February 3, 2002
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture Reading

Matthew 5:1-12

1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then 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. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (NRSV)

Micah 6:1-8

1 Hear what the LORD says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. 2 Hear, 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! 4 For 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. 5 O 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? 7 Will 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?" 8 He 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? (NRSV)

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Sermon: Live the Attitude

Everything in our family revolves around food. A friend of mine commented a few months ago that my family has more food traditions than any she has ever met. I think that it’s a product of having grown up in farm country. Good food there is a real source of pride and it is what knits the family together. My family takes comfort food seriously. A few years ago we hosted our whole family for our daughter’s law school graduation party at a restaurant in downtown Hartford. My father-in-law ordered mashed potatoes. One of my daughters leaned over and said “Gramp, you won’t like those – they have horseradish in them”. He said, “ I like horseradish – and I like mashed potatoes”

Well, let me tell you – the face that he made with the first bite of these horseradish laced mashed potatoes was fantastic… he was horrified. He couldn’t send those back fast enough. The problem was that mashed potatoes are comfort food. They bring us a wonderful sense of being cared for… we expect them to sooth us and create a sense of security. The creamy rich smoothness of the mashed potatoes blended with the sharp taste of horseradish was too discordant.

Both of our scripture passages this morning read like mashed potatoes - comfort food. They speak soothingly to each of us, they create a sense of security in our hearts. And for each person here, these passages are going to speak a separate and individual message. If you are struggling with grief you welcome the words Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. If you are a middle child, who has spent your whole life knitting your siblings into a family, you will love Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called Children of God.

And if you are a doer, who finds fulfillment in action you will love Micah’s words of wisdom, do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.

We are comforted and consoled and guided by these passages – but that wasn’t the case for the first people who heard these words. Those who gathered around Jesus as he stood on the mountain were not comforted, they were shocked.

They were familiar with all kinds of blessings - like “blessed are the wise for they shall not be fooled” – or “blessed are wealthy for they shall never be hungry.” Micah’s listeners were familiar with finding God’s favor through burnt offerings. When you read the whole of that passage you realize that is reads like a court room trial… God is taking the people to task for their inflated ego’s and their complacency. What Micah and Jesus offered to them was revolutionary. The form was familiar, but the content could have been called offensive. It turned their world upside down. It shook the foundation of their whole belief system. Why? The idea that the least of society would be blessed and the rich could not just buy their way into heaven leveled the playing field and challenged each hearer.

Even today, we don’t want a leveled playing field and we don’t want this challenge. We want these passages to be our comfort food, we don’t want to hear the bite of truth, the horseradish of God’s word. We don’t want to think of ourselves as just as evil, just as good, just as right and just as wrong as all of the other people in the world. We want to see the best in ourselves and we are invested in measuring ourselves positively against the rest of the population. Our whole society is based on the concept that the better our self-worth the more useful we are to society, people with high self-esteem succeed. Maybe they succeed in the world, but do they succeed with God.

The problem is – the better the self-esteem the higher stakes - the need to protect the self increases as our pride increases. That means pride can lead you down many unpredicted paths.

For Instance: When I determine that I am a great pastor, I quit trying to improve and I begin trying to protect my own image. It also means that I hold myself above the people I serve… which means that I can’t connect with their needs, that – if I am given a choice I choose the activities that will profile my excellent judgment and exquisite mental capabilities.

As soon as I become invested in protecting my sense of self, I lose my perspective on reality. As my pride increases my ability to discern the difference between doing justice and protecting my self-interest decreases. And I am not even aware of it. The sin of pride.

How can you walk humbly when you are puffed up with pride, How can you do justice when you can’t determine the line between it and your own best interests? How can you love kindness when you are the center of your focus.

Do Justice, love kindness and Walk humbly with your God. Perhaps it should be reordered to read, Walk humbly with your God, so you can do justice, and love kindness.

Walking humbly means giving God credit for your success. to walk humbly means feeling satisfied with your relationship with God rather than feeling satisfied with yourself. How many of us have that perspective on a daily, hourly basis? How many of us remember? How many of us remember what God has done and give God the credit.

That is the challenge here – make your relationship with God your primary goal and live with an attitude of selflessness. Let God be in the business of pride. Is God proud of you?

Mashed potatoes and Horseradish, comfort food with an unexpectedbite.
Remembrance and action, comfort with an expected outcome.

Come to this table – our faith food tradition: meet the Lord, experience the level playing field, hear the words of comfort and challenge - our Lord reaches out to us with a meal designed reinforce our relationship - to remind us of the hours that we have experienced his hand upon our shoulders, comforting us, offering us love, soothing us with peace. This table that reminds us that indeed we are all God’s own children – God’s promises are for us – this meal is for us – that we might once again be anchored in the grace and love of Jesus Christ. God wants us to remember, for God wants us as partners.

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