Countercultural Blessings

Micah 6:1-8, Matthew 5:1-12

Rob Johnson was a regular kid. He played sports, got good grades, and had lots of friends. He wasn’t a goody two shoes. But one day, he got fed up with his classmates – in the locker room, people hurled words about persons of color and girls that were, to him, gross and inappropriate. He stood up and told his friends, “From now on, if you talk like this, I’m going to leave. I’m uncomfortable about the way you’re talking about our classmates. I’ve had enough.” Silence followed, a little nervous laughter, but his teammates never used that language in the locker room again. Just a kid, he challenged the racism and sexism of his classmates. He was countercultural.

At 29, Millard Fuller had everything – he made millions in direct mail sales and more wealth was on the horizon. But, his marriage was falling apart and he felt a growing restlessness that power and wealth could not calm. To the surprise of everyone who knew this successful businessman, he and his wife decided to live in accordance with biblical principles, to sell most of their possessions, and to embark on a life of service. They began building homes for the poor, and from a small beginning, emerged the “theology of the hammer,” embodied in building thousands of homes across the globe, including homes in our neighborhood, erected through Habitat for Humanity. Fuller and his wife were countercultural!

What does God require of us as citizens and as a nation? Do words addressed to governmental leaders 2500 years ago still relate to us? If so, how shall we translate them for our time and place, and how shall we who live off the beaten track on Cape Cod embody them as citizens? Moreover, how shall we deal with passages that simply don’t make sense according to our usual cultural and economic calculus – words of blessing for mourners, outsiders, and losers? How shall we deal with an upside down gospel? Does God want us to be the Rob Johnsons and Millard and Linda Fullers of our community – to challenge whatever stands in the way of God’s realm and to work for a better world wherever we find ourselves? Are we called to be countercultural?

The words of Micah were most likely addressed to the religious and political leadership of the Jewish people. During the prophet’s time, church and state were closely aligned and what shaped one also shaped the other. The prophetic spokespersons for God knew that as important as individual morality is in shaping our relationship with God, we need to create communities which have built in social safety nets that protect and support the nation’s most vulnerable citizens.

Today, we can imagine Micah leaping 2500 years to travel to Washington DC. We can visualize him walking the Halls of Congress or sitting down in the West Wing and challenging the values of our political leaders. He might say to our 45th president, the Speaker of the House, and Senate Majority Leader and the Democratic leaders of Congress: “Are you serving the poor and vulnerable? Do you pay attention to voices of single parents, the working poor, and children?”

We can imagine him going to a megachurch that has just spent 50 million dollars on a new church plant, complete with state of the art sound and entertainment systems, coffee bar, computers in church school classrooms, and vast parking lots and asking “What are you doing for the poor and hungry? How is your church responding to the homeless?” He might even ask the same question of us: “how do we join our worship with compassion for the lost and lonely of Barnstable, Cape Cod, and our nation?”

As uncomfortable as it may make us feel, the local and global and religion and politics are connected in scripture. In the biblical tradition, a nation is judged by its care for the poor and not its wealth or power.

Micah wasn’t very popular in Jerusalem, and he wouldn’t be very popular in Washington DC either. But, Micah knew what God requires of our nation and us: “to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.” Imagine that, humble politicians; imagine that, placing kindness at the heart of every business and political decision; imagine that, making justice the heart of national policy and business decisions. That would be a revolution that would truly make America great again!

The words from the Beatitudes don’t get any easier for us. Most of the time when we speak about being blessed, we give thanks for what we’ve accumulated – good jobs, retirement plans, holidays, good health, and security in old age. It is good to give thanks for all these things – and I must say that in terms of my health, family, marriage, professional life, and opportunity to be a pastor and teacher – I am a person most blessed. I thank God every Sunday morning for the opportunity to share good news with people I love – to see your smiles, to shake hands, share stories, and know that I am called to be your pastor in all the seasons of life.

But, can we bless the challenging times? Can we bless our dependence on others? Can we bless the dismal seasons of life – the wintry spirit of grief, persecution, and aging?

Jesus’ words are just as challenging and dare we say countercultural as Micah’s. Blessed are the poor in spirit, the humble, the social reformers, the mourners, those who depend on others for their well-being, the faithful persecuted, those who work for peace, and whose integrity and purity is more important than success. There’s nothing about “blessed are the powerful, blessed are the wealthy, blessed is the celebrity, blessed is the consumer, blessed are the sexy who know it.”

The thing that all these blessings have in common is the recognition of our dependence on God and one another. The blessed know that they can’t make it alone; they live one moment at a time trusting God for their well-being; and they realize how dependent they are on a wisdom and power greater than their own, and out that of that recognition, they bless others.

That’s where faith, politics, and everyday life meet. Any good we have – any achievements we make – come from our response to the grace of God embodied in loving parents, good schools, and the ability to make decisions about our relational and economic future. We didn’t create these opportunities – they are sheer gift.

At the end of the day, it’s all about blessing. Jesus’ blessings and Micah’s challenge tell us that our gifts are intended to flow through us to others, our citizenship is intended to add to the well-being of the most vulnerable members of our community, our heath is intended to energize us to love, to share, and to support. We are above all blessed to bless others in the Graceful Interdependence of Life.

Hear and believe the good news – “what does God require – to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with the Holy One.” Then, the light of God will rise upon you for you will truly be blessed to be a blessing! Thanks be to God.