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    Jan 29, 2017

    The Ultimate Relationship

    The Ultimate Relationship

    Speaker: The Rev. Becky Crites

    Category: Journey

    Keywords: blessing, calling, follow

    The Beatitudes point out that Jesus’ way isn’t the way of making life easy for those who will follow. But they will find they are fortunate, they will be satisfied for this is about the ultimate relationship of life, their one with God.

    The Rev. Dwight J. Zscheile tells the story of small group gathering at his wife’s church in Minnesota. They begin by asking people to tell a story of a time they felt they had lived the way of Jesus. The hope was that through these stories would come some common threads which might weave them together as a church. To their surprise, people found this a difficult question. Even more, language concerning who Jesus was and is, seemed hard to speak. Some spoke of their relationship with Jesus through the lens of ethics. Their way of following Jesus was to be a good person. Others confessed they were not even sure about Jesus. But there were some who could frame their understanding of Jesus and their way of life through biblical stories.

    Some mainline church members who have struggled to stay with the church they love would not be surprised by these results. For them, this explains the great loss of membership over the last 30 years. A perceived lack of connection with Jesus is evidence of denominations and their churches leading to a more shallow faith commitment. And the growth of non-denominational and evangelical churches supports this assumption. While no one is blind to societal shifts away from church, the reasons are not so clear. A 2007 survey of over 400 evangelical churches found that belonging to these does not deepen one’s spiritual life nor lead people to the way of life to which Jesus calls us all. Hidden in the explosion of numbers, money and buildings was dissatisfaction with the role of the church in their spiritual life.

    Every organization fights against missional drift. Dave Thomas, who founded Wendy’s, started this chain after working for years at Kentucky Fried Chicken. As KFC expanded their menu, he noticed people struggled with their order. Having something for all, he felt would eventually weaken sales. And so he started a restaurant that would do just one thing well. Companies and organizations that do not know their market place, lose market space until they are “rebranded.” So, too, for people. When your life, your work, your commitments weigh on you, there are really only two choices: you either explode internally or you make changes. In such critical times of life, we take inventory at what is basic for living and loving. Whether we do this before or after the explosion, the way out is always an internal focus on basics needs and a look at our own strengths and weaknesses. But, my friends, the absolute best way to come through such times of crisis is when we invite others to help us with our life inventory.

    For a faith community missional drift, the not knowing who and whose we are and then following that way, leads to a staleness, a limping along, even death. Now the movement that Jesus called into being doesn’t die, cannot die. And the realm of God really is on its way. But any way that has led to staleness of the people must give way to the new life God is calling to us. We are in such a time at Epiphany. We are limping along. While I can see some evidence of new life, I do not yet know what this means for Epiphany. My friends, no one does. But we must not confuse this unknowing with floundering. We must not stay in this boat, fishing for the same old fish. We must step out in faith that these early looks, that what some prophets among us are seeing and feeling, is new life God is casting our way.

    Now, if this sermon were a Woody Allen movie, we have reached the point where he steps into the scene and makes pointed comments. And Woody would point to me, look at you and say, “This woman is an idiot. She is preaching last week’s gospel.” He may be right. For I really like to play around with last week’s gospel story. But this week’s gospel builds on that call of Jesus to get out of the boat and put down deteriorating nets. But after such a call – what is next? Holding the image of folks focused deeply on the work of their daily life and then just walking away into something unknown is important in understanding what comes next for us as the people of God at Epiphany.

    Now, when organizations rebrand themselves, they take stock of all that they have been and are. Those first called I think were primed to be called. Their hearts were searching something more. And so they hit the road with Jesus, watching him preach, teach and heal. We mustn’t overlook what Matthew lifts up in the next part of the story. Immediately after they set feet on the shore to walk with Jesus, they follow him as he preaches, teaches and heals. Over all the preaching and teaching, Matthew emphasizes that all who were drawn to Jesus brought with them someone in need of a cure. But the words that come after this whirlwind tour of healing are the real focus.

    Jesus sits down on a mountain for a conversation that gives context on what God is up to in the world. Jesus has been preaching and teaching, offering words and actions that lead to healing. And then he reveals that this new realm his coming has brought is about this: Blessed are…..

    Now, there is much discussion over this Greek word we translate as blessed. Some more recent translations use - Happy are… But even this doesn’t reach into the meaning of the Greek word. Better would be “We are fortunate” or “We are satisfied.”

    Jesus isn’t blessing the people. He’s been doing that in his travels. But right now he is telling those whom he has called that the world is being turned upside down. But they will find they are fortunate, they will be satisfied for this is about the ultimate relationship of life, their one with God. It won’t be easy, it won’t make the road smooth, but in all that is and is to come, God is there. These Beatitudes point out that Jesus’ way isn’t the way of making life easy for those who will follow. They are a teaching to hold onto. But it builds on what Jesus did in the beginning – he calls us out of the way we are living and working and rebrands that way. It is all for God and this realm that God is calling into being. In an odd way, I wonder if these blessings don't seem a bit antithetical to what Jesus has been doing. Jesus has been making people whole and then he sits down and tells them it is fortunate to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be persecuted. Doesn’t that upset our apple cart?

    Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount offers those early followers the teaching for their journey. Where this speaks to me today for the people of Epiphany, the people of Danville, the people of the United States, is do we really know the Jesus that calls us? Or do we know the one the world has created to grow successful institutions and in doing so tamed the gospel and made it less real for our lives?

    Jesus wants us to know that in all our circumstances of life, God sees us, God knows us, God is there for us. So when our spirit is poor, we are fortunate, for the realm of God will be the light invading our darkness. When we mourn, we are fortunate we have a God who will sit in our hearts and cry with us. Those who are of a gentle nature are fortunate for they are not owned by the world. We are filled, as food or drink cannot fill us, when life with God is the table where we sit. When our being is grounded in mercy, we are fortunate for God inhabits our heart – and what a fullness that is. When we are guided by love, we are fortunate because our days are set by God. We are fortunate when we truly let God parent us. Sibling rivalry goes away and we can share our toys with others. In such is the family of God formed. And when the world is angry and against our participation in God’s ways, we are fortunate because God’s vison will become stronger for us. The power of the wicked is still at work, but you have, we have, the vision and the voice of God and God’s prophets, make our way.

    Do you see this gospel to which we are called? How will we, as a people together, who come from different places, have different voices, been given by God different perspectives, untame what has been given us and live into the wildness of what God says is being blessed, being fortunate, being satisfied? The blessing that Jesus teaches is that God is there in all things, all ways and loves us all. Even in this upside down world of today. The blessing that Jesus calls is to an active love for each other. And sometimes that doesn’t feel like a blessing. But in an upside down God’s way, it really is.

    My friends, in Jesus, there is our beginning.