumstances, God is present, offering abundant, life-giving grace. Out of emptiness God brings abundance, out of mourning, joy. It’s the spirituality of resurrection. This profound trust is the opposite of, and the antidote to, our sin, our inability to trust God. Jesus names those places we’re afraid to God and says, “God is there.” In poverty, in brokenness, in vulnerability, need, and persecution, God is present, offering blessing. Built on this trust, we can dare to be nonviolent (“meek”), we can dare to be peacemakers and endure persecution.

“Poor in spirit” may mean spiritually impoverished. It may mean having a spirit that does not cling to possessions, material or otherwise.It might mean solidarity with the economically poor. Maybe it means empty (free of preconceptions, judgments, attachments and demands), all of which means being receptive. It may mean not having it all figured out. It certainly. means being utterly dependent on God. Here is the profound irony of grace: Blessed are they who have no relationship with God, for God has a deep, rich relationship with them. The heart of the beatitudes is that our blessedness is not dependent on us, but on God—who is perfectly, totally, universally good, generous, merciful and loving.

Mourning may be for the death of a loved one, but Jesus engaged in a wider, deeper grief for the suffering of the world. He wept over Jerusalem. He invites us to let ourselves be heartbroken for the world, trusting God’s comfort.

“Meek” doesn’t mean timid. It means gentle and nonviolent. By the way this saying repeats Psalm 37.11.

To hunger and thirst for righteousness may mean to seek to be a faithful person. It also means to hunger and thirst for justice—not for one’s self but for the poor and oppressed.

The merciful aren’t merciful so that they receive mercy. They already know they’ll receive it, which gives them to courage to me merciful. Nor do they it because they’ve first practiced it. There’s no exchange. Mercy is a given. The challenge is to trust that. In a violent world it takes the greatest courage to be gentle; in a world were everyone’s trying to get ahead it takes courage to be merciful. Jesus assures us: the mercy is there. Trust it, and be merciful.

It’s not helpful to think of being pure in heart as being spiritually faultless. It means not so much to be perfect, but to have a heart of love, undiluted by fear or selfishness. To be completely present in the present moment, lovingly attentive. It is to see with “a whole eye”—to see the unity of all things (and the sacredness of all things), rather than with vision that is split and divided by dualistic judgments. (See what Jesus says later in the sermon on the Mount: “If your eye is whole, your whole body will be full of light” [Mt. 6.22] He doesn’t just mean healthy eyesight [though “whole” is usually translated as “healthy”]—he means complete, of a whole, and seeing the whole, the unity, the Holy Oneness.) Purity of heart means seeing things through the eye of love. When we see things that way—surprise!—we see God.

Peacemakers aren’t at all the same as “peacekeepers” in today’s militaristic world. To be a peacemaker doesn’t mean to enforce quiet or quell conflict. It means to repair relationships. It’s the hard work of confronting injustice, addressing wounds, seeking forgiveness and healing, and fostering reparation. It’s the long work of justice. Sometimes making peace begins in bringing conflict to the surface. When Jesus healed the bent over woman he brought peace to her life, but raised a ruckus in the synagogue. Peacemaking isn’t always quiet; it’s gentle but not submissive.

Most of the folks we preach to aren’t being persecuted by being fired, tortured, forced to flee, or executed. (Some in this world are.) We experience persecution more in the form of cultural hostility and belittlement. But it’s still hard to accept. Jesus reminds us that God’s good news is so contrary and even threatening to the world’s values that the world is always likely to resist it and those who bear it. Sometimes you know you’re doing good work by whose enemy list you’re on.

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: When we hunger and thirst for God,
All: God satisfies us.
When we are weak or brokenhearted,
God comforts and heals us.
When we seek to be peacemakers and do justice, and despair of our smallness,
God empowers us.
God we thank you; we praise you; we worship you. Alleluia!


2.
Leader: Beauty is all around us, offered without cost.
All: What a gift! God, we praise you.
Love and healing are given to us, without regard or exception.
What a miracle! Jesus, we thank you.
Power is placed in us—not our own, but the power of grace.
What a wonder! Holy Spirit, we give ourselves to you in humility and service.
Speak your Word, that we may do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with you.


3.
Leader: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
All: We come to be filled.
Blessed are the pure in heart.
We long to see God.
Blessed are you. Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven.
O God of mystery, we open our hearts to your presence and your grace.
Bless us and all your creatures, that in our worship we glorify you
and become your light for the world. Amen.


