“You Are Enough”
January 29, 2023 - Cobleskill United Methodist Church , Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Hear what the Lord says:
Rise, 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 slavery; and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
5 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.’
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 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?’
8 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?
5 1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
Do you remember last week? We talked about how fast Jesus had grown up and how he was just beginning his ministry at the point when John the Baptist was arrested. We talked about how Jesus’ first sermon was only one line: “Repent, turn, for the Kingdom of God is near.” We also talked about how this was intentional language meant to draw a comparison between the status quo reign and domination of the powers that be (Rome, in Jesus’ day), and the way it could be in God’s reign. Violence and tyranny replaced with peace and justice.
It's been quite a week since we last met. A hard week. Two mass shootings and footage released of yet another incident of deadly police brutality targeting a black man. Israel-Palestine conflict escalating. Continuing war and devastation in Ukraine. This was just one week in our modern world, a week that is becoming more and more average in the sad state of things. A week that further demonstrates how close the Kingdom of God may be, and yet how much distance we have yet to go.
Jesus knew that turning from our current world toward God’s world was never going to be easy. After he preached that first sermon last week and called his disciples, he began to understand just how hungry people were for this different world. Jesus and his followers went from town to town where slavery, violence and oppression and illnesses had become so normal and average, people had lost sight completely of what an alternative way looked like. News spread ahead that Jesus was different. He came to heal illness and preach about another way. News spread that he was a safe person to come to with your problems. That he could see people for who they were and didn’t just judge them based on their situation in life. He wanted to heal, not condemn.
We pick up there today. “Jesus saw his ministry was drawing huge crowds,” is literally how the Gospel began today. Jesus knew now was the time to say more about what he meant by the “Kingdom of God.” So he climbed a hill, found a quiet place and began what would become his most famous sermon, “The Sermon on the Mount.” We’re going to spend the next three weeks digging into parts of this sermon. But for today, we begin simply where Jesus began. And what did he feel like, of all things, was most important to start with?
Now, generally speaking, a lot of people turn toward to religion with the general longing, how do I get blessed? How can I stand apart from the world and be favored by God? What can I do so that God will treat me kindly? A lot of religions and denominations spend a lot of time arguing about who’s entitled to God’s blessing and who’s not. These questions have guided and divided people for thousands of years. They did in Jesus’ day and they still do in our day. So it makes sense that any religious figure, not to mention Jesus himself, would begin their ministry with a teaching about… divine blessing.
The only thing is, if the audience that day was expecting Jesus to lay out a list of instructions on how to get blessed by God they were surely surprised and perhaps confused by what followed. What unfolded was an entirely upside-down picture of conventional blessedness. In fact, I think sometimes we miss how absolutely upside-down the Beatitudes sound because the words today are so familiar to us.
The truth is, Jesus was speaking into a world that favored and glorified people when they were their best, healthiest and put-together selves. And based on our lists with the children this morning, that’s still pretty much the expectation in today’s culture. If you just pray enough, you’ll be healed. If you just work hard enough, you’ll be successful. Only the winners matter. Only those who are faithful enough and keep their lives put together enough will be the ones who are blessed. That was the kind of sermon people may have been expecting from Jesus. In fact, it’s the kind of sermon many “religious” people still preach.
But not Jesus. It's against all those expectations that Jesus climbs a mountain with poor, hurting and oppressed people and says something entirely different. This morning, we heard Lisa read this passage from the Message. It’s a paraphrase of the scripture that puts Jesus’ words into more modern-day language so that we can hear clearly and freshly. This is what Jesus said:
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less.
And Jesus goes on.
You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. You’re blessed when you care. You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me.
This sermon by Jesus was not a how-to manual on how to become blessed. Not at all. Instead, it was a declaration of who was already blessed and it wasn’t what people expected. In a world that rewards and glorifies success and wealth and the power of positive thinking, Jesus looks at the reality of those who have endured great loss, whose bodies are failing them, those who have been bullied and teased, those who refused to fight back, those who feel weak and helpless. By opening his most famous sermon with a declaration that these are the people who are blessed, Jesus is telling us that a blessing itself is something that cannot be earned. It is given unmerited to us. Wealth, winning, strength, smartness, power, these are measures that the world keeps for success, not God. Jesus is here to say what the rest of the world says about us… it just doesn’t matter. You are enough as you are. The only thing that truly matters is what God says about you.
The power of what the world says about us can be stifling. And I have an example. I’m not one to use a lot of sports illustrations in my sermons, because I’m not one who watches or plays a lot of sports. But today I have an exception. Some of you know that I grew up in the state of Kentucky and what you may or may not know is that there is really only one pass-time that everyone in the state shares and its cheering on good college basketball. Even to this day, I clear my schedule to see my Kentucky Wildcats play on the TV. And usually they’re pretty good. Everyone thought this was going to be one of their best years in a while. But as the season progressed they lost a game. And then another and another. And with each successive loss, the commentary from the fans and the analysts got harsher and harsher. There were calls for the coach to be fired. Individual players were being constantly called out for their mistakes. It got to the point where the negative things being said was so overwhelming, the players started to let it affect them. Even more losses came. So the coach had idea. On the night before a big game, he did something drastic and unprecedented. He took each player’s phone away. For 24 hours ahead of the game. Like any other 18, 19 and 20 year olds, they hated it. But he told them this: You have to stop listening to what the world says about you. You are a good team. Don’t be who they say you are. Play your own game. Be you. That’s enough.
And you know what, they played their best the next day and ended up winning against a good Tennessee team. And then they won again and again. The sports casters commented on how this looked like a completely different Kentucky team all of a sudden. Now, they won’t always win (in fact as I wrote my sermon last night they lost….) but what’s more important than winning, actually, is that they know their worth isn’t based on whether they win or not but on how well they can tune out what other people say about them and be true to themselves.
This was Jesus’ message. What the rest of the world says about you does not define you. When you are true to yourself, you are enough just as you are. We can’t earn or maneuver our way into God’s mercy. God wants us to know first and foremost, we are blessed when we have nothing at all to offer or celebrate. At our emptiest we are enough because God fills us up.
We heard Tom read Micah 6 today which ends with the well-known verse: “what does the Lord require of you: do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” These are powerful lines that underscore Jesus’ point. Micah spends the previous few verses calling out all the things “religious” people often do to try to earn God’s blessing. Bowing super low, bringing extra nice offerings, pouring out rivers of oil, sacrificing things of great worth… all to try to earn favor with God. Micah reminds us that this is never what God wants from us. God wants us to know that we are blessed without any offering and that once we understand how blessed we are, then we respond with blessing toward others: kindness, justice and humility.
There are no easy weeks to be alive in this world, and this one was no exception. The news is full of heart-break and injustice. The reign of power and violence is strong in our world. But Jesus wants us to know this: God’s kingdom is near and it begins only when we see those who are beaten as blessed. When we see those who stand up for peace with justice as blessed. When we see the child who is bullied and teased as blessed. When we see the cancer patient as blessed. When we see the homeless woman as blessed. When we see ourselves in all of our vulnerabilities and shortcomings as blessed, just as we are. The kingdom of God begins when, out of the wideness of God’s mercy, we find our footing to be who we were meant to be. Kind. Just. Humble. That will be enough. I promise. That will be enough.
Grace and Peace,