THE 4TH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY AD 2023
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
Hear what the LORD says:
Arise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the LORD,
and you enduring foundations of the earth,
for the LORD has an indictment against his people,
and he will contend with Israel.
“O my people, what have I done to you?
How have I wearied you? Answer me!
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.
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 righteous acts of the LORD.”
What Does the LORD Require?
“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?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told 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?
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
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. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 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. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 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; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness 'sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others 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, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Survival of the fittest, that’s the way the world works, doesn’t it? Only the strong survive? Only the strong get ahead? Only the strong will make it? Or so our buddy Charles Darwin would have us believe. We could ask him about it, but he’s dead. I guess he wasn’t fit enough to make survive.
Evolving, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing, getting better and better as a “species” and as people. We all began as pond scum and as the strong pond scum survived and reproduced it became better and better pond scum. The girl pond scum preferred the stronger guy pond scum so they produced less scummy scum that eventually turned into a fish or something, which somehow got legs over time and crawled out of the pond to become you and me, who aren’t supposed to be so scummy.
The whole thing smells a bit fishy. Maybe it’s because of the whole pond thing, but according to the world that’s how life is supposed to work. Survival of the fittest - only the strong survive, which in someways seems to be true, seems to be the way things work, but that does not mean it is the way that they are supposed to work, the way that they were meant to work. We can certainly see life going along these lines when we look around us at life in this world but that doesn’t mean that’s the way it was all planned out in the beginning.
The trouble with using what you see around you to figure out how life is meant to work is that you have to assume that what you see around you is working rightly. If what you see around you isn’t working rightly, if its all hopelessly broken, then watching what’s going on around you and using that to figure out how life works will only end up with a hopelessly broken way of seeing life, which is what I’d say happened to poor Mr. Darwin. The survival of the fittest kind of thinking fits right in with the idea that we can make it to the top on our own, which of course has been suggested before in a garden a long time ago.
The survival of the fittest all seems okay of course as long as you see yourself among the fittest. I wonder what all those who hold this view would think if some super bug mutation of Covid 19 wiped us all out, I guess the super bug would be the fittest then and I wonder if the whole pond scum thing would getting going all over again until we had evolved from the super bug. Scummy no longer we’d just be buggy. The truth is though, that the world actually does seem to work this way and it is in no small part because of the lie that became its foundation in Eden. When Adam believed the lie and took up the game of trying to one up God he brought the whole creation into this messed up way of life.
When Adam decided that his purpose in life was to get ahead of God he made getting ahead the purpose of the whole creation. Survival of the fittest became creation’s way as everyone and everything tried to clammer over each other to get ahead. But this is not the Lord’s way, beloved, as we see and hear about on the mountainside today. As the Lord opens His mouth His disciples hear, we hear, about another way, a way that seems all backward to us, a way that seems to go against the grain, a way that is all out of order because it is not the world’s way - the way that we see all around us. It is God’s way, the way that He created us in the beginning.
The blessings that Jesus speaks are not spoken to the strong, to the fittest or to the greatest They are spoken to the lowly, the needy and the “un-fittest.” Jesus seems to turn everything upside down. The bottom of the heap not the top of the heap receives all the blessings. The poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, the hungering, the thirsting, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the rejected, the persecuted - we’re not talking the strongest scum here. This is not the scum that the girl scum would go for. This is the scum that shouldn’t survive and yet it is blessed, Jesus says, in all of its weakness, in all of its need, in all of its un-scumminess.
You’d think as God’s children reborn from all life’s scumminess in the pure waters of our Baptism that we’d get this, beloved, that we’d have eyes to see and ears to hear to see through the false way of seeing life. You’d think that we’d see the whole treadmill of trying to get ahead as a product of that lie in Eden. You’d think that we would be ready to humbly take the place that God gives us in creation and simply use our gifts well for His glory and the good of our neighbour. You’d think that we would have the wisdom to leave the whole pond thing and its scumminess behind, but the lie was a good one and try as we might its hard not to fall for it over and over again.
You only have to take a moment and seriously ask yourself what you are living for? What is the purpose of your days and years? What are your goals? What are your motives? What are you working for? What do you want for your life? The life of your children? Grandchildren? Is it all about getting ahead? Is it all about being the fittest? What are you chasing after? What makes you feel successful? Does it all line up with what Jesus says? Even in the life of faith do you want to triumph over your sins? Be a better person, better Christian than others? Or are you content to learn about God’s all sufficient grace in the weakness He allows you to bear?
Yes, it’s hard to keep it all straight, hard not to let the whole scumminess seep its way in. It’s everywhere you turn, yes, it’s right there in your own hearts and minds as well. But thanks be to God, the Lord who sits down on the mountain side today and opens His mouth has come to us to speak His Word of truth to us to turn our world upside down and so set it to rights again for us. As He speaks these words of blessing He speaks them to us, so that we might see our sin where we have taken up the world’s way in our lives so that we might know our own brokenness and need and so be made to ready to be amongst the lowly who receive the Lord’s blessings.
For truly, beloved, it is through Jesus and Jesus alone that the blessings that He speaks today can be ours. He Himself is the blessed one who came down from heaven and suffered and died for all our scumminess and its scummy ways. He, though truly the strongest, the top of the heap, went down to the bottom of the pond for us on Calvary. Though He was the fittest, He did not survive for you and me but was crucified to death that the “un-fittest” sinners like us could survive not only in this life but into eternity. The blessed One was cursed that the cursed might be blessed through His bitter sufferings and death. The highest became the lowliest that the lowly might be lifted up to the right hand of the Father. The strongest became the weakest that we might live by His strength and His strength alone now and forever.
The blessed one is here for scummy you and scummy me, beloved. He is here to share His blessedness with us that we might be scummy no longer. He comes to save us from the never ending struggle of trying to be the fittest by making us fit in Himself. He comes to share His body and blood with us, His very life with us, His very self with us, so that we might know what God made us to be - creatures in His own likeness, crowned with His own glory, sharing in His own holiness, dressed in His own righteousness, created in love that we might be loved, receiving all by grace, every breath, every heart beat, every moment of every day given as a gift of God’s goodness to us as His creation.
Now that, beloved, is as far above pond scum as you can get, it’s what you are and always will be in Jesus - blessed children of God abiding in His grace, now and forever. Amen.