Sermon by the Reverend Jodi Baron, 6 Epiphany, Feb. 12, 2017, Year A, Matthew 5:21-37
“He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.” In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
These lessons were a doozy, eh? I’m actually really thankful for the lectionary that we follow, as a church, in times like this. Because if I had the task of selecting which text we would hear from the Word of God if I’m honest, would not have been these teachings. It would be too tempting to try and shape God’s word into something that fits our world today. It would be too tempting to make it about me, and what I think we should focus on.
So I like the boundaries that the seasons put around these sacred stories. I like the way each season has a particular focus on God’s love for humanity and the ways in which God’s people have tried throughout the millennia to be faithful to God; failing miserably at times and excelling inconceivably well above expectations in others.
I like that this season, Epiphany, is focused on manifestations of the Incarnate God, in Jesus.
The stories we hear from our sacred texts, each of these weeks following the Feast of the Epiphany through the Last Sunday before Ash Wednesday, are woven together to reveal the divinity of this man… This human, that we claim to follow some 2000 years later.
And these are not sweet stories of Jesus laughing and holding baby lambs are they?
All throughout the month of January and February, we’ve been hearing from the Gospels of Matthew and John about stories of Jesus’ divinity revealed: from his baptism in the river by his cousin, John, to the calling of his first disciples to the teachings on the law manifest and deepened through Jesus’ life and teachings, death and resurrection.
The Epiphany is still unfolding…
And WE are still unfolding, and Christ is still revealing the mutual ministry of reconciliation and love God has in mind for us and for the world.
Did you know that it’s now been six months since our family arrived?
It takes my breath away when I pause and reflect on all that has happened, all the work we, as a community, have done to try and live into this new reality!
We’ve made it through our first full liturgical seasons of Advent, Christmas, and now (almost) Epiphany…We have survived our first Annual meeting and vestry elections, our first Vestry retreat, we’ve officiated funerals and even a wedding. We’ve said goodbye to friends how to go south for the winter and welcomed in new households to our community.
We’re settling into a groove, a new way of being, together. But we still have much of the liturgical year of firsts to walk through, thankfully, together.
It’s all terribly exciting and we are filled with the joy because we get to do the work we were called to do, with you, in this place.
We are truly blessed.
That doesn’t mean that difficult conversations, conflict, reconciliation, and forgiveness, won’t need to happen.
It will, it already has.
That is all a part of being a healthy, Christian Community.
Trying to figure out how to be Christ incarnate in today’s world, with today’s problems and challenges and blessings, is holy work.
This work we, St. Philip’s, have been called to do, it’s a tall order.
I think that’s why this morning’s texts seem most fitting for us today. I know that the Lectionary Committee, who orchestrated how our sacred text would get divided up into three-year cycles of lessons, had no idea how 2017 would meet us, and how the intersection of this living word of God would come to fall upon the ears of the folks gathered in this space, at this time, in this season…
But I believe that the Holy Spirit does. I believe that she has more intentions than we are aware of, not that we couldn’t know, just that we aren’t attentive enough, always, to discern her work.
And the work of the Holy Spirit is always happening, in and through, and with and despite each of us.
In the goosebumps that come when something powerful or meaningful meets us in a surprising and real way.
In the moment of peace, we experience when we stop long enough to quiet our hearts to hear the wind move in the woods and waters.
Or when the presence of the Holy One when a new life is born or a new covenant made or renewed.
When a person experiences, for the first time in too long, the healing balm of The Holy Sacraments.
Because they are being “Oned”, as Julian of Norwich puts it, with their creator and that brings a peace that passes our understanding.
To be in a relationship with God, and other humans, and recognize our role in the influence of the rest of creation as well… it’s holy work.
And it all boils down to relationship. Doesn’t it?
Relationship with God, ourselves, and the rest of creation.
You see, this particular section of Matthew, that we heard from today, is packed with things to explore. Most of which we don’t have time to explore to the extent it deserves.
Jesus takes on the matters of our hearts that separate us from our oneness with the Creator; murder, anger, insults, assassination of character, adultery, lust, divorce, unchastity, intentional false witness…so of those I really don’t WANT to dive into within my first six months of being your Co-Rector 😉
But what we can do is explore the big takeaways.
Like what the purpose may have been in what Jesus was attempting to do with teaching on the commandments to his disciples.
Jesus was taking the law of Moses and relocating that authority of interpretation onto himself, to show the embodiment of what God’s design of human flourishing could and should look like;
when we care for one another, share our baggage with others.
When we take seriously the work that these sacraments of the church offer us, and the hard work of reconciling the world unto God. Jesus was taking the letter of the law and adding new depth by revealing God’s presence in His life… teaching… death… and resurrection.
Some scholars refer to these as the six focal instances, a way that Matthew makes categories, and are a particular form of literature that is not found outside of Matthew 5.
We are zooming into the depths of something completely unique to the way Matthew’s community recalled the way in which God was made Flesh and dwelt among us mortals.
Jesus, through Matthew’s lens, takes these Ten Commandments and reinterprets them for this specific community. He looks at them from a different vantage point.
All six are expressions of the Great Commandment, that we read later in Matthew, and protect that Commandment from becoming trite.
All six deal with conditions that affect human relationships.
In LOVE, there is no room for hostility
LOVE does not seek to do harm
LOVE within the sacrament of marriage
LOVE that is relentless, uncompromising, and unconditionally TRUTHFUL
The other two are in next week’s reading about LOVE not retaliating and that LOVE even extends to the enemy.
There’s a lot of room for interpretation within these points. But my big takeaway is a cautionary tale for us today.
Because literal obedience to the law can result in suffering and oppression for that one is charged to love and support, to care for and be in a relationship with.
LOVE…God with us and us with God and us with one another…is, not a contractual arrangement, something that has two parties agreeing to a set of terms that define the relationship: roles and responsibilities.
It’s a covenant relationship, a part of the structure of creation itself.
Structure to support our own human flourishing.
The structure that is the good gift of God to his creation.
I’ve heard it said before that what we do here, on Sundays, together, in our liturgy, is child’s play for how to work out the words of God into action. We practice here so we can be Christ’s hands and feet out there. We are strengthened and renewed when we come and join our voices together, listen to God’s word together, and participate in the sacraments.
I believe it. These things we heard today are a radical way of being community that is utterly unknown in the world we live in today. It’s hard work but I think we are capable of doing it. This call is to be a community who does not tolerate any kind of hatred and who practices radical reconciliation…radical forgiveness. That this way of being is not individual, but communal. The Community needs to get right with God. And, maybe most importantly, if I, if You, if We are keeping someone else from being right with God, it is our/my/your responsibility to free that person from the issue they have with us/me/you. We have an opportunity here to apply the Law to our whole heart, to root out the evil and be sent into a positive action.
It’s not easy being human, but when we utilize these good gifts from God to help us be better humans, and then share them with the world, we help bring healing to a hurting world, desperate for the peace that God has to offer.
May you, people of God, be more than reconciled.
May you, people of God, be reconciliation.
“He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.” Amen.