Welcome! I am the Reverend Kenneth H. Saunders III (Fr. Ken). I am an Episcopal Priest in the Diocese of Maryland. Here are some of my sermons delivered in the context of worship. I serve as the 7th rector of the wonderful community of Trinity Church in Towson, MD.

[NOTE: Sermons (or Homilies - commentaries that follow scripture lessons) are specifically designed to be heard (and are written for the ear) so they may contain sentence fragments and be difficult to read. They are NOT intended to be theological discourses or academic papers.]

Sunday, January 30, 2011

RCL Year A (Epiphany 4) - January 30, 2011

The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Christ Church
Cleveland, NC

RCL Year A (Epiphany 4) - January 30, 2011

Micah 6:1-8
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Matthew 5:1-12
Psalm 15

For most folks, the readings today are not very comfortable… In fact, they are deeply deeply challenging. We have all heard the familiar verses before, but I don’t know how much we, as a community of faith, actually understand what we were hearing or what we were reading. These are well known passages, but if we all understood the depth of what the scripture was saying to us, we might start to feel that we have come up short.

As Christians, followers of the way of Jesus Christ, as his disciples, the words in Holy Scripture consistently challenge us to live in a way that is different. A way that is healing and restoring… a way that calls us to a level of righteousness before the living God.

We must first realize that the scriptures (especially the Old Testament lessons) have a Jewish context… and the socio-economic and political environment in which it was written bears much on how we interpret the writings and try to make them relevant to today’s world.

That’s what makes it so difficult for us... that’s what makes it uncomfortable. We’re not Jewish, nor do we understand what it means to be Jewish, we are just normal everyday Christian folk. So, we don’t understand the depth of the meaning of the text from the people that actually wrote it.

We come here on Sunday and then go home and go about our day to day business – we may or may not come next Sunday or read or study scripture during the week – and we may or may not participate in a ministry beyond our Sunday worship. Somehow, being a “comfortable Christian” has become the stylish…

Now for those wiggling in their pew a bit, I would like to share with you the context from which the prophet Micah (in the Old Testament lesson), and Jesus (in the Gospel lesson) are coming from this morning. The term I would like to introduce you to is called Tikkun Olam (say it with me… Tikkun Olam) It is a phrase in Hebrew that literally means “repairing the world”…

But how do we do as Christians repair the world? How do we use what we have and how we act to fix what is wrong with society. There, for us, is the challenging part… it is the piece that calls us beyond our worship and puts our love of God into action. It calls us out of the mode of just showing up on Sunday and sitting in the pew, listening or not listening to what the priest has to say, and puts the reality of the living God to work in society – out there in the streets… It is truly being the church in the world…

That is exactly what ALL of these readings are about – the idea of “world restoration” – Tikkun Olam brought about by the way we act and its influence over others.

It starts out this morning with the prophet Micah, who is preoccupied with social justice. He is the champion of the oppressed and under-privileged of his time. Micah verbally attacks the socio-economic injustices of his day by reminding the people of Israel of God’s favor for them. The people are called by Micah to repentance and again turn their hearts to God – turn their hearts from the worship of wealth and pagan idols, and restore the world rightly to God through their actions and their influence.

After the peoples pleading of – what shall we do? How will we make it right? How will we once again get back in right relationship with God? They go down a laundry list of sacrifices… Sacrifices that they would expect worthy of the most High God… burnt offerings, rams, and calves, and oil… even the ultimate sacrifice of the first born…

But then Micah reminds them of the Tikkun Olam of their responsibility to repair the world…
the responsibility to do what is “required” by God… to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. It’s not a request or even a hint, but a requirement to repair the world by doing three things… to do justice, to love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.

The idea of Tikkun Olam even makes its way into the gospel story this morning… Words the Jewish audience of Matthew would understand. Jesus says, Blessed are the poor in spirit, Blessed are those who mourn, Blessed are the meek, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, Blessed are the merciful, Blessed are the pure in heart, Blessed are the peacemakers, Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account…

Jesus’ list of those blessed, known better to us as the beatitudes, are really his way of reminding the people that he is talking to of the “Tikkun Olam” that God requires of them… of how to repair the world… He uses examples of things that are not right in society, the poor, the ones considered weak and hungry, those that would be otherwise despised for challenging the status quo… He says that they will be blessed or “happy” in the repaired and restored world – that he calls the Kingdom of God – and it’s the people’s responsibility to bring it about. Just as the prophet Micah before him, Jesus calls the crowd to the restorative action to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

Likewise, as followers of Jesus, as his disciples, we are required by God to “Tikkun Olam” we are called to repair the world. But that’s where it gets difficult for us, those of us that do very little beyond our Sunday morning worship. Scriptural teachings are not easy to follow, and just because we have received salvation through faith in our Lord Jesus, doesn’t mean we are exempt from what our faith requires of us.

Every time we see an injustice in society, we are required as a church to help right the wrong. We are required to do what we can to repair the world’s injustice – to uplift the fallen and demand equity for ALL of God’s children, even those different from us. It is manifested through our ministries like our work with the food bank, it’s the village kids project, it’s the work with the foster children in Rowan County and it’s our work abroad saving lives with nets for life. The world’s poor, the destitute, the forgotten, and the hungry are to be remembered and restored, are to be clothed, housed, fed, and protected in our communities effort to do justice.

On top of this, we are required to be kind to one another, to put aside the hate and divisions that divide us and be reconciled and display a genuine loving kindness. This is tough! It’s not the plastic exterior notion of just “getting along” or being nice. We are called to do the hard work within ourselves – and turn to God for help in repentance and then outwardly display God’s love and kindness toward one another regardless of our differences.

Then, finally, we are required to walk humbly with our God. I think that the issue to work on here is the humility. Saying we are humble and actually being humble are two totally different things. Humility demands that we come to a realization that its not about us and we don’t have it all figured out all the time. It requires a submissive approach to our worship, prayer, and study as we listen and watch for the presence of God in our lives.

God has exercised a model of humility for us in the person of Jesus Christ. God has emptied God’s self in complete humility and became one of us and lived among us, in order to model for us what is required of us.

And if we remember the story correctly, as great a teacher and healer and prophet as Jesus was, the society rejected him, convicted him and sentenced him to die as a common criminal. So, if we are actually doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God as Jesus did; we might just get hung on our own cross.

It doesn’t surprise me that the stated mission of the Church in our teaching (the catechism) is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. Our mission as a church is not a mission of just Sunday worship – but, it’s the difficult mission of repair and restoration. A “fixing” of the world so that ALL people might be in unity with God AND each other in our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Tikkun Olam” – repair the world… do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. Amen!

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