Pastor Steve Mechem
Daniel 6:16-18 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!” A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, so that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him.
Pastor Steve Mechem
1 Kings 17:8-16 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Widow of Zarephath
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.
One of God’s essential characteristics in the Scripture is as Provider.
This idea takes shape early in Genesis and runs through the book of Revelation.
The very first book of the Bible written, Job, is the story of God as provider and what happens when God quits providing.
The Scripture writers overtly claim that God is the supplier of all our needs.
God provides for the just and unjust, the righteous and unrighteous, the good and the evil.
God supplies our needs through the natural course of things. God set it in motion, and so God is credited for the positive outcomes.
Your body is healthy, you have a job, you earn some money, you pay for your stuff- that is a natural way God provides for you.
The seed is planted, the rains fall, the sun shines, the crop grows, the harvest supplies you with what you need- that is a natural way that God provides.
But the bible makes clear that there is a supernatural way that God provides as well. When the natural course of things goes awry, the Scripture infers, God shows up.
We see it in the passage this morning.
There is a severe drought in the land. The drought leads to famine. People are starving daily because there is not enough to eat.
The Prophet Elijah, hungry himself, encounters a single mom and her son. He asks them to provide him with bread but they decline because there is only enough flour and oil left to provide themselves with one more meal before they die.
“I get it,” declares Elijah, “And here is the offer I will make to you. Take your flour and make me a loaf of bread. Then make bread for you and your son.”
“You will be amazed to learn that you will always have enough flour and oil, up to the day that the drought is breaks”
And sure enough, as the woman gave up her last bit of flour for Elijah, she discovered enough flour for herself and her son. And the flour kept appearing, for weeks, as Elijah, the woman and her son survived the famine.
The gist of the story is that this woman was rescued through God’s supernatural intervention. From where else did the flour keep coming, if not from the hand of God?
I am reminded of that Provision story in Exodus. Moses has lead the Hebrews, some estimate the number to be 2.4 million people, out of Egypt and into the wilderness. Supplies run out quickly in the desert and the people become angry and blame Moses for his poor preparation.
But in response, God provides this stuff that the hebrews find lying on the ground every morning, six days each week. They bake it into cakes. Manna, the word means “What is it?,” is eaten by the Hebrews every day of their journey.
It was a miracle food, a supernatural provision given by God. The folks got tired of it after a bit, but hey, it provided them with the sustenance they needed for a long, long time.
Jewish Festivals are often built around the idea of provision, be it the giving of the Talmud at Pentecost, or the Harvest at Sukkot (Su Kaa), or the saving of the people at Purim, or the provision of oil at Hanukkah.
The Greeks and Syrians had been run out of Jerusalem by the Maccabees. As the victors entered the temple to reignite the eternal flame of the golden Menorah, they was discovered that there was only enough sacred oil for one night and not nearly enough for the time it would take for new oil to be delivered.
But the community prayed and the Menorah stayed lit. One day, two, three, four days. It was a miracle. five days, six, seven, eight days. And on the eighth day, newly processed holy oil arrives and the Menorah stays lit and the temple is re-blessed and the Hanukah holiday is born. God’s supernatural provision.
So, biblically speaking
God provides in natural ways.
God provides in super-natural ways.
And I believe that God provides in another way- through the actions and commitment of God’s people.
St. Teresa reminded us that,
“Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on the world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which he blesses the world.”
So, using this thinking, if God wants to provide for somebody, God might just choose you to do it, or many of us to do it together.
God is providing 150 Thanksgiving baskets to truly needy families by using members and friends of Antioch BC and Second BC to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
In our church experience, we can all testify to times when God provided for us through the actions of others. When someone was there for us, lifted us up, encouraged us, made it better for us.
I believe God is providing when you sit with someone at the clinic, prepare a meal for someone who is incapacitated, provide transportation for someone without.
I believe God is providing when you choose to stand up for your co-worker who is gay and is being mistreated because of it.
I believe God is providing when you choose walk from class to class with a disabled student to insure that bullying doesn’t take place.
I believe God is providing when you join hands and hearts with people of color and with immigrants and with those who are routinely dispossessed by our society.
I believe God s providing when you choose love over hate, inclusion over exclusion, grace over judgement.
God provides through you.
There is another great provision story in the Scripture. You probably know it well. Over 5,000 people are fed as God miraculously transforms the lunch of a young boy into enough to feed the throngs. Great story. Love it.
But just for fun re-imagine it this way.
Over 5,000 people have spent a long day with Jesus and they are hungry and tired. Jesus’ disciples are concerned for them and question Jesus about what to do.
Jesus’ response, “Feed them.”
“We cant. We don't have the food to feed them, or the money to buy enough food to feed them.”
