4th Sunday in Ordinary Time A — 012917 — What Do We Crow About?
This weekend our Chinese friends celebrate a new year — the year of the Fiery Rooster! I don’t know much about roosters. The closest I came to one was when I was little and spent time on my grandparents’ farm. They had gardens and orchards, they grew acres of corn and hay and they raised dairy cows, horses, pigs and chickens.
I vividly remember playing by the chicken yard one day, fascinated by the behavior of an extra large bird. The single rooster proudly paraded around, pecking the chickens who strayed into his territory. He seemed to be quite cocky, as he protected the hens who were nesting.
In Chinese culture, the Rooster represents fidelity. People born in the year of the Rooster are dependable, kind-hearted, honest and strong. On the other side, they can also be arrogant, frequently promoting themselves beyond what is factual.
When you comb the bible you find that roosters or hens are mentioned just a few times. In Proverbs 30 the king is described, in a positive way, as a strutting rooster, striding before his people, strong against the attacks of enemies, tearing down borders made of wattle. The most familiar New Testament reference to a cockerel is when Peter disowned Jesus three times.
The passage this morning, from one of the least known prophets, Zephaniah, we learn that God actually looks for humble people who will seek justice, who speak no lies and are not vain. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, is a bit more specific. God chooses people whose job it is to shame those who are arrogant, powerful and greedy. It is not OK to boast about oneself. It is OK to boast in the name of God. Why? Because the requirement of Christian-hood is to imitate the moral message of Jesus.
But, what is the strength of such moral authority when threatened by autocracy, wealth and power asks Russian-American journalist, Masha Gessen? Almost invariably, she writes, “moral authority seems to be encased in a frail body, perhaps because it takes years and decades, and risk and injury, to amass. Yet the words of certainty, spoken softly, pose a threat to power secured through the conventional means of force and title.”
Matthew’s interpretation of the sermon on the Mount is an example of Jesus’ “words of certainty.” The sermon is the first of five discourses given by Jesus very early in his ministry. Although his words are familiar to us we want to understand the beatitudes in today’s context. Let us listen to just a few interpretations written by the storyteller and visionary Jan Phillips. As we do, we remember that the word “blessed” in the Greek language means “recipient of a divine favor.”
Blessed be the earth and those who tend her, for she is the source and sustenance of our lives.
Blessed be the children who hunger for food, learning, and homes that are safe, for their future is shaped by our choices today.
Blessed be the refugees fleeing the violence of war and poverty, may they find shelter, peace, and work that sustains them.
Blessed be those who are calling for freedom, resisting oppression and risking their lives in the struggle for justice, they are the shapers of a brighter world.
Reginald Fuller suggests that Jesus’ sermon was addressed to those who left everything to follow him. The second half of the beatitudes is a call for action. That’s where we come in. But, there are few if any among us who can afford to do that today — detach ourselves from work, family life, school to spend our time protesting injustice. But, it is good when any one of us does something.
In a 1948 tragicomedy by the playwright August Wilson, called “Seven Guitars,” the recurring theme is an African American man’s struggles for his human rights in the face of personal and societal ills. In the play a rooster is a symbol of the man’s strength and identity. In one scene a neighbor complains that the rooster keeps waking him up early in the morning. The owner of the rooster said, that’s what roosters do!
When the rights of human beings — citizens, immigrants, refugees — are threatened, we Christians hear that wake up call. What are our strengths, our words of certainty? What are we going to crow about?