Ginger Litman-Koon, Mt. Pleasant, SC
If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
We all know that heroes rule the box office, but did you know they now rule the internet? Throughout 2019, Google analytics data showed a global increase in searches centering around “heroes.” Sure, some of those searches had to do with what action movies were playing in theaters, but many of them were centered around what they call “everyday heroes.” Google even aired a YouTube video on New Years featuring a montage of all the “everyday heroes” videos that circulated the internet during 2019.
You can watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRCdORJiUgU
The heroes featured in the video are strangers, teachers, first responders, children, athletes. While there were some exceptions, most of the heroic actions
emerged from adversity: illness, danger, injury, loss, prejudice, natural disasters. Watching the video will bring happy tears to your eyes, because of the acts of courage and love shown by each of the individuals. It will leave you feeling a sense of hope for the world, despite the fact that many of the scenarios show struggle or hardship. So many of the stories in the montage are examples of light shining amidst moments of darkness.
This season of the church year is called Epiphany, where we highlight the ways Jesus is shown forth to the world. The season begins with the Day of Epiphany, when we commemorate the visit of the Magi to the child Jesus, following the light of the star. From the first day of this season to its end, light continues to be a prominent theme. Look for symbols of light used in your community’s worship (music, liturgy, paraments, images, etc) this Epiphany season.
- When have you seen light shining amidst the darkness, hope in times of struggle?
- Have you ever encountered an “everyday hero”?
- Why does it seem that sometimes the best in people comes out in the worst of times?
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus speaks in paradoxes. Often we hear Jesus speaking in parables, but when it comes to the Beatitudes, the Jesus’ teachings seem contradictory. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are those who are persecuted…Blessed are you when people revile you.” This formula,“blessed are,” is not one we would use in everyday speech. But in the original language, “blessed,” could simply mean “happy.” Jesus is saying, “happy” are those who are poor, grieving, persecuted or reviled.
By the world’s standards, people in these pitiable situations would not be called the “happy” ones! This teaching is paradoxical indeed. In the words of St. Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians (1st reading for today), it “sounds like foolishness.”
Jesus is setting up a contrast between the values of heaven and the values of earth. He’s saying that the things people think they need in order to be happy – wealth, answers, popularity, lack of adversity – are not at all what truly makes one blessed. True blessedness, real happiness, comes from knowing Jesus, from following him, and from finding our value in him. While the values of earth are all about what you have – possessions, status, influence – the values of heaven are all about who you know (namely, Jesus).
In today’s reading, Jesus doesn’t stop at listing the paradoxes of the Beatitudes. He goes on to say, “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.” Sure, we may understand that our true worth does not come from earthly standards, but are we really supposed to rejoice when we are hated, rejected or denied? Are we really supposed to be glad about our misfortunes? It’s difficult to wrap our heads around the idea of rejoicing over loss and rejection.
So how do we live this out? How do we take what Jesus is saying to heart? Well, some Christians might say that Jesus is simply telling us that the world brings hardships, but if we just make it to heaven, we’ll be rewarded there. Some might say, “Hey, life is rough, but heaven will be great!” But there’s more to Jesus’ message than that.
Jesus is helping us to see the true blessedness that appears even amidst the road bumps of life. Jesus is pointing us towards the light that shines even in the darkness. Jesus is challenging us to see the moments of mercy, grace and peace which happen in the places the world might call unredeemable. He is showing us that, through him, we can experience glimpses of the kingdom of heaven even amid the struggles of earth.
Have you ever felt peace even in a time of loss or grief? Have you ever experienced “the holy” in a time of sadness? Have you ever felt God’s presence when you thought you were completely alone? It may have come through a friend, a parent, or a stranger. It may have come through a feeling or a sense of calm. It may have come with no explanation at all. In Jesus’ teaching today, he’s challenging us to look past what the world may see, and to keep our eyes open for the unlikely moments of true blessedness.
So often, when people of faith are asked to share a time when they most clearly felt God’s peace or blessings, they point to a moment of loss: “When my grandmother passed away,” “when my friend died,” “when I didn’t get into the college I wanted.” People often say, “That was the moment when I knew God was there with me, surrounding me.” No, when it comes down to it, we may not feel much like rejoicing in those moments, but so often, it’s there that we discover the blessing of being known and loved by God.
- Have you ever felt God’s peace, even amidst loss or disappointment?
- Do you ever struggle with the paradox or “foolishness” of our Christian faith?
- Who can you reach out to when you are struggling to see light in the darkness?
- Watch the video noted in the opening section of this week’s Faith Lens. In your group, share which heroes were most meaningful to you and why?
- Has there ever been a time when you felt “reviled and persecuted” for doing something because of your faith? Was it worth it? What might it say if we have never gotten any heat for following Jesus, since Jesus seems to assume that opposition is inevitable when we are faithful?
God of light, this Epiphany season, we pray that you will show us the light of your love, no matter what darkness surrounds us. Draw us closer to you through your Son, who gave himself for our sake, so that we would know the riches of heaven here on earth. Amen.