A sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
January 29, 2023
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Readings: Micah 6:1-8; I Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12
Do you ever overthink? Overthinking is a hallmark of anxiety, and sometimes I have anxiety. Maybe you do, too. We want to hold on to control, and when that control starts to slip, we get anxious and begin to overthink. This can impact any part of our lives, but it can certainly impact our spiritual life. We start comparing ourselves to others. We fret about doing everything just right. At the end of the day, we wonder if we really are enough, if we are worthy of God’s attention, God’s goodness, God’s love.
If you’ve ever been there with me, perhaps we need to take ourselves into Matthew’s Gospel to the Sermon on the Mount. We need to sit down with that crowd full of all different kinds of people just trying to learn from Jesus. We need to hear Jesus tell us those beatitudes, tell us what a blessed life looks like, what it looks like to follow him, albeit imperfectly, in the world.
In the end, it all comes down to something pretty simple. Not necessarily easy to do, but simple enough. Jesus says we live a blessed life when we are poor in spirit, when we mourn, when we are meek, when we are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, when we are merciful, when we are pure in heart, when we are peacemakers, and even when we are persecuted. We don’t have to overthink it–it’s right there, the blessed life, the goal of our living in Christ.
Our Old Testament reading put it a little differently, but to the same effect. The prophet Micah is talking to the Jerusalem elite, the good religious people. He tells them that the Lord requires us to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. The entire law, he is saying, is summed up in those three simple things. Justice, kindness, walking humbly. We don’t have to overthink it. Simple, but not easy.
Jesus himself will develop a similar shorthand in another place when he, like Micah, gives us a summary of the law. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. We don’t have to overthink it. Simple, but not easy.
But if you’re like me, the anxiety is still there. What if I don’t get it right, even if it is simple? What if I mess it up? What if I am not enough? St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians come in like medicine. St. Paul writes, “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” That’s me! Not always wise; not always strong; born to an ancestry of dirt farmers from Oklahoma and Texas, far from noble. I mess up. Like the Corinthians, I can be rough around the edges, unwise, weak, ordinary.
St. Paul is reminding us, however, that we need not be anxious about doing this by our own strength. It is okay that we are unwise, weak, and ordinary, for Christ, by his cross and resurrection, has done the work for us. Christ, the power and wisdom of God, has come to do what we could not do. He came to become our righteousness, our sanctification, our redemption. He came to be our strength, to be our helper, so that we can follow this simple but difficult way of love, with his grace and power helping us along.
Christianity is about how we live in the world. It’s about our actions. It’s about our lives matching up with what we say we believe. It is about justice, kindness, and love; it is about poverty of spirit, pureness of heart, meekness. But the reality is we fail at this enterprise. We’re humans; we’re sinners; we’re not going to be able to do it by ourselves. We can’t make ourselves poor in spirit, meek, merciful, pure in heart. We can’t always love how we are called to love. That’s just the hard truth. If we think otherwise, we are deceiving ourselves and setting ourselves up for a whole lot of anxiety.
But the good news is that Christianity is not some moral code that we have to accomplish by our own power. No, this Christian journey is about God’s gift, God’s grace, God’s very Self being given to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God’s power is poured into our hearts so that we can live a certain way, so that we can become who God desires us to be. It’s all grace–God helps us love, helps us do justice, helps us love kindness, helps us walk humbly, helps us live the Beatitudes way.
So my friends, don’t overthink it. As our Presiding Bishop says, “if it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” It’s all rather simple, even if it isn’t always easy to do. Even so, don’t be anxious about it. Because Christ himself is there, giving you grace and power, working in you and through you, shaping you and molding you, sanctifying your very soul. Through grace and grace alone, we can make it, we can walk humbly, we can live blessedly, we can love like Christ.
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