The following is text from a sermon I recently gave at Otterbein UMC….
Have you ever read a passage of scripture again after being away from it for an extended period of time? We stay away from them for any number reasons. One of the most common reasons is familiarity. We get in this mindset where we think we’ve seen and learned all we can from a piece of text. When we get back to the text or hear it preached, we usually find something new in it. I think the story of Moses before the burning bush is one such story.
We know the basics. Moses has hid himself away after killing a slave driver for a long period of time. Prior to this, Moses had a lavish lifestyle as an adoptive son of the Pharoah because it was assumed that he was Egyptian after he was brought into the family from being found in a creek in a basket his mother sent him downstream in to escape persecution. Moses finds out he is a Hebrew and in an instant, his power is gone. God comes into the picture at the burning bush and declares that Moses will lead the Hebrews to freedom from slavery.
But what about the conditions that surround the text? The Hebrews were slaves in Egypt for centuries. Centuries! They were oppressed, poor, disenfranchised, and had given up all hope in God. This is why Moses essentially asked “which God are you?”. These were a desparate, hurting, and broken people.
God has a unique response to the situation His people find themselves in. He enters into it directly. He chooses to reveal Himself to a man who is broken, spiritually exhausted, abandoned to death. What He offers is a face to face encounter so magnificent that Moses hides his face in fear. God won’t have any of it. “Take off your shoes!” God says as He declares the ground to be holy and works to accommodate Moses as a guest in His presence. “Come!” God declares as He invites Moses to engage with Him. And after their exchange, God assuredly tells Moses that He will be with Moses as Moses goes on to bless the Hebrews by God’s power to freedom.
Moses and the Hebrews had developed the idea that if God was still there, God had become distant. In some respects, they had a good case for their thoughts. Distance is alarming. There are times in our lives where we become distant from family, distant from friends. Some of you know this, but several years ago, my wife and I moved up here away from family. It was hard on us and at times, it still is. Life happens and takes us all to unexpected places of both joy and pain.
Sometimes, in the midst of both, it can feel like God is distant.
The response God offers Moses is the same Jesus offers the crowd He was speaking the beatitudes to. Here is Jesus being followed by a crowd of marginalized, sick, and suffering people. They couldn’t read, they couldn’t write, some had no homes and some had no food. We read that Jesus responds by beginning to speak to them. We envision Jesus scaling some large mountain and teaching secrets to the Disciples. The reality is different. Yes, Jesus was speaking to the Disciples, but the crowd could hear as well. Jesus could not escape the crowd and nor did He want to, instead He engaged them along with the Disciples. He entered into their lives directly looking people in the eye as He spoke.
Jesus, like God with Moses, has come close and begun to engage His people directly in comfort and blessing.
Most of us here have felt powerless in spirit. The difficult seasons of life where we are desperately longing for God to come close and fill our spirits again. We know what it is to mourn as well. We have all lost loved ones. Mourning has become all too common in our society as we see unarmed human beings gunned down by those who are supposed to protect them and then see retaliation by way of the gun as well. We see images of refugees fleeing countries in ways that risk their lives just to find safer shores and better living conditions. We watch helplessly as people in power in many situations use that power to oppress and harm others. All of these things prompt grief and we mourn over these situations we feel like we have no control over.
God’s response is the same as the response he had to Moses: “Come”. so that we may turn to God for direction and comfort. And “I will be with you” so that we know that God is close to us in our times of mourning.
Jesus then says “blessed are the meek”. Here He is still speaking to the Disicples, but He is also still speaking directly to us. What this means is blessed are those who let go of power and control in humility. To use power we have to empower and speak out for the disenfranchised and oppressed in our world. We are called to this reality. To take a stand for justice and equity in our world. To give up our tight grips on our lives and place them fully in God’s hands. I haven’t fully mastered this. I doubt many of us here can find comfort in embodying a life where we rely fully and totally on God and trust that God will take care of our needs as we care for the needs of others.
