In God’s Name

Epiphany 4A – 2023 – Kentwood and Wyoming – The Rev. Canon Valerie Ambrose

The news this past week has been distressing.  We heard or more shootings, more mass shootings, violence by those committed to serve and protect, political rancor, rising inflation with food prices so high many families are struggling to feed themselves; anxiety, depression and PTSD are rising rapidly.  What in God’s Name is happening in our nation and our world?  What are we to do?

Our first reading this morning offers instruction to each and every one of us disciples of Jesus who strive to live as he would want us to live.  This instruction was expanded upon in our Gospel reading by Jesus as he taught his listeners in his own day.  But our first reading by the prophet Micah was given 800 years before Jesus walked and taught and preached and healed.  And, as with all prophets, the words Micah spoke were placed on his lips by God.  The creator of the universe gave Micah a simple question and a clear, succinct answer to pose to all who would hear him.  The prophet Micah asked his listeners this question, “What does the Lord require of you?”  He then answered that very question with a response that remains as true today as it was 2800 years ago.  The Lord requires that we “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.”   Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.

But century after century God’s people failed to do that, so God’s Son came to live among God’s people and model that very life.  Jesus did justice.  Jesus loved kindness and Jesus walked humbly with God as he sought to teach his followers that same message with specific examples.

In our Gospel reading Jesus’ saw the gathering crowds as his disciples came to him and he sat down among them.  And Jesus then taught his throngs of listeners how they could do justice and love kindness to help themselves and others in 2 ways:  Jesus taught them that they ought to help rectify the injustices that were (and are) so prevalent.  He also taught his listeners to see their blessedness, even amid their poverty, hunger and oppression under the Romans.  And once they shifted their thinking to recognize their blessedness, they would have a sense of peace and become peacemakers with others, teaching them to also see their own individual blessedness, even in the challenges and struggles of life.  

And as he often did, he no doubt surprised his listeners by saying, “Blessed are the poor; blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; blessed are those who mourn or weep; blessed are you when people revile you on my account.”

What in God’s Name were they to make of that?  What in God’s Name are we, his current followers to make of that?!  What have we learned and what have we yet to learn?

We expend billions of dollars to fund and bless battleships and tanks, but we refuse to properly fund education, or housing for the least among us.  Our silos are filled with rotting grain while everyday 3500 children die of thirst or starvation in our world for lack of food and clean water.

What are we disciples doing to do justice and love kindness for so many innocent victims?

The word disciple means learner.  As Christ’s present-day disciples, what have we learned from his explicit teaching?  What in God’s Name are we doing to show what we have learned?

The biggest buildings in our cities are no longer synagogues and churches with their steeples pointing heavenward.  The cathedrals of our day are banks and brokerage houses.  We hoard investments while the homeless wander our sidewalks. We spend millions advertising Viagra while 1/5 of our citizens go without health care.  We fight other nations in the name of preserving peace.  The rhetoric of our day is ludicrous.  And so was the message of Christ to many in his day.  But to his disciples, to his learners, to his apostles, to his ambassadors and followers, Christ’s words made perfect sense.  Enough sense that they gave over their lives to sharing those same words with others across the globe.  Enough sense that 2020 years later we learners still worship him for those words and we still strive to live them out.

What in God’s Name have we learned?

Here at Two Churches/Holy Trinity you have opened your doors to all who seek God and a relationship with God.  You generously support food pantries with food collection drives such as the upcoming friendly SOUPer Bowl competition, and you offer your land to grow produce for your neighbors and for Green Apple pantry.  And you are learning that the only just war is to fight the racial, political and socio-economic prejudices within our nation, our communities, our schools, our workplaces and even in ourselves.  When you fight those fights and as you welcome all here, you are clearly striving to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God.     

Our common rabbi or teacher, Jesus, taught us what Joan Chittister reminds us, that, “It’s not that peacemakers are not willing to die for something.  It’s simply that a peacemaker is not willing to kill for it.”  Such was the teaching in the very life of our rabbi, our teacher Jesus.  Our Prince of Peace was not willing to kill anyone, but he was willing to die for everyone.  And that’s just what he did, in God’s Name, in his own Name.

He taught what his listeners in his own day and in ours what we need to learn, and then he gave up his all for us all.

Jesus declined wealth and power and adoration and instead accepted humiliation, false accusations, excruciating physical punishment and eventual death for wrongs he never committed. He gave up everything for those with nothing.  In the words of Micah, Christ fulfilled his purpose as he did justice, loved kindness and walked humbly with his God and ours.

It is that walk or that journey to God that matters.  It is the servanthood in God’s Name that matters, not our wealth or status or denomination.

Our world is stressed.  People are anxious, tired, uncertain and fearful. Individuals and nations are acting out their stress in hostile and even violent ways.  Personal safety is threatened, much less economic safety for the marginalized.  Peace seems far off for most.

But we can be agents of God’s healing grace and peace for ourselves and all those we encounter.  As the Dalai Lama reminds us, “Let us develop inner peace that we might obtain world peace.” 

Your rector is a master of focusing on inner peace.  Like Fr. Mike, through prayer, meditation, time for reflection and intentional spreading of God’s Epiphany light and love, any and all of us can find greater peace within ourselves, and can also help others find peace as well, through our welcome and genuine inclusion of others, especially those who differ from us in any way. 

One day each of us will depart this life and enter into eternal life.

As we each go through the gate into eternity and come face to face with our God, will we be blessed for feeding the poor, welcoming all and comforting the weeping?

In God’s Name I hope so.

In God’s Name that is our teaching.

In God’s Name that is our calling and how we are to live out the covenant of our baptism.

In God’s Name that is or responsibility, for if we don’t feed and comfort, who will?

In God’s Name that is our opportunity.

And in God’s Name that is our privilege.

Let us praise God and serve God’s creation that we might know peace in our hearts and advocate for peace in Kentwood/Wyoming and beyond…in Michigan, our nation and our world.

Let us pray and speak out that we will return to the day when we export more wheat than weapons.

Let us pray to be guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit to love and serve all God’s creation.  By God’s grace we will be so strengthened. As Christ’s committed disciples we will so learn.  By Christ’s love we will be so led to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.

About the author: Occasional Guest Preachers

It is a continuing tradition at Two Churches to have occasional guest preachers. At times these may include supply pastors/priests, or members of the congregation who have received special instruction in homiletics. If you are a member of Two Churches and feel called to contribute in this way, please contact Rev. Mike.