The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 5th Chapter
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
When I worked for Coca-Cola, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, the company sent me to a Steven Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, seminar. As part of that seminar we created an inventory of the things we valued most. The idea being, that highly effective people spent most of their time and energy, and worked the hardest on things they valued most. I suspect, the company thought we would value our careers the most, so we would naturally conclude we should spend most of our time and energy at One Coca-Cola Plaza, “building shareholder value” and “increasing sales volume” with even more dedication and vigor.
I’m guessing they didn’t expect a young food scientist to conclude that what he valued more than his career was his new family, God, and things like justice and kindness… the values he learned in the church. They probably also didn’t expect their seminar would help him hatch a hair-brained scheme (back when he had hair) to not just THINK about those things he valued, but to take an ACTIVE, tangible, physical STEP in their direction and become a pastor.
Coca-Cola, wasn’t exactly on track with what I valued, but their guy, Steven Covey, wasn’t wrong… when people step toward the things they value most, their lives are more stable, more peaceful... more effective. The reality is, things are always swirling and changing in our lives… Careers change, companies change, locations change, presidents change, economies change, institutions change… even light bulbs change… but those things at our CORE… THOSE things don’t change, and taking a physical, tangible step TOWARD those core things, no matter how big or small the step, calms the storm and brings us peace.
Today we heard two well known expressions of what we, as people of God, value at our CORE. “Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God”… THAT is at our core. Humility, vulnerability, gentleness, empathy, peacemaking, kindness, compassion, steadfastness and resiliency… THAT is at our CORE. Recently we affirmed our Baptismal CORE… Belief in the Triune God, hearing God’s Word and sharing the Lord’s Supper, fellowship and study with one another; perseverance in resisting evil, confessing wrongs and turning back to God; telling and showing the world of the transformational power of Christ’s death and resurrection; seeing Christ in all people, loving our neighbor, striving for justice and peace and respecting the dignity of all people. THAT is our CORE. Following ONE God… Our core! Not chasing after things or people mistaking them for gods… Our core! Honoring God’s name, the Sabbath and our elders… our core! Not killing, or harming, but HELPING our neighbors… THAT’S our Core! Not stealing… our CORE. Not lying… our CORE. Not wishing and working to manipulate, cheat or steal from your neighbor but helping them to live the life God gave them to live… all part of our CORE... that last bit in a handy ten point list!
Things change. Things we dearly love change. In church, the liturgy changes, the music changes, the furniture changes, the windows change, the bells change, the address changes, our church name changes, the language changes, the priest and pastor changes, the ministries change, the seating changes, the coffee hour changes, the dishes change, the people change and a million other things that we really do love change. But those things, beloved as they are, are not our CORE. Our CORE doesn’t change. God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit doesn’t change. Love God and love neighbor. That doesn’t change. Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly… that doesn’t change. Strive for justice and peace and the dignity of all people… that doesn’t change. THAT is who and whose we are at our unchanging, unalterable CORE. As everything else swirls and rocks and changes around us, taking a physical, tangible step toward THAT unchanging, unalterable CORE will put our feet on solid ground.
But it’s not just the church that changes, is it? The world changes too, and from time to time the world will rage with change and this seems to be one of those extra “ragey” times. But no matter how crazy the world becomes, it can’t change our CORE either! The world rages, people even plagiarize old Pontus Pilate asking, “What is Truth?” and sometimes it seems too hard to even keep up with the swirling, raging mess. BUT, in “ragey” times and calm times… in every sort of time, taking even a small, intentional, tangible, physical, step toward what you value at your CORE, will slow the spinning, clear the fog and land you on solid ground every single time. Feeling confused? Take a step toward kindness, not just in thought, but DO an act of kindness? Wondering how this happened or what’s next? Take a step toward your neighbor with an act of compassion. Feeling helpless? Take a step toward your CORE and make a meal, check on your neighbor, share a smile, give a compliment, donate a pair of boots.
The size of the step really doesn’t matter… There's a story about a little girl in a concentration camp. One day she found ONE raspberry. Even though she was starving, she wrapped it up and protected it all day until she saw her friend to give her that one, red, raspberry. Even there, in the midst of the horrors of a concentration camp, that little girl found solid ground by taking a physical, tangible step toward what she valued at her Core.
The CORE always remains. God the Father remains… and He has told you, O mortal, what is good. So take a step toward justice, kindness and humility and walk with God. God the Son remains... ALWAYS present HERE, so take a step toward the Table and be filled. God the Spirit, remains, in each breath we are given, so use that breath to take a step and speak for the poor, the meek, the mourning, the hungry, the persecuted and the reviled. You are blessed. You've been given God’s unchanging CORE in the waters of Baptism. Nothing can change that CORE… so take a step toward that CORE and feel the blessing of solid ground under your feet. Amen.