Preached by the Rev. Sam Owen, Director of the New York Haiti Project (a partner of St. James the Less)
A big part of modern life today is choosing. There was a peanut butter ad on TV years ago that said Choosy mothers choose JIF. Remember that? The idea was that JIF was the best choice you could make for your children. And the implication was that if you didn’t choose JIFYour child will suffer and worse, you’re a bad parent.
We choose every day: Do I take a new job or not? What college will my child attend? Should I do come to church or stay in bed?
I have a friend who’s not a Christian who says on Sunday he likes to attend St. Mattress of the Springs. Often it feels like there is a good choice and a bad choice, as if making the inferior choice will lead to an inferior life. Every day we are bombarded with messages that say you should strive for the best, and that you need the best, and that you need to be the best. It is exhausting!
Even in the church we can fall into the trap. We have to do our best and make the right choices. We have to, as the prophet Micah says today, do justice, and to love kindness,and to walk humbly with God. It’s a high bar, and it’s one that nobody can do all the time. This passage from Micah has to be put in the context of Israel’s disobedience. The people of Israel were oppressing the poor. God is saying to those people that were sinning that the price of repentanceIs not to pay a big donation, You don’t need to give your firstborn. You can choose to be just, and kind and humble. God desires mercy not sacrifice. If a preacher stands here, wags his or her finger and says you must Choose to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God, you will feel one of two things. Either you will feel smug and think I’m choosing to do that already. Or you’ll feel guilt and shame thinking I could never live up to that standard.
We don’t need to make the right choices to earn God’s favor, and thank God for that. God chooses based on a different set of criteria. God chooses what is foolish and weak and low, Which is really good news for us. Why? Because as much as we think that we have it together and we are deserving of God’s favor, we really aren’t. Every one of us here, me included, has something in our lives, past or present, that cause us shame or misery. Every one of us has a broken place in our lives. We all put on a brave face, Because that’s what it takes to get out of bed in the morning. But we all have something that we hope no one finds out.
But here is the good news: God knows all our secrets, God knows all our shame and God knows we all are suffering in some way. And God chooses to love us in spite of all that. Maybe God loves us because of our imperfections. The good news is that because Jesus came to the earth and gave his life for us, We don’t need to make a big sacrifice in order to earn God’s love and blessing. We have it already.
The beatitudes we hear today from the gospel do not have the word “if.” As in: if you are merciful you will receive mercy. You are already receiving mercy from God. Which means that we can choose to serve God as a response, and not as a way to earn God’s mercy. God flips the script of the world, and God does it through the message of the cross. The message of the world says strive for the best and choose the best. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. It says that God loves us so much that he chooses to love Addicts, alcoholics and adulterers. God chooses the depressed, the bulimic and the diabetic. God chooses us.
God called me to the priesthood after I got divorced, after I got sober. The truth is God was calling me before that, but I was too full of pride and ego to hear the call. We are so accustomed to living in a meritocracy, where we have to earn our place, that it is really difficult to accept that we are loved by God just as we are. There is nothing that can separate us from God’s love, God is always there, ready and waiting. Even if we say, Oh I don’t believe in God,God says ‘But I believe in you.’ Even if we say ‘I don’t feel close to God’ God says ‘Guess who moved? Not me.”
God believes in those who are poor, in mourning, meek, unrighteous. God believes in those who are harsh to your spouse and kids, who are divided in their hearts, God believes in people who create drama. This is the message of the cross, that Jesus died for those of us who are unworthy of his grace. It is foolishness for those who are perishing. But for those who are being saved it is the power of God!
The best time to feel God’s love and blessing and grace is when we have nothing else to depend on. When the money runs out, or the relationship ends…Or you walk into your first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. So if you are suffering today, if you feel low,Know that God knows and God has your back. You don’t have to have your life all together before approaching the altar of God. Because God loves you just as you are. With warts, bunions and blemishes. God chose you. Today, and every day. God’s choice of you doesn’t depend on you making the right choice of peanut butter or anything else. Never forget that you are a beloved child of God. And so is the person sitting next to you. May God bless these words. May God bless each of us. Amen.