4.
Leader: Beloved, this nis the good news:
The God of love brings light out of darkness, life out of death.
All: God fills us in our hunger and comforts us in our grief.
To us who are poor in spirit God gives grace abundantly.
God of love, we come to worship you, to receive your grace,
to learn to trust, and to become your peacemakers
in the name and Spirit of Christ. Alleluia!


5.
Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
We do not come to you with a wealth of spiritual power
We are poor in spirit, yet you bless us.
We come to you hungry and thirsty for righteousness.
We long for your love; and you fill us with your grace.
Have mercy on us, God, and hear our prayers.
Alleluia! Grant your peace to us and to all the world. Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
Who shall dwell in your tent, O God? Those who are compassionate and truthful, who do not judge or despise, those who keep their promises even at great cost. Speak your Word to us, God, that we may be among them in love and faith. Amen.

2.
Eternal God, Jesus went up on the mountain and spoke your Word. So we gather close, and listen, that we might hear, and receive the gift of life, and be changed. Speak to us, for we are listening. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, we come to you poor in spirit. Fill us with the riches of your Word. We come to you hungry for justice. Give us hope and joy. We come to you powerless in this violent world. May we inherit the world of your grace. We come to you desiring to be your peacemakers. Bless us that we might receive your Spirit, and serve you in the name of Christ. Amen.

4.
Gracious God,
as seeds dead and buried come to life in the spring,
may our hearts come to life in your grace.
May the gentle rain of your comfort heal us in our grief.
May the warm sunrise of your gentleness fill us and flower in us.
May the river of your mercy flow through us.
Like a hawk riding the winds,
may your hunger for justice lift us and guide us.
May your grace enable us to see with the eyes of love alone.
May your peace give us courage to make peace in this broken world.
May your blessing give us courage to bear witness and to bless.
We pray in the name and the company of Christ,
who is always with us, and among us, and within us.

Prayer of Confession

1.
Pastor: The grace of God is with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
God of love, we confess we are broken, and for that we mourn.
We are in need of grace.
We are brokenhearted, hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
We have not always been merciful, but we ask your mercy.
We are not whole by ourselves, but only in you.
Receive us with grace, heal our wounds
and forgive the sin that rises out of them.

.. Silent prayer … Word of grace

2.
Pastor: The grace of God be with you.
All: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
Loving God, we confess
that we have lived by our efforts instead of your grace,
in anxiety rather than trust;
and we confess those ways that, in our anxiety, we have acted hurtfully.
Through the gift of your Son Jesus Christ,
who lived and died that we may know your love,
redeem us from the hurts we have caused,
relieve us of our illusions,
forgive our sin,
and restore our deep trust in your grace alone. Amen.

.. Silent prayer … Word of grace

Poetry

The Beatitudes

These benedictions rise from certainty
born of bewilderment,
the confidence that life prevail
above its final falling— that life endures
not only death but even life,
its hunger and its mourning—
and arises from the giving of one’s life.
This blessing falls from lips
who’ve drunk of passion
and survived, and arises
from a heart that trusts the dark.
All wombs are dark and fragile things,
and breathing—falling, rising—sings
of life unknown by stones
and other unmoved things.
For stones in all their strength
can only sit or roll or fall;
but, daring to be tender,
life alone can rise and grow.
Blessing falls, like snow and rain,
like sunlight’s bright surprises;
but life itself starts dark and low;
and always life arises.

         — Steve Garnaas-Holmes

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

1.
God of love,
we are poor in spirit;
your grace alone is our prayer.
We do not know how to pray as we ought.
Pray in us,
that we may be merciful and pure in heart.

2.
God of infinite grace,
in our self-assurance give us the gift of poverty of spirit,
to be utterly dependent on you and your grace.
In our mourning hold us in your heart.
In our desire for power, help us be gentle.
In our hunger for justice, give us hope.
In our conflicts and judgments, help us be merciful.
In this world of greed, give us pure hearts, to see with love alone.
In this world of conflict, may we bring reconciliation.
In this polarized world give us humble courage
to stand for truth, to bear witness to your love,
to work for the healing of the world,
in the name and the company of Jesus. Amen.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

1.
Leader: Eternal God, by your blessing you created this world.
All: All things live by your blessing.
All things are filled with your blessing.
In their very being, all things praise you!
Crucified and risen Christ, in God’s grace
you gave yourself in love, even suffering death.
And in grace God raised you to life.
In you God brought life out of death,
and brought us out of slavery to our sin and fear.
We thank you, and we honor you!
Holy Spirit, by your grace you make all people beautiful, powerful, and holy.
Alleluia! We give ourselves to your grace.
We offer ourselves to die and rise.
God of blessing, transform us by your grace. Alleluia!


