July 12, 2020

Blessed Are Those Whose Lives Imitate Jesus

Matthew 5:7-8

A sermon for Hawaii Kai UCC by Janice Ogoshi

July 12, 2020 (Pentecost +6)

 

 

I have decided to follow Jesus

I have decided to follow Jesus

I have decided to follow Jesus

No turning back, no turning back

 

Think for a moment about the time in your life when you decided to follow Jesus.  I’m not talking about when you were baptized or when you prayed the “Sinner’s Prayer.”  It could be that those were actually the moments when you decided to follow Jesus, but it could have come at a different time. 

 

I’m talking about the time when you realized that being a Christian meant looking deeply at Jesus’ life—how he lived, how he related to other people, how he spent his time—and then following his lead, trying to do the same things, living in the same way.  When did you decide to follow Jesus?

 

I’ve always been intrigued by the stories in the gospels of how Jesus called his first disciples.  The stories seem a bit beyond belief.  Jesus went up to individuals or pairs of brothers and said to them, “Come, follow me.”  And they would leave everything to follow him.

 

He didn’t ask them to be his students, to learn and memorize concepts.  He didn’t ask them to explain what they believed.  He invited them to follow him; to go where he went, watch and do what he did.  He invited them to learn about life in the kingdom of heaven by following him and being immersed in his life.  

 

And when they followed him, what did they see and do?  They saw Jesus being compassionate in healing the sick and feeding the hungry.  They watched Jesus heal a man lowered from the roof by his friends.  He didn’t just restore the man’s legs, but he forgave his sins.  They saw Jesus take time to be apart to pray to his Heavenly Father.  They watched him trusting in God’s ways, not giving into the temptation to use his authority for self-promotion or self-preservation.  They saw Jesus’ resolve in ministering to people and his commitment to doing the work of God on earth.  And they saw him not resisting when he was arrested, tortured and crucified.  They saw him trust in God when everything looked grim.

 

I imagine that following Jesus had a huge impact on the disciples and how they thought and lived and related to other people.  As they followed Jesus, they had to have taken on some of his characteristics. They must have become more merciful, more gracious, more loving, more generous, more compassionate.  Because following Jesus made his way of life compelling.  So the result of following Jesus was becoming more and more like him.  Following Jesus leads to imitating him.

 

The Beatitudes describe Jesus and those who follow him.  While we may not be completely like Jesus, his character rubs off on those who hang around him long enough.  So when he said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy,” we say, “Yup.  Mercy goes around in circles.  You give it, you get it, then you give it, and it comes back around to you again.”  Merciful people are compassionate and forgiving because they’ve received it and because they’ve seen the effect on their own and others’ lives.

 

Jesus was merciful, and it showed in the company he kept.  So many of the people he ministered to were on the margins, easily ignored or devalued in their community because of their sin or inability to completely observe the Torah.  But Jesus chose to pay attention to them, listen to their stories, heal and restore them.  Jesus was merciful, and those who received his forgiveness were transformed.  

 

One of the things that you have taught me over the years is that God’s forgiveness is important to receive and remember because it transforms us.  The prayer of confession we pray together every week in worship is a reminder that Jesus never gives up on us and is constantly reaching out to us to bring us back from our wandering.  I was surprised to hear on several occasions that the prayer of confession is, for a number of us, the most meaningful part of our worship each week.  And even though we don’t pray the same prayer every week, for many of you it’s important that we take time to confess our sins to God and receive God’s forgiveness.

 

I don’t think we are being hard on ourselves.  Confession is not a “what a wretch I am” time to wallow in our sinfulness.  Rather, it is recognition that God’s mercy and forgiveness are always available to us when we acknowledge that we’ve sinned and strayed away from God.  God is unwavering in God’s desire to be in relationship with us.

 

We are blessed when we are merciful because it comes from an awareness that we have received and will continue to receive God’s mercy. 

 

In following Jesus we see that he was also pure in heart.  The purity we speak of is not just being cleansed of our sin, but not having competing loyalties.  Pure gold has no other metals or minerals in it, it is unalloyed.  A pure heart is made up of devotion to only one thing:  worshipping God with all one’s heart, soul, strength and mind.  A pure heart worships only one God.  No divided loyalties to other gods or to false idols.

 

Jesus had a pure heart.  He was totally devoted to doing God’s will.  He had only one mission:  to proclaim the kingdom of God.  And he stuck to it.  He wasn’t swayed by what others wanted from him.  Earlier this year when we read Mark 1, we saw that Jesus took time apart to pray—I imagine it was his time early in the day to reset and connect with God.  When the disciples came looking for him, what they wanted was for him to resume healing all the sick who came to the house where he was staying.  But Jesus told them that they needed to move on to other villages to preach to the people there.  He was being pure in heart by not wavering from what he perceived God had called him to do at the time.  

 

This was true his whole life and ministry.  Jesus was not afraid to go against the religious leaders or the Roman Empire to keep his ministry focused on proclaiming the kingdom of God.  It eventually got him arrested and crucified.  But Jesus remained pure in heart, he stayed loyal to God and to the mission God had given to him.  He had no other gods.

 

When we follow Jesus, we see his pure heart, we see his steadfast devotion to God.  And when our hearts become pure like Jesus, our focus is totally on God and God’s mission.  And when we look for God’s presence and work in the world, we will see it.

 

One of the things I learned during our years-long engagement in the New Initiative Creation was to be on the lookout for what God was doing in the world, in our community, and then to join that work.  We began to use the word discernment a lot in our life together because it became important for us to see what God was doing.  We actively sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  We began to ask where God was, what God wanted, what was God’s will, which led us to make plans that were different than if we had just begun doing what other churches were doing, or what we, in our human understanding, thought was good or right.

 

Our commitment to being pure in heart in following Jesus has resulted in freedom to experiment and try new things as the Spirit has led us.  We have kept our eyes open for God’s activity among us and pursued doing ministry in new ways because of it.  Our Nominations Teams have been prayerfully calling officers to serve, not just lining up skills with responsibilities.  We are not afraid of doing things differently, of letting go of the way we did things in the past because we are trying to pay attention to what God is doing among us now.  And we are blessed as we continue to focus on looking for God, because God shows up—all the time.

 

This is especially important now as we live into new ways of being church together while staying at home, staying safely apart, doing our part to not allow the coronavirus to spread.  While we are unable to gather in person, God is still with us.  And God is still at work among us.  We just need to look for the places where God is at work, and go there.  We need to look for the people among whom Jesus is present, and go to be with them.  Our pure hearts, our undivided loyalty to Jesus will lead us to different, perhaps new ways of being the church.  Instead of waiting for things to reopen or waiting to gather again in the cafeteria at Hahaione School, we can follow Jesus now into new ways of living together as the body of Christ.

 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  When you follow Jesus, you look for God’s presence and activity, and you will see it.  We just need to keep our eyes and hearts open.

 

As we follow Jesus by looking deeply at his life and ministry and then doing the same things he did, we will become more and more like him.  And we will be blessed.  Thanks be to God!