I’m happy to prepare these resources for this Sunday as I am preaching on the 30th at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Durant, OK.  This is my first time preaching at an Episcopal congregation; as an American Baptist I’ve preached in many ABC congregations, a few Disciples congregations and a United Methodist congregation.  I love ecumenism and learning the different ways fellow Christians worship, all different gifts, but of the same Spirit, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians.

When I look at all four passages found in the Revised Common Lectionary, this particular Sunday they seem to really dwell in each other.  It’s not so much that a theme is echoed, but rather the different passages seem to inform each other about what it means to truly follow Christ.
Micah 6:1-8 is a challenge to the people in how they will follow God’s ways.  In the days of Micah, around the time of the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the religious and political leaders were corrupt.  Worship was about extorting money for sacrifices from the poor who could not afford them.  Therefore, the poor, weak and disadvantaged were cut off from worship of God in their religious system.  Rituals, sacrifice, prayers–all aspects of worship were tainted and had become void of meaning.  Micah calls for a reform, where the people remember their leaders of old such as Moses, Aaron and Miriam, the three who led the people out of Egypt into freedom, who established the religious practices of the day that were now corrupt.  Rather than justifying their current practices as based on the religion taught them by Moses, Aaron and Miriam, Micah calls for a reform of spirit and heart.  “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8).  It is not about upholding a great old system, an ideal remembrance of the forefathers/foremothers of the faith or their intentions for the people, but rather turning back to God, the object of their worship, and living out God’s ways in their own lives, of justice, love and humility.
Psalm 15 asks the question in verse 1, “O Lord, who may abide in your tent?  Who may dwell on your holy hill?”  This psalm was a traditional psalm for entering the sanctuary of the temple.  The psalmist answers in the heart of Micah’s response from God: “Those who walk blamelessly and do what is right, and speak the truth fro their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors… who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent.”  Again, it is those who do justice, who love kindness, who walk humbly with God.  Ritual, sacrifice, prayer–all of these are good, when the individual, congregation or people are living for God.
Matthew 5:1-12 is Jesus’ famous blessings upon the people, called “The Sermon on the Mount,” or “The Beatitudes.”  Jesus does not tell the people they will receive blessings by performing rituals and offering sacrifices; rather, he tells them they receive blessings because they are God’s people.  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (note that in Luke’s version, “the Sermon on the Plain,” Jesus just says “Blessed are the poor”).  Poor in spirit, broken in spirit–we might say depressed–you are now blessed, or happy, because for you is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn.  Blessed are the meek, the humble, the powerless–for you will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled…and it goes on.  This is such a powerful message, because Jesus is speaking directly to the people who are on the outside, the people who are forgotten, the people whose voices are not heard.  Hallelujah!  The kingdom of God is not closed off for the politically powerful or religious elite.  The kingdom of God is not locked down for only those who do the right sacrifice or say the right words or perform the right rituals.  The kingdom of God is for those who truly need it.
1 Corinthians 1:18-31 begins with the same verse the previous week’s Epistle reading ended upon, and brings together this indwelling of these passages: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Paul shares in this passage how God has chosen what is low and despised in this world, so that no one might boast.  No one is greater than another.  No one’s ritual practice is better than another, for it is no longer about the right rituals and the right prayers and the right sacrifices, but the right heart, for the greatest and final sacrifice is Christ.  The greatest became the least.
