By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
February 13, 2011
Read: Matthew 5:21-37
So… how many of us are uncomfortable after that gospel reading? I know I was the first time through. I would say that every one of us can see ourselves somewhere in this piece of scripture from Matthew, and we could work through each one these points this morning, but that is really not what Jesus was getting at with his statements.
These words of Jesus’ are a continuation of the Beatitudes which we heard a couple of weeks ago…blessed are the meek, blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn…the beatitudes. This is still part of that same teaching from Jesus to the disciples which is why he is saying to them “you have heard it said…” Jesus is referring to well known laws but putting a different spin on them, if you will. He is exaggerating, what we might call hyperbole, and he is doing this for effect. And it does grab one’s attention doesn’t it? Plucking out an eye, going to hell ?
You know, we have a tendency to reduce things to a checklist in Christianity. These are things you have to do if you are a Christian…follow the letter of the law, check items off of a list…but what this does is reduce religious life to getting things right. In part, to say its hyperbole, he didn’t really mean it…actually links us to a checklist.
This may be why people say ‘I am spiritual, not religious.’ What Jesus is saying is that it is a relational thing; it’s a life of relationship. In other words, ‘how is my ongoing behavior reflecting my relationship with God or with each other?’
Jesus offers a more radical ethic, a reign of God ethic, one already hinted at in the list of beatitudes that preceded this discourse. The poor in spirit, those who mourn, the pure in heart–all of these are blessed not because they are exemplars of the law, but because of their inward orientations of heart. The righteousness of this newly inaugurated kingdom of God is more than following rules. It requires and empowers a life surrendered to God and neighbor.
So, Jesus’ re-framing of righteousness exposes those easy truces we make. We can pat ourselves on the back for not committing murder while we ruin the reputation of a coworker through our words–we even call it “stabbing someone in the back.” The notion that we must reconcile with anyone who has something against us before we can give our gifts to God, stops us in our tracks. There is no easy, private relationship to God in these words. Resentment, alienation, and estrangement from others, prevent me from even giving my gifts to God.
We can pat ourselves on the back for not committing adultery, and yet create primary relationships with work, sports, or even the internet, rather than our spouse. Jesus shifts our attention from particular behaviors we must avoid to particular interior orientations we must cultivate. Kingdom righteousness saturates our whole lives, and promises much more, too. It is the way of blessedness.
God’s in breaking presence in Jesus Christ re-orders the relationships of this world and re-orients the internal landscapes of our lives. During Epiphany, we claim once again that we have a living God, incarnate among us, not some far-off potentate who must be humored with occasional acts of obeisance. We proclaim that the “Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14), the Word embedded in real, everyday life, in outward actions and inward attitudes. We proclaim a God present in the flesh and bone of our lives, not a keeper of check-lists.
This is good news! The God born in a manger enters the messiness of life in all its dimensions, seeking to heal and save. This God offers a life deep and wide, where light shines into every nook and cranny, not a puny, flat life, reduced to avoiding the “big sins.” Jesus gives the disciples a new way of life, not rejecting the tradition, but building upon it. It is a way of life that demands more and promises more. It is life abundant. (Amy Oden)
As Paul tells us today in our second reading: “for we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building”. Jesus is telling us it is about relationships. We want a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. We need God’s grace in our lives. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to share something written by Joyce Rupp. It is entitled, Will You Be My Valentine? And it is Jesus asking the question.
“Peter, will you be my valentine?” “Jesus, you know everything. You know I want to be your valentine” (rough translation of John 21:17)
Jesus also speaks to us:
“Will you be my valentine? Will you be my friend?
Which is to say:
Will you let me give you my unconditional love?
Will you accept my peace for your tired ad worn self?
Will you receive my mercy and forgiveness?
Will you believe in my love when everyone else has gone away or given up on you?
Will you be generous enough to take my love to others when they need you?
Will you be bread to my hungry, love to my needy, hope to my desolate?
Will you love yourself well and believe in the gifts I’ve given to you?
Will you trust me to always companion you?
Will you lay down your life for me?
“Will you be my valentine? Will you be my friend?”
I listen to the invitation. I look within and find “yes” answers in my own February heart. “Yes” because of dear friends who have graced my days with love. Their hearts are plainly flesh and earthen, yet they touch me to your goodness. Their hearts are weak and wounded, yet they mend the torn in me. Their hearts are tired and troubled, yet they’ve time to give me rest. My friends are loving pathways leading home, home to where you are, O Lover of all Hearts. And so, I respond humbly, gratefully: “you know everything. You know I want to be your valentine.”
God loves us so much that he gave his only begotten Son. Amen.
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