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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Epiphany - 2/11/07

   Do you ever have those times when you’re just content to be who you are, where you are, doing what you’re doing?  I don’t mean merely resigned to things as they are which might be kind of a helpless, hopeless feeling.  I mean at peace and content with no thought that if you could just change one thing or buy one more thing or have just a little more money, then everything would be as it should be? 

I bet that some of you feel that way at least some of the time and it is a very peaceful place to be.  But of course our society works against such feelings, it really works against contentment always wanting us to feel like there’s more, something better that we can buy or do or have that will bring us the happiness we want.  We’re almost made to feel like there’s something wrong if we’re too OK with the way our life is.

Wendell Berry is an author who gets at some of these themes, writing mostly about small town people living seemingly ordinary, but meaningful lives.  Most of what he writes isn’t overtly religious but he addresses religious themes without being blatant and annoying and schmaltzy about it.  As I worked on this sermon I came across a reference to one of his novels, Jayber Crow which I read a few years ago.  Berry writes about how the main character, Jayber Crow comes to terms with who he is at midlife.  “Now finally,” he says, “I really had lost all desire for change, every last twinge of the notion that I ought to get somewhere or make something of myself.  I was what I was. ‘I will stand like a tree,’ I thought, ‘and be in myself as I am.’”

Again, in the context of the story, this doesn’t represent giving up in despair.  Instead, it’s a mature recognition that life isn’t about being upwardly mobile, planning the next step or the next move, climbing the ladder of success and acquisition.  There’s a simpler, more satisfying way to be as your life becomes centered less on self and more on God.  You still do what you can do, but there is a profound trust in God and God’s promises. 

That’s what today’s psalm is about.  It’s the first psalm and it’s number one for a reason as it serves as something of a preface to all the psalms.  It highlights a choice between two paths, only one of which leads to happiness, only one of which really delivers on what it promises.

That way is the way which takes delight in the instruction of God.  But this is happiness in a way different from the way the world defines happiness.  Happiness tends to be thought of as enjoying yourself; the goal of life is centered on self fulfillment; prosperity is a matter of obtaining what you want.  Happiness in the alternative vision of the Bible is found in praising God.  Prosperity isn’t a matter of getting what you want, it’s a matter of being connected to God, the source of life. 

And so the image of the tree planted by streams of water, provided for and nourished, producing fruit, solid and unmovable…this contrasted with chaff which is tossed and moved around by the slightest of winds.  The way of the righteous, the way of those who take delight in the instruction of God promises the inner contentment that Wendell Berry writes about, but mostly we don’t believe it.  The happiness the world promises sounds pretty good; we do get lured in by it.

But if you have those times when you’re content, I’ll bet it’s when you become not so attached to your possessions, those times when you’re thankful for what you have instead of always wanting something else.  I’ll bet it’s at those times when you’re not so worried about what you can’t do or where you can’t be or the things you can’t control, but you’re thankful for what you can do where you are.  I’ll bet it’s at those times when you’re not so worried about who you aren’t but you’re thankful for who you are, satisfied with what is rather than worrying about what isn’t.

It’s a good place to be and taking delight in the law of the Lord moves us in that direction and don’t misunderstand delight in the law of the Lord as a nitpicky kind of legalism.  Taking delight in the law or the instruction of the Lord means opening yourself to the truth of the Bible, recognizing that as God’s word it does offer a choice, another way to be.

I believe that is the message of the Beatitudes as well.  Today we get Luke’s version of them. We always struggle with the Beatitudes or when we hear them we say, “That’s not really what Jesus meant,” because the things Jesus calls blessed are so different from the things we think of as blessings, the things he calls woes so different from things we think of as hardships. 

But all of the things he calls blessings represent situations where our ability to control things is proved to be inadequate which should bring us back to God and trusting in God’s ability to provide.  The things that he calls woes represent situations where we believe that we’re in control, we can manage just fine, deceived by self-sufficiency and that’s why we struggle because let’s face it, self-sufficiency is what we tend to hold as one of our highest values.  So the Beatitudes create some tension, some dissonance within us and more and more I think that is what the teachings of Jesus are supposed to do.

In the Bible, the self-sufficiency that we value, that our world values, is contrasted with an attitude of thanksgiving to God.  Today’s lessons don’t speak specifically about thanksgiving, but they do allude to it.  I think it’s interesting and no accident that the last psalm in the Bible, number 150 is an extravagant call to praise and thanksgiving.  “Praise the Lord!  Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!  Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness!”  I don’t believe it’s an accident that we have these two psalms as bookends, starting with a call to obedience and trust in the ways of God and ending with an unabashed call to praise.  In the Bible it is the logical progression.

But it definitely represents a vision of reality that is in conflict with the usual version of reality.  Most specifically it makes God the object of our thanks as opposed to giving thanks to ourselves or even to other people for our ingenuity and our ability to manage so well.  It should be said though, that this is not a give thanks to God in all things attitude.  If you read through the psalms there are many that express the fact that things are not as they should be, many that call God to question.  A reading of the psalms leads us through all of the possibilities, good and bad, that life might deal us but they also tell us that ultimately obedience and delight in the ways of the Lord lead us to an attitude of thanksgiving and that is what brings us real happiness. 

On one level these don’t seem like Epiphany texts; last week with Isaiah’s vision of the Lord in the temple and the miraculous catch of fish in the gospel; those were Epiphany texts, miraculous revelations of God’s presence.  I don’t know about you, but those kinds of things have never happened to me.  I’m not so sure I would want them to happen to me. 

For us, maybe the epiphanies we have are those moments when we are quietly content, OK with the way things are, not lusting after something different, not thinking that everything depends on me, but trusting that God is present with us in what we are doing, trusting that God will provide, trusting that God is what we were looking for all along.  Once again, it’s not an attitude of resignation or apathy but one of saying I can only do what I can do, and by the grace of God it’s enough, it’s OK.  I am who I am…like a tree planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season.

          Saying that brings us much closer to also saying, “I am who I am, and God is who God is.”  That too is OK.  In fact, it’s more than OK.  It’s an epiphany.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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