The Pas Epiphany + 7
19 February 2017
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Psalm 119:33-40 bas pg 870
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Lord of rising sun and gentle rain,
whose gifts cannot be counted and whose care is unbounded:
free us from a measured love which keeps a record of wrong,
and take us beyond the limits where we speak only with those who reflect ourselves;
recall us to your image shining and alive in many-coloured eyes;
through Jesus Christ, the peacemaker. Amen.
When I first glanced at today’s readings, to find God’s word, to find God’s message in them for each of us, today, I have to admit; I actually heaved a heavy sigh, and rolled my eyes.
I did that because; we continue to find ourselves in the midst of Jesus famous words from the Sermon on the Mount. Words that continue to, not only comfort us, but they’re meant to challenge us, challenge the way we see the world around us, and challenge how we see our roles toward each other in Christ’s name, and this isn’t an easy journey, one of self-examination to see how to serve God and all of creation better.
Looking at the way the Season of Epiphany has been dealing with this sermon, on a Sunday-by-Sunday basis, we can see that we’ve been enmeshed in its passages, in the details of its intricate message since the end of January.
Naturally, we started with the parts we wish to resonate with in the same way we would slip into a warm bath, the water, the bubbles up to our necks, as we allow the water to wash over and around us. We can feel it surrounding us, uplifting us, as we float in the buoyant message of how God blesses us, and blesses the world, even and especially when we don’t feel particularly blessed, at that moment.
We cling to that particular passage, the list of those who are “Blessed” according to Jesus, and we really do try to ignore the rest of what Jesus says.
After all, the “Blessed Are” passage is reprinted in so many formats, Facebook posts, embroidery patterns, etc., reminding us of who God is and how we fit into a picture that really only God can see the finished format.
We want to block out the rest of the Sermon’s poignant message, all intending to break us out of the comfortable ruts of our lives. So, we stand there with our fingers in our ears telling God we can’t hear what’s being said.
So, lets picture this, Jesus preaching the sermon on the Mount.
We see Jesus. He’s sitting on the steep slope of a hillside, or mountain, (after all it is called the ‘Sermon on the Mount.’)
Around him, before him, and below him, we see men, women, and children from all walks of life. We see the disciples, those who have walked away from absolutely everything they find familiar in order to learn from the Master, the Messiah, the Rabbi. To learn how God is directing and teaching them to become the first leaders of the Christian church, before such an idea has even formed in their minds, much less the world.
We see those who are wealthy, privileged. They’re standing to one side, not daring to sit on the ground, not wishing to make physical contact with those around them because they might get their clothes dirty.
At the same time, another group is also well dressed. They’re also standing a little apart from the general population, because to sit, or make contact, may flirt with issues of impurity, and then they would have to go through the time, the ritual, and the bother of ritual cleansing, again.
We see those who are less affluent, less financially confident, less assured of their state of purity, or their position in society. They’re trying to sit as close to Jesus as possible. These people want to catch every word, they don’t want to miss any of the messages of God’s love found within Jesus teachings.
And we see those who come as close as they dare to such a gathering: the ill, the marginalized, the lepers, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the homeless. These are the ones who are downtrodden, kicked and cast aside by society for many reasons, and these are the ones who make up the segment of society we would rather not see, but here they are, and still today, they are a part of our society.
These people gather around us, around Jesus, as he sits preaching his most influential sermon in the gospel.
They gather on all sides, in the hot sunlight. They stay from the beginning to the end of the sermon, not even wishing to go take a bathroom break because they might miss something.
These are the people. They are each one of us. We are listening, sharing our lunches with each other and with the children in our midst, as Jesus preaches, and proclaims the love of God, the fulfillment of God’s will for all of humanity.
And throughout all of this, we watch Jesus. We see his love, is patience, his determination to help us understand God wishes only to love us, not condemn us.
We listen for his words of wisdom.
