Conduct and the Other

Sermon Notes - August 20

Introduction: Just before this gospel Jesus tells the Pharisees that it is not so important to wash one’s hands before you eat. The Pharisees were scrupulous in their keeping of the law and this teacher seems to them to have a disregard of what they hold to be important. How can he be from God if he fails to hold fast to the commands they have received from God and have worked to obey over hundreds of years.

I). Jesus’ disciples are concerned that he has angered important people and may not be aware of what he has done. He tells them they are blind guides leading blind disciples, or in other words they do not really understand what they are doing and those that follow them fail to question what they are being taught.

II). Peter seeks intelligibility in what Jesus is telling his disciples to do. Jesus tells them that it is not that goes into someone that defiles them, but what comes out of their mouth. I believe our challenge as Christians is to treat everyone we meet with dignity and respect. Then we have Jesus first ignoring a woman who happens to be a foreigner and then comparing her to a dog.

III). What is remarkable about this last portion of the Gospel is not only the faith of this woman and her determination to help her daughter, but her quick wit. Just as one might expect her to go away dispirited as Jesus rebukes her request by stating that it is not right to give a dog the children’s food, she immediately replies to Jesus’ insult that even the dogs eat the food that falls from the master’s table. Here indeed is a brilliant reply. She sees in Jesus more than a mere teacher since he can cure her daughter. So she points out that this is no ordinary table, but the table of her master. Now Jesus responds by immediately granting her request and her daughter is made well without Jesus having to go and heal her.

Conduct and Prayer

Sermon Notes - August 13

Introduction: 'In the Lord Jesus Christ we see most clearly the union of prayer and life, the harmony and continual interpenetration of the two spheres of life - communion with God and the work on earth'.
(Adolph Saphir) When we think about prayer what comes to your mind? Do you mull over times when you have asked God to do something for someone or perhaps even yourself. All of us have prayed for a close family member or friend to be cured of a disease. We may have asked on behalf of our own self that job or passing a test or even the hope that we do not have a particular disease. Just before
this episode Jesus has fed the crowd of five thousand. He now ‘makes’ the disciples get into a boat to send them over to the other side and then dismisses the crowd. After this he himself goes up the mountain to pray by himself. Finally he leaves the mountain to go to the disciples. They are now several stadia out into the sea, a stadia being just over 300 feet or the length of a football field. Instead of walking the shore and meeting them at their destination Jesus goes via water, not by boat but by simply walking upon the water.

I). William Temple states ‘that the relationship between prayer and conduct is not that conduct is supremely important and prayer may help it, but rather that prayer is supremely important and conduct may test it.’ After being with God the Father in prayer Jesus goes immediately to be with the disciples in the most direct route possible. Jesus in the Gospels only uses his power as God, in the form of a miracle, the setting aside of physical limits, to help those around him defeat disease or more precisely the devil.

II). As Jesus approaches the storm tossed boat with the disciples within it, the disciples see this apparition and think it must be a ghost. Jesus assures them it is just himself coming to them. Peter tests this theory out by saying if it is truly Jesus bid him to leave the boat and walk on the water to Jesus. Jesus does so, and Peter climbs out of the boat and begins to walk on the water to his master.

III). As Peter gets close to Jesus he becomes aware of the churning sea all around him and loses sight of Jesus and so begins to sink. He cries out for Jesus to save him and he does so by grabbing onto Peters hand and pulling him up out of the water and then brings them both over the side of the boat and into safety. Finally Jesus calls upon the winds to cease and they obey his voice. Upon witnessing these events the disciples fall down and worship Jesus. By overcoming the storm Jesus has defeated the power of the enemy and shown despite the ability of the devil to use creation against God’s creatures that God is still in control. How do we use prayer to emphasize God’s control in our lives?

Transformation

Sermon Notes - August 6

Introduction: What life event has changed you? All of us have experienced times in our lives when we have chosen to do something, such as take that job, go to school, get married that has changed us forever. These experiences are certainly pivotal in their life changing effect upon us. What I am thinking about are those experiences which may not seemingly be as important because they do not have the overt significance of these events. Nonetheless, there are moments that shape us that at the time may seem insignificant, but later on can take a whole new meaning.

