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:
WHEN GOD IS WITH US, WE FIND MORE BY BECOMING LESS
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.
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.