Sunday, February 12, 2017

Stick It Out

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.  -Matthew 5:21-37 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Yesterday was a wonderful day, wasn’t it? Of course, I’m speaking for myself, but, at least for me, it was an amazing day!  I hope it was for you, too. It was the end of a very long journey for me that began in 2006 (and, really, much earlier than that). And, yet, the beginning of a new journey for me and for all of us here at Grace and Glory.

It was an amazing day!

And, then, today happens. And we are hit with a hard and difficult reading from Matthew as part of our regular lectionary. In a way, it feels like a very quick take down from yesterday’s high, doesn’t it? 

But, before we begin to dig into our Gospel lesson from today, let’s step back a bit, to get a broader view of the context in which Jesus is speaking these words that seem so hard and difficult.

In the preceding chapters of Matthew, Jesus, after being baptized by John, begins his ministry along the Galilean Sea, announcing the coming of God’s kingdom. As he has walked along this sea--a lake really--he has called his disciples, beginning with the fisherman brothers, Peter and Andrew. Along with these and 10 more newly-called disciples, Jesus has been traveling throughout the Galilean countryside, teaching in the Jewish synagogues--continuing to announce the coming of God’s kingdom in and through himself and, as we learn in Matthew 4, “healing every disease and sickness among the people.” He has healed people with all kinds of physical and mental maladies--those with diseases and in pain, those possessed with demons, those with epilepsy, and the paralyzed. Every person brought to Jesus with any physical or mental issue has been healed by him.

The result is that large crowds of people began to follow along with Jesus and his disciples. It is at this point then that Jesus begins to teach.  (Do you note how the healing comes first and then the teaching?)

So, Jesus goes up onto a higher place, sits down, surrounded by his disciples and the crowds nearby and begins to teach. It is these teachings that we call the Sermon on the Mount, beginning in Matthew, chapter 5, with the Beatitudes.

You know the words of the Beatitudes so well…”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...those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...the merciful...and on and on. It is in these words of the Beatitudes that Jesus begins to lay out a vision of the kingdom of God, a kingdom so different from the empire in which the disciples are living--a kingdom that is the complete reversal of their experience under the Roman empire.

Then, as we heard last week in the texts on salt and light, Jesus begins to teach the gathered disciples (and the thousand or so followers just listening in) about what it means to be a disciple in this kingdom, training them and inviting them to voluntarily enter a very marginal life as a minority community and to read and understand Scripture (or the law and the prophets) with Jesus as the key to their interpretation.

Which brings us to our text today from Matthew 5. It is in the reading today where Jesus provides three examples for us--three places in which the Scripture that the disciples know and understand is reinterpreted through Jesus’ lens.

The first example involves anger.  Here, in this section beginning with verse 21, Jesus challenges us to understand that it is not only murder that brings judgment, but even anger with another. Whether it is anger expressed by insulting someone publicly, anger that is unresolved with another person, or anger that leads to murderous action, whether literally or metaphorically, none of this is behavior that is fit for God’s kingdom.  The alternative that is fit for God’s kingdom is reconciliation and peacemaking.

The second example involves the roles of men and women in social relationships, especially in a very patriarchal world. Here, Jesus challenges the destructive power of men over women as it relates to the issues of adultery and divorce. And his vision for God’s kingdom is a much more equal understanding of marriage and social relationship between women and men. 

The third and final example of Jesus’ reinterpretation relates to the integrity of word and action. On the wall in front of my desk here is a paper with the letters “DWYSYWD” on it. This is an abbreviation for the phrase, “Do what you said you would do.” This is the vision of God’s kingdom that Jesus has--where we walk the talk, where we do what we say we will do. It is this kind of straightforward, sincere, and trustworthy speech that builds honest and trusting relationships.

And that, ultimately, is what all three of these examples are about. They are about relationship. They are about living in relationship with one another. They are about the hard work of living together, whether one-on-one with each other or within the broader community of faith. Not only in Jesus’ time. But also right now. 

After yesterday’s excitement in particular, after the long wait you and I have had in reaching this point, we, here, at Grace and Glory are in a honeymoon period. You are excited to have me here. I am excited to be here. There is probably little that, for a while at least, can upset our relationship. We are getting along wonderfully well.

But it is inevitable that there will come a time when there will be something I say or do that will anger or frustrate you. Or something I say or do that challenges one of your beliefs, whether it’s a long held religious or political or cultural belief. Or even that you may do or say something to frustrate me. 

It is inevitable that there will come a time when the honeymoon period ends.

It is then that the real work of relationship will begin. The hard work of relationship. The work of finding reconciliation with each other when we’re angry, of apologizing for hard or insulting words, of engaging in more equal partnership as men and women, of doing what we say we will do. This is the hard work of relationship. It is the work that God’s kingdom requires. It is the work that God is calling us to do here at Grace and Glory. It is the work that God calls us to do out in the world. It is the work that brings wholeness and life.

So this is my closing challenge to you. Stick around. Even when you don’t want to, stick around. Even when you’re angry or frustrated, stick around. Even when someone hasn’t kept their word, stick around. 

This is what, as people of God, we are called to do. To stick around. We do it because God sticks around for us. Even in the midst of our human failings, God steps in and provides a way for us to reconcile and make peace with one another in the very same way that God stepped into a broken world and brought a Savior to reconcile each and every one of us with him. And continues to do so each and every minute of our day.

It is then, once we have stuck around, have struggled together, have reconciled and made peace with each other that, I believe, through God’s grace and mercy, we will truly begin to experience the fullness of God’s kingdom here at Grace and Glory.

May God so grant it. Amen.

Preached February 12, 2017, the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, at Grace and Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Readings: Deut. 30:15-20, Psalm 119:1-8, 1 Cor. 3:1-9, Matt. 5:21-37.

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