The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
30 January 2011
A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
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.
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
This Sunday we hold our Annual Parish meeting. Each parish has its own special way of having the Annual Meeting. The parish that sponsored me for ordination, Christ Church Harvard Square, had an endless meeting with contested elections, at least half a dozen half-hour long reports, and lively debate on whatever issue (or non issue) might be before the parish. On the other hand, the suburban Boston parish I served during an interim period, had a mercifully short meeting with, shall we say, Soviet style elections. Whatever the style of the meeting, however, they always share important elements: the rector reflects on the year gone by and looks to the future—somehow before this year I had not connected in my head this rector’s address with the State of the Union speech—and lay leaders are elected and the parish budget presented.
The election of lay leaders is perhaps the most important thing that happens, as this forms the basis for the representative democracy of our democratic catholic Church. Indeed, it is particularly important this year as the vestry will elect our convention delegates who will vote for the next bishop of our diocese. Yet, it always seems that the budgets and elections bring with them serious business-like thoughts. The received wisdom of the world is, quite reasonably, on our minds. Our readings today, however, remind us that Christ makes foolish the wisdom of the world. Yes, we must be good and faithful stewards of the gifts we have been given, but we must also remember that it is Christ who teaches us how to be such good and faithful stewards. Our ultimate responsibility is to God and it is his standards, goals, and expectations that we aim to meet as best we can.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul writes that “God has made foolish the wisdom of the world.” God’s wisdom is not the same as the conventional wisdom and priorities of human beings. God's wisdom, although it may seem foolish and different to us, is the wisdom to which we must aspire. Where our conventional wisdom—the “signs” demanded by the Jews and the "wisdom" of the Greeks—is rooted in the world of theory and ideas, God's wisdom is rooted in history, particularly God's intervention into history in the person of Jesus Christ. While Jesus’s story, Jesus teaching, Jesus’ life death and resurrection may seem outlandish, Paul reminds us that all those things actually took place in the world, in our world, and in happening changed us for ever.
One of those moments of history that shifted our priorities and showed us that Jesus came and turned the conventional wisdom of the world on its head was when he taught the people those touchstones of the moral life that we now call the beatitudes. Whether he proclaimed this wisdom just as Saint Matthew describes, or whether it was more like Saint Luke's version of events is not really the point. The point is that in these eight pronouncements enumerating those whose lives are blessed, those whose lives and actions are looked upon with favour by God, are not those a first century man or woman living under Roman rule would have expected. Whom would your average Roman or Judean-on-the-street have expected to hear praised? those who adhere to the law in all its details, those who are happy, the strong, the successful in business, brave soldiers and military leaders. Like today, these are those whom the wisdom of the world might have honoured.
Instead, Jesus tells anyone within range to hear that the blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. These are the ones who who struggle with their faith, but persevere, who show love and compassion for others, who bring together those who disagree, and especially those who are willing to do all these things at great personal cost or risk.
Jesus turns upside down the conventional wisdom of the world and honours those who, in whatever their vocation, have aligned their wills and priorities with God's purpose. Jesus tells us that our priorities should be God's priorities and that God’s priority is the triumph of love and the achievement of his kingdom. It is nothing less that what Micah tells us of our duty as God's children, “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Jesus also tells us that making this shift is not easy. He tells us that we should expect to meet opposition and that we are blessed, doubly blessed, when we are persecuted having stood up for God’s wisdom over the wisdom of the world.
As we receive the Sacrament today that knits our bodies with God's body and connects even more closely with God in Christ, let us go and do the work of our Church at our Annual Parish meeting, holding God's priorities in our heart, rather than the wisdom of the world. Let us transact the business of our parish and of our Church as good stewards of the gifts we have been given, and still hold our community to the standards of the beatitudes.
Andrew Charles Blume+
New York City
Thomas Aquinas, 28 January 2011
© 2011 Andrew Charles Blume