"It takes all kinds: blessed to be a blessing"
Sermon given by the Rev. Clare L. Hickman on January 29, 2017
Texts: Micah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12
Clare L. Hickman
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
Jan 29, 2017—Epiphany 4A
Micah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12
“Because it takes all kinds, that’s why!” This, I believe, could be the tag line for Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which is why it’s still such a treasure for the church, 2000 years later. He has reminded us that we are all united in Christ. Later he will speak of a variety of gifts, and the different parts of the body. And today we hear him assuring us that God’s mission and truth are embodied not through those considered wise and powerful by the world’s standards, but in the foolish and the weak.
It takes all kinds. The kingdom of God is not the kingdom of God unless it contains all kinds of gifts, all kinds of people, all levels of income and education and sophistication. All of us are part of the crazy parade that is the Kingdom of God breaking through into this world. And we as a community are a vision of the kingdom precisely TO THE EXTENT that we can see ourselves as one community that needs every last one of us. A community that needs your failings as much as your strengths, needs your doubts as much as your faith; needs your weirdness and that person’s dependability; needs the fact that sometimes you are on the ball and somedays you really aren’t.
Because, hear the words of St. Paul again: God chose what is foolish, weak and low in the world to remind us to trust not in our own awesomeness but in God. And I have to tell you, I hate that. I would much rather think that my task in this world is to keep working on my own awesomeness. Even if that means I might have to beat myself up sometimes for not being awesome enough, I still prefer that as a goal: perfect awesomeness!
But God knows (literally), perfect awesomeness achieves nothing good in this world. For one thing, it kinda makes people hate you. More significantly, it makes people feel inferior. And it creates the utterly untrue (heretical) belief that what God honors, rewards and blesses in this world is perfection, is worldly success.
When the fact is: Blessed are the poor in spirit. The sermon on the mount, right? Which is when we realize that God is totally insane. Because, this is what WE know: Blessed are the rich. Blessed are the self-assured. Blessed are the powerful, the beautiful, the over-educated. These things are so obvious to us that they have a hashtag (#blessed!). But in the sermon on the Mount, Jesus looks out at the crowds and offers them the radical suggestion that blessing is not synonymous with success, wealth, fame or power. Blessing is solely about being declared worthy by God, honored by God, assured of the presence of God going with them. And in this he assures them (assures us), blessed are YOU too. Blessed are those who are unsure, blessed are those who are downtrodden, blessed are those who struggle.
And I don’t think this is a road-map, suggesting that we be more mournful so as to gain God’s favor! Rather, it’s an assurance, a declaration of blessing upon everyone who was there, and upon us all: You, you are blessed, even if you can barely begin to believe such a thing. You are worthy of honor, even if you don’t possess any of the things the world values. God is with you, God is with you, God is with you.
And this is our gift to the world as Christians. To the extent that we, as a community, can truly believe and act as though all of us are necessary to the whole; to the extent that we can truly believe and act as though all our gifts and strengths and weaknesses and faults are part of the body; to the extent that we can accept that we (even on our bad days) and all the people in the pews next to us (even the ones who drive us crazy) are equally loved and honored by God; to that extent, we can then offer that blessing to the world.
It’s going to take all of us, because the message isn’t complete unless it has all of us. The truth won’t be there if we only send the impressive parts, the obviously strong parts, the stereotypically beautiful parts of ourselves and our community. It has to be all of it, otherwise we obscure the good news, we obscure God’s radical up-ending of societal values, we get in the way of the healing that God offers through Jesus.
We are blessed, every last one of us. God honors us. God lives within us. God goes with us. Believe it, even on the days when it seems like everything is going to hell and your only hashtag is going to be #WTF. On the days when everything is going wrong, God walks beside you, even then. Believe it, all of us need to believe it, so that we can go forth and offer that truth. We can go forth and be a blessing to the world.
As I considered Paul’s wisdom, I was reminded of something I heard recently: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” It’s like a caravan through the desert … or like any long journey … you will need each other, will need extra drivers, will need map readers, will need entertainers and peacemakers and planners and so many other things that you might not even have imagined when you set out. We will need each other, as we move into a new year.
In past year, we have given of ourselves, invested so that we could reinforce this place: this address where the kingdom of God can grow and flourish. And we’ve begun a new ministry, answering Jesus’ call to visit the sick and lonely, and who knows how that might grow. In the coming year, we have new dreams of new ways for us to connect with each other and deepen our faith; we have hopes of reaching out to young adults and seekers of all ages; we have visions of cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for those who have no family feast to attend; and we have sacred questions about how to form our youngest members in their relationship with God.
We have so many dreams. And we will need artists, and we will need teachers. We will need those who can love, and we will need those who can write budgets. We will need the wise, and we will need those who are faithful enough to challenge us to listen to the Holy Spirit rather than our own intelligence. We will need it all, if we are to be what we are called to be, which is a blessing to the world.
And so I want to invite you to stand as you are able, and to close your eyes for a minute, and hear this promise: that you are blessed. That God goes with you in your wisdom and your foolishness, in your power and in your powerlessness, in your joy and in your sorrow. God grants you honor. You are an integral part of the kingdom of God. Now, open your eyes, and look to the person to your right … and say to them, “YOU are blessed so that you can be a blessing. You are blessed, so that you can be a blessing.”[i]
(and if the person to your left didn’t get a blessing yet, because they are on the end of the row, turn back to them, and say it to them: You are blessed, so that you can be a blessing.”).
We are, in fact, blessed to be a blessing to the world. May it be so. Amen.
[i] David Lose, “God bless you,” January 23, 2011, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1542