First Reading: Micah 6:1-8  1Hear what the Lord says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. 2Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel.   3“O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! 4For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. 5O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”  6“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8He 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?

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (not printed here)

Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12
1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.  8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Several weeks ago, I saw one of those short little Ted Talks on being able to tell your own story, and not merely mimicking what everyone else is doing because that’s all that you’ve read, and because that’s all that you’ve read, that’s what seems right.

Because of that little Ted Talk, I decided I wanted to read one of the pieces done by that author.  The newest one was not yet available, but our library did list one that was on NPR’s best seller list for over a year.  “Americanah” by (Nigerian) Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was on a wait list, so it took a while before it arrived here in Superior.  Then it took me some time to get through it, because it came the first week in January, and in addition to regular January events, a few other unexpected happenings needed my time.  I finished it on Friday. 

Shortly before I finished it, I glanced at the acclamations on the back cover, and most were fair.  One of them, though, described the work as funny.  I must disagree.  Though there is humor in the book, sarcasm and almost unbelievable obtuseness of people blind to their own actions, funny does not describe the experiences of the people in the book.  The truth in it made me sad.

Someone who is a member of a group I’m in on Facebook linked to a blog of someone who said something with which I can identify. I won’t call the person who shared the link a friend, as I’ve never met her, and what is most remarkable is how often she and I cross horns!  The name of the blogger was familiar, but he’s not my friend either.  His name is John Pavlovitz, and he is a registered Independent who has seen merits in opposing parties.  His blog wonders when compassion became partisan.  Something that he had said prompted someone to tweet at him whether he was on the DNC payroll.

Pavlovitz’s response blog reacts to the extreme of a party that has captured the passion of the person who sent that tweet.  He wrote that even remote expressions of compassion or decency feels to them as if one is embracing a political stance against them. Actually, Pavlovitz seems to paint all of the party with one brush, and I can’t do that.  I will not believe that all Republicans have forgotten how to love their neighbors.  Nor will I believe the opposite of Democrats.  What I do believe is that we all struggle to make our ways in a world that can kill people just because they’re different, or because it’s inconvenient to welcome them, or because the medical care is too expensive.

I spoke to the representative of the group that oversees our health insurance for pastors and their families because for the third time within a two-year period they denied payment because they failed to find the preauthorization…  Note I did not say that the preauthorization had not been obtained.  They just failed to find what they had already issued.  Something’s wrong.

Today, we read the beatitudes, Jesus’ words of promise to people with little hope, full of sorrow, stripped of power, hungry for food and so much more.  He promised reward for being merciful, for hearts that resisted inroads to evil, for those who worked to promote peaceful relations, and for those abused and beaten by an unjust society.

Jesus was not issuing more laws for us to follow, instead, he was putting in words the love God has for people who too often believe themselves worthless, because that’s how the world sees the attributes to which he attaches promise.

Today’s title comes from the first reading, as the prophet insists that God has already told us what is good, and that God does not lambast us with impossible quests which we must fulfill before being allowed into the kingdom.  Instead, the prophet insists that God requires only that we do justice, that we love kindness, and that we walk humbly with our God.

It might seem like that should be easy, to do justice, but what is justice, when people are so polarized over what is right? What is justice when it’s easier for a felon to reoffend and live in prison than out in free society without a living wage?  What is justice when it’s easier to die than to live, easier to kill than to share, easier to remove than to become acquainted?  What is justice when someone else gets the job that should have been yours, when favoritism shuts you down, when someone leaves you for something better?

A pastor friend of mine encountered a man who lived in the neighborhood of a repairman who ran his business out of his home. The man proceeded to tell my friend the nationality of the people in every house in the neighborhood, which included several Ukranian, Russian, Mexican, Romanian, and one American (whatever that means, my friend said).  Then the man ended with the one living next door to himself, described with a sneer as, “Black.”

What is justice, and how does one do justice?

Josh Johnson asked people to share their thoughts on Superior placing video cameras all over the city.  I’m sure you can imagine the responses, on both sides! His question fits well with mine. Would it be just?  Would it be right to put cameras all over the city? How might such a system be beneficial, and how would we keep it from being abused?

How do we do justice when a simple act of mercy has a radical accusing us of being partisan?  How do we do justice when we are categorized by the color of our skin? How do we do justice when the least among us continue to die because someone with greater power decided it should be so?  How do we do justice among people who disagree on what justice is?

We do it as well as we can, confident that God’s mercy is always greater than our own, that God’s justice is indescribable, that in the presence of God, even the most powerful will be humbled.  We are forgiven when we err, so that we can share God’s justice, God’s love, God’s mercy.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen