Epiphany Week 4 - "Becoming More By Becoming Less"

Today we're continuing our journey through the Season of Epiphany, which ends the season of Christmas (the famous "12 Days") and lasts until Lent.  

To recap: "epiphany" is a word that essentially means "realization" or, more specifically, "inspired realization."  When you have an epiphany you know it.  You feel it in your bones.  

It's more important than realizing that you took a wrong turn on the way to Albuquerque and ended up in Hoboken.  That would be a seriously wrong turn.  

An epiphany is when you realize something that has the potential to change your life, the way you think about things, your future, and maybe your past... in other words, it's pretty momentous.  

So why should we care about an entire season in the historical church traditions dedicated to having an epiphany?  It comes down to what it means concerning Jesus and, more specifically, what it means because of the Incarnation. 

The Incarnation is the theology of God-With-Us, the idea that God took on human form and became one of us to rescue all of us.  And over the next several weeks, we'll learn why that is so important for you, me, and everyone. 

Today we're going to explore how God-With-Us turns things upside down--so much so that we discover more in less. 

Have you ever heard the phrase, "Less Is More?"  

This phrase was the motto of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the founders of a movement in Post-War Architecture called Bauhaus.  

This type of architecture reflected the austerity of those post-war years when the concern was for function, minimalism, and essentials. Here are some examples of famous Bauhaus buildings. 

Frank Lloyd Wright took things in a similar direction by designing smaller homes with the same aesthetic as some of his more significant projects.  His thought was to create affordable, functional, and beautiful homes. 

Here are some examples of those. 

Apart from the recent rise of the tiny house movement, our current culture seems a lot different, doesn't it?  "Less" definitely isn't "more" anymore. 

And that applies to so many aspects of our lives, does it?  Count the number of TVs in your house.  The number of cars in your garage.  I have an entire section of my kitchen cabinets devoted to wine glasses and other assorted stemware.  

I opened a drawer the other day and it was absolutely full of napkin rings--all shapes and sizes and themed for various seasons of the year.  

I had two revelations after seeing these things:  1) How did that happen?  2) I used to be cool. 

We recently did a big purge at our house, going through closets, cabinets, and the like, organizing and bagging up a bunch of stuff to take to Goodwill.  The garage is filled with huge bags and piles of other assorted stuff so much so that I can't put my car in there until I carry them away. 

And we still have more. 

This isn't a sermon about stuff.  If you want to hear a sermon on stuff just watch the late George Carlin's comedy bit about stuff and you'll get it. 

But you see, in the same way that we collect stuff because we aren't convinced that less is more, we also struggle to see how less is more in our lives.  Becoming less in order to find more doesn't make sense to us.  Giving ourselves away in order to gain more than we have given seems ludicrous.  Losing ourselves in order to find ourselves feels ridiculous. 

I mean all those things sound good, and we might even put them on signs at our cubicle at work or on our fireplace mantle, but we seldom give them any more than lip service, do we?

Here's that Jesus taught, though... when we finally get that God is truly with us, we can learn to live in God's economy, and beloved,  in God's economy things are a bit different, as we're going to discover.  

Today we're going to be hearing one of the most famous passages from Jesus most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount.  And in this passage we'll discover one very important truth that I want you to hold on to: 


Matthew chapter 5 begins with the words, "When Jesus saw the multitudes of people gathering, he went up to a mountainside and sat down.  His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them..."

This was a highly symbolic move by Jesus.  He begins his ministry on a mountainside (more of a hill really), re-interpreting the Torah--the teachings that were given by Moses... who also delivered teaching from a mountain.  Moses shared God's covenant with the people of Israel at Sinai.  Jesus shared God's new covenant with all people, everywhere at Galilee.

1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.

He said:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,

    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 Blessed are those who mourn,

    for they will be comforted.

5 Blessed are the meek,

    for they will inherit the earth.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

    for they will be filled.

7 Blessed are the merciful,

    for they will be shown mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart,

    for they will see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers,

    for they will be called children of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The Greek word that is used here for "blessed" is makarios or "happy."  Jesus is literally saying, "How happy are those who are..."  If you want to live a beautiful life, then you need to understand the path to true happiness--which is why we use the word "Beatitudes" to describe this passage of Scripture.  This is beautiful living.

