Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (January 29, 2017)

December 27, 2016 | by Ignacio Castuera

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Micah 6:1-8 Psalm 15 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 Matthew 5:1-12

What a blessing it is to have the writings of the prophet Micah and the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount as one ends the month of January and moves on to continue living under the new regime in America.

Micah reminds people how God has acted in the past during times of danger then proceeds to make fun of the ritualistic religion of the Temple which relied on formulas and sacrifices instead of courageous faithful behavior. The crescendo in Micah’s satire of Temple religion should be acted and not merely read. The extravagant demands of rivers of oil and thousands of rams to be sacrificed serve as a way of framing the simpler, yet more difficult requirements of God “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.”

Resistance under the new regime will be enhanced when we pay attention to what God really requires because it is so different from what the current leaders of the land want to do. Kindness, justice and humility will have to climb upwards from resisting churches to the hills of power, do not expect them to flow down from what is often referred to as The Hill and even less from the White House and definitely not from the modern Tower of Babel, aka Trump Towers.

Walking humbly with our God can, and must, be interpreted to mean among other things as “reduce your carbon footprint.” Become a Christian Earthist and defend earth and all of its inhabitants, especially the most vulnerable. There is where the doing of justice and the loving of kindness can be made effective and real but that task will not be easy under the current regime. That is why the lesson from Matthew is also so important.

The Sermon of the Mountain opens with the Beatitudes which include the blessing of the peacemakers. It is not surprising that Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. relied so much on these wonderful Scriptures and based non-violent resistance and activism on them. What is less known is that more recently another movement also turned to the Beatitudes for inspiration and strength to resist injustice and bring about significant change.

St. Thomas Church in Leipzig is mostly remembered for housing the great Johan Sebastian Bach for several years. However, in the months leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall that very same church was at the center of the resistance to the oppressive Soviet regime. Young people gathered every Monday for prayers but also to talk about more ways to end the shameful separation of East and West Germany. As the movement gathered momentum more and more warning began to come in against the Monday prayers but they did not stop. Finally a confrontation became inevitable. What happened next was well shared by a colleague of mine at the Church of the Brethren in La Verne, California.

Fearing the size of the Monday night gathering on October 9, 1989, the police put out a warning that any demonstration would be stopped “with whatever means necessary.” Doctors of nearby hospitals stopped by the church before the October 9 gathering to inform the pastor that they were making preparations to deal with the flood of gunshot wounds they were expecting.

The pastor was nervous. He didn’t know what to expect.  On October 9, 1989, 7,000 people crammed into the church and over 70,000 people stood on the streets surrounding the church.  Each person held a candle in their hands – which for them was a symbol of non-violence.  You see, to keep a candle from going out on a cold October night in Leipzig, you have to hold the candle with both hands, which makes it impossible to throw a stone.  There alongside the 70,000 people in the streets were the tanks of the empire, ready for the protestors to turn violent but they never did.  When someone began to get agitated the group would call out, “No violence!” and everyone would settle down.  A government official said later, “We had everything planned.  We were ready for anything – except candles and prayers.”  The tanks withdrew.

Candles and prayers stopped tanks and military power. A few weeks later the wall came tumbling down reminiscent of the one that Joshua had demolished in Jericho centuries earlier.

Today we are in the second Sunday after Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency. He promised to erect a wall on our southern border a wall that will also come down under the non-violent resistance and power of prayer and candles.

Ben Akin ended the sermon in which he described the miracle at Leipzig this way: You and I, we have a choice. We can dwell in the world of the empire.  We can believe that the poverty, oppression, racism and homophobia of the world is the reality with which we have to live.  We can get up every morning and feel hopelessness seep through our souls.  We can be prisoners in this reality….or we can sing out the promises of God. 

The promises of God will be waiting for us as we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.