The Choice Before Us

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The Pas                       Epiphany + 6

Year A

5 February 2017

Psalm 119:1-8, BAS pg 868

Sirach 15:15-20

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Matthew 5:21-37

Living One,

in whose freedom creation was born as gift:

free us from the need

to possess, define and silence others,

so that we might rejoice

in the strangeness of your beauty

revealed in flesh and blood;

through Jesus Christ, our reconciliation. Amen.

__________________________________

 

The gospel can be a little difficult for us to listen to, today. Today Jesus is still on the mountainside, we’ve heard the passage we call ‘the Beatitudes’. That day, we heard the gentle and loving message that Jesus has for each one of us.

 

He said, “Blessed are…” and his list of blessings is extensive. He’s building us up. From the Beatitudes, he goes on to tell us that we are “salt for the earth, and light for the world.”

 

More building up, more messages of God’s love and encouragement that are necessary for those of us who don’t remember that we are all Children of God, loved and loving each other as we are loved by God, as we love ourselves.

 

But, like looking at my old report cards, from my elementary school days, there’s not only the good news, but also the ‘not so good news’, and this is what Jesus is telling us, today.

 

Keeping in mind its Jesus doing the telling, we can look for the silver lining to the storm clouds we see as today’s gospel message.

 

My mother-in-law once gave me a poster called “the 10 finger 10 Commandments” to try to help me to teach children this necessary aspect of our faith, our catechism. One that I always remember is that when we point a finger to accuse someone of something, (even if it’s just figurative, rather than literally pointing), as Jesus points out in today’s gospel passage, there are always three fingers pointing back to us, reminding us not to accuse others.

 

But, Jesus doesn’t leave us with such a conundrum, with such a puzzle. Rather, in such circumstances, Jesus teaches us to reach for God’s love in the sacraments, in the rites of faith, in growing in our knowledge of God, of ourselves and of how our faith aids us to live and work within the world.

 

Sirach, today, tells us “He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.17 Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given.” (Sir 15:15-20)

 

We have a choice, every day.

 

Every day, Sirach tells us we have a choice for our day, for our lives. Now, I admit it can be difficult to hear Sirach, but Paul says his message louder.

 

Paul tells us to focus on the will of God beyond ourselves. He’s speaking to the community at Corinth. They’re having difficulty coming together as a community, behind a leader, and this is causing division in their community.

 

Paul writes: “when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” (1 Cor 3:4-6)

 

Our lives of faith is one seed. One plants it, one waters, but it’s God who encourages us, gives us the ground in which to grow, and to blossom.

 

Jesus, in our gospel is telling us that God sees us in the good, and in the not so good, and even in of our lives. Jesus urges us to lean toward the good, to clear the air between one and another, to not let things sit until only the worst is the outcome that can be expected.

 

He tells us that we’re not walking these paths alone. That we’re surrounded by our faith, by the words of the bible, by the love of God, on all sides, and in all circumstances.

 

Our human nature, our ability to decide to try to be God in God’s place, is what has the ability to pull us away from Jesus ‘teaching, from treating each other with love and respect, from treating each other as Jesus continues to encourage us to treat each other.

 

We wish to live in a good relationship with God, at the same time, we want to do things our own way. We want to be the bull in the china shop, at the same time, we regret the mess that is made because we are a bull in the china shop.

 

Jesus tells us, “21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Mt 5:21-24)

 

Sirach reminds us: “If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.16 He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.” (Sir 15:15-20)

 

Jesus not only points out that we are the bull in the china shop, but at the same time, offers us ways to repair the damage that happens when we wander away from God’s love.

 

He reminds us that we are encouraged to reach for the sacrament of Confession and Absolution, often, and we include this in every service we celebrate, together.

 

The wording of one form of confession used by the Lutheran Church, states “Most merciful God, we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us, forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.” (LBW pg 77)

 

Naturally, we are able to receive God’s absolution, when we unburden ourselves in such words as: “In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for [us], and for his sake God forgives [us] all [our] sins. To those who believe in Jesus Christ he gives the power to become the children of God and bestows on them the Holy Spirit.” (LBW pg 77)

 

The BAS, the BCP have their own variations that say the same thing. Their words express the yearning of our hearts to feel the love of God, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the teachings of Christ in every aspect of our lives.

 

But they all rely upon the same thing – our willingness to lay our souls bare before God, before anyone we have an argument with, before our brothers and sisters whom we have unintentionally hurt.

 

They rely upon us to ask for forgiveness, and to receive God’s absolution in return.

 

Its when this happens that we are able to have a lasting change in the world, starting in each of our hearts. Its this way that we see Jesus, not overturning the law given to Moses, on the mountain, but rather, fulfilling it.

 

Jesus urges us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Jesus urges us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. When we can do both of these things, its then that we can agree with Sirach, that we can choose to keep the law, the commandments.
When we can do this, we can hear Paul say that one plants the seed, one waters it, but it is only with God that we are able to grow, not just in our faith, but in each other’s eyes, and hearts.

 

We go through the motions, the rites of faith, the ways we’ve learned of how to live out our faith, together. Gathering here, hearing the word of the Lord spoken aloud, expounded upon, in sermons, and praying and praising God in the circumstances of our lives.

 

At the same time, we gather as the children of God, we gather as the body of Christ, we gather to find the will of God not just for our individual lives, but for our community. We gather to support each other, knowing that from time to time we will need to ask each other’s forgiveness for the mistakes we make because we are human.

 

Jesus gospel, today, can be a tough one to listen to, but there are glimmers of hope, there is the silver lining behind the clouds that gather overhead.

 

We can look at Jesus words, today remembering that they’re part of a whole. Remembering that they’re not the whole of the message he gives to those who have gathered on the mountain, yearning for the message that they are loved by God, that they are not condemned by the sin of their lives. In the same way, we desire the same assurances.

 

The people on the mountainside, with Jesus, get the whole thing at once. We’ve had it broken down into weekly messages and we have time to look back, not just at our own lives, to see where we are blessed by God, where we are blessed by Jesus teachings, but where we are a blessing to others, as well.

 

Sirach reminds us we have a choice – water or fire, life or death, every day.

 

Paul reminds us that to grow in our faith is not only a gift of God, but at the same time God isn’t the only one, that we inspire each other, and are inspired as well, in turn.

 

Jesus reminds us that God’s will is fulfilled and that although we’re not perfect, we are loved by God, and we are able to be loved by God.

 

We are never far enough from God’s love, from God’s absolution that there is never hope for our lives, for our souls. We are always able to be forgiven of any transgressions, any wrongs, often, whether that is between us and our brothers and sisters, or between us and God.

 

To remember this, all we have to do is look for the silver lining that hides behind every cloud.

 

Amen.

 

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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