We listen for the healing of his words, words of God’s love for you and for me, of all those all-around who have followed Jesus away from the urban centers to this remote hillside.
And what Jesus has to tell us has the ability to stop us in our tracks. After all, we’ve led good lives, right?
We’re comfortable in our circumstances, we’ve earned our positions in life by the dint of our hard work, our care and consideration for our own families.
We’ve earned the good lives we are living. We consider ourselves to be blessed, following our own interpretation of what Jesus is saying, words we heard back in January, those who Jesus describes as “blessed are”.
But, today, we hear Jesus beginning to set us straight. He’s beginning to overturn our apple carts, and spill the definitions of our lives all over the place.
Last week we heard about the law, about divorce, and adultery. We heard about faithfulness in the face of God’s laws, and we heard how, although we may have come to faith by different paths, different ways, different means, it is God who makes us grow, in our lives, and in our faith.
Today, however, Jesus is, once more, knocking down our walls, and our self-delusions of success and grandeur. And he begins, yet again, to show us the world as God sees it, as we need see it with open eyes and open hearts in order to deal with the whole of the world around us.
Today, Jesus says “You’ve heard it said, … But I tell you…” (Mt5:38a, 39a)
Now, we make all sorts of jokes to deal with our discomfort in Jesus message, today. Such jokes as: “Walk a mile in their shoes. That way you’re a mile away, and you’ve got their shoes!”
Or “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? That way the whole world will be blind and toothless!”
Jokes that show us how uncomfortable we are with Jesus message today. It’s not easy to hear, it’s not easy to embrace, it’s not even easy to emulate, in the face of the callous attitudes of the world.
So, we make jokes. We do this because Jesus words are uncomfortable. We do this because Jesus calls us to look at the world though his eyes. He will willingly give us his shoes if we are willing to walk a mile in his life, see the world through his eyes, and respond as he would respond to all in need.
Remember his actions, once he had been taken in chains by the Jewish and Roman authorities? Did he fight back? Did he defend himself? Did he do other than God’s will to break the power of sin and death?
Today, Jesus encourages us not to insulate ourselves, or our lives but to look at the world around us, and to share. We’re invited to share in the lives and the experiences of others, those who are successful as well as those who struggle.
We’re invited to look at our lives and to see how God has defined our success, and where God says “you’ve heard it said…but I say to you…”
This is our challenge.
Jesus is challenging us to change the world around us, one cheek at a time.
Jesus tells us “I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Mt 5:39)
From the perspective of someone who has been abused, this is hard news to accept, yet, the one who doesn’t resist wears down his attacker and they move on to someone who is willing to fight back.
During the Holocaust, the Jewish people didn’t resist their capture, torture, or abuse at the hands of the Nazi party, and yet, the powers of the day were unable to fulfill their mandate to exterminate them and the world remembers their valiant courage in the face of such behaviour.
During the Civil Rights movement, in the US, yes, there were violent clashes between groups, but the overall remembered and successful methods were those who took the blows and didn’t return kind for kind.
They showed their attackers to be the bullies that they are, and in such a way, they changed the hearts of those around them, and compassion grew in the place of retribution.
Just looking at the correspondence, the writings of Martin Luther King Jr, and his wife, Coretta Scott King, and his supporters show the fortitude of those wanting to make change, and the changes they were able to make in a time of intolerance and inflexibility toward racial equality.
Jesus tells us: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. … If you love those who love what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:43-48)
These are not easy words to hear. They’re not easy examples to hold up, or even to follow.
At the same time, these are the words of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. These are the teachings we receive from the Sermon on the Mount, today.
This is what Jesus wishes us to learn, not just for our lives, examples to live for the whole world of God’s love.
We have the ability to make changes in the world around us. All we have to do is hug our neighbour, hug our enemy, hug the stranger in our midst, and by doing that, to paraphrase Genesis, perhaps we are hugging angles unawares, while making the world better one heart at a time.