January 29, 2017

4 Epiphany

Micah 6: 1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Mark 5:1-12


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

Earlier this week, White House Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, was interviewed on Meet The Press, an interview which took place two days following President Trump’s inauguration.   Ms. Conway was commenting on a series of false statements that White House press secretary Sean Spicer had made inflating the size of the crowd at President Trump’s inauguration. Ms. Conway told NBC’s Chuck Todd, “You’re saying it’s a falsehood, and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.” Mr. Todd responded, “Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.”

I don’t know about you, but my facebook feed was full of responses to this interview ranging from the satirical, in which a friend posted a picture of a large plate of French fries and the caption “I’m enjoying my alternative salad,” to the more serious in which others invoked a political and social culture once invoked by author George Orwell in his classic novel, 1984. 

However you feel about alternative facts, the simple reality is that they are really nothing new.  In fact I believe alternative facts are at least as old as the Bible itself, and we know this because the Bible is full of alternative facts.  Take the creation story – most well educated people believe that the universe has unfolded over a period of billions of years, however the Bible teaches alternative facts – the universe was created in seven days.  Who is right – science or the Bible?

There are many other examples of the Bible contradicting itself, offering alternative versions to familiar stories, and today we hear one of these alternative tellings of a familiar story.  Today it is the Sermon on the Mount, from Matthew’s Gospel – Jesus’s unparalled teaching of what it means to live a Christ-like life.    

The problem with the Sermon on the Mount is that there are different, and in some ways, conflicting versions.  The version of the Sermon on the Mount we hear in Matthew’s Gospel is easily the preferred version of this teaching in America, as it lets rich people like many of us pretend that Jesus never said anything woeful about us while also pretending that we’re the intended recipients of the blessings he proclaimed for the poor. 

There is another version of the Sermon on the Mount, from the Gospel of Luke, that is not nearly as forgiving. 

I will give you an example.  In our reading from Matthew today, Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  In the version from Gospel of Luke (6:20), Jesus says it differently: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”  Did you get the difference?  In Matthew, Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit, and in Luke, Jesus says, blessed are the poor.  Who are the poor in spirit?  The usual answer is that the poor in spirit are people who have more than enough money and material goods, but are lacking… spirit.  Who are the poor?  They are all around us, even in this gentrifying neighborhood - they are the young family Nancy Simpson and I met outside the church last week with two young children, no car, little food. 

So, we have two versions of one teaching Jesus gave, and they mean two very different things.  Which version is the truth and which one is the alternative fact?  It doesn’t matter – we need both.  Luke’s version reminds us of our moral obligation to feed and clothe the poor, period.  Matthew’s version, the version we hear today, reminds us that we are blessed, no matter what condition we are in.  If today you are feeling angry, scared, hopeful, anxious, joyful or whatever condition you find yourself in – you are blessed.  I have found no better response to Jesus’s teaching of blessing than in country singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams in a song she wrote in 2011, simply called “Blessed.” She sings:

"We were blessed by the minister, who practiced what he preached, we were blessed by the poor man, who said heaven is within reach, we were blessed by the neglected child, who knew how to forgive, we were blessed by the battered woman who didn’t seek revenge.  We were blessed by the mother who gave up her child, we were blessed by the soldier, who gave up his life, we were blessed by the teacher who didn’t have a degree, we were blessed by the prisoner who knew how to be free.  We were blessed by the homeless man who showed us the way home, we were blessed by the hungry man who filled us with love, by the little innocent baby who taught us the truth.  We were blessed by the forlorn, forsaken and abused.  We were blessed." 

Our work as people who are blessed people is to go out into the world and to be a become the the blessing the world needs.  That’s what we’re doing on February 18 with our Visioning event – we are coming together as one community, where everyone, and I mean everyone gets to pray and discern how God is calling St. Andrew’s to reach out into the neighborhood and our city, to be a blessing.  I hope you join us.  We need your voice.  We need your blessing.  And for that need, there is no alternative fact.  AMEN.