Welcome to worship this day for the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany, January 29, 2023!
The bulletin for this service can be found here. In the bulletin you’ll find the service music from Setting 12 of the All Creation Sings hymn book, the order and words of the liturgy, the hymn numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon. The sermon is also included on this page after the worship video, and the words that you need to know will be on your screen.
For a fuller worship experience at home, you are invited to light a candle in your space before the service starts and extinguish it at the end with the altar candles after the sending hymn. You are also welcome to join in on communion by having something small to eat and drink ready to consume at the appropriate time. Further instruction will be given to you during the service.
May the blessing of God’s love be upon you this day and always!
Holy God, your blessings are abundant and your wisdom exceeds our grasp. Fill us with your Spirit and open our eyes, ears, and hearts, that we might see, hear, and feel your love and welcome for us all, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Remember enneagrams? If by chance you never heard of it before, it’s basically like this extensive personality test that, in my opinion, pigeon holes you into one of the 9 personality types that they’ve defined all people to have. And if I sound a bit skeptical about it, it’s because I am, as I’ve had some bad experiences with these personality test type things.
Anyway, enneagrams were super popular 5 or 6 years ago, but I never bothered to take the test as I think it costs money to do. However, that didn’t stop my brother (who loves the stuff) from pegging me as a “challenger”, which essentially can be defined as “competitive”. Now, I have to admit that I was a bit offended. I mean, just because I win at basically everything I do and am better than most in so many areas of life, that doesn’t make me competitive. And I’d fight anyone who would say otherwise.
But seriously though, it got me to thinking that of course my brother would say I’m competitive as aren’t we all basically competitive in pretty much everything that we do? Don’t we sort of have to be in this world that we’re living in? This perpetual rat race that we just call life has us up against each other in pretty much every aspect and facet we could ever imagine. The amount of money we make, what colour our skin is, how well we understand the material in school or other learning centers, even who our spouse or partner is, it’s like life is a giant competition. And then we’re bombarded by different forms of media that basically tells us to keep comparing ourselves to others like the Forbes 30 under 30 list, that Time magazine’s 50 sexiest people in the world, shows like America’s Got Talent, and don’t even get me started on all the different social media platforms and all their filters and doctored photos. It’s just that the climate that we’re in cultivates a competitive spirit within us all, both on a global and personal level.
And maybe there’s nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong with a little healthy competition. Keeps us on our toes and pushing forward in our growth and accomplishments. But the problem comes when the competition starts to affect our self esteem. When we label ourselves as losers because we can’t catch a break. When we are conditioned to believe that we’re failures so we just stop trying. When we look at how the stacks are against us and we contemplate giving up on life.
We just saw an example of this last week, when the Alex Fraser was closed for like 8 hours because someone was standing on the dangerous side of the guardrail, threatening to jump off. I know that I’m not aware of the circumstances that surrounded this particular situation or what the person was going through, but I did read about some of the people stuck in the traffic reacting poorly, which led to thousands of dollars of damage to public and private property, as well as the police issuing fines and suspensions to some of the motorists.
I know, right? All I can do is shake my head. I mean, there is someone who is at the end of their rope, and in response we have people making jokes and taking pictures, driving dangerously, and even telling the person in question to jump so to not further inconvenience anyone anymore. It’s sad really.
It’s sad because this person is obviously hurting but people don’t seem to care. It’s sad because they were clearly just done with life and this world and those feelings would have been just exasperated by the behaviour displayed among the bystanders. It’s sad because this person is dearly loved and blessed, and they almost left this world believing the exact opposite to be true instead.
I get it, life is tough. We find ourselves in seemingly impossible situations and we can feel so overwhelmed. We look at the brokenness of the world and it weighs us down mentally and emotionally. We feel like we’ve failed so many times that it just doesn’t seem worth it anymore.
And to all that, Jesus says that you are blessed.
I know, it’s weird. It doesn’t feel like we’re blessed when we are down and out. It doesn’t feel like we’re loved by anyone let alone the God that created the universe when nothing seems to ever go our way. It doesn’t feel like life is worth it when it seems like we lose so much so often.
But… blessed are you, Jesus says, in the face of our hardship and woe. Blessed are you, Jesus reminds us, even when life is difficult or impossible. Blessed are you, Jesus declares, even when that is literally the last thing we are thinking and feeling because of how much life sucks.
Still, it’s hard to believe, I get that. But notice how Jesus isn’t giving a command or explaining what has to be done or giving any kind of conditions. He isn’t saying that we’d be blessed if we’re poor in spirit or mourn. He’s not saying that we can find blessing if we hunger and thirst or are persecuted. He isn’t saying that in order to be blessed, we need to suffer first. I mean, if he did, then those who sign off on their emails and greeting cards with “blessings” would take on a whole new meaning.
Rather, Jesus’ tone is indicative. He’s just telling it as it is. He isn’t giving conditions or listing out requirements, but he is making promises and speaking truth into our hardship, our pain, our lives.
I get that it still might not seem to make much sense. It just doesn’t sound right. It most certainly doesn’t feel like it could be true as the world tells us a very different tale. The world tells us that we are blessed only when we have good things, that we are lucky only when things go our way, that we are winning only when we have the most, the best, and the shiniest. The world judges us by the things we’ve acquired, our achievements that we’ve accomplished, and the strength and power that we’ve clawed our way to get. The world requires us to gain, to profit, and to fill our bellies if we want to end up on top. The world frowns upon weakness, pain, and loss.
This is what Paul meant by the cross being foolishness to the world. It is. I mean, who would have thought that being killed by the hands of his enemies and potential followers could ever be considered a success? That seems ridiculous. But it matters not to God, for it is in the weakness that God’s strength is most apparent. It is in the brokenness and hurt that God’s healing and providence is most seen. It is in the failures according to the world that God’s blessing is most found.
Not because God causes us pain, mind you, but because the pain doesn’t push God away. Not because God judges us by our failures or hurts, but because the failures or hurts don’t change our position in God’s love or kingdom. Not because God is worried with how we are rated or ranked by the standards of the world, but because God instead sees us all as beloved children, recreated to be worthy parts of the body of Christ, joined together in redemption and forgiveness by the good news of the promise of salvation.
See, the cross does seem foolish because the world taught us to be competitive and aim to win at all costs and to conquer our enemies. To proclaim the cross as the basis of our faith doesn’t make sense to the world because it is typically reserved only for the worst of criminals, the most immoral, the complete failures of society. Looking to the cross for hope and fulfilment sounds ridiculous because it is the ultimate symbol of death. But the actual truth is that the cross is the power of God, the power that makes the foolish wise, lifts the lowly high, and blesses all people to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with this God that will love us and save us regardless of who we are, where we’re from, or what situations we find ourselves in.
For it isn’t by our accomplishments or achievements that earn us God’s love and blessing, but it is by God’s gracious act that determines us to be worthy of love and blessing, now and always.
In this season after the Epiphany, may we see the blessedness and worthiness of all people, that regardless of our place in the hierarchy of society, we may all be recognised as God’s beloved children in the world, full of God’s grace and mercy, lifted above the ways of the world, and brought into peace and community with each other and all the saints of all time. Thanks be to God. Amen.