Do Justice, Love Kindness, and Walk Humbly with Our God – But Not Too Humbly! a sermon for Epiphany 4a

“In the Far East, the emperor was growing old and knew it was time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his assistants or his children, he decided to do something different.

He called young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, “It is time for me to step down and choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you.” The children were shocked, but the emperor continued. “I am going to give each one of you a seed today – one very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next emperor.”

One boy, named Ling, was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly, told his mother the story.  She helped him get a pot and planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it, carefully.  Every day, he would water it and watch to see if it had grown.  After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by, still nothing.  By now, others were talking about their plants, but Ling didn’t have a plant and he felt like a failure.  Six months went by — still nothing in Ling’s pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn’t say anything to his friends, however.  He just kept waiting for his seed to grow.

A year finally went by and all the youths of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Ling told his mother that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot. But his mother asked him to be honest about what happened. Ling felt sick at his stomach, but he knew his mother was right. He took his empty pot to the palace.

When Ling arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other youths. They were beautiful — in all shapes and sizes. Ling put his empty pot on the floor and many of the other children laughed at him. A few felt sorry for him and just said, “Hey, nice try.”

When the emperor arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted the young people.  Ling just tried to hide in the back. 

“My, what great plants, trees, and flowers you have grown,” said the emperor. “Today one of you will be appointed the next emperor!” All of a sudden, the emperor spotted Ling at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered his guards to bring him to the front.  Ling was terrified. He thought, “The emperor knows I’m a failure! Maybe he will have me killed!” When Ling got to the front, the Emperor asked his name. “My name is Ling,” he replied.

All the kids were laughing and making fun of him.The emperor asked everyone to quiet down.  He looked at Ling, and then announced to the crowd, “Behold your new emperor! His name is Ling!”

Ling couldn’t believe it. Ling couldn’t even grow his seed.  How could he be the new emperor? Then the emperor said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today.  But I gave you all boiled seeds that would not grow. All of you, except Ling, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Ling was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he Is the one who will be the new emperor!” (The Emperor’s Seeds – Wayne Rice)

Today, it is difficult not to suspect that we have been given not boiled seeds but diseased seeds. It is difficult not to despair that perhaps our seeds have been poisoned by greed, selfishness, and fear, to such a degree that we can’t possibly live into the hopes and dreams expressed in what has been dubbed Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”. For how can we, such inexperienced growers as we are ever hope to tend a garden that will bear the fruit of peace and justice for all the earth? Even if the seeds that we have sowed should begin to sprout and grow, we are canny enough gardeners to know that the seeds of hatred, greed, and fear will soon choke out whatever measly crop we may be able to foster. In the soil that is contaminated by injustice, poverty, and tribalism it is difficult for even the most seasoned gardener to persevere.  When fertilizer as rich and nourishing as the Beatitudes appears to have lost its ability to help us grow, it is easy to fall prey to despair and wonder just how blessed the poor of spirit are. When widows and orphans are cast into the waters of the Mediterranean to fend for themselves, how can we believe that that those who mourn will ever be consoled? When powerful leaders offer only banishment and persecution to the stranger, how can we even begin to hope that the merciful will be blessed with mercy? When even our own hearts are hardened against our neighbours because they might take what is ours, we dare not even hope to find clean hearts in ourselves;  let alone hope that our own self-interest might be trumped by our desire to see God? When violence, persecution, terror, and vitriol are as commonplace as the air we breathe, how can we risk the dangers of listening to those who work for peace, no matter how blessed they are? When justice is sold to the highest bidder, not even the promise of the kindom of heaven is tempting enough to lure us from our pursuit of the good life that our wealth can buy us.  When that good life empowers us to travel, not even the promise of heavenly rewards, can tempt us to risk persecution, especially persecution by our peers.

Blessed are we for we have wealth, influence, safety, security, health-care, freedom, shelter, status and respectability in the community, and besides all our blessings we know in our heart of hearts that our intentions are good. So, we ever so politely decline to entertain the possibility that to those of us to whom much has been given much is expected, and as good, hardworking, Canadians, we do what Canadians are known for all over the world, we say, “I am sorry.”

