Someone once said, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Another person said that the only thing that stays the same is that things are always changing.
And probably both of those things are true. We live in a time of accelerated change and constant flux. Many of us in this room have experienced so much change it is hard for us to remember what life was like. Others of us have grown up with so much change, it is hard for us to find stability in life. But too much stability is not good for us either. This week we renew our American love of large rodents with Ground Hog’s Day on February 2nd. The great comic film for that day has as its theme the tiredness we know as we over and over again we live the same winter day with no sense of relief.
The readings today also speak to what is and what is changing. The readings are from Micah, an ancient Hebrew prophet, Matthew, the gospel we are reading for this year, and once again another late winter reading from I Corinthians.
In the passage from Corinthians, Paul writes about the folly of our thoughts as we go through life. We consider something as wise only to later on discover, as time change, that it was pretty foolish. We put a lot of stock in something, but as things evolved, we sometimes sense we were not that wise after all. Almost every field of human endeavor from science to theology, from economics to politics, from relationships to values: all of that has been guided by wisdoms that have exhausted their usefulness and run into their limitations as we find ourselves over and over again living in a different world. In times of accelerated change, wisdom gradually becomes tarnished and then discarded in the face of new realities. And conversely what was once seen as foolish, something we may have thought outlandish, is now the cornerstone for living.
As things swirl for Paul in a first century that was also a time of great change, he points to something that may seem strangely foolish but in the end is important. He points to Jesus, the odd one, whose humiliating death reveals a suffering God of love in our broken world. In Paul’s world, gods were seen as powerful, almighty forces that needed to be appeased and whose demands needed to be satisfied. Paul, however, stands that wisdom on its head. In the swirling first century, he offers a Jesus humiliated on a cross, revealing the depth of God’s love for those who are broken. What a strange new idea. What change.
Change is swirling in the time of Micah the prophet. The wisdom of the day is that the God of Israel is worshipped in a temple with the sacrifice of animals to atone for sin. The correct worship of God brought the favor of God. And a great religion had been built around this central wisdom. And that wisdom is managed by those in charge, the priests and the kings. But the wisdom of the wise becomes foolishness in the hands of the poet Micah.
For Micah points to something else about God. Does God really care about how many bulls are sacrificed in a temple? Is that really a good thing? And if it is what God is all about, then maybe we should sacrifice humans, too? What would God really want? The blood animals or children? No, it’s not that, Micah says. Then Micah writes a few lines that are almost three thousand years old, but somehow have never changed, lines around which even we, in our own swirling times, can build our lives:
God has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
If you want to boil everything down to the basics, Micah is your poet. What is good? Justice. Compassion. Humility. Walking with God. These speak of a goodness that has not changed. A goodness that draws close to the divine essence. And according to Paul, this God has taken his own advice. For Paul’s God is a god of justice, a god of compassion, and a god who walks in humility with us, even suffering as we suffer for the sake of love.
And I love the grammar of Micah’s poem. It’s phrased as a question. How we do justice, compassion, humility and walking with God is not predetermined by the poet. We are asked to do that in a question that requires each of us to find our own answer.
In their swirling centuries, Micah and Paul challenge the wisdoms of the day, and as things change through the centuries, we have their stabilizing words to help us navigate our own changing seas.
In the beatitudes, the teaching Rabbi Jesus does something similar. He takes the conventional wisdom of the good life, and turns it on its head. The beatitudes also make the wise foolish and the foolish wise.
For those who are humble in spirit are walking with God, and the slings and arrows of others do not matter.
For those who mourn, find in their deep loss a hope that you don’t really know until you have suffered the loss of the one you love.
For those who sit quietly in the corner are generally listening carefully and will in the end have the insight we all need to make it through. Leadership is really a quiet thing.
For those who seek God will find God. It may come to you in surprising ways, but if you look for God, God will be there. And if you are not looking for God, you won’t find God anywhere.
For those who offer justice and mercy, will find themselves receiving it sometime down the road.
For those who work for peace, work for the salvation of the whole world, as they lead us beyond the destructive cycles of violence that consume us.
For those who are bullied will someday lead all of us to understand how important it is to treat everyone with dignity and respect.
The wisdom of this world becomes folly in the hands of this Rabbi Jesus, and those who suffer in the end will be precisely the ones who lead us through suffering into new hope. And that is why we still to this day, in spite of all the changes in our world, look to the wisdom in the folly of such teachers as Jesus, and Paul, and Micah with their new ideas.
And those ideas remind us if you are hurting, there will come a time when God will use you to accomplish some wisdom not yet seen. And in the meantime, do justice, show compassion, and walk humbly with God.