Sunday, February 12, 2017
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany / Lectionary 6
In today’s reading from Deuteronomy we are called to choose life by loving and obeying God. Much of today’s gospel reading echoes portions of the Ten Commandments. Jesus’ instructions to the crowd reveal a pattern of behavior that honors both God and the neighbor, resulting in life and health for the whole community. We, too, are invited to embrace these commandments, not out of fear of retribution, but because God has promised that to do so means life for us.
Prayer of the Day
O God, the strength of all who hope in you, because we are weak mortals we accomplish nothing good without you. Help us to see and understand the things we ought to do, and give us grace and power to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 Choose life
1 Corinthians 3:1-9 God gives the growth
Matthew 5:21-37 The teaching of Christ: forgiveness
Sermon: Confessions (and Hope) of a Mass Murderer
Some start their sermons with humorous stories. Others start with relevant jokes. Jesus does them all one better. He starts with a list of blessings. Ironically inclusive blessings that speak to the people who are sitting on the hillside listening, who are all ears for this most unique preacher. And after hearing those blessings, they must have been hooked, riveted, hungry for the next words that were to follow those comforting and encouraging beatitudes. As we saw last week, with his talk of salt and light, he follows those “Blessed are the…” with more blessings but these have a call, a responsibility that he hopes we’re are inspired to answer. Not that the blessing is dependent on our actions, we are salt, we are light, he said. We are already. Not because we act a certain way, not because we are a certain way. God has made us salt and light. But what are you going to do with it, he asks. Who needs a joke or a cute story when you have wonderful blessings to announce like those showering down on us?
But today we move into the meaty portion of this sermon on the mount that Jesus gave, that Matthew recorded. Using Paul’s dietary images from his letter to the church in Corinth, Jesus is moving us from the appetizer of nurturing milk that nourishes as it goes down easy, awakening our desire for more; and we are moved to the main course of the “sink-your-teeth-in-and-chew-on-this” meat of this feast that Jesus is laying before us. And while I’ve been served this meat course before, as in, I’ve heard this passage before (and I’m guessing most of you have at some point or another), yes, I know I’ve sunk my teeth into it before, but it seems to be a little tougher to chew this time. And I can’t blame the cook or the caterer for that. Still the same recipe, still the same choice cut. But I think what has changed is the strength of my chew. Or is it that I am too tired, too wearied to chew on it, to benefit from it, to be further blessed by its wisdom and power. It is the same passage that seeks to expand our idea of murder and adultery. But I am hearing it this time with very different ears. The background music for this meal is so much more dissonant, the strings are screeching like in a Hitchcock score, the horns are blaring such that I want to plug my ears. I want to excuse myself from the table and tell Jesus I’m just not hungry for what he is laying before us today. Or better still, can’t we go back to those taste and gentle appetizers of blessedness.
I don’t know about how you are doing with this serving this time, but I know that I am having a hard time even looking at it because I am standing before you as one who is liable for judgement of murder. Oh, I’m sure that when I have read Jesus’ challenging words at other times I have also been liable for judgement of murder, but this time the guilt is more obvious, blatant, slapping me in the face. Perhaps that which has always condemned me could, this time, hold me liable for mass murder.
For I’ve been angry with a whole lot of people lately. I have insulted a whole bunch of people, droves of people, millions of people, even. And I have certainly used the “f” word a lot. You know it – fools. Yes, I’m either saying that word or thinking that word on a daily basis. Hourly, if watching the news.
Now I may not be quite as rampant with looking at people lustfully, but I am certainly objectifying others, de-humanizing them, seeing them as their opinions, rather the seeing them as children of God.
Yes, it’s just all too much to chew on. So what am I do to? Pluck out my eyes? Cut off my hands? Burst my ear drums so I don’t have to listen to the voices and the opinions that are driving me to virtual mass murder? Well, if I want to be justified by the law, that might be one path to take. Or maybe disconnect from the world completely: digitally, physically, mentally, spiritually. Hard to be salt and light for the sake of the world when you’re either maimed or absent.
Thank God, we have a God, who does not reward us with salvation based on our adherence to the law, otherwise we would have no choice but to take matters into our own hands and do away with hands and eyes and so much more. Instead, God fulfills the law by sending us the Son (as we heard Jesus say last week). He is the one who comes in grace, speaking of mercy, and giving us new life – though the world maims him with our sinful murderous and objectifying ways.
So what are we murderers to do – whether challenging times or quiet times, whether we are wearied or feeling fresh? First we repent. We admit and own our wrong doing, our short sightedness, our brokenness. There are no – he deserved it, she made me do it, or even the devil made me do it. The sin is ours. The wrong-filled response is ours. Own it. Take it to the font and hear God’s words of forgiveness. Take it to the cross, and feel the burden of guilt lifted off you by Jesus himself. Confess it to a brother or sister and rejoice that the Spirit shows compassion through them.
Today I encourage you to use our practice of the healing rite with various prayer stations to encounter anew the healing power of Jesus that comes to us. Hear the words of wholeness and forgiveness this day especially in light of the anger and the objectifying, the despair and the hopelessness.
I know my killing days are not over. I know my eyes and my hands and my mind have trying days ahead, days that will see more failure in the eyes of the law. But we are not alone. We hear God’s words of mercy, we hear Jesus’ promise of wholeness, we hear the Spirit’s encouragement to go on in this community of faith. A community – not because we all agree, but because we all see one another as children of God, members of the body of Christ, fellow sojourners in the Spirit. Let us expand that vision of community beyond those who are gathered here, who call this place, this congregation their own.
Today we are reminded of the rich gift that is this community as we install new leaders. Keep them in your prayers. Join them in the work of this congregation. Stay aware of what is going on. Support their efforts and our calling to spread the good news of Jesus, to build up the kingdom of God.
For even though we are learning that we are murderers today, we are still salt and light for the world as we heard last week, we are still so richly blessed as Jesus told us two weeks ago in the beatitudes. That is the life we are called to live in the Spirit.
Finally, I give the last word on a day like today to those who have faced much more trying times than I will ever know, and yet, by the power of the Spirit, still lived a much bolder testimony to the love and justice of God, and shined brighter as a reflection of Christ’s light. So on days like today, I look to folks like Dr. King, who said: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too heavy a burden to bear.” Jesus says: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
The Rev. Mark Erson,