The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany (February 23, 2014)

Lessons:Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 Psalm 119:33-40 (33) 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 St. Matthew 5:38-48

Prayer of the Day: Holy God of compassion, you invite us into your way of forgiveness and peace. Lead us to love our enemies, and transform our words and deeds to be like his through whom we pray, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

5:38 [Jesus said,] "You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

St. Matthew 5:38-48, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

You Have Heard that It Was Said… But I Say to You

We’ve been working our way through the Sermon on the Mount for four weeks now, and we have another week to go before we’re done. This opening volley in the teaching ministry of Jesus is an important aspect of how St. Matthew begins his gospel account. It is also an important teaching section for those of us who are drawn to imagine that the only interest Jesus has is in sharing grace and mercy with his listeners. These verses are hard! Blessed are those whom the world considers to be cursed. Your light is to shine for all the world to see. Your righteousness is to exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees. If you become angry, you have committed murder. If you lust, you have committed adultery. And now today’s text: Do not resist an evildoer. Give to everyone who begs from you. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. And the clincher: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Anything else we can do for you Jesus? (As a matter of fact, yes, we’ve only looked at the first third of this sermon so far.)

These verses are hard! Yet they are important. Important for many reasons, but I am aware of one specific way in which they are important. We have been entrusted with a treasure more valuable than anything made by human hands: the good news that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, God is at work bringing reconciliation and new life to all the world. We have been commanded to share this treasure with all who will receive it. But more often than we care to admit, the character of our lives proclaims a different message than the testimony of our lips. We are surrounded by people who seek meaning and purpose in their lives. We believe we have the answer to many of the questions they are asking. Do our lives convince them that we, among all others, are to be believed?

Recent research has revealed discouraging news for the Christian movement. Among those who are not part of the church, many have decided that Christians are too judgmental, too self-indulgent, too hypocritical to have anything of value to share with the world. Our message is often rejected immediately because of the simple fact that our lives don’t show convincing evidence that the message we share has transformed us. We can blame this on those highly visible Christian leaders who seem to have a long way to go when they fall. Or we can blame it on regular run of the mill Christians like us. Regardless, too many of us have given too much evidence to the contrary.

These words from Jesus remind us of this, and call us to some serious amendment of life. I’m struck by the middle portion of verse 47: “what more are you doing than others?” If we want to have a credible witness, the love that we share with the world must be more than what the others share. The compassion we have for the needy must be more than what the others have. The commitment we hold to work for peace and justice must be more fierce than what the others hold. We must embrace the evildoer, love the enemy, pray for the persecutor, and be perfect as God is perfect.

We’ve got quite a hole to dig ourselves out of. But with God’s help, we can do it, and our proclamation can once again become a blessing for those who don’t yet know. So let us embrace this call, and live in such a way that others are compelled to ask what it is that fuels our lives. Then, and only then, will we have a story to share that others can embrace with all of their hearts. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why does Jesus strengthen these ancient commandments to faithfulness?
  2. Does he really want us to give to everyone who begs?
  3. What would it look like to live the life he describes here?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have my faith convictions been less-than-visible to others?
  2. What area of my life is most in need of regeneration?
  3. Who is watching me, to see whether my words and actions fit together?