If you take a look at the first four of the Beatitudes you can see clearly that they speak to those who are in need.  These are people with longings deep down inside of their very souls.  The final four Beatitudes speak to how the kingdom of God belongs to those who are transformed.  First four--this is how you were: in need, longing, desperate... Second four--this is what you become once you begin to live beautifully.

They don't make sense on the surface, do they?  Think about it.  "How happy are the depressed... those in grief... those who don't matter to the world... those who hunger for more than this world has to offer..."

These are startling words.  But they are calculated and deep and absolutely what Jesus wanted us to understand and to know.  In God's economy things are upside down for a reason. 

Happiness, Jesus tells his followers, doesn't come from political, economic or personal power "to make things happen." This is how the world works, though, which Jesus seems all too aware of as he speaks.  Happiness, Jesus teaches, comes when you lay aside--political, economic and personal power... 

Jesus teaches us that because of God-With-Us we can see the world differently, and learn that happiness comes when we find more in less. 

What if we wrote a Beatitudes for our culture?  What would it look like?

Something like this, maybe?

Blessed are those who are rich--with money as well as confidence. 
Blessed are those who are untouched by loss. 
Blessed are the powerful. 
Blessed are those who are "realistic" about righteousness, compromising at ever turn. 
Blessed are those who demand and exact eye for an eye when they are wronged. 
Blessed are those bold enough to make war and crafty enough to justify it. 
Blessed are those who do good things in order to hear applause. 
Blessed are those who use the name of Jesus to become adored and widely praised by everyone.

Isn't that beautiful?  Of course not.  It's ugly.  We know it's ugly.  And we also know that this form of the Beatitudes is the pattern that our culture keeps teaching us to follow.  When you see it sort of laid out like this--you can see how destructive it is, can't you? This isn't beautiful living.

But Jesus offers an upside down way of living that may not make sense to our culture, but definitely makes sense in the kingdom of God.

Let’s break down the Beatitudes… 

Jesus speaks to those in need--What might seem ugly in the eyes of our culture can lead us to beautiful living. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit--the connotation of this saying is simply this: How happy are those who are are at the end of their rope...and are helpless...with no where to go but God.

Blessed are those who mourn--what Jesus is saying here is this:  How happy are those who feel sorrow for the things that they've lost... sorrow for the sins that they've committed... sorrow for the sins of others that have made this world what it is...  and who need to hear God's message of grace.

Blessed are the meek---How happy are those who set aside their need for control, who are filled with self-honesty about their weakness, their frailty, their brokenness, and who need God's healing to make them whole.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness--How happy are those who set aside their need to be "right," and who realize it's not about religion, it's not about keeping the rules---it's about having a real relationship with God.

Jesus speaks to those how those in need will be transformed: 

Merciful--because when you live beautifully you will become the kind of person who can selflessly care for others more than yourself.

Pure in heart--you be able to set aside all of the anxious obstacles to hope in your life.

Peacemakers--this word has the connotation of someone who is writing poetry.  When you live beautifully, Jesus is saying, you will have a poetic gift for imitating God on the run, even in places where God doesn't seem to be at work.

Persecuted--when you live beautifully, you often find that the old way you used to live, the person you used to be was much more popular in this world than the new "you."  This anticipates the cross--the fact that you may have things in your life that must die so that you can truly live.

This is a photo of the feet of Mother Theresa, who devoted her life to serve the poor in India.  Mother Theresa's feet were so deformed that she could barely walk on them--a product of years of fitting them into the wrong-sized shoes.

You see, every time there as a donation of shoes to her mission--Mother Theresa would ensure that everyone else got the right size shoe, and she would then do her best to find a pair out of those left over.  Her feet are an embodiment of the way she lived her life--giving up what everyone told her was the way to happiness, and choosing the "upside-down" Jesus-centered way.

After decades of forcing them into the "wrong" shoes--Mother Theresa's feet were deformed and ugly in the eyes of the world...

But beautiful in the eyes of God.

A God who is with us.  

A God who shows us how to live beautifully by becoming less. 



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