Jesus rolls his eyes. He is about to say something when Disciple Andy interjects, “there is a kid here with a lunch of rolls and fish, but I don’t know how that could help.”
“There you go. Now watch this.” Says a smiling Jesus as he takes the boys lunch in a way that the whole crowd sees, and thanks him loudly and high fives him heartedly in front of the crowd. He then has everyone sit, and begins to pray.
We don’t have the transcript of the prayer here, but maybe it goes like this. “Lord, thank you for day and this big crowd of hungry people. We need to feed them, but there is not enough money or food with which to do it. So, by faith, we accept, this young, courageous, faithful, special boy’s lunch believing you will supply the rest. Amen”
Now, do you really think that this boy is the only one in the crowd wise enough to bring some food along to this outing?
Perhaps, as Jesus was saying Amen while looking at the crowd through one open eye, they are already coming forward. Tens, then scores, then 100’s of people bringing their pocketed, hidden lunches to Jesus to use to feed them all. To provide everyone with what they need in that moment.
And feed them all he did, with basketfuls left over.
God provides, sometimes through the natural course of things, sometimes miraculously, and sometimes because a kid does what he can, and trusts God with the rest.
Pastor Steve Mechem
Matthew 5:1-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
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 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.”
I am honored to be the Pastor of the Second Baptist Church of St. Louis, Missouri. A great church with a great story.
And you are privileged to be members, or participants, or visitors of Second Baptist Church.
If you take a moment to look at the signage outside the building, you discover that this is not only Second Baptist Church, but this is The Sanctuary of the Beatitudes at Second Baptist Church.
The sanctuary of the Beatitudes was designed as a space of worship and contemplation. You walk through the doors and are immediately drawn to the cross that appears to hang in space. The simple design of the room leads your eyes from the cross to the windows. There is not a lot of stuff sitting around to draw your attention away the cross and the windows.
The first window is a welcome window in which a 45 five foot tall Jesus invites you to seek first the Kingdom of God.
The rest of the windows are based on Scripture texts lifted from the 5th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, from the beatitudes. The verses are supplemented with art work that help interpret the meaning of the words of the text.
Now, as the pastor of the Sanctuary of the Beatitudes, and as members and participants in the Sanctuary of the Beatitudes, it probably makes sense for us to strive to understand the meaning of the verses in the windows.
What does “Blessed are those who feel their spiritual need, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them” even mean?
Or, what kind of logic is “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted?” Think about it- Happy are you when you are sad for you will be happy again! Why not just skip the sad and stay happy all the time?
Or, how do the humble inherit the earth? The way the world seems to work, the meek are trampled by the narcissists and megalomaniacs.
And on and on it goes.
It behooves us to think about the words Jesus speaks and to strive to understand what they might mean for us.
Last night at the Talent Show, I asked you to tell me what you thought of the Beatitudes and you gave me some amazing insights.
You told me that the Beatitudes are a representation of God’s continuous shower of blessings.
And you told me that the Beatitudes provide guiding principles for life.
And you told me that the beatitudes are words of God which we should all follow so that we might be examples to one another.
You described each beatitude as a beautiful message from God that speaks hope, love, peace, grace into the world.
You told me that The Beatitudes are an insight into kingdom values and give examples of Kingdom living.
You suggested to me that in the Beatitudes, Jesus is re-imagining a new application of the Torah for his followers.
You said the Beatitudes represent attitudes which allow us to follow the path of Jesus.
You also said the Beatitudes are big-picture guidelines for how a society can experience peace and love.
You suggested that the Beatitudes are reminders of how to be my better self.
You hoped that the beatitudes carry God’s assurance of great rewards after the struggles here.
You described the beatitudes as a multi-dimensional compass for human north.
You said that the beatitudes call us to do what they say when we figure out what they mean
And you told me that the beatitudes mean there is a place for all of us.
Other folks have had plenty to say about the beatitudes.
Philip Yancey refers to the beatitudes as dangled promises.
Our friend Clarence Jordan says they are the stairway to the kingdom.
New Saint Oscar Romero declares that the church’s only option is the beatitudes.
And Freud, and others, say the beatitudes are evidence of Jesus’ imbalance. They are a recipe for masochism.
I have always thought of the Beatitudes as conditional- literal if, then sentences.
If I am hungry and thirsty for God, then I will be filled, therefore, I am blessed.
I have always thought of the Beatitudes as conditional, about conditions in our lives, poverty, mourning, timidity, yearning and how those conditions play out as we trust God.
Last spring, the Sunday School class I teach was looking at the book, The Day the Revolution Began by N.T. Wright. He wrote a couple of paragraphs about the Beatitudes that really struck me.
Wright suggests that the Beatitudes, rather than being about situations and circumstances are about personalities. He says, “these are the kind of people through whom the kingdom will be launched.”
