January 29, 2017
The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
A police officer jumps into a squad car and calls the station. “I have an interesting case here,” he says. “A woman shot her husband for stepping on the floor she just mopped.” “Have you arrested her?” asks the Sergeant. “No, not yet. The floor’s still wet.”
After hearing a sermon on Psalm 52:3-4 (lies and deceit), a man wrote the IRS, “I can’t sleep knowing that I have cheated on my income tax. Enclosed is a check for $150. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send the rest.”
I’m afraid my brain has not been working as well these past couple weeks, so starting out my sermon with a story like I sometimes do just wasn’t working for me this week. So, you got started out with a couple of jokes. Not to mention, I want to be sure everyone is paying attention.
Just like last week, this Sunday’s readings seem to be intentionally scheduled together. When you get right down to it, they speak of the same thing. As human beings we have pride and ego that tend to get in our way at being better Christians. Both St. Paul and Christ seem to be telling us today that humility is of the far greater importance. Let’s face it, we all struggle with this. In some people’s minds, probably even most of ours here, humility is almost like accepting defeat and/or our willingness to take second place in anything.
We all want to be the center of attention. We all want to be loved and liked. We all want to be successful in anything we do. We love to boast about our accomplishments, but we tend to avoid the less appealing things in our life. Yet when we get right down to it, not anyone of us when being completely truthful could ever say that they are the best or the greatest person known to humanity. There’s always someone who is going to be better, like it or not. And regardless of our high opinions of ourselves, there is much that needs to be improved.
B’Resheet Bara Elohim. “In the beginning God created…” These are the very first words of Scripture. The word Elohim is God. Now for those of you that aren’t sure about that spelling let me spell it out for you, E-l-o-h-i-m. Now I want you to think carefully about what I’ve just spelled out to you. Put the word together and meditate on those letters in that order for a moment.
What we need to notice is that it ends with “im”. “im” is a plural word. It’s the word for God, and yet it’s plural. Some of us might ask then why doesn’t it mean “God’s?” And in some other context it could be translated that way. But when we read the first words of Scripture, the word next to it is the word, “created”. In Hebrew that is, bara. Bara is not plural but singular. So we have a plural noun and a singular verb. This would seem to break the rules.
And indeed it does break the rules, from a grammatical standpoint at least. But, it is in the very first sentence of Scripture. And the reason for that is there is something deeper here - a mystery if you will.
The first sentence of Scripture isn’t just about the world being created, it also tells us a little something about God. And it is that God is singular and plural. And from a Hebrew context, when you have a plural word that should be singular, it’s telling you that there something profound about the reality behind that word. And therefore something profound about God.
And what it’s saying is that the reality of God is very transcendent, and so awesome, and so beyond our understanding, that there is no one word in any language that can express it not even the word, God. In fact, as Christians, we additionally believe that part of the reason for God’s plural designation is due to the understanding of God within the Trinity. In the 26th verse of the first chapter of Genesis we also read, “let us make man in our image according to our likeness….” This also implies the pluralness of God. As Christians, we believe this is the case, because the Trinity was already three in one. He did not become three in one upon Jesus’ birth, but always was!
The word Elohim is letting you know that whatever you think God is, He’s far more than that. No matter how good you think He is, He’s better. No matter how beautiful, majestic and amazing, He’s far more beautiful, far more majestic, and far more amazing. No matter how awesome you think He is, He is far more awesome. And no matter how beyond you think He is, He’s even beyond that.
And so what does Elohim reveal? It reveals that no matter how much you think you know of God, there’s always more to know - so much more - so much more than so much more. And this means we should never stop seeking Him, because we will never completely learn about Him. For His name is Elohim, and His awesomeness, there will be no end. So, as St. Paul tells us today, “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”
If I had everyone here pick up a rock and hold it in your hands, I might ask you all, “what do you feel?” Holding a rock in your hand, what do you feel? And many of you probably would be very puzzled and not sure how to answer. Or you might go into some scientific explanation of what a rock is. Or, some of you might actually start describing the feeling of the rock and how much it weighs in your hand. And yet some of you still might say, “I feel nothing, it’s just a rock.”