I). At the beginning of this passage, one commentator notes that the Greek could be translated that Jesus ‘happened’ to take his disciples up the mountain to pray. Initially, this perplexed me, my view of Jesus is that he always had a plan and that he followed this plan according to what he understood his Father’s call. If we accept this translation then we must grapple with just how God works, does he meet us in unexpected ways and circumstances that in turn we may not always gain the proper insight until later on.

II). Due to the disciples falling asleep we might think that this event occurred at night. When Peter, James and John witnessed this event they may have been uncertain just what exactly they had seen. The reason that Peter may have gone on to deny Jesus three times in the not too distant future may have been that he was unable to make sense of just what he and the others had experienced, much like at Jesus’ baptism.

III). The Transfiguration may have seemed so other worldly’ that the disciples had no context they could put it into. All of their experience up to this point may not have prepared them to experience Jesus in this context of having Moses and Elijah appear with him and what this truly meant. Herod, earlier in the chapter, had expressed his confusion over who this Jesus was, after all he had killed John the Baptist, who some had claimed Jesus now was raised from the dead, and still others thought he was Elijah or one of the ancient prophets. Instead of this making the picture crystal clear as Jesus now was revealed in his ‘glory’, instead it may have made things all the more strange since this vision they had shared was one they evidently did not even talk about, so uncomfortable were they about what they had experienced until after the resurrection.

From Tiny Things . . .

Sermon Notes - July 30

Introduction: Bud Grant, was the Minnesota Vikings football coach and he took over the team at a time when they were known as perennial losers in the National Football League. Bud Grant is a unique individual having played professional for the Minneapolis Lakers, the Philadelphia Eagles and in the Canadian Football League where he became the youngest coach of a football team at the age of 30. When he came to the Minnesota Vikings as their head football coach he had already won the Grey Cup four times in the CFL. One of the first things he had the Vikings work on was standing at attention during the National Anthem something he had them practice. He would end up taking the Vikings to four Super Bowls.

I). After the parables of the Sower and then the parable of the weeds, he tells the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven. He begins by saying the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds, here Jesus is not presenting a scientific fact, rather a metaphor to gain attention. Out of a small seed can come a GREAT bush or small tree, one in which birds can build a nest within. He goes on to give the example of a little leaven and how just a tiny bit can transform flour into something different in its nature.

II). Certainly the disciples were well aware of this tiny community which existed in the world dominated by the Roman Empire. How could something so minute amount to anything? Moreover, they were so small not only could they easily disappear and no one would notice, but how could they even begin to accomplish something that would be worth noticing? Or perhaps even more important, something of lasting import!

III). The point of Jesus’ parables is to help give the community a new vision, a way to think of themselves as not stuck in this present moment, but to see beyond who they are at this particular time and realize God has indeed given them a commission to give those they come in contact with a new way of living. Jesus uses the mustard seed transforming into a bush to help the disciples recognize that the community they are creating will be a place of safety and rest for those coming to them. As they go out into the world they will be like leaven which transforms the flour in secret, without any apparent change in the essence of the flour. So too, without any apparent change in those who join their community, they will still look and sound the same, yet something essential will have changed. How are we being called to transform the community around us?

The Evil One

Sermon Notes - July 23

Introduction: Many of us can recall the old saying ‘the Devil made me do it’, or to simply blame someone else for my failure. I am reminded of this old phrase and then again more to the point our desire to blame someone else, because we can so easily scape goat someone or something else and make that the reason why things have not gone properly in our lives. This then relieves us of our responsibility and allows us the freedom from having to accept any blame for our own shortcomings. Most especially we then no longer have to feel the necessity to change our behavior since it was not our blame, but the fault of someone else.

I). Jesus tells them this parable of the weeds just after he has taught the crowds of the sower and the seed, and in the midst of this parable between its telling and explanation to the disciples Jesus will discuss the parables of the mustard seed and yeast which we will discuss next Sunday. Now Jesus turns his attention to those in the community who might be seen as failing to comply with Jesus’ teaching. The weeds that are growing up amongst the good fruit.

