6th Sunday after Epiphany
February 13, 2011
Deuteronomy 30: 15-20, Matthew 5:21-37
Choose Life! Says Moses in his long sermon to his people. Today, he says, I have set before you life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, by loving the LORD, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD will bless you in the land that you are entering.
Those commandments are the ones that got boiled down into a theology which suggests that if you do the right things, God will bless you and you will thrive. Hence, Jesus’ constant confrontation of the Pharisees, who were very good at following the rules, and showing off to everyone what good people they were. But that’s not enough, says Jesus in his sermon in Matthew’s Gospel. Not murdering is only the surface what God’s commandments include. Anger, hatred, holding a grudge, being a jerk to those who love you are as wounding as murder, and included under the same command. Disrespecting your marriage relationship is as harmful as adultery, and gossip is as damaging as testifying falsely against someone. Jesus says he has come to fulfill God’s commands, not to abolish them.
When you think of the 10 commandments, do you usually think of them as the key to life? They are. They are God’s rules for living rightly, righteously, or in right relationship. Love the Lord, says Moses, and walk in God’s ways. Or as Jesus says in another section of Matthew’s Gospel: love the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. If you do that then life will be sweet; everything will be in its proper place and everyone will get along. Ah, if only it were that easy. That’s where the other part of Jesus work comes in. Because, of course, none of us is really able to live without anger, without being a jerk to those who love us, without disrespecting the relationships which mean the most to us, without lusting after what is not good for us, or without being careless about other people’s reputations. God came to us in person to show us what real love looks like, and to break the grip of our own self-centeredness. In his death and resurrection, every part of our heart is redeemed from its inward involvement, and renewed in its capacity to love what God loves. We try so hard to live the life that God ordains for us, and we fail. But thanks be to God, it is not what we do that saves us. It is what God has already done for us. In breaking the chain of our inadequacy, Jesus gives us freedom to live joyously.
Most of the pastors that I meet at lunch on the first Thursday of the month worry about saving people for heaven. Having the assurance that you will live with God forever because God has claimed you through faith is really important. But I also think that what happens when you die is not the only reason to take Jesus as your Savior. What about what you are living now? Does trusting in God, believing in Jesus make a difference before you die? I say yes.
We are called to choose life! What would life look like to you? What would be the juicy delightfulness if you trusted that you were free to love the world, to give away anything in your way of living joyfully? If you were blind and suddenly you could see, no one would have to tell you to look at the faces you love. If you’d been unable to walk and you were healed, no one would have to tell you to go out and take a stroll.
Choose life! Live out of the love which has been lavished upon you, live loving the Lord and walking in God’s ways, for that is the path to joyful life. Live, trusting that your forgiveness is guaranteed, the work is done to save you, and that your heart is open to love in response. What a witness to God’s healing power and saving love. Wow. Living like that could spread the Good News of Jesus love to everyone, don’t you think?
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.