Epiphany II/Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend
Who is Jesus speaking to? That’s always a good question to ask on a Sunday because we always hear an excerpt. Well this is chapter 6 – Jesus after having spent a night alone in prayer on a mountain top – comes down, chooses the twelve disciples who then go out to a level plain and find, of course, the crowd. Where we hear that people from all the surrounding regions came for healing.
Then, when the crowds have settled down I imagine, he looks at his disciples all that healing a thing of the past – so as if to remind them of what his real purpose is – says – Blessed are the poor – blessed are the hungry – blessed are those who mourn. Woe to those who are rich – woe to those whose bellies are full – woe to those who are laughing now.
“But I say to you who listen” – that phrase that grabs me. Because if I just heard my teacher share those beatitudes – the blessings and the woes – I’d start feeling uneasy. Still makes me uneasy. Do I want to listen? Do I want to hear what Jesus says next? Those teachings are a challenge too, aren’t they?
Today is two things – the second Sunday after the Epiphany in ordinary time – and the Sunday of Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, when we give thanks for Dr. King – a witness and a prophet who made us uneasy – who enacted a movement of social change based on nonviolence – the heart of these teachings.
The opening collect is from the Sunday propers. The readings are from the lectionary for the Feast day for Dr. King. But the collect seems particularly appropriate. We prayed that those of us who follow Jesus do so in such a way that our lives shine with a light that has been illumined by God’s words and sacraments. Certainly, Dr. King did that. His words, his light are still resonant. Still point to work we need to do.
“I say to you that listen.” Jesus does not say, to all who hear my words. Because listening and hearing are different. We choose to listen. We choose to prepare ourselves, to open our heart and mind to what we are taking in. That is the beginning of integration. Of taking what we are taught and letting it shape who we are becoming.
That’s what the opening collect is about, to live a life that shines with a light that has been illumined by God’s words and sacraments. What we do - is what we believe.
Love your enemies. Do good and give. Particularly to those to whom you’d rather not. Honestly, it’s rare on a Sunday morning to hear so much scripture that points to our individual sense of call and connection with following Jesus.
The readings this morning - like the two hymns we have sung - are about you and me. Lead me - guide me, along the way. Will you come and follow me if I but call your name. Moses asks - who me? The psalmist prays - I will ponder your works, I will meditate on your holy word.
This gospel is so challenging because Jesus is sharing just what is so powerful about love. Love is a verb. Love is not a feeling. Jesus goes out of his way to say - if it’s easy to do - then that’s not what I’m talking about. Love the people it is hard to love - through what you do. And it won’t be easy.
Periodically, I read a column in the NY Times called “The Ethicist” - better than an advice column, people writing in with their ethical dilemmas. Kwame Anthony Appiah (philosopher, scholar, writer)
The headline was – Must I Donate a Kidney to My Awful Brother?
Hmm. You can probably guess content of the reader’s question. His older brother may need a kidney. The younger brother is already stressed that he will receive – “the dreaded phone call” when he is asked to provide his. He doesn’t want to. They are in the 50s don’t get along – never have – the young brother described bullying in childhood and adulthood and a non-existent relationship that’s cordial thanks to distance and time.
The thought of giving him a part of his body – just the thought of it – prompts feelings he had as a child – being a victim of what his brother wants and needs.
So – is he obligated out of a brotherly duty to donate? Do family ties matter more than his own personal needs?
Maybe the answer might be easy for some – you are his brother and yes, it is your duty because of the genetic compatibility and because of the family tie. The ethicist poked a few holes in this argument however because he rightly pointed out – where does a family tie begin and end. Is it solely biological? What about in-laws – what about when families separate – what about when families are created through adoption or remarriage – or – you get my point.
It’s easy, the ethicist wrote, to get lost in a thicket of issues. The bottom line question isn’t what you owe your brother or what your duty is because of a specific moral lens. The bottom line is an interior ethical one that has nothing to do with your brother.
Who are you? Who do you want to be? Jesus offers an ethic this morning.
“We forget that love is revolutionary. The word, cute and overused in American culture, can feel at times like a stuffed animal devoid of spirit, or worse, like a dead letter suitable only for easy exchanges on social media platforms. But love does carry profound meanings. It indicates the radical realignment of social life. To love is to turn away from the prioritization of the ego or even one’s particular party or tribe, to give oneself for another, to transfigure the narrow “I” into the expansive “you” or “we.” This four-letter word asks of us, then, one of the most difficult tasks in life: decentering the self for the good of another. This is a task for which we need exemplars, especially in our divisive times.” – “All That She Carried, by Tiya Miles
When we turn the other cheek – we also turn our ear. We create an opportunity to listen to stories and perspectives and histories different than what we know. In what ways is Jesus asking you to be an exemplar in divisive times – to give to a brother you would rather not have as your brother?
What is the listening in love you and I are called to do?