We’re sorry that the seeds we have been blessed with are failing to grow? We’re sorry that the world is such a terrible place. We’re sorry that the earth herself is groaning under the weight of our filth. We’re sorry that billionaires rule the world. We’re sorry that my consumption enslaves others in poverty. We’re sorry that justice is so difficult to come by for the poor. We’re sorry, I’m sorry, You’re sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry. What do you want from us?

Sorry, there’s nothing much we can do! It is all well and good that the early followers of Jesus gathered up the teachings of Jesus so that they could be summed up in one sermon, and the sermon on the mount is beautiful. Who can argue with the ideas that the beatitudes champion? There isn’t a single one of us who doesn’t want to live in a world where the poor in spirit receive all the blessings that the heavens can offer. Not one of us would deny the meek a place to live. As for those who hunger and thirst for justice, we’re perfectly in favour of granting them their fill of justice. We love those who show mercy, and the idea that a clean heart might be rewarded with a vision of God, here, here, I say. Blessed are the peacemakers, who among us wouldn’t not herald a peacemaker as a child of God? And ya just gotta love those who find themselves persecuted because they struggle for justice.

Who doesn’t want to live in the kind of world that Jesus dreamt was possible? But the seeds we have been given, just aren’t healthy enough. The skills that we have been blessed with just aren’t enough to enable us to be the kind of gardeners who are able to bear the kind of results that will produce justice and peace in all the earth. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Surely, God does not expect us to be the ones to create heaven here on earth; stronger, wiser, more gifted folks that us have tried and failed??….Sorry, excuse me, but what does the Jesus require of us, but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God?

Yes, but our seeds are weak, the soil is contaminated, and there’s a cold south wind blowing in a whole lot of hurt, more hurt than we know how to deal with, more pain than we can begin to imagine, more horrors than we can cope with, sorry, sorry, sorry…

Sorry, but what do you expect from us? Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God. Every peacemaker, every justice seeker, everyone who has ever mustered up the courage to risk persecution to stand in solidarity with the poor, the hungry, the homeless or the stranger, every single one of them has asked themselves, “Who am I to think that I can accomplish anything in the face of such odds? Who am I to dare to live into Jesus’ dream of the kin-dom of God?”

Well I’m sorry dear friends but you are what the world has. Yes, you and I are the embodiment of God, here and now, in this place and time. Yes, you and I are the ones who are blessed. Blessed are you! Blessed are we!For we are the children of God.

In days such as these, I keep hearing the words that have been attributed to justice seekers and peace makers like of Nelson Mandela, or Desmond Tutu, but actually they were written not by such champions as these but by a woman who lives in circumstances much like ours, listen to the words of Marianne Williamson, who speaks out of the same kind of blessedness as we find ourselves in:

Williamson writes:

What holds us back in our lives is our fear.

And sometimes when you take a very close look

you find out that your fears

aren’t exactly what you thought they were.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves,

who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,

talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other

people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest

the glory of
 God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,

we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

So it’s holy work to move past your own fear.

It doesn’t just help you.

It helps the world.”

Friends, I’m sorry, I know that most of us are Canadian, and I know that we’d rather say we’re sorry or excuse me, but we are the blessed children of God, we are the embodiment of the LOVE that is DIVINITY ITSELF here in this place and time. Blessed are we! Blessed are you!

Our seeds are the seeds that will bear the fruits of justice and peace and Lord knows, there are strangers out there in desperate need of our blessedness. It is time to get our hands dirty and put our backs into the work of living into Jesus vision of what the world can be, when LOVE takes on flesh and tends the garden.

What is required of you, you blessed children of God? Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God. But not too humbly…not too humbly, for who are you are you really? YOU are brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous, So, I’m sorry, excuse me but, who are you not to be a child of God? There are seeds that need tending! LOVE that needs working into the soil. Fruits that will need to be harvested. Blessed are you, blessed are you, blessed are we!

Readings: Micah 6:1-8 and Matthew 5:1-12. Listen to the sermon here

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