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Matthew 5:1-12
"The Reset Button"

Sermon Notes

 Micah 6:1-8

Matthew 5:1-12  

Children’s Message: We’re going to play follow the leader. Ready? (do a silly walk). Who else wants to lead with a silly walk?  

Our passage today from Micah told us that God wants us to walk with God—to be more like God. What does that mean? It means to do justice and love kindness. That’s pretty easy, right? It’s like walking like the person in front of you—if that person is God. You just do what they do.  

But what if God helps people you don’t like? Do you help them, too? What if God shows kindness to your sibling when you’re mad at them? Do you show kindness, too? What if God cares for people who scare you? Do you care for them, too?  

Suddenly, walking like God can get a bit harder. That’s why we Christians gather together in worship and go to Sunday School and sing about God and read the Bible and pray. All of it is a way to help us learn better how to walk like God.  

Let’s pray. Dear God, help me follow you and love people like you love them. Amen.  

Message: Has anyone heard of poet Tony Hoagland? He was a fairly prominent poet from North Carolina who died from pancreatic cancer in 2018. Pastor Carla Pratt Keyes shared at length some of his writing, and it’s her sermon I’m using as a resource. As Hoagland went to his treatments, he came to a conclusion about people. Addressing America, he spoke about the first time he entered the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas.

“As you pass one hallway after another, looking for elevator B, you’ll see that this place is full of people—riding the escalators, reading books and magazines, checking their phones near the coffeepots. And it will dawn on you that most of these people have cancer. In fact, it seems as if the whole world has cancer. With relief and dismay you’ll realize: I’m not special. Everybody here has cancer. The withered old Jewish lefty newspaper editor. The Latino landscape contractor with the stone-roughened hands. The tough lesbian with the bleached-blond crew cut and the black leather jacket. And you will be cushioned and bolstered by the sheer number and variety of your fellows.”  

“In the country of cancer everyone is simultaneously a have and a have-not. In this land no citizens are protected by property, job description, prestige, and pretensions; they are not even protected by their prejudices. Neither money nor education, greed nor ambition, can alter the facts. You are all simply cancer citizens, bargaining for more life.”  

Hoagland goes on to tell about the various people who cared for him on his journey—the middle-aged nurse from Alabama who waited with him while he vomited in order to administer a shot to help with the nausea; the Middle-Eastern nurse who brought packs of hot towels who was so kind that he burst into tears as she left the room. He tells story after story of patience, compassion, warmth, and decency in places where he least expected it, from people whom he least anticipated.  

And he closes by suggesting that America needs to hit its reset button—a button he discovered through the pain and humbling of cancer. To “enter a condition of helplessness, and experience the mysterious intimacy between…yourself and every person who is equally laid low.”  

Blessed are those who have no illusions of their ability to get through this life unscathed. For they will be the first to recognize the humanity of the person beside them.  

It’s Jesus’ first public teaching in Matthew’s gospel account. His baptism, temptation, and calling of disciples leads up to this moment that will begin his ministry in and around the region of Galilee—a ministry that will later extend to the ends of the earth. And he begins with “blessed.”  

Perhaps a better rendition of the Greek for us would be ‘honored.’ It catches at the honor/shame reality of society, both then and now. We’ve learned that those who have little should be ashamed that they didn’t steward their resources better. Those who are sick should be ashamed that they didn’t care for themselves better. Those who are imprisoned should be ashamed that they did something wrong. And blessed be me, who is not in that situation, thanks be to God.  

But that’s not Jesus’ take. He looks at those who have found themselves in circumstances beyond their control and turns the honor/shame system on its head—like so many other things. Those who have lost all hope are to be honored, for the fullness of God’s reign will not leave it as such. Those who grieve deep loss are to be honored, for when Christ comes, their grief will turn to dancing. Those who are abused and bullied are to be honored, for what has been taken from them will be returned—their dignity, their hope, their foundation. Those who long for justice are to be honored, for justice will be theirs.  

And then there’s a shift. While these first four talk about a reversal of the situation for those on the margins, the next four make promises to those who willingly put themselves on the margins for God’s sake. Those who show mercy are to be honored, because showing mercy to the outcast will put them at the very place where they, too, will need mercy. Those who love unconditionally are to be honored, for they are the first to recognize God in the faces of the unlovable. Those who make peace are to be honored, for they will act like Christ, challenging the violence often used to keep the peace. And those who are persecuted for who they are as children of God are to be honored, for they are already kingdom people.  

Whether we find ourselves in the first list—outsiders as a result of circumstance—or in the second list—outsiders as a result of what we do for those in the first list—Jesus’ statement is the same. Honor comes first to the ones for whom the world has ignored or turned away.  

It’s a heck of a way to start his ministry—challenging the way the world sees life, fairness, and even God. But it’s important that Jesus caste his vision for God’s reign. Everything we assume and act on—ideas of wealth as blessing, assigning privilege to skin color, poverty as a sign of laziness, prison as a sign of immorality, mental illness as a sign of weakness—Jesus undoes it all in his opening statement.  

He presses the reset button on his people, opening their eyes to a whole different approach to value, freeing us to walk like Christ and not just talk the talk. Talk is generally safe. I can tell you all sorts of things that I believe. But acting on those beliefs can be dangerous, subversive, and downright uncomfortable. It often puts one on the outside of polite society. A place where pity and disdain is frequently directed. But that’s exactly where Jesus says, “You are to be honored. You, who recognize the holiness in that which society has cast out.”  

I would hope that it doesn’t take a deadly diagnosis for us to find and push our reset button—as individuals or as society. Hoagland seems to think it might. For Jesus’ followers, it took his death and resurrection for them to truly follow his teachings of love—all the way to their own death. Blessed are those who see and follow Christ because we have already died to sin in baptism.  

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE