Sermon for February 12, 2017 6th of Epiphany “An Uneasy Gospel”
The Gospel text has something for everyone to squirm about. We can all be uneasy together. And we can all be pleased that Jesus is about forgiveness, new beginnings and love on our journey to the kingdom.
Perhaps the opening verses of Deuteronomy sets the stage for the human story and their God. “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, walking in God’s ways, and observing the commandments, decrees and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.”
God has always been interested in relationships. One relationship, I suggest has involved humans and our slow journey to be grown up. In the first days the relationship was about beauty and harmony, sharing and balance and a deep knowing of God. The curiosity of humans altered that relationship. We were given the book of laws and commandments to guide our relationship with God and each other. These laws governed all aspects of life together, from farming to commerce, from children to elders, from marriage to neighbours, from temple to God. It was not always easy for humans to follow all the rules and over time the wealthy and those in power used them to oppress the poor, and well just about anyone they could. Unfortunately not even the church was free from corruption. The people had wandered far from what God intended.
Do you remember when you were very small, and the world was still strange and new? Do you remember when you were still figuring out what was true, even if it did not make sense, and how things that made perfect sense to you were simply not true?
In most of our lives, there have been moments of enlightenment, when something we had always believed to be true turned out to not be true at all. In fact, it often turned out to be the farthest thing from the truth. Or it turned out to be something completely silly. Your parents’ names are not Mom and Dad. Your grandma is actually your mother’s mom. When cows lay down, it is not a sign of impending rain. If you swallow a piece of chewing gum, it does not stay in your stomach for seven years.
Many of us heard things like this, and we thought they were true. We thought heaven was up in the sky, and if we went far enough in an airplane, we’d see it. We thought that if we could obey every rule, and be very good, that nothing bad would ever happen to anyone. We thought that if we were naughty, God would not love us. Some of us even thought that if we were naughty, no one would love us. As we learn and grow, we often learn that what we once thought to be true is no longer believable, or more complicated than we thought.
In the teachings of Jesus we discover a new way of understanding our relationship with God. Not so much through rules and laws but by love. And by time a very hard love. One of the teachings is: love one another, not just those who will love you back but even your enemy. That challenges us to take a long hard look at ourselves to see where our lack of love lies.
The Gospel text reminds us to be cautious of anger toward others, to nurture our relationships (especially our closest relationships) and the taking or oaths. In context of the first century the Gospel makes profound good sense. Conflict was kept at the lowest level where solutions could be arrived at where the esteem of all remained intact. In marriage the rights of women were upheld in a time when they had none. And a reminder that your oath to God was greater than any other oath. And all of them subject to the justice of God.
In the 21st century the Gospel still carries a potent message. Our words and actions still matter and we are cautioned to think carefully before we speak. In Canada we strive toward equality for all. We have work to do and there are still glaring gaps. Our concept of marriage has changed dramatically and we are not so rigid in our thinking. Or we have grown up a wee bit and understand the wonderful diversity of loving relationships. It still does not give us permission to point fingers and discredit those for whom marriage did not work as intended.
Dorothy Day (who founded the Catholic works movement) would tell the workers: “if each of us could just remember that we are all created in the image of God, then we would naturally want to love more”. As we gather here in this holy place we are reminded that in God’s realm there are no outsiders, everyone, each gift, each offering is received with gratitude.
In spite of all our real and perceived faults and errors, at the end of this day and every day, Jesus stands with us and says: “Go now and be reconciled”. And then the hard work of an uneasy Gospel begins. Amen