01 Feb No One Can Thwart The Blessing Of God – Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany January 29 2023
Preacher: Rev. Stephen McPeek
Similar to last week’s readings, this week’s readings leave no room for ambiguity. All three call us to a lifestyle that is set apart from the status quo. There are so many things I would have liked to have preached on today but one obscure sentence in our Old Testament reading from Micah caught my attention and wouldn’t let me go.
O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim (Numbers and Joshua) to Gilgal (Joshua 4:20-24), that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”
Like all of the prophets, Micah is not a happy camper in this story.
- He is scolding God’s people for straying from the lifestyle they had been called to and once lived.
- He is scolding them for straying from their original design and all the good that went along with it.
- He is scolding them for straying from the love relationship that God had called them into.
Then Micah demands that the people REMEMBER. In our Bible study on Wednesday, Rev. Phil reminded us that the word REMEMBER is used 169 times in the Bible.
According to Rabbi Dr. Michael J. Shire, Chief Academic Officer at Hebrew College in Newton, MA, remembrance in Judaism includes the notion of awareness and realization, not just of the past but also what it means for the future
In his famous work Zachor (“Remember”), Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi writes that Jewish memory is a fusion of past and present. Memory is not just a mere recollection of the past that preserves a sense of distance, but it is a re-actualization, a means to act in the present. It is the act of remembering that leads us to true acts of remembrance which honor the deeds of those we are remembering by working for peace, justice, and human rights.
So Micah is calling on his people to remember. What happened with King Balak of Moab and Balaam, son of Beor? The story is found in the Book of Numbers. King Balak was the leader of the Moabites who were terrified of the people of God. The king summons Balaam who is a seer, someone who communicates with the divine. Balaam is not an Israelite but nevertheless, he respects the God is Israel. The king is insistent and demands that Balam put a curse on the Israelites. He wants them to be put out of commission and irreparably harmed so that his own people will not be harmed.
Balaam tells the king that he will ask the God of Israel but that he will only speak and do what he hears. He goes to the Lord 3 times to inquire and comes back three times with the same answer: The people of God are blessed. I cannot curse them.In other words, because God has promised to bless them, they are blessed and it is not even possible to curse them.
The message of the blessing of God becomes profusive the second and third time around and Balaam tells the king how God never envisioned misfortune, trouble, omens, divination or curses against the people of Israel. In fact, Balaam tells the king that God is like a MAGNIFICENT WILD BULL for his people. In God’s faithfulness, God will fight for his people in a way that no one can withstand.
What is the Good News for us in this story?
Everyone who is baptized into the death of Christ and who is embracing the cross of Christ in an ever-growing surrender of their lives, everyone who draws near to the Lord and is opening up to the love of God, IS BLESSED. It doesn’t matter what anyone says about us, does against us, prays against us, it doesn’t matter what life circumstances throw at us, WE ARE BLESSED, and we simply cannot be cursed. And we are blessed because we are BELOVED.
Being blessed does not mean that:
- We do not struggle
- We do not suffer loss
- We do not experience pain and hardship.
- We won’t run into financial challenges or live on a tight budget.
What is means to be blessed in God is that:
- We know we are loved and cared for. This knowledge anchors us in life’s storms.
- We have peace in our hearts. Peace is not the absence of conflict but a state of being that is rooted in right relationship with God that enables us to be in right relationship with others.
- We have joy in our lives.
- We have perspective because our lives are rooted in something greater than ourselves.
- We have hope: that all is well and all will be well because of God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness.
There is no better person to share this with you than me. Most of you know that 2022 was a very difficult year for me and my family. Those close to me know how hard it has been. At the same time, those close to me know that I am blessed. Amid the loss of a second spouse and a second child, I can honestly say that the sense of being blessed has never left me, the knowledge that I and my family are loved by God, that we are not alone, and that God is with us even if we don’t understand. This is a miracle, it is the miracle of our faith. And it is the miracle of faith that I call you to live in. YOU ARE BLESSED and there is nothing anyone can do to stop that blessing, well, except you.
The message of Micah becomes one of a warning unheeded that results in disaster, but because of God’s kindness and faithful love, hope and renewal follow. Micah teaches us that we are the only ones who can thwart the blessing of God by moving away and straying from the love relationship with God. It is simple to be restored – just come back into alignment with God’s love. The way of love is where the stream of God’s blessing is found.
Let us REMEMBER the covenant God made with us at baptism, let us REMEMBER how Jesus gave his life for us as we stand around the table and recall his death and resurrection, and let this remembrance lead us to the acts of remembrance that Micah calls us to: do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.