We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Sermon 4th Sunday after the Epiphany

At the beginning of creation, God put everything into perfect balance, each part of creation connected to the whole, and everything supporting and supported by everything else.  God made conditions ideal for all of creation to grow and to thrive.  We all live within a great web of life.

But depending on conditions within the web, growing and thriving may be compromised. 

I want to tell you about the African violet I got from a friend. 

Periodically, I find that one of its leaves has dropped. If I just left it where it fell, the leaf would die.  But if I place that African violet leaf in water, it will start to root.  And if I leave it in the water long enough, the one leaf will get more leaves. 

But for this leaf to thrive and to grow into a plant,  I need to plant the leaf with its new roots and leaves in some dirt, because water, by itself, doesn’t have everything this plant needs to grow and thrive. 

So here’s a plant that I grew from one leaf.  You can see that putting the roots in dirt meant that the plant could grow. 

But dirt is not all the plant needs.  At first, as the plant put out new leaves, the leaves grew long and scraggly and were more yellow than green. 

What do you think my plants lacked? 

They lacked light!

So then I got a grow light.

With enough light, the leaves became green, and then, to my surprise, my new African violets bloomed!

So with the right soil, enough water and enough light, these African violets are growing and thriving. 

God made each one of us with the hope that we will grow and thrive, for after all, we are part of God’s creation.  We are like the leaves that fall from my African violet.  Without the essential things we need to live and grow, we just wither away.  But when we have all we need, we too can grow and thrive and live in a thriving community with one another, in the human web of life. 

One thing I love about the Bible is that it has so many stories about so many interesting people.  A lot of these people make spectacular mistakes, because they get messed up in their relationships with God, with one another and with the world around them. Then they start to wither away because they no longer have what they need to grow.    The Bible tells us about what these people learned, and how many of them corrected their ways and started growing and thriving again. 

God sent prophets to help those who were out of balance, those people who were no longer in right relationship with God or with one another.  The prophets told the people what they needed to get back into balance, to take their places again in the web of life instead of dying from a lack of what they needed. 

The stories of these prophets and what they had to say are in the Bible as well. 

Today’s Old Testament reading is from the prophet Micah. Just think, Micah spoke these words almost three thousand years ago to the people of Israel. 

And these words are all about what the Israelites needed to get back in balance and to live in beloved community with one another and to be in right relationship with God. 

Here’s what Micah says.   

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? 

When we do these three things, not only can we grow into the people hopes we will become, but we can help others to do so as well. 

So let’s start with “love kindness.” 

The word for kindness in the Bible adds richer and deeper meaning to our usual understanding of kindness.  That word is “hesed.”  As the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary explains, hesed “has to do with love, loyalty, and faithfulness.  It can be used to describe the key element in relationships—the desire to love God and to love one another, faithfully and consistently.” 

If I were not consistent about keeping water in this rooting container, and then watering the plants once they are in soil, they would die.  We all need love to grow into the people God hopes we will become—and our kindness/love to others helps them to grow as well.  Without love, we can so easily wither away, just as a plant will wither away without water. 

Then there’s doing justice.   

Doing justice is providing the soil that will allow a whole community to grow in love. An example of doing justice in the natural world is that trees work together for the good of the whole.   I’ve mentioned before in sermons that trees share water, carbon,  nutrients, and even alarm signals through their underground mycorrhizal networks, each tree contributing to the life of the community of trees in which it lives. 

 In the Bible, when the prophets talk about justice, they are talking about fairness and equality for everyone, so that everyone can thrive. 

Martin Luther King, Jr., a modern day prophet, says that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

That “inescapable network of mutuality” is the great web of life in which we all live.  What affects one of us will sooner or later affect all of us.   When we “do justice” and work for fairness and equality for all, then we find that we too will benefit from the rich soil that we are cultivating for the good growth of those around us. 

And last, Micah tells us that God wants us to walk humbly with God. 

We are always tempted to walk in our own light—our self-importance, our desire for fame, pointing to ourselves by shining light on ourselves.   But God asks us to walk in God’s light.  When we walk in God’s light, with God as our companion, we point the way to God in what we do.  And walking in God’s light we bloom, and become beautiful. 

Water, soil and light—love kindness, do justice, and walk humbly with your God. 

These are the things that God requires of us. 

Jesus was also a prophet and a teacher.  He came to tell us and to show us how to love kindness, to do justice and to walk humbly. 

In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches the disciples about loving kindness—blessed are those who mourn, who are willing to let the sorrows of the world in and to feel the world’s pain, blessed are the ones who are merciful.

Jesus teaches the disciples about doing justice—blessed are the peacemakers, the ones who work for justice, for when there is justice for all,  God’s peace be realized on this earth.    Blessed are those who are persecuted for doing God’s work in this world.  Those who work for fairness and equality for all will inevitably be persecuted. 

And Jesus teaches the disciples about walking humbly with God—blessed are the poor in spirit, the ones who know that they are completely dependent on God; blessed are the meek, those who live under God’s control rather than their own wills; blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those people whose greatest desire is to be in completely right relationship with God and with one another.  And blessed are the pure in heart, those whose hearts are turned toward God, and whose motives are determined by God’s will rather than their own wills.  

Through his teaching and through all he did on this earth, Jesus showed us how to grow and to thrive as the children of God, living in beloved community with all God’s children.  Jesus showed us how to love, Jesus showed us how to work for justice, and Jesus showed us how to walk humbly with God. Jesus showed us how to live in perfect balance as we each do our part in the web of life in which God has planted us. 

When you leave here today, look for ways to  do justice, to  love kindness, and walk humbly with your God, at school, in your families, with your friends, and anywhere else you find yourself. 

For these are the things that God wants of us, and what Jesus will help us to do, so that we can all grow and thrive, through the power of the Holy Spirit.