Resistance is Fertile

Sermon by the Reverend Christian Baron, 7 Epiphany, Feb. 19, 2017, Year A, Matthew 5:38-48.

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… Amen.

Good morning…

Yesterday was beautiful, wasn’t it? Looks like Spring is here… No way we are going back to winter…

But is is good to see you all. I trust your weekend was full of life giving activities. That you had time to rest and recreate. That you had time to spend with those that you love. Because the scriptures tell us that those who we interact with are the way in which we see the Divine. And so I’m glad that you are here so that I can be reminded of what the Divine looks like. I’m glad that you can look around and see the Divine in the pews all around.

It is still Epiphany, and we are on the lookout for God to be revealed. It is a good way for us to think about things as we move closer to Lent.

And the text is full of God-sightings…
The Hebrew Text is chock full of nuggets:

It starts like this: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”

God wants to communicate to the people through Moses, “You are my people… Created in my image… you are like me… all of you are like me…. Like Little Gods…

And then he goes on, this is what it looks like to be like me. To be divine…
When you reap a harvest of your land…. It doesn’t really belong to you… you need to share. You need to care for the poor. You need to feed hungry people. The poor are also created in my image… don’t rob them of dignity… and by doing so, you acknowledge your own divinity… and you honor me… the creator of the universe. I am God.

And… in your day to day lives… when you are interacting with fellow image bearers. Don’t lie and don’t take things… It is going to be hard enough for you to go about life… life is hard… but good… But when you lie to and steal from other image bearers, it makes things harder. You need to support one another.
When you lie and steal, it diminishes your image. You look less like Me when you lie… and it causes those you interact with, to feel crazy. Don’t lie… Don’t steal… I am God.

-Oh, and just a small caveat about stealing… pay your workers a fair wage. They are working very hard too. They have a family too. They need to feed their children too.

In a divine economy, everybody has enough. But if you take more than your fair share… that is stealing… Remember… don’t steal…

And while we’re at it… people with disabilities, like folks who can’t see or hear… they are going to have a more difficult time in life. Take care of them… If you don’t take care of them, you are stealing from them…from fellow image bearers… you are keeping them from flourishing…in so doing…you are stealing from the Divine… I am God.

-You should be fair to everybody you come into contact with. Don’t show partiality to the rich and don’t romanticize those in poverty.

Stand up for truth and justice always… In your conversations and in your business dealings. In your courts and in your classrooms.

And don’t profit from the blood of your neighbor… Don’t purchase products that exploit image bearers….

Be kind… For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Be kind… For God’s temple is holy…within each human dwells the divine…and each human is that temple.

because your God is kind… you bear the image of your God… Be like Me. I am God.

-Don’t be mean… Don’t hate. I made you out of Love and for love.

Be helpful to your neighbor… don’t get in the way of their prosperity…

But…

if you are the victim of violence or abuse… see the rules above…

don’t stay in a situation where another is not following these rules… If you are in danger, find help… But don’t hate… I am God.

This Leviticus re-interpretation of the Great Ten Commandments is especially remarkable if we think about God’s intentions.

It is especially remarkable if we remind ourselves that God is good and that God loves us.

I don’t know if you ever experienced this, but when I was younger, I heard a lot of mixed messages.

It may have been the message or it may have been my hearing, but I thought God just made up some rules and told us to follow them because he was the boss.

I thought God was a bully…

“Get in line, Christian, or I’m gonna squash you.”
I thought this, particularly about Leviticus…

Christian… no tattoos.
No wearing those kinds of clothes…
don’t do these specific sex things.
Don’t, don’t, don’t…

And… there is some of that…

God’s goal, in sending this covenant, was to keep Israel set apart… separate… different… pure…

And there is definitely something to that.

And then we come to this morning’s gospel. These teachings today, from the Gospel, let us know that God is calling his people… to live in harmony. To live in unity… with their neighbors.

Anybody who has lived near my family knows that this is no easy task…

Jesus pushes things… He always pushes things… He pokes at our norms… he refuses to settle… He knows that rules were made to be more fully realized…

“Oh, And who is my neighbor?” he says.

“Who is my neighbor?”

Far be it from me to correct Jesus the Christ… Messiah and the human form of the Trinity…but another way to say this is,

“Who is NOT my neighbor?”

“Who is NOT my neighbor?”

And we know that later in this gospel he goes into the story of the Good Samaritan to shock and upset those by radically including the cultural pariah…. A bloodied, dying Samaritan man.

But in this section in Matthew, Jesus is continuing his teaching on love and hate.

Remember he is responding to a common understanding of love and of hate.
There is plenty in the Hebrew texts… before there was a NEW Testament… that suggest hating those who are unrighteous… hating those who are outside… Plenty in the Psalms specifically about hating evildoers and the unrighteous… plenty to separate and to split those who are deserving of love and dignity and those who do not. But that’s not God’s manifestation of his love. That is humans, at times, getting in the way of the flow, clogging it up. Building and constructing ways to protect themselves from what they believed to be “unholy”.

Jesus’ response is simple and impossible… “You have heard it said…”

He says when a person… a fellow image bearer attacks you… treats you like you less than human… when somebody slaps you disrespectfully… look them in the eye.

Remind them you are human. Remind them that you are both image bearers of the Divine….

And if you are taken to court and stripped of the shirt off your back… give them everything… Your nakedness will remind them of who you are… If you are stripped of all you have and all you are… remind them that you are a child of Almighty God.

That is how you are to stand up to an unjust system… to violence and injustice…

you are not to cower or be a doormat…

You are powerful and beautiful and bear the image of God…

Stand up though your face is red.

Stand up… though you are naked… demand to be seen.

And… if a Roman soldier demands that you carry his shield and other equipment… you can stand up to the oppression of the Occupation by not being broken… you can force that soldier to see your humanity by going twice the distance that you are required by law.

Stand up to injustice… And if somebody is in need and begs or wants to borrow, give them what you can…
Both the Roman and the beggar are loved by the God who created you…

You are all image bearers…

Don’t let injustice strip you of your humanity… don’t let injustice strip your oppressor, or those who are especially vulnerable to that injustice, to be stripped of their humanity…

And this is difficult isn’t it?

This is a difficult teaching.

Part of the reason it is so difficult is because this passage has been misused and mishandled.

People have been asked and persuaded to stay in bad relationships… It has been used to keep people passive… to keep them under the authority of those who don’t deserve authority.

In fact, this passage is calling for the opposite.

It is a call to love… and sometimes love looks like resistance… because if the oppressor has the power…. It does him no good.

It robs him of his own humanity… It keeps him from being the man that he can be.

It keeps him from becoming like God.

And that is the oppressors work to do…

but as Christians, we have a duty… an obligation to stand up to injustice…

And that’s why this is a difficult teaching…

It gets a preacher in trouble… This teaching is radical… it is difficult… it is not attractive.

So, if you are new here today, I’m sorry.

I wish you could have heard one of my funny sermons…

One of my sermons about fishing…
Or a humorous story about my children…

Instead, you get a sermon on the heart of what we are called to do and to be.

Love is difficult… it is painful… it is impossible… it is subversive…it is relentless and uncompromising…
and…

it is the only thing.

Love is the only thing.

Good people of St. Philip’s, Go today into the world and be love. Stand up for justice. Be brave and be strong… you bear God’s image… You are the embodiment of love and justice.

Amen.