6th Sunday after Epiphany
February 12, 2017
Jesus is our preacher again this morning. And he’s doing that thing that preachers do, hyperbole – overinflated statements and examples to make your point. Since we are used to taking scripture at face value, I wonder if the first audience would have heard the overinflation more clearly than we do. Does Jesus really want you to cut off your hand or gouge out your eye? What is the point he’s trying to impress upon us? Matthew, our Evangelist, has an agenda in this Sermon on the Mount. He sees Jesus as the new Moses. Jesus has 5 speeches in this Gospel, paralleling the 5 books of Moses. Jesus is teaching his disciples and us to see God’s Law in a new light; it’s not bunch of rules to keep us from having fun, or a book of regulations to give us bragging rights when we don’t murder, steal, or have sex outside of marriage. God’s Law – or as the Godly Play people call it “God’s 10 Best Ways to Live” – are a gift to make life within our human family sweet.
in the Jewish tradition, Shavout, which corresponds to our Pentecost, is the festival that commemorates the giving of the 10 Commandments. The Torah is paraded around the synagogue, and people rejoice as they read from Exodus. “What other people have a God who cares so much for them that God would worry about how they treat each other? What other God is so loving of each of us?” Their prayers thank God for showing them such loving care.
What’s your image of God? What has shaped it? My guess is that if you stopped people on the street and asked that question, many of the answers you get would include a God with an accusing finger pointed at you, telling you where you’ve failed. I doubt that many of them would see God as a Mama Bear roaring down on you to say that you can’t hit your sister just because she called you names or touched your stuff.
That’s how Jesus sees the 10 Commandments – the rules that keep us safe from our self-centered hearts.
On our own, we only worry about what “I” want. That may include – sometimes – our nearest and dearest, but it doesn’t necessarily include people who are not like us – people who are a different color, or culture, or religion. On our own we don’t care what happens to people who are less able than we are, physically or financially or mentally. Luther describes the natural human heart as turned in on itself. God’s 10 Best Ways to Live keep our attention focused outward – first on God, the giver of life, and our relationship with God, and then on our relationships with each other.
At the core of our relationship with God is God’s willingness to accept us just as we are. We are not even able to keep any of the Commandments, no matter how good our intentions. Jesus makes that crystal clear. But God forgives us, simply because God loves us. God loves us so much that God was willing to come live with us. When we look at Jesus on the cross, we see straight into the loving heart of God, a heart willing to bear all the suffering humans could inflict to show how much we are loved. And since our own power to live by these rules fails us, the power that raised Jesus from the grave transforms our hearts from self-centered to love-centered.
I ask my confirmation kids to think about what happens when people do not keep the commandments. What happens when we do not love, honor, and trust in God? What happens when we do not make peace with our parents and siblings? What happens when we do not respect the sacredness of each other’s bodies and our promises to be faithful to each other. What happens when we are not responsible about others’ reputations, when we are careless about what we say about each other? It’s chaos. People suffer. Wounds can be inflicted that are never healed.
Jesus doesn’t want that to happen to any of us. He wants us instead to rely on God’s love for us and for all people to lead us in the way we think about ourselves, our community and the world. “God so loved the world that he gave his only son,” that will be part of our reading during Lent. It’s not that he gave his Son just to be my personal savior, or our personal savior, but “that the world would be saved by him.” When we say, “Our Father in heaven,” we recognize that God sees no boundaries between us and our neighbors, between us and other nations, between us and the world.
Yesterday Dade and Hannah met with me to talk about coming to Jesus’ table at communion. We read a book about it. It opens with this picture: Jesus holding the whole world in his arms. And right by Jesus’s heart is a little X with a space – a place for you. When we pass the peace of God to each other in worship before we come to God’s table, we are doing just what Jesus says in our reading: if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift and go make peace, then come to the altar. We come here with the whole world God loved when we gather, and we leave our sins and failings behind to be blessed and fed by God’s love, brought to us through Jesus. We rise refreshed, released, rejoicing, ready to open our hearts to the world God loves. We let the commandments of God become the 10 Best Ways to Live in the world, so that we can be at peace. May it be so. Amen.