The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Presbyterian minister Donald McCullogh tells the story of how one day Gandhi stepped aboard a train as it started to move, and one of his shoes slipped off and dropped on the tracks. Unable to retrieve it, he calmly took off his other shoe and threw it back along the track to land close to the first. When an amazed passenger asked why he had done that, Gandhi smiled and said, “the poor man who finds the shoe lying on the track will now have a pair he can use.”
“With the eyes of his imagination,” writes McCullough, “Gandhi saw a man with bare feet, saw him coming across a lone shoe and desperately searching for the other, and saw the disappointment of his face when he didn’t find it; seeing these things, Gandhi did what he could to help.
In our quest to find a way to live out the message of Christ through our inevitable humanness, we hear today the message of the Prophet Micah “to live justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God who has redeemed us. It is easy to respond: How can we with all of the impossible problems of our world today? Who is smart enough to chart a course of action through this quagmire?
If we are honest with ourselves, we admit that we live in an endless human cycle of worldwide atrocities, threats of potential global extinction, and reports of just plain pettiness and cruelty that infect every level of our society. All this “good news” brought to us daily courtesy of TV news and social media platforms.
In reality, the prophet’s words give us the exact key that is needed to help us walk, to take even the next step in the face of intractable national hostilities, insoluble dilemmas, and just plain angst that threatens our daily life. The really good news is that God has sought us out. We hear God’s cry in the midst of winter darkness, and we catch a glimmer of hope of what the Light of Christ can mean to the world.
Thinking about Gandhi’s train ride, we might ask “Do we have even one shoe to offer?” How can we make a difference? Paul tells us in the Epistle that we should not be surprised when God works through us because God is always in the business of raising the unlikely to amaze the world. Listen today to the Communion song that says that “What marvels the Lord has done for us,” and I might add “and through us.”
And the way God works through us, the way Jesus suggests we live justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God is found in the Beatitudes. It has been suggested that if we had only the words of Micah and the Sermon on the Mount, we would be able to understand the whole of the Gospel.
Let me share a modern version of the Beatitudes by John D. Anderson.
· Blessed are those who recognize their need for God and God’s gifts to them.
· Blessed are those who are blessed with fine families and friends are still concerned with the pain and suffering of others.
· Blessed are the generous people who give of their love, their time, their money, and somehow keep on giving in spite of disillusionment and disappointment.
· Blessed are the big people who can forgive those who are petty, angry, rude, and seek to delight in the good qualities of the people around them.
· Blessed are those who respect a person as an individual and do not prejudge based on race, ethnic or economic background, or sexual identity.
· Blessed are those who befriend the divorced or separated and give them understanding and support during their time of loneliness.
· Blessed are the peacemakers who go out of their way to try to settle disputes, heal bruised egos, and restore peace.
· Blessed are those who mourn the loss of a loved one and who, because of hope in Christ, work through the pain and anger with grace. We saw this last night in the interview with Tyre Nichol’s mother.
· Blessed are the women and men though in the September of their lives still wonder how they can serve God and others better.
And, less serious, but still important: Blessed are those selfless people who invite folks to have dinner or throw parties that get friends and family together.
Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day. Seven people were killed and others injured outside a Synagogue in Jerusalem.
Let me tell you about Mother Maria of Paris who was a Russian Orthodox Nun. By the start of WW2, Mother Maria was managing a home for the destitute, the mentally and physically handicapped, a sanctuary for the many refugee Russian emigres who had fled the revolution and had orchestrated a rescue plan along with the sanitation workers that involved hiding Jewish children in garbage cans and then transferring them to her house in darkness where they eventually would get transported to the South of France.
Eventually, Mother Maria was rounded up by the Nazis in Paris. As an idealist with deep sensitivity, she had a way of seeing the beauty even in monstrosity. On the 30th of March, 1945, which was Good Friday, Maria, even though she was not chosen, asked to stand in the place of another woman prisoner destined to be executed. The following day she was led into the gas chambers.
Before her death she said, “When we stand before Christ at the end of our lives, we will not be judged by how many prostrations we made before the icons or how many prayers we have said or how often we have fasted. We will be judged on how we fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, visited the sick, clothed the naked. That is all we will be judged on.
Mother Maria of Paris, pray for us and for our broken world. Help us to live justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.