January 29, 2017 sermon
Blessed People of the Kingdom
Once there were two fish living together in a pond. One day the two fish fought. They fought till one of them was killed. The fish that survived thought it would live in peace now that the other fish was dead. But the dead body decomposed and polluted the water, and the other fish died too.
This story serves as a reminder that we cannot survive alone while the other members of our society suffer. It reminds us that we are designed to live interdependently. We cannot truly be happy if our neighbors suffer. Christianity is a religion of relationship and community; it’s about our relationship with God and with each other. One cannot be a Christian without belonging to a community and living among others. The messages of love, compassion, and social justice that we can see in both Old and New Testaments would be otherwise useless. There is our local church community and bigger communities to which we all belong; Kimberley, British Columbia, Canada, and the home of all humans, Earth. So whether it’s our local or global community, we are related to each other and are interdependent. If two countries get into a nuclear war, if we live a lifestyle that destroys the environment, we will all move toward destruction together because we are interdependent. We are like the fish living in the same water.
Today’s scripture readings were all about how to live with each other as God’s family. Prophet Micah speaks to his people who are in exile because they failed to be faithful people of God. What shall the people of Israel do to be back on God’s good side? Would God be pleased with a lot of burnt offerings and ten thousand rivers of oil? He says no. What God wants from the people of Israel is to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God are all about relationships. We need justice because we live with other people in the community and some of us are not being treated fairly. Loving kindness is needed because we live with people to love and treat kindly. Today’s Psalm talks about who shall dwell in God’s house; someone who does what is right, who never wrongs a friend, who utters no reproach against a neighbour, etc. All these teachings are about how to live with others in a relationship.
Now let’s take a look at today’s gospel text, which is generally known as The Beatitudes because it’s about blessings. The Beatitudes identify who are blessed and what rewards await them. In a way, this text is about how to be happy people. But there’s a catch; “blessed” means “to be congratulated” in a deeply religious sense and has its emphasis on divine approval rather than on human happiness. What makes God happy and what makes humans happy are different, but what makes the people of God happy is (or should be) what makes God happy. Think of the people you love, your children or your parents for example. Aren’t you genuinely happy when they are happy? People of God, the blessed people who belong to God’s family, find happiness in doing God’s will.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” These may sound like God’s requirements, conditions that should be met, to receive God’s blessing. “If you live like this, I will give you blessing”. But in reality, God offered the blessing before we made the choice to be God’s people. In Christian theology, it is called prevenient grace, which means God’ grace was available before we made the choice. God’s blessing in the Beatitudes is prevenient grace offered to us before we even knew God; all we had to do was to make the decision to receive God’s blessing, to be God’s people, and to live as God’s people.
In the Letter to the Romans, Paul said we are saved by faith alone, which is the foundation of the Christian faith. But the Book of James teaches us that faith without action is dead, so a lot of Christians wonder which comes first; faith or action. We Christians believe that we are saved by faith alone, but living a Christian lifestyle of action (doing what is good and right) comes afterwards as a response to receiving God’s grace. In Les Miserables, Jean Val-Jean starts living a life of good deeds and service because he was so touched that a man of God showed him mercy and treated him like a respectable person while others treated him like a scum. We do the same thing after receiving God’s grace because we haven’t done anything to deserve it. As I keep saying, it’s a lifestyle we adopt for being a part of God’s community. If we are Canadians, we honour hokey, curling, and Tim Hortons; if we are a part of God’s kingdom, we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God; we seek God’s righteousness, we are meek, merciful and pure in heart, become peacemakers, and work for God’s righteousness even if it causes persecution. Pursuing love, compassion, and justice is a lifestyle of God’s kingdom; it’s the “kingdom culture”.
Our human society is so full of flaws and a lot of those who have power and privilege rule by selfishness and greed. The world order in God’s kingdom is the radical reversal of our world order. First becomes last and the humble will be exalted while the haughty will be shamed. The smallest members of our society like the children are the owners of God’s kingdom. Then it is clear how we should live and what values to uphold as the people of God. We should be the executioners of God’s values by uplifting the marginalized and suffering, and speaking against the injustice done by those who hold power and privilege. As Karl Barth, a prominent theologian, said, “We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” The unjust society needs us.
Ever since I moved to BC, one social issue that stuck out above others concern the First Nations communities. The lawsuit concerning the Jumbo Valley resort project has been going on as the Ktunaxa people who occupy the land fight for their rights. The pipeline projects in both Dakoda and here in BC threaten the First Nations’ lands and the environment in general. As someone from a country that has been invaded, I think I can relate to the First Nations people of North America. As immigrants occupying their land, we should humbly unite with them and speak out for their rights, and also against corporate greed that threatens to destroy the environment.
Let us remember that we belong to God’s kingdom of love and justice. Let us live a lifestyle worthy of the values of our kingdom. Let us prayerfully read the newspaper or listen to the news so that we can participate in the peace and justice works of our world. Let us remember that since we belong to God’s kingdom, living out God’s will for love and justice is the source of our blessing and happiness.
Rev. Sunny Kim