The discomfort we feel when we read this is appropriate in our context. Despite our best efforts to separate ourselves from the ways our society defines culture, it’s still engrained deep in us. This interesting emphasis on possessions and wealth paves the way for Mr. Monopoly to feel as hopeless as Oliver Twist. Power itself brings a sense of comfort. It can feel good for some to be near the top of the ladder looking down without a second guess about the people who work under them. Then reality creeps in as a bigger fish comes into that pond and reverses the dynamics bringing someone who was once at the top to the bottom of the ladder.
We can get the words of Jesus here twisted if we’re no careful. Jesus is not saying to seek out a poorness in Spirit. Nor is He saying we should strive to mourn and live a depressed existence. No, Jesus is speaking to a crowd full of impoverished people hungry for the Gospel. Hungry for agency in a world that denies it. He declares “there’s IS the kingdom of God” not “will be”. For Jesus, this is a present reality. These are the people who will inherit the world. And if you need evidence of that, global poverty is on the rise. Many of us in this room live lives the poorest of the poor can’t even envision in their wildest dreams.
In the Beatitudes it’s all about disparity and distance. We can find ourselves arguing over which restaurant we want to eat at never taking into account that others can’t even put a loaf of bread on the table. My wife can tell you that when we decide to go out for dinner, I’m not only picky about what I want to eat, but I’m indecisive as well. Sometimes we like a little pasta, sometimes we like a little steak, sometimes we like some of Otterbein’s signature coconut cake.
This is what power looks like. The power of choice. That’s something I remind the youth of every time we make food for Monday’s food kitchen. Because we get into this mindset that those who need help should be grateful for whatever they get and when they reject certain foods, we get frustrated. When they send something back we can find ourselves responding is disgust about how ungrateful they are.
The truth is that we are called to turn over our power of choice to them. To give them agency in this Kingdom we are striving to live into and they are ushered into.
Everyone in this room here today has experienced one or more of these realities. It can be easy when considering all that we have in our lives to dismiss our moments of mourning and powerlessness. But Jesus doesn’t leave abandon us in our moments of need. Hardly.
In the same way Jesus came to this crowd as a Light in the midst of the darkness of their lives, Jesus comes to us. Directly. Face to face. Eye to eye. Spirit to Spirit. You see, the Savior isn’t content to see His people suffer. He comes into our moments of darkness and turmoil and just as God, He makes straight the chaos that abounds. He fills up our spirits when they feel low and empty. He wraps His arms around us in comfort as we mourn and grieve.
He strengthens us to continue living into the Kingdom.
He strengthens us to become one step closer to full trust in God. We are strengthened to learn what type of power we hold that we can righteously concede to others. Most importantly, we are strengthened to know Christ more personally just as God called Moses to know Him on a personal level.
There’s one more thing we are called to do. We are called to bless others directly and personally. If the Spirit is in us and works through us, then our blessings in the name of Christ carry power.
This takes many shapes and forms. We put people on our prayer lists and pray for them. We do our Monday food kitchens. We participate in Open Doors.
These are great ministries and they rely on our power as Christians. We have the ability to add and take names off of the prayer list as we go, we set the menu for the food kitchens, and we provide the building for Open Doors. These realities about our power are not wrong in and of themselves, but they are truths that we need to be aware of.
Letting go of power and giving it to others can be difficult. I often ponder about how the disciples were able to do it knowing they were chosen by Jesus and traveling with Him as well. But they did. That gives me hope for my walk and I hope yours as well.
Today I’m going to ask you to practice letting go of that power righteously. In just a moment we’re going to do a “Blessing”. We are going to let go of the power we have to decide what you converse over with one another. In just a moment we are going to turn to someone near us and offer to bless them for the week ahead. If anyone has something else they would like a blessing over, by all means mention it. Then we are going to offer a prayer of blessing. There is no set formula. Just abandon yourself in this moment and pass the Light of Christ among one another.
Are they mourning? Do they feel spiritually empty?
Whatever the case may be, know that Jesus is ready to meet you, bless you, and bring you into the kingdom. Let His light guide you, strengthen you, and sustain you. Then do the same for others here and outside of these doors.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.