Sunday, January 28, 1996

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany - Year A - 1996

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Almighty and everlasting God, who dost govern all things in
heaven and earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of thy
people, and in our time grant us thy peace; through Jesus
Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the
Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Preface of the Epiphany, or of the Lord's Day

A reading from the book of the prophet Micah Micah 6:1-8
1 Hear what the LORD says: Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. 2 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. 3 "O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! 4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of bondage; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. 5 O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the LORD." 6 "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? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" 8 He has showed you, O man, 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?
The Word of the Lord.

37 Noli aemulari Psalm 37, verses 1-6(1-18), page 633

1 Do not fret yourself because of evildoers; *
do not be jealous of those who do wrong.
2 For they shall soon wither like the grass, *
and like the green grass fade away.
3 Put your trust in the LORD and do good; *
dwell in the land and feed on its riches.
4 Take delight in the LORD, *
and he shall give you your heart's desire.
5 Commit your way to the LORD and put your trust in him, *
and he will bring it to pass.
6 He will make your righteousness as clear as the light *
and your just dealing as the noonday.
7 Be still before the LORD *
and wait patiently for him.
8 Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers, *
the one who succeeds in evil schemes.
9 Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; *
do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.
10 For evildoers shall be cut off, *
but those who wait upon the LORD shall possess the land.
11 In a little while the wicked shall be no more; *
you shall search out their place, but they will not be there.
12 But the lowly shall possess the land; *
they will delight in abundance of peace.
13 The wicked plot against the righteous *
and gnash at them with their teeth.
14 The Lord laughs at the wicked, *
because he sees that their day will come.
15 The wicked draw their sword and bend their bow
to strike down the poor and needy, *
to slaughter those who are upright in their ways.
16 Their sword shall go through their own heart, *
and their bow shall be broken.
17 The little that the righteous has *
is better than great riches of the wicked.
18 For the power of the wicked shall be broken, *
but the LORD upholds the righteous.

A reading from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians
1 Corinthians 1:(18-25),26-31
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart." 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26 For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; 27 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, 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; 31 therefore, as it is written, "Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord."
The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel is written in the 5th chapter of Matthew,
beginning at the 1st verse.
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew. Matthew 5:1-12
1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. 8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Gospel of the Lord.

Epiphany 4 - Year A

Blessed are you when men 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.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

When ever I read the Beatitudes that we heard in our Gospel lesson this morning, I feel a little robbed. In the very last blessing, Jesus tells us that those who are reviled and persecuted on his account are blessed. I want all of the blessings that Christ has to give us--perhaps that is gluttony on my part, but I want them all, and in this country, at this time, persecution for what I believe is simply not a realistic expectation.

Granted, if there ever was a mixed blessing, persecution would be it, and there is a sense of relief in knowing that we are gathered together to do this morning has no physical threat associated with it. But, I still feel cheated.

But the Christians upon whose martyrdom our faith was secured, had something in that blessing of persecution that we do not. They had a commitment that is difficult for us to equal because they had paid a price.

Last week, I had a conversation with Fr. Twyman and some others about tithing. We were discussing stewardship and Fr. Twyman mentioned something that I had never heard. He said that the Episcopal Church could try what some protestant churches and even some synagogues have done, and that is require a tithe to be considered a member of the congregation.

While I was thinking about how extreme that sounded, somebody else asked the question that was forming in my mind, they said, "What would that do to attendance?" Father said that those congregations that required a tithe were packed. Again I was trying to reason out why this would be when he said, it was for the same reasons that the Ancient Church, under persecution was filled with people risking their lives to attend every service.

Can you imagine what it would be like to go to Church and know that if you were seen by the wrong people--you may have been arrested by the state? Can you imagine having to sneak out of your house, under cover of darkness, to slink off to a Church held in cave outside of town--just so you could receive the sacrament and hear the Word preached? Can you imagine having to hide your faith from your business associates, and even friends, while looking for the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ with anyone you thought might not turn you over to the authorities?

If you can imagine yourself in that situation, could you then imagine NOT taking advantage of any opportunity to worship, NOT going to every service in the Church, NOT attending every Sunday? Thousands upon thousands of Christians have risked their lives just to attend the Eucharist, and thousands upon thousands have given their lives, just to attend a Eucharist.

