The Beatitudes: Seeing the World
A Sermon for Fourth Epiphany
As I read over our lectionary for today, I couldn't help but notice an overarching theme. First in Micah, we are told to "let the hills hear your voice," then there is some lamenting about the transgressions of Israel, and it finishes with "what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?"
Right off the bat, in the ancient of days, God is calling to his people. This year I decided to dive into Education for Ministry, a four—year course of Jewish scripture, Christian scripture, church history, and theology. And having sat with the Old Testament for a semester, all I can see is God's constant invitation to us. Be my people. Follow me. You are chosen amongst all others.
The Psalm today sings of how best to serve God's calling to us; to do what is right, speak the truth from your heart, and do no evil. Once again our invitation to take part is even included with handy instructions on how to follow!
But we know from Corinthians that people continue to error, and need yet another invitation. "For Jews demand signs, and Greeks desire wisdom." Christ even spent his ministry on Earth inviting people to listen for God's calling—in the Beatitudes he spends time specifically listing people who will be blessed. And yet we still sometimes cannot hear. The lessons today are focused on being called to serve God in community, to love one another, even though we may not hear the invitation or, perhaps, we do not feel qualified to do justice, love mercy, and be peacemakers in today's secular world.
I can think of plenty of times in my life when I knew there was more I should be doing for the Kingdom of God, but felt unable. But one chapter really sticks out.
Most of my students, friends, or family would tell you that the mission of the church has always been my passion. My driving force. In fact, at age 14 after my first official youth weekend, I went up to my predecessor Rev. Wes Wubbenhorst and declared very promptly that I was going to have his job when I grew up. . . Well, I made it! But much like the early church, it was not a straight path.
I had strong faith from middle school age and up, serving as an acolyte, reader, chalicist, in Junior Daughters, and on vestry. I participated in Diocesan Events, Nightwatch, EYE, and battled divorce, cancer, and many detentions in Catholic school.
But my faith did not waiver from my core. I had questions, like any person, but never imagined life without my community. And like most young adults my age, it all changed when I started college. Frostburg State University is a wonderful school not far from home. I was part of an intentional community that turned out to be less intentional or even community—centered, but I still served at church and was even a youth liaison for the Diocese in Western Maryland.
Eventually, as I got comfortable in my new environment, I made secular friends. I had a boyfriend who wasn't into church, had a full 15—credit class load while I worked on my junior and senior thesis, and became a commuter student as I worked three jobs. I even walked by my parish every shift at the cafe, but the guilt didn't outweigh the promise of cold hard cash or some free time to spend with my friends.
I wouldn't say that I was persecuted for my faith in God by my relationships, but I did let me schedule, money, and work get in the way of my spirit. I no longer thirsted for righteousness or felt the need to walk humbly with God. The feeling of emptiness started to creep up on me as I approached graduation. FSU had accepted me into the Master's Program for Teaching and I was on a perfectly logical path to success as a middle school teacher—but I had terrible anxiety, wasn't eating or sleeping, and I found myself dropping out two weeks before it started, and totally lost . . .
Only to hear my phone ring. It was Wes! My old mentor. I got involved in Happening Number 3, and saw the holy spirit move in community with the young people at Claggett. I dealt with good, and hard, things, all in the name of God and community. I immediately returned home to apply for ESC, a year of intentional community, serving justice and people and working with my mentor. My heart was once again on fire to be a peacemaker. I am blessed that my passion for working with youth and creating community meet in my ministry. There are days where I still feel unqualified or make mistakes, but then I remember God does not ask us to be of noble birth to be the wisest, or the most powerful. We are constantly asked to simply be of service to our siblings in Christ with pure hearts and generosity in kindness.
The beatitudes are a checklist of how to be a good follower of Christ. They are guidelines for how to see the world and care for ourselves and one another. If someone makes you uncomfortable, annoyed, or aggravated, God is calling you to minister to them.
So this week, I ask you to sit in prayer and listen for God's call. It may be loud booming, or it might be the tiniest whisper, to try something new or feel more confident in your ministry. Amen!
—Kate Riley, Diocesan Youth Missioner
January 29, 2017