To the Parishioners & Friends of Saint Bernard's:


Please enjoy the Sermon, from the last Sunday's service below...If you would like to comment upon the Sermon below, or would like to start a private dialogue with the Rev. Beth Rauen Sciaino, please hit "reply" to this email or contact her at [email protected].



You can also "listen" to Pastor Beth's Sermon by first clicking on the link below to go to the Sermons page of our website, then clicking on the Audio Play button.



A sermon preached by the Rev. Beth Rauen Sciaino
on the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, January 29, 2017,
at St. Bernard's Episcopal Church, Bernardsville, NJ 

Scripture: Micah 6:1-8
Hear what the Lord says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the Lord has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.
"O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the saving acts of the Lord."
"With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"
He 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?

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
My uncle Rob has made music most of his life. Ever since his older brother, my uncle John, had the good idea to hand Rob a guitar as John left for college. Despite a ten-year age gap, this act gave the brothers a life-long language to speak with one another, guitar to guitar, enjoyed by the rest of us. When I was in 3rd grade, Uncle Rob sent me a cassette tape. Perhaps it was my birthday, I can't remember. I just know that it was my first tape. Sting's first solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles. (Would he make it on his own?)
Some of the subject material was heavy, but I was ready for it. Just the same way kids have been captured by the lyrics of the musical Hamilton today. They feel entrusted with a different take on history. My favorite song, for years to come, was "Russians," about the Cold War and the threat posed by nuclear weapons. Sting and I sang this song over and over. You may not know the song... but it made something big, scary, and abstract - relatable, relevant, and urgent. Lyrics like "How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer's deadly toy? There is no monopoly on common sense on either side of the political fence. We share the same biology, regardless of ideology. Believe me when I say to you, I hope the Russians love their children too."
Sting roots his song "Russians" in our universal humanity. The common denominator is our concern for our children and their future. And yet, we struggle to find the generosity to see folks across the world having the very same human hopes and dreams for their children as we do. We can find it hard to trust that throughout the world people want the same things for themselves and their families, and the list is relatively basic. The truth is, what divides us is minor when compared to what we share.
On Thursday, our diocesan bishop, Bishop Chip Stokes, gathered clergy for a half day of prayer and discernment. We sang hymns, read and reflected on Scripture, and shared concerns. I'll tell you, the words of the hymn "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" never made as much sense to me as they did on Thursday, singing with fellow clergy. It reminded me that I need to rebalance my days - I need to spend more time listening to God in Scripture and finding strength expressed in hymns and the wisdom of our forbearers in faith. Certainly, more time than I'm spending anxiously checking my phone for news.
Our Gospel passage this morning is the beginning of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the rest of which will unfold over the next three weeks. Today, the disciples and we are given the Beatitudes, Matthew's version. The disciples come to Jesus to learn. To learn how to live a new life. They're there to listen, and to try their best to live in new ways, even when they misunderstand Jesus. It's possible these words of blessing have lost their impact on us. We're conditioned to hear them passively and in turn view them as a passive list. But Jesus is not saying, if you happen to be meek, good for you, you're inheriting the earth! Instead of "meek" here, we might replace it with "humble." In conversation on Thursday with a colleague, I learned a definition of the word "humble" he'd come across and found meaningful -humility is strength controlled. Perhaps: "Blessed are those who control their strength, for they will inherit the earth." In fact, both halves of the Beatitude statements are active. If we choose to claim our discipleship and live our faith, Jesus tells us to find a way into our hunger and thirst for righteousness. Alongside people of other faiths and none at all, we must work for peace. Making peace is messy, hard, often conflictual work. It is anything but passive.

Right now, our world is overwhelming. Amid it all, clarity of vision and voice can help us find stability. It's why we return to familiar hymns and Scripture, guided and reminded of our purpose to work for peace and justice, to restore people to God. Many people and churches use the last verse of our reading from the prophet Micah to shape and guide their lives. Walter Brueggemann defines a prophet's role as "criticizing and energizing" the people.[1] The prophet brings hope along with the criticism. In today's reading, we have a mock court case litigated between God and the people. Responding to the question, "What have I done to you?" God basically says, "I'm the one who saves you again and again!" Throughout the Old Testament, we hear God remind his people of their intertwined identity. God and people shaped by God's act to redeem them from enslavement in Egypt. In Leviticus, we hear, "For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall be holy, for I am holy" (Lev. 11:45). In Deuteronomy, we hear, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me" (Deut. 5:6-7).

But the Lord doesn't stop there. God urges people see the image of God in themselves by making this identity their own. God affirms the importance of their salvation by linking it to the compassion and justice we are expected to employ day in and day out. In Leviticus, we hear: "The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God" (Lev. 19:34). God wants us to catch this vision: We are people who welcome and save, who claim and celebrate the stranger as our own. In light of our welcome of the stranger, woven deeply into our tradition, I can only conclude that restricting entry of suffering refugees and people who are Muslim or from primarily Muslim countries is against the values of our shared God and our country.
Some of us may know the stories of the people who welcomed our own ancestors to this country, along with stories of people who may have tried to push them out. Gathered here today, we share in the biblical story, we claim a lineage that rejoices in the Lord who saves, again and again. Through the Prophet Micah, the Lord rejects the sacrifices people offer in an effort to gain God's favor - sacrifices of livestock and even their first born. God doesn't want these sacrifices, however substantial. God wants a change of life. God comes into the brokenness of our lives to heal and bind up, to raise and to bless. As my son, David, has been asking lately, "Did you notice that?"
Where do we notice God's saving acts? Look for God acting through all sorts of people in the weeks ahead, ourselves included. A transformed life gives God joy. The prophet brings clarity and hope to the people, energizing them. Offering a change of life that reconnects them with God. One commentator I listened to said the word we usually translate "humbly" in Micah 6:8 is unclear, but could best be translated "deliberately" or "intentionally."[2] The Prophet Micah speaks to us today, as he has to generations of Jews and Christians.
He 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 (or deliberately) with your God? (Micah 6:8)
This is the rhythm to which we must tune our lives. May we have the courage to help one another on this path. Amen.

[1] - Dan Clendenin, "Micah: Prophetic Critique and Pastoral Comfort." Webzine: Journey with Jesus. Posted Jan. 22, 2017.
[2] Sermon Brainwave Podcast # 522 - Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Posted Jan. 21, 2017.