They had a commitment. They had paid a price.

If you have paid for something in advance, that something is going to be more important to you. I wish I was going to the Superbowl in Arizona today. Theoretically, I could hop on a plane, and (if I had enough money to pay a scalper), I could buy tickets and get in. Strange how I keep coming up with football examples lately!

However, as it is, I'm going to go with our youth group to see a movie right after Church this morning, and be back in time to settle in and watch the game on television. But what if I had a plane ticket already, and had already purchased my superbowl tickets. If that were the case, you would not be surprised if I were absent this morning.

If I already had the tickets, I would have done a lot to make sure I could use them. But merely having the opportunity to buy a ticket is not enough to make me want to go to the trouble nor the expense. While football and the church are not the same, human nature is.

We will be found doing that which is important to us, and the more options that are available merely make our selection more difficult, but if something has cost us something--it automatically becomes perceived by us as more important than other things.

My parents just got back from a trip to England. They love the culture, they love the people, they love the countryside and they love the Church. For those reasons, they were outraged to have read in a paper over there that less than 4% of the people in England bothered to go to Church during Christmas.

People died so that the Christianity could be in England. English people died to insure that the church would continue. But now that it is a state Church, no one is required to pay a price. The result is that the Church is perceived as something of a low priority. It didn't cost them anything, so why should they bother? Why should they bother to celebrate with the body of Christ the Incarnation of the Son of God? Why should they bother to join with others and give thanks and praise for the salvation which God has offered us?

Did you know that you don't actually have to believe anything, but can force the local parish in England to baptize your baby? They are required by law to agree to baptism and marriage and burials of the people who live near. They are often seen as an instrument of the state, but not often seen as the Body of Christ.

In those blessings, the beatitudes, that Jesus spoke, we hear of od several other blessings. None of which are easy to gain and all of which cost us something. To be meek, we must put others above ourselves. To be a peacemaker, we must feel the pain when peace is lacking. To be able to mourn, we must first learn to love, and then, to know loss.

Blessing come at a cost. Eternal life came at the ultimate cost--the death of the Son of God who had become man for that purpose. To accept the gift of eternal life, we must begin to die to this world, so that we can life in the next. Our priorities must change. Despite the opportunities and choices we have available to us, the most precious is that of worshiping God and becoming sons and daughters of the Most High.

I remember with mixed feeling a time when I was in Junior High School. I had a wonderful circle of friends and we were together every weekend. We went to movies together, and went to each other's houses, and celebrated each other's birthdays, and became very close. We remained close in our first year of high school. But one day, one of the group, a girl named June made a point to speak to each of the group privately. She told me, as she told the others, that she could no longer have anything to do with us. She explained that she was Jewish, and that she felt it was important to associate only with other Jews.

I tried to reason with her, wanting her to remain my friend, but the fact was that reason was on her side. Her faith was more important to her than even her friends. God, was more important to her than anything else. A few years later the synagogue that she attended was attacked several times, the windows broken on one occasion, horrible threats spray painted on the walls, and once partially burned.

While I feared for her safety and the safety of others that I knew who worshiped God there, I also realized that had a commitment that was stronger than mine. They had been forced to pay a price for what they believed.

But through it all, there was no demonstration of outrage, but rather meekness. There was no demanding of vindication, but rather a thirst for righteousness that can only come from God. There were no threats from the people of that synagogue, but rather a desire for peace. Their sorrow was private, not displayed for the media.

I never heard a word about it from any of my friends. But a year or so later the news media ran a piece that told of how they had rebuilt, and how they had grown since the attacks on their place of worship.

Those people did not attend the synagogue because they deserved to attend their or because they had a right to attend there, but because they were willing and even desirous to pay a price for their faith.

Our faith must cost us something if it is to have meaning to us. Moreover, our faith must cost us something if it is to have meaning to others.

If we wish to having the blessing given to the meek, then we will be about the business of becoming meek. If we desire the blessing of being merciful, then we will be about the business of practicing mercy. If we are desirous of being Christians, then we will be about the business of being Christians.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Copyright © 1996 W. Crews Giles

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