Then if I asked you to take your hand and place it on your neck as if you were checking to see if you were still alive, and I again ask you what do you feel. In response to this you would most likely say your ‘heartbeat’, and that would be correct. Of course when we hold the rock in our hand, the rock does not have a heartbeat of course. The rock merely exists to be a rock. He remains in its same size shape and consistency with absolutely no heartbeat. And aside from a glacier or some other event to drag the rock somewhere, it will never change its shape or design.
However, every moment of our existence hangs on a heartbeat. The moment our heart stops our existence is over. That’s a big difference between a rock and our life. God breathed live into us, in that he expects us to live and be part of his creation and using his creation to have life. The rock just exists. It’s just there. But life never just exists. Life strives to exist, fights to exist. Our hearts must always keep beating, for every moment of our lives. Even if we do nothing, our heart still beats. When we are sleeping, it keeps beating every moment so that we can remain alive. If we waste moments on earth, the heart will still keep beating even though we are wasting our time. When we sin, when we gossip, when we covet and hate, our heart still beats all the while we’re doing these things. When we weep and cry, when we give up hope (something I have struggled with this week), our hearts will continue to beat so that even in our tears and despair, it will still fight for us to stay alive and be able to cry again.
So, the difference between our existence and the rock’s, is that we in our lives do not just exist, we strive to exist. Our lives are miracles. Our every moment in our lives is a miracle. Our joys are miracles. Even our tears are miracles. Our life is a gift from God – Elohim. Every moment is sustained by Him. Every moment is a miracle.
And in such, we listen to Jesus talk about the Beatitudes. Admittedly many of us struggle with the Beatitudes. We are being told by Jesus that we need to be happy in these situations. As I mentioned in the beginning of the sermon, not many of us like humility much. So when we read the Beatitudes that Jesus is teaching, when we are honest with ourselves and each other, we will admit that the Beatitudes touch a nerve. You mean we have to be happy when we mourn? You mean we have to be happy when we are persecuted?
Jesus isn’t necessarily saying that we need to be happy in all situations. He’s merely saying that we are blessed when we do experience them. Because when we experience them, with a true humble heart, we can be assured that our reward will be in the next life. When our earthly existence ends, and by God’s grace we make it in the heaven, we are blessed indeed.
So what St. Paul and Jesus are telling us today, is that we need to quit taking our life for granted. We need to stop wasting it, mistreating it, or treating it as something less than the miracle that it is. We need to cease to allow our life to be given to sin and what is less than God’s will. We need to treasure the existence with which we have been entrusted. We need to stop throwing away our moments. We need to treat our life in our time on earth as a treasure. We should treat every moment as if there was a heart beating behind it, striving for that moment to exist. We need to live our life worthy of every heartbeat.
This isn’t always easy to do. And certainly we all know that not every day is going to be a good one. But if we go forth in life living it as we know we are being taught by our good Lord, we can know that even in the worst of times and the worst of days, we are still blessed in life, because life is a miracle.
And so this week let each of us strive to live in a more humble way; striving to remember to live the Beatitudes and know that each moment of our life will be blessed and a miracle if we live it as best as we can.
Let us pray.
Father God, we often take our life for granted. We live each day as if it were completely our own. We live each day not taking consideration of how miraculous our being alive really is.
Help us to become more aware of the value of our life. Help us to understand that even in the worst of times, life is still a miracle. Help us to know that life is not about how many cars we have, how many friends we have, how many awards we’ve earned - it’s about how we have lived, and how we treat each other. Help us to be more humble. Help us to live out the Beatitudes in our daily lives. Help us to know that we do not need to be first in order to be loved, liked or wanted. Because, in the end, life is a miracle -and it’s a miracle that You have given us. So, when all we know is over, what we really should be hoping to have earned is Your love and our place in Your kingdom. Help us to truly appreciate this and live our life by striving to exist as one of Your children in the miracle of live You have given us with Your Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.