II). The people may well have wanted a simple solution, such as those who do not agree with me should be driven out of our ‘holy’ community. After all I know what Jesus would do and so those who do not follow his teachings should be disdained and even driven out of the community. The problem is who gets to decide who is in and who is out? What specific commandments if broken should mean potential expulsion if they are in fact proven to have been broken? This can be especially perplexing given that many of the rules that we are taught to live by come from the very depth of one’s being.

III). Instead of setting up a ‘how to’ Jesus tells them to simply allow the people to remain in the community and his Father will judge them at the last day! To me this is a brilliant solution to a vexing problem. Certainly in the prayer book we have a rubric that has a means for a priest to excommunicate someone for a time, but this is done only in the most extreme circumstances and must immediately be reported to the bishop. For the vast majority we live in community trusting that although we may not agree with each other we are called to listen to each other and love one another as we love our own self. What better way to learn about God’s love and forgiveness than to have the opportunity to experience it in our own community? Jesus goes on to talk about the kingdom of heaven by comparing it to one seeking incredibly valuable treasure and selling all one has in order to obtain it. Personally this community is that treasure and we are called to trust that within our community lies hidden treasure.

 

Yield of the Kingdom

Sermon Notes - July 16

Introduction: Jesus gives a very ‘folksy’ parable that we can easily visualize. He tells of a sower who scatters seed upon the ground arbitrarily. The question is as a parable what does the seed symbolize? What about the sower and the ground? Finally what about the harvest? In order to understand this parable it is vital to know just what each item in the parable means. The first thing recognized is the sower. The sower is not identified other than by what he does. The brilliance of Jesus’ parables is that they are at once easy to understand and yet because he chooses not to identify exactly what he is talking about leaves open the question just what is meant by the parable. I believe the sower is Jesus, that we are the seeds, and that the earth that we are planted on are our own souls which will ultimately lead to our producing a great harvest for the kingdom of souls won for the kingdom.

I). Jesus is in Capernaum and he goes to the sea shore in order to teach and so many people gather around him he is forced to get into a boat in order to teach them. He had just been teaching them about bearing good fruit, his death and resurrection, a warning against complacency, and those who truly are the family of Jesus.

II). After he tells the parable of the sower Jesus then states the purpose of the parables which is overtly to prevent people from understanding and entering the kingdom. He then goes on to explain this parable to his inner circle of disciples so that they will understand. Personally I understand why the person who designed the lectionary left out that part of the reading for today. At best it is troubling.

III). What at first blush seems like such a simple and straightforward parable begins to take on many different nuances. The full context of this parable indicates that we have some control over the kind of fruit we bear and how we will serve God. Will we be faithful stewards of the gifts God has given to us and share them with others realizing that all we have comes from God and our job is to give what we have away to others. We do this by having first taken care to hear God’s Word and prepare a place where it can grow and be nurtured. How do you take care of your soul? Do you have a spiritual advisor? How often do you pray and take time for Bible Study? All of us need time to be with God and to listen to what he is inviting us to do.

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Sermon Notes - July 9

Introduction: Jesus invites us to take his yoke upon ourselves for he tells us his burdens are easy and our souls will find rest. What is a yoke? A yoke was worn by an ox in order to help facilitate its ability to do the work its master wanted it to do. A yoke would make it easier for an ox to till a field, move a wagon, or some other heavy burden. The yoke caused the ox to feel discomfort should it try and ‘fight’ against it by moving in a direction the master did not want it to go in. The Stoll the priest wears is a symbol of the yoke of Christ. Most Stoll’s have a cross in its center that the priest kisses each time he puts it on and takes it off. This is to remind the priest that the yoke of Christ should be worn with joy.

I). John the Baptist is in jail and has inquired who is Jesus, is he the Messiah. Jesus responds by telling all he has done. He goes on to state in today’s Gospel a comparison of his and John’s ministry. He notes that John came fasting wearing rags and they said that he had a demon and Jesus came eating and drinking and they called him a glutton.

II). Jesus lets the people decide who he and John the Baptist are, either crazy men or are they indeed sent by God. We may want to put our own beliefs onto the people trusting that they must believe that he is the Messiah and that John was sent to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry. The problem with this is that it puts our own insight and knowledge onto the people who were at this time still trying to figure out just what was happening. John the Baptist certainly had loyal followers who were wondering if John himself was perhaps the Messiah. Even Jesus points out that there has been no man born greater than John the Baptist, but then adds the caveat that anyone who enters the Kingdom of God is greater than he. As we discussed last week Jesus sees this hidden kingdom coming into our awareness as he and his disciples spread the kingdoms message.

III). Whenever Jesus encounters true need his first response is compassion. Whatever the need is, to cure a sickness, to teach about God’s Kingdom, or to simply observe the people and how hard they must strive even to accomplish the most simple of tasks. He invites them to trust in God’s goodness and to put upon themselves this yoke which is something that God will not impose upon them but something they must choose for themselves. This is something that many of us Christians have a difficult time accepting we want to impose our own standards of righteousness upon others. God never did this. Instead Jesus invites others to accept God’s law and put their whole being into fulfilling this law. Perhaps our temptation is to try and make laws we can easily obey and then try and make everyone else live up to this standard, instead of trusting that God will lead His people via their own conscience allowing them to be informed by God.

Emissaries

Sermon Notes - July 2

Introduction: The reading from Matthew may seem benign. We are simply told that when one receives a messenger of Christ one will receive a reward. This example hearkens to a deeper understanding of Jesus being the proclaimer of the kingdom of God. One expects a king or dignitary to have ambassadors that reach out to other peoples on their behalf in order to create relationships that either are deepened or even begun so that they might have an effective relationship.

I) Discipleship, Jesus warns is dangerous work. As a follower of the one who will be vilified and ultimately crucified one cannot expect to escape that which has happened to the Master. Jesus now goes on to state that a disciple is to be given hospitality as a prophet, righteous person or simply because he is a follower of Christ even if by being a follower they have no real position of power.

II) The implication for those going out on Jesus’ behalf is twofold. First that they are to trust in the hospitality and generosity of others and second that their reward is not a given amount or something that is earned so much as it is a gift or grace.

III) As heralds of God’s Kingdom we are called to proclaim God’s good news to the people around us. Just what is this ‘good news’ or Gospel you have been called to share on Jesus’ behalf? How do you let others know that you have some wonderful news to share with them? Personally, when I am excited about something it is hard for me to contain myself! I can hardly wait to share how my team won the big game or what my child just accomplished! All of us have news that we are busting at the seams to let others know about. How do we share the good news we have in Jesus? What is our expectation for how this news will be received?

 

Discovering Life

Sermon Notes - June 25

Introduction: Jesus continues his instructions as he prepares the disciples to be sent out to the Israelites. He has told them to go taking little with them and trusting in the hospitality of those who they seek out to share the good news of their teacher. He now warns them of the cost of discipleship encouraging them with a new understanding of how their lives are to be measured, no longer using earthly standards. I am reminded of a wonderful advertisement from the Episcopal Foundation where the heading is “You think it is hard to be a Christian now” and showing ancient Christian martyrs in Roman times being stoned.

I) Jesus begins by warning the disciples that their own teacher has been maligned by being compared to Beelzebul or the ‘evil one’ or ‘Satan’. If their angst is such that they are willing to show such utter disregard for him they cannot expect to be treated any differently.

II) Nonetheless they are to trust that God will protect them and thus need not fear anything but God Himself. So instead of speaking softly they are to go out and speak boldly even shouting from housetops what Jesus has shared with them quietly.

III) Finally, he tells them that those who endure to the end they will find in Jesus an advocate who will stand with them at the last. On the other hand should they deny Jesus, he too will deny them before his heavenly Father. The conclusion is that those who find their live will lose it and those who lose their life will find it. In this strange idea lies the key to Christian completion. We are not completed by the praise of others, by having lots of stuff, or even by having power. What makes us complete is the realization that there is something more important than our own physical life. We are given a mandate by Jesus to exemplify what it means to have live in such a way that points to the importance of having a relationship with God that is so important that our physical life becomes secondary.