All too often many Christians in our society are caught up in being right, rather than doing right.  Many believe that if they believe in Christ, that He died for their sins, that they are saved, that they will get into heaven, and that is the be-all and end-all of our faith.  They want to be right, they want to know they are going to live forever.  For them it is all about that second life.  But they ignore the fact that the second life begins now–at our baptism, at that moment when we say yes to Christ in our hearts.  It is not about being right over others who are wrong.  It is not about saying that the Christian way is the right way and all other religions are false, or that Protestants are right and Catholics are wrong, or that Baptists are right and all others are wrong, or that I am right and everyone else is wrong–it is about living the Christ-life.  Living The Way.  Embracing those who are outcast, who are marginalized, who are forsaken.  And that is all of us, so that none of us may boast. All of us are sinners, but all of us have at some point been marginalized, been left out, been ignored.  In Christ, we are one, we know God’s love for us, and we share God’s love with others.  All of us are called to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  It is the doing, not the being.  Because when we look at being, we might be right or we might be wrong.  We might be poor or we might be rich.  We might be weak or we might be powerful.  We might have nothing; we might have all the rights in the world.  But in doing–we all are called to do the work of Christ.  And in doing, we find that our being is the same.  Because you can have everything in the world and still be left out, still be depressed, still be poor in spirit.  You can have nothing and still be bitter, still be forsaken, and still be judgmental of others.  But when we do–when we live The Way, we are invited to enter the kingdom, to enter the sanctuary, to enter the embrace of God’s love for the world through Jesus the Christ.  The way of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, Paul wrote, but perhaps it even seems foolish to those who claim Christianity at times.  We need to guard against being right–if “we” are right and “they” are wrong, then what does Christ’s crucifixion means for us?  Rather, Paul reminds us that we are low and despised, that none of us may boast.
A word of caution: This is not to say (and my husband pointed out I will be preaching at an Episcopal church this Sunday!) that all rituals, prayers, and other forms of worship are empty and meaningless–no!  Our worship, our rituals, our traditions teach us The Way.  They remind us that we are part of something greater than ourselves, that we are One Body in Christ.  But they become empty when they become the “right” way of doing something over someone else’s way.  They become empty when they are a way of affirming one group’s superiority over another.  But when they are used to unite, to teach, and to bless, rituals and traditions become an invaluable part of our worship of Christ.  Many Protestants, and most in the free-church tradition, rejected rituals and tradition when it was the only way, when it was right and all other ways are wrong.  However, over the last few hundred years since the Reformation, we have learned that perhaps we have gone to the other extreme–that our traditions that we created, our rejection of rituals has become a barrier in itself.  Many in the free-church tradition are starting to come back to ritual, starting to come back to the liturgical year and the practices of the greater church, because we now know they can teach and unite us, rather than bind and separate.  I’m sure we will continue to go through this controversy again and again throughout the generations of the church, however long that may be, where we bless and then reject, then bless and restore again.  We are, after all, only human.  We are all, as Paul shares in 1 Corinthians 1:28-29, “what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”  Blessed are we all, when we live The Way of Christ.
Call to Worship:
Leader: Welcome into this place of worship
People: Our very lives have become the dwelling place of God.
Leader: We are bound by our love for Jesus the Christ
People: In whom we love one another.
Leader: We embrace the traditions and rituals of this congregation,
People: Knowing that all of us journey to Christ in our own way together.
Leader: Come!  Let us worship our God!
People: Let us live into Christ’s way of love, justice and peace.
Prayer of Confession:
God of Justice and Mercy, we confess that we have insisted on our own way.  We confess that at times we are certain of our right-ness and judge others as being wrong, rather than recognizing our own faults and confessing our own sins.  Forgive us when we impose our ways on others, forgive us when we condemn others simply for not being like us.  Remind us of Your wondrous love in creation, the diversity of life and of humanity that is a gift from You.  Help us to listen, to share, to remember Your blessings and love for all of us.  Keep us to living the way Your Son taught us, and turn us away from judgment and coercion.  Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the persecuted.  The life that Christ calls us to is not easy, but it is blessed.  May you know Christ’s love, forgiveness, peace and blessings.  Amen.
Prayer
Holy God, Wonder and Mystery, we welcome You into our lives in this space, in this moment.  We feel Your embrace and love in our lives when we embrace and love others.  We worship You in our own ways, sometimes with great shouts of Hallelujah, and sometimes from silent contemplation.  We thank You that You created each of us in Your image, with unique gifts and talents, strengths and challenges, so that each of us knows You in our own way.  We thank You that we have this place to come and worship You together, this congregation that we are a part of, this great body of Christ that we all belong to.  Grant us the grace to listen to each other when we have differences, to embrace each other in our sufferings, and to hold up one another through life’s challenges.  In Christ we pray.  Amen.

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