2.
       We believe in God, creator of all things, ruler of all that is and all that is to come; whose reign is one of grace, mystery and loveliness; and who is transforming the world into a realm of justice and mercy.
       We follow Jesus, who trusted God, who taught and healed, who died and rose, revealing God’s abundant grace. He reigns in love over all Creation, and sends disciples to embody God’s grace and to participate in the Reign of God in all that we do.
       We rely upon the unfailing grace of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the community of the church as the Body of Christ, the unity of all believers, the power of forgiveness, the reality of resurrection and the alluring blessing of eternal life.
       Therefore, by the grace of God, we devote ourselves to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God, in the name and the Spirit of Christ, for the glory of God and the transformation of the world. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, though we are poor in spirit we are rich in your grace.
Sharpen our hunger for justice, and give us trust.
Instill in us your perfect mercy.
Make us pure in heart, ready to see you every moment.
Send us into the world as your humble, gentle peacemakers,
prepared to mourn with those who struggle,
to endure persecution for the sake of the Good News,
and to rejoice at the coming of your Realm of Grace. Amen.

4.
Leader: People of God, what does the Holy One ask of you?
All: To do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with God.
The good news is the Jesus has shown us the way of life:
To do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with God.
God, by your grace we pray for your Spirit to guide and empower us—
to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with God.

Eucharistic Prayer


Leader: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Realm of God.
All: We are poor beggars, O God. Feed us with your grace.

Blessed are the broken hearted, for God holds them close.
In this broken bread, hold us and comfort us.

Blessed are the gentle, for you give them all of Life.
Nourish us with Christ’s tender love, that we, too may be gentle.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for deeper love.
Satisfy us with your love; and deepen our hunger and thirst for you.

Blessed are they who are merciful, knowing you shower them with mercy.
We give thanks for your mercy, that we too may live lives of mercy.

Blessed are those who are pure in love, for they shall see God.
In this meal fill us with the love of Christ for all the world.

Blessed are those who bring reconciliation, for they are God’s beloved children.
In this meal we are one, all of us saints and sinners,
at peace with you and with one another.

Blessed are those whom the world scorns, for God is present with them.
Sharing this meal, we are one with the outcast of this world, as Jesus was an outcast.

—The Blessing and Covenant—

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us,
that we may be the Body of Christ for the world.
Strengthen us with courage to bear witness to love and to work for justice,
to devote our lives to nonviolence and the mending of the world,
despite the world’s resistance, to be your saints in the name of Christ.

Amen.

____________
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion

[Adapt as needed.]
1.
Gracious God, we give you our lives, symbolized in these gifts. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. Strengthen our hearts to trust your grace, to be your peacemakers, to do justice, practice kindness, and walk humbly with you, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us. / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) We entrust ourselves to your grace, surrender to your desire for us, and go forth as your light, for the sake of the healing of all Creation. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, we give you these gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will. Send us into the world to stand with those who suffer, to bless those who are mourning, to work for peace and justice, to endure hatred for the sake of your will, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Light for the World      (Original song) – [weekly Epiphany “Theme song”]
[A dialogue between soloist and congregation. May be used as a “theme song” throughout the Epiphany season, using two or three verses per week. Throughout the season the congregation sings the chorus; each week the soloist’s verses relate to the day’s lectionary readings. Lyrics for this week:]

Congregation
Love, may we live by your light.
Let us be light for the world.

Cantor:
Jesus, the light of your love shines warm in the dark of our suffering and struggles.
Fill us, we pray, with the light of your grace, that we may shine for others.

God, by your grace make us pure in heart, to see by the light of your love alone.
May we be peacemakers, light for the world, and shine with your mercy.


Blessed          (Original song)
[Music for this song also includes Eucharistic Responses]

Dear God, receive me anew, mourning and poor in my soul,
hungry for what makes me whole.
Bless me by making me simple like you.
       Refrain: Blessed are the ones who have nothing but God,
       for God and God alone shall fill their lives.

Mercy please grant me anew. Make my heart pure by your grace,
humble, that I may see your face.
Bless me by making me gentle like you. Refrain

Courage please give me anew, peace in the world to make,
and to suffer for your Gospel’s sake.
Bless me by making me faithful to you. Refrain


Do Justice      (Original Song)
Do Justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.
Love, help us humbly live your justice, your love, your mercy.