 

Called to Go Out into the World

Sermon Notes - June 11

Introduction: The women have gone and seen the empty tomb, saw an angelic messenger, and finally seen Jesus himself. He has told them to have the disciples go and meet him in Galilee on the mountain. The disciples take their word and go to the place Jesus has asked them to go. We may forget that this will be the first time they have seen Jesus since he has been raised from the dead. What was going through their minds as they journeyed toward what had to be an emotional meeting!

I) Upon seeing Jesus the disciples worship him. Obviously they now recognize him as the Messiah. Finally after all the waiting as they hurry on their way their hopes have been fulfilled they can now rest their eyes on their teacher!

II) Now, of all times we are told that some doubted. Were their others with the disciples who although they worshiped him still held onto doubt? Since we are only told of the presence of the eleven must we then conclude that some of the most inner circle of Jesus doubted that this could be truly Jesus and if so just what did those doubts entail? These questions must go unanswered as Matthew does not give us the information we are seeking.

III) Matthew goes on to Jesus telling the disciples they are to go into the world and baptize believers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Teaching everyone to follow all that Jesus had commanded them. We are now left with this commission to go out and do likewise. As we reflect on this passage we may well wonder how could the disciples go out and do this when they still, even after seeing the resurrected Jesus, have doubt! We sometimes want to make doubt the antithesis of faith. Doubt is not the opposite of faith, so much as doubt is the invitation to explore what it means to have faith more deeply. In Matthew 14:31 Jesus reprimands Peter saying when Peter looks away from Jesus and at the storm raging all around him as he walks upon the water toward Jesus only to sink and cry for help. Peter has two minds here. On the one hand he has taken the risk to get out of the boat and go towards Jesus. As Peter loses his focus and begins to realize the great peril he has now put himself in by getting out of the boat, he begins to sink. We too face this difficulty when we may well set out to try something, like remodel our sanctuary and then have doubts about can we accomplish this task. There may well be times when we are of two minds as to what we are or are not able to accomplish, we must then focus on our relationship with Jesus and his pushing us to accomplish our mission of inviting others to join us as fellow disciples of Christ. The point of doubt is not unbelief but of belief that is yet in the process of maturing. Most of us are on this path, and we are told not to wait until we have mature faith, but to go and teach about Jesus now.

 

 

The Holy Spirit

Sermon Notes - June 4

Introduction: The Holy Spirt is perhaps the least understood and certainly least talked about of the Trinity of God. We know God the Father as the Creator and God the Son as the redeemer who came to earth. Most of us can at least understand these concepts. The Holy Spirit is perhaps so removed from our experience because there is no easy way to describe the Spirits activity. I recall a former bishop of mine comparing the Spirits activity to the movement of Jell-O. Jell-O shakes when you barely touch it. It moves seemingly on its own accord. We may not understand this Spirit, but most of us would certainly affirm that this Spirit works in and among us.

I) After his death and he is raised to life, Jesus appears to the disciples. They are overjoyed at seeing him! He breathes on them and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit.

II) He now sends them out into the world. The problem is what are they going to do? How will they preach this new incredible message to a world that will undoubtedly be a world that will question what they have to say about this risen Lord! As we prepare to leave this safe spiritual home that has served our community so well these past 40 years we now are getting ready to become wanderers for a time. We know there will be a definite beginning and ending. Our temptation maybe to simply wait to begin our ministry when we are back in this building instead of seeing the challenge as doing ministry and reaching out to others while we are at Hinkle Creek School

III) Instead of staying home and awaiting the completion of our new building, our task is to remain faithful to who we are and do ministry where we are able to do so. Whether that is at the school, in our homes, at the shelter, at Marco’s pizza, or where ever we end up gathering as a community. The journey we are on is an adventure in faith. We have some idea of where we are going but we do not have an exact roadmap of where we are being led or the challenges we will face. What I know is that as long as we are willing to communicate, be flexible and willing to experience some chaos we will most certainly come out to our new remodeled sanctuary with a greater sense of purpose. I also believe we will have a deeper understanding of God and what it means to be a faithful people having to trust that God through his Holy Spirit will indeed lead us into an ever deepening relationship with Herself, for the Spirit is feminine in Hebrew.