Again, he writes, “When God wants to sort out the world God doesn't send in the tanks. He sends in the meek, the broken, the justice hungry, the peacemakers, the pure-hearted and so on.”
The Kingdom is made up of folks who understand their spiritual need. They know they don't have it all together but they know they long for a kingdom of grace.
The Kingdom is made up of people who mourn- whose hearts break with the things that break the heart of God and find comfort in a God who delivers and redeems.
The Kingdom is for the humble, the controlled, those tamed by the spirit.
The Kingdom is filled with people who genuinely want to know God more fully and completely.
The Kingdom is populated with people who instinctively choose kindness.
The Kingdom is made up of those who are truly pure in their response to others. They are accepting, caring, welcoming, always willing to offer a hand up.
The Kingdom is full of people who desire peace and work for it.
The Kingdom is for the courageous, those so committed to God, to justice, to their fellow human being that they are willing to suffer for their convictions.
One of you told me that the beatitudes are reflections of how different people are put together into community.
Perhaps the words of Jesus aren’t so much about what happens to us or what we do, but about who we are:
We are not blessed because of our condition, we are blessed because of a decision we have made to follow Jesus.
The beatitudes are something we are, not something we do.
Pope Francis wisely said that to live the beatitudes is to go against the flow. I would only suggest that we don’t live the beatitudes, we strive to be the beatitudes.
From the Message Bible.
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.”
Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation and tribe and language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
Pastor Steve Mechem
It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake; why should God be angry at your words, and destroy the work of your hands?
With many dreams come vanities and a multitude of words; but fear God.
If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and right, do not be amazed at the matter; for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. But all things considered, this is an advantage for a land: a king for a plowed field.
The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity.
Pastor Steve Mechem
For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel:
Seek me and live;
but do not seek Bethel,
and do not enter into Gilgal
or cross over to Beer-sheba;
for Gilgal shall surely go into exile,
and Bethel shall come to nothing.
Seek the LORD and live,
or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire,
and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.
Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood,
and bring righteousness to the ground!
Come and listen to my story
about a man named Jed
A poor mountaineer,
barely kept his family fed,
And then one day he was shootin at some food,
And up through the ground come a bubblin crude.
Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.
Well the first thing you know
ol Jed's a millionaire,
The kinfolk said “Jed move away from there”
Said “Californy is the place you ought to be”
So they loaded up the truck
and they moved to Beverly
Hills, that is. Swimmin pools, movie stars.
Jed and all his kin live in the Ozarks.
Jed, and His mother-in-law and His daughter live in a small cabin (couple hundred square feet) with a wooden porch complete with rocking chair and sleeping bloodhound, Duke.
Oil is discovered on Jed’s land and overnight, he becomes a millionaire.
Jed has no idea what this means but some of his family convince him that with that much money he should move his family out of the shack, out of the hills to wear the rich lice, Beverly Hills, California.
He sees no need to move but his cousin Pearl presses upon him the struggles he has in the mountains of southern Missouri.
She reminds him that :
he lives 8 miles from his nearest neighbor,
his house is over run with skunks, possums, coyotes, and bobcats,
he has no electricity,
he cooks on a wood stove,
he drinks homemade moonshine,
and washes himself with homemade lye soap.
And his bathroom is 50 feet from the house.
He thinks about her argument a minute and responds,
“A man would be a danged fool to leave all this.”
But Jed is eventually worn down and agrees to move, reluctantly. After all, somewhere else will probably be better than here. With this change in life’s circumstance, comes a perceived need for a change in locale.
They load all their stuff, all of it, on Jed’s cousin’s truck, a 1921 Oldsmobile. Jed, Granny, Elly May, his nephew Jethro, and Duke head out for Beverly Hills. Jethro drives, and Granny sits on her rocking chair on top of all their belongings.
A 25,000 square foot mansion sitting on 10 1/2 acres, complete with 32 rooms, indoor plumbing, 14 bathrooms, modern conveniences, and a concrete pond awaits them.
I believe, as a unbiased observer, that there is sufficient evidence to declare that their move is an unmitigated disaster.
they are preyed upon by Con men looking to take steal their money,
Jed becomes the target of unscrupulous women looking to take advantage of his naïveté,
the family is manipulated by bankers lining their own pockets,
city ordinances prohibit their cows and pigs and chickens, (oh come on)
neighbors complain about the multitude of dogs, and cats and wild critters (including Jaguars and Bob Cats and chimpanzees) Elly May brings home,
neighbors call the police complaining about yodeling and gun shots coming from the Clampett property,
city ordinances forbid the family from plowing up their meticulously cared for front lawn so that they might plant corn, and onions, and pumpkins.
the community doesn’t even celebrate Opossum Day. What is wrong with these people?
