Sermon for February 12, 2023 Sixth after Epiphany “A Focus on Good”
You have heard it said, begins Jesus as he delves into one more challenging aspect of the sermon on the mount. You have heard it said, to the Jews would mean the 613 laws that they were required to keep in order to fulfill the commitment to be a faithful Jew. For the most part the listeners were accustomed to rules and this would be a directional beacon to understanding them better. Yes it is and yes it goes much further than they expected.
But we are not first century Jews. We are faithful followers who do our best each day to live to our highest ideal. The quick overview of the text is a guide to living in community and thriving. It is a call for 21st century followers to renew our understanding of what it means to be a follower and disciple of Jesus.
For Jews and gentiles of Jesus day the following of rules had become habit. Some were observed with severity especially if had something to do with another and nothing to do with the one enforcing the rule. It became a way to oppress, especially women, those who were sick and generally anyone who did not fit the current idea of good. It meant leaders could point fingers and hide behind the cloak of ‘following the law’ all the while not holding to the highest or lowest ideal of what it meant to be a follower of God, or for others whatever gods and idols were worshipped.
Jesus breaks into that scene and calls out that abuse of God’s law and calls all people to a higher standard. Of course for the leaders it was scandalous because it called for the greatest change and for others it was a slight adjustment. It was a reminder that all people are welcome in the tent and tabernacle of God.
John Robinson was a mid 20th century Episcopal Bishop in England. He was a bit of a radical in his day, at least as radical as a Cambridge trained Bishop can be. He argued that ‘in God and in Eucharist the common is made holy’, that we bring all our live to God; the good the bad and the ugly and in our humble commonness we become holy. We cannot get to holy apart from God and Jesus. We can be good people, kind people, generous people but it is through God and Jesus that we become holy and then the traits of the beatitudes become our home.
The Gospel text is challenging to hear for it calls us from being church to being disciples. I know that is a wide paint brush but after 2000 years of being church we may need some reminding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Perhaps another way to view the text is a call to look for and expect the best from everyone…including ourselves. It means recognizing that all are created in the image and likeness of God, that we all hold some or all the traits of the Beatitudes, that we are all worthy and worthy of being treated with respect and justice, that we all fall short from time to time and we all live with the freeing hope of forgiveness and that Jesus continually calls us to a high standard and that by times is really hard.
As a side note, Louise Penny’s latest book ‘A World of Curiosities” is a novel on forgiveness. Another great read and you have to read Louise’s comments at the end. Just a note that it might not make sense if you have not read the previous 17 books in the series.
As we lean into this challenging Gospel teaching and as we are in Valentine’s week may we be encouraged to look to the good in others without added comment or commentary. One of the surprises is that we just may start to see good revealed in ourselves, then more in others, then more in ourselves…well you get the point. Jesus had the undesirable trait of loving those that the accepted of his day could not love…it is still true today.