Remembrance!

Sermon Notes - April 30

Introduction: The road to Emmaus is one of the famous accounts of the resurrection of Jesus. As two distraught disciples walk back home from Jerusalem, their hopes dashed and their sharing with each other not only the tragedy of what just happened but perhaps the puzzling accounts of the women who went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body only to find it empty. As I ponder over the death of those near and dear to me, as I think of what they have left behind, things that I still have in my possession, a piece of furniture or a treasured knickknack, I find myself drawn to something I do not have, chose not to ask for, and find myself not really wanting, the memory of the thing is so strong I no longer need the thing itself to bring back a flood of memories.

I) As Jesus appears with the two disciples they do not recognize him. Their eyes we are told are prevented from seeing who is present with them. Jesus draws out from them the reason for their despair.

II) Jesus then goes on to share with them the reasons that the one they long for must have had to go through the torment by explaining the scriptures to them beginning with Moses and going through the entire Old Testament. They find their hearts strangely warmed and their gloom turns toward something they did not expect hope. As they near their destination, Jesus appears to be going further, but they attempt to constrain him by admonishing him to stay and have a meal together.

III) As they share a meal Jesus blesses the bread and then they are allowed to recognize him. Once they realize who it is, he vanishes from their sight and they are left in disbelief. Now they realize what has happened they immediately rush back to share this wonderful news with the disciples. As we get ready to remodel our sanctuary, there may be certain attributes that you may well miss as we move into the remodeled sanctuary. The dread I have felt thinking of losing my parents reminds me of the anticipation of this coming loss. What has surprised me is that though I can no longer call them and talk with them, I can still have vivid memories of them. What is more, I am surprised that I can think of something I do not have, like the bluing paper and creche that my mother put up every Christmas. As we come together and break bread the power of Jesus comes among us as well. The old sanctuary certainly contains some of this power and I suspect some of us may well miss certain elements of this environment. What we hold dear in the previous setting we can recall just by shutting our eyes and seeing what it is we recall, more important the feelings and longings we have will be satisfied in part by the mere remembering, I believe Jesus’ presence will do the rest.

Using Our Gifts!

Sermon Notes - April 23

Introduction: We continue our celebration of the Day of the Resurrection with this episode from the Gospel of John. Mary Magdalene has shared with the disciples that she has found the tomb empty. She goes back to the tomb and while outside looking in sees two angels. Finally a man behind her gains her attention. Finally she realizes that this is not just any person, but Jesus himself. She goes back again to tell the disciples she has actually seen and talked with Jesus!

I) The disciples, despite the news from Mary Magdalene are unable to leave the room. They have locked themselves in and have become more dead than alive so fearful have they become of what might happen to them. As darkness is about to descend one can only imagine what their conversations may have been like as they must have been at least musing over what Mary had shared with them.

II) Without so much as a knock to announce his presence Jesus is found standing among them. He gives the typical Jewish greeting, ‘peace be with you’ which must have seemed anything but usual given the circumstances. After showing them the nail marks and where the spear had entered into his side he once more tells them ‘Peace be with you”. This new peace will no longer allow them to act as the dead but spring to life giving them new found purpose in all they do.

III) Jesus breathes on them and tells them that the sins of nay that they retain are retained and the sins of nay they forgive will be forgotten. What jumps out to me in this scene is that Jesus now sends them out into the world. They are no longer to remain hidden, entombed in their own fear. Instead they are to be energized to go into the world to share this new vision they have received of God’s love. A love that will overcome all trepidation they may feel and embolden them to reach out to a world that is itself dead without any realization that there is the potential for life in Jesus’ name. We too, are given this opportunity now as we hear this final word from Jesus to Thomas today. Thomas would not believe until he had seen for himself. Jesus notes that most of his followers would never have the opportunity that Thomas and the rest of the disciples had to gaze on the risen Christ. We are faced with the opportunity to share about God with those around us. As we continue our spiritual journey as we remodel our sanctuary we have the opportunity to make our presence known to our immediate neighbors. What are you willing to do to help those around us here in South Harbour or in your immediate neighborhood to become aware of St. Michael’s and our ministry to the community?