The Clampetts are scorned, laughed at, mocked by almost everybody they meet,
even kind people they encounter misunderstand them and judge them,
it gets so bad, and they are so homesick, that they build a duplicate cabin, exactly like the one they lived in back in the Ozarks, in their back yard (not far from the concrete pond).
The moral here, at least to me, is that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. Sometimes, moving away or running away or relocating doesn’t solve the issues you need resolved.
Which brings us to the passage read today.
From The Message translation
“Seek me and live.
Don’t fool around at those shrines of Bethel,
Don’t waste time taking trips to Gilgal,
and don’t bother going down to Beer-sheba.
Gilgal is here today and gone tomorrow
and Bethel is all show, no substance.”
So seek God and live!”
Amos was a prophet in the eighth century.
The political and social leaders of Israel were feeling pretty good about themselves in the eighth century. King Jereboam had been successful in his military endeavors and Israel was experiencing a sense of relative peace and prosperity.
There was lots of talk about how good the economy was doing, the rich were building bigger homes and buying up land.
They were thanking God for their multitude of blessings.
But Amos saw through the veneer of prosperity and proclaimed Yahweh’s judgement against Israel for the injustices levied against the poor. It seems that the rich were getting quite a bit richer while the poor were getting quite a bit poorer.
From Amos’ perspective, prosperity wasn’t to be judged on how the rich were doing, but rather, on how the poor and the disregarded were doing. And they weren't doing well.
His condemned the people of Israel for substituting prosperity religion for justice, for talking God language while ignoring God’s commands. His most famous line comes from v 24 of this chapter, “Let Justice roll down like a mighty river.”
The King and the priests and the leading citizens, the ones prospering, denounced Amos for his preaching and ordered him to leave Israel.
Amos kept preaching. Amos declared the fall of the present king and the destruction of Israel was nigh.
In this passage, Amos encourages his listeners as to how they might respond when life changes. When there is a new phase of life, confusion or calamity, or even when the crude starts a bubbling, the question must be asked, “What to do now?” “Where to go, now?”
What not to do:
Don’t think that it will be better somewhere else. The grass may be greener, but its still grass.
Amos mentions three cities where people might mistakenly go to start again:
Bethel is the place that Jacob had the vision of angels moving up and down the stairway to heaven. Bethel was considered a holy place, complete with shrines and sanctuaries.
it was in Bethel that the Ark of the covenant was kept under the care of Phineas.
Unfortunately, over the generations, the shrines to Yahweh had been filled to the brim with idols.
Bethel, Amos claims, in not a place of salvation, but a showplace of shallowness.
Beersheba is a city in the South, located in the heart of the Negev.
According to the Hebrew Bible, Beersheba was founded when Abraham and Abimelech settled their differences over a well of water.
By the 8th century b.c.e., Hebrews from north and south traveled to Beersheba considering it a special place of worship and renewal.
Amos tells his listeners not to bother, because Beersheba, as the rest of country, will pass away.
Gilgal had significant religious and civil history and tradition.
Gilgal was a the place Abram erected his first altar.
Gillgal was the first permanent camp erected by the Hebrews as they entered the Promised Land.
Gilgal is where Joshua placed the twelve stones.
Gilgal was the first place in the land of Canaan that the Hebrews observed the Passover.
Gilgal was the place where all of Israel gathered to swear allegiance to King Saul.
Gilgal was place of salvation and hope.
Amos said of Gilgal, here today and gone tomorrow.
No need to move, you wont find what you need simply by moving!
Amos does give his listeners a simple and positive plan for Where to go and What to do:
Here it is: Seek God and live.
The word seek means more than search, or hunt. It implies connection. To seek God, in the Hebrew Bible, almost always means trusting God, making a connection with God, choosing to dwell in the presence of God.
Amos is speaking about an impending national tragedy. His hope is that the people of faith will not just visit the holy places or talk the God talk, but will take seriously their responsibilities as the people of God in this moment.
To ensure justice for those aggrieved,
To care for the poor, the lost, the struggling,
To welcome the stranger, the foreigner, the immigrant,
To practice kindness, and fairness,
To let justice roll like a mighty river.
That is where you go, what you do in the changing seasons of life. And living thusly is the the way to survival, to life, declares Amos.
These words as not only directed to the people of Israel,
but they are a gracious invitation to each of us and all of us.
We are invited to seek God with our lives,
to hear God’s voice as it comes to us through Jesus,
to live lives according to Jesus’ teaching and Jesus’ example.
We don’t need to go to Gilgal, or Beersheba, or Beverly Hills. We are invited to seek God right here, in the midst of our struggles and triumphs, failures and successes. In our messes we can seek, trust and connect with God through Jesus Christ.
And in that we discover life.