If you do not Enjoy the Journey

February 19, 2017

Introduction: Many of us have been taught that we should seek and end. Whether that end is finishing our education, getting married and settling down, getting the job we always wanted, or retiring. The focus is on always seeking some final conclusion. Even in our spiritual lives we look toward an end such as getting into heaven. Today Jesus challenges our assumption that we should seek an end. Instead he invites us to see life as a journey. This in turn reminded me of a teacher who stated, “if you do not enjoy the process you will in all likelihood not enjoy the end result.”

I) We are concluding our discussion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, though in fact this teaching will continue for another two chapters. We began with the Beatitudes, discussed being the salt and light of the earth, examined how Jesus understands the commandments not as something to be done away with but in fact making even more stringent. Now we come to the most difficult portion of his teaching. We are to be willing to endure persecution and to even love those who persecute us! 

II) One might conclude that these demands Jesus is making upon his disciples are not demands at all, merely trying to get us out of our comfortable thinking about God. Or in other words, ‘can Jesus really be serious’? This issue is addressed at the end of this reading when Jesus urges us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect! Even here we may be tempted to think that Jesus does not really mean this for how can we ever live up to the perfection of God!?

III) Instead of trying to make this into some kind of metaphor for how we ought to behave, I believe we need to take Jesus seriously. He is certainly not trying to down play evil. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his letters from prison does in fact talk about the evil all around him. That does not prevent him from caring for his fellow prisoners and even for the guards! We must also note that he took evil extremely seriously and decided to participate in the plot to murder Adolph Hitler, even though he believed murder to be wrong and because of that, believed God would condemn him for participating in such as act. If we take seriously the proclamation that we are to love our enemies and not just our neighbor just what does this mean? Jesus points out that even the lowest of the low, tax collectors love those who love them. He holds us to a higher standard, one that we should even love those who persecute us. A dear friend descried how his own mother was led off to her death in a British internment camp in Kenya. I was astounded that instead of being overcome with bitterness for these his enemies, he found a way to love them through forgiveness. His secret, I believe, was the ability to have compassion for everyone, even those who did him and his family incredible harm.

What God Really Expects!

February 12, 2017

Introduction: As we continue the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ Jesus spells out what he means by upholding the commandments. He talks about anger, adultery, divorce and oaths. He begins with the most constraining understanding of them – the most obvious interpretation that the people would have assumed to be the ‘correct’ interpretation.

I) After telling the disciples he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, he now goes on to share what this means. He begins with the commandment ‘thou shalt not murder’. Jesus warns the disciples that even begin angry at someone in God’s view is like committing murder, for it is out of this emotion that murder arises. Adultery is addressed in a similar manner, it is not just the physical act, but the very act of lusting after someone else that must be avoided. Divorce is no longer an option save perhaps in special circumstances, since God’s command was to be married for life. Finally the giving of oaths is now unnecessary because our word should be enough.

II) The problem becomes who can live up to these seemingly incredible and unrealistic demands? Certainly Matthew states that we ought to be perfect like our Father in heaven. This is of little consolation since we cannot achieve this level of purity. Our temptation may be to simply throw up our arms and exclaim since this is not possible except perhaps for a saint we might as well just give up. 

III) Although this may seem our only realistic alternative I believe this is selling the Gospel short. Jesus is not asking us to do that which is impossible or makes no sense such as gouging out our right eye or cutting off our right hand. Instead he is inviting us to consider the true demands of God and what it means to actually live up to them. As we put ourselves into the role of trying to live without ever being angry at someone else, of never feeling lust for another, of always treating our spouse as the most valued relationship we have on this earth and acting on our word as we have made the promise. This would seem undoable. So once more we must go back to the context these words have been spoken. We are invited to run into the brick wall of our own fallibility. Realizing we are imperfect and we are always in need of forgiveness, we then can pray as Jesus taught us with a renewed sense of purpose. Now we can no longer hold ourselves innocent by the fact we have not done something, we have as President Carter admitted committed adultery in our heart. Instead we are now able to see ourselves as having fallen short and thus we can be more able to offer forgiveness to others. Knowing we are in need of being forgiven just as much as someone else.