Sermon Epiphany 7A
February 19, 2017
I just want to begin this morning by expressing my gratitude. First of all to Robert who has been a support for me since I began my work here in 2010. Robert thank you so much for all you did for me to help me succeed as a Youth Minister here and beyond. Thank you for your encouragement along this journey of discernment that I have been on. Above all, thank you for always being up for grabbing a greasy meal from some greasy place I’d never heard of until I came to work here. I thank you, but my cholesterol doesn’t.
I want to thank Daniel and Candice too. You guys have been a great support to me as well. Having both graduated from seminary recently, your insight and wisdom and support has been deeply appreciated. I know I’m not the only one who has benefitted from both of your gifts during your time here at St. John’s.
Last, but not least. I want to thank you all. You are the Vestry and you are the ECW. You are the Eagle folders and you are the reception desk phone answerers, you work at the bookstore and you flip burgers for the Spring Picnic. You are the Sunday School teachers and the Confirmation Class mentors. You volunteer with the Youth and the Children. You are the brass polishers and you are the Bazaar workers. You are the Archive keepers and you are the Alter Guild extraordinaires. You are all what make this place what it is and who it is. You all supported me when I was here as Youth Minster and you as a congregation have continued to support me through my time in seminary through your prayers. You will all forever be a part of who I am in my work in God’s church. From the very bottom of my heart¦ Thank you!
I grew up with one younger brother. Today we are very close and love each other, but growing up we had our fair share of scuffles. Now these scuffles were no big deal, really. They would usually go like this: My brother and I would be riding in the back seat and one of us would do something that would eventually annoy the other to the point of a verbal warning. If the aggressor persisted, there would be a shot over the bow in the form of a slight shove or something thrown. If the aggressor once again refused to recall forces and go back to what he was doing peacefully, continuing to pester the other, there would be direct shots in the form of a knuckle to the meat outer thigh”otherwise known as The Dead Leg. Now the thing you should know about these scuffles is that they would always end in what my father called The Nuclear Option! This was the last move of the scuffle and it always came from me, and ended with my brother crying and me getting in trouble. My version of ˜an eye for an eye’ made sense to me then, but I can see now that it may have been a little flawed¦ especially since it always ended with me getting into trouble. But that’s neither here, nor there.
When I was reflecting on the many scuffles with my brother all these years later, I thought to myself: Why in the world did I think that that was the right thing for me to do? After looking at it more, I think the reason that The Nuclear Option was so appealing to me is because ˜an eye for an eye’ feels good, doesn’t it? We love having the last word, whether its in an argument or on Facebook or Twitter¦ I think that’s the case for everyone! Something about the justice that we can manufacture on our own, which is really just a faux justice, it gives us a perceived power over the other that feels good and that feels right to us, and that gives us a sense of security.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus challenges us directly on our idea of our sense of security. He says, You have heard that it was said, ˜an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. What follows next basically a laundry list of actions and right ways of living from Jesus, that seems to fly in the face of what we’d rather do, whether we like to admit it or not. How many times do we just walk past someone without even acknowledging them, or speak only to those who are like us? If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? If you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Here Jesus gives us truths that are inconvenient and uncomfortable for us. Oh, someone has asked for your coat? Why don’t you go ahead and give them your cloak too! Oh, someone is begging something of you? Go ahead and give them what they asked for. Oh, and while you’re at it¦ Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you¦ And then Jesus hits us with probably the most difficult of instructions when he says: Be perfect, therefor, as your Father in heaven is perfect. BE PERFECT¦ A seemingly impossible task.
As he has done throughout the entirety of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is challenging the Status Quo of the people and the community to which he is speaking, and he is challenging OUR Status Quo. You have heard it said¦ but I say to you¦ Jesus takes what his audience knew as familiar lessons from the Hebrew Scriptures, and gives the people a new idea of what God is calling them to do and be.
Now, taken on its own, this passage can be overwhelming and difficult to take in. If you look at Jesus’ instructions from today’s lessons and don’t consider them in the context of the whole of the Sermon on the Mount, the point that Jesus is trying to get across can easily missed. I think that it all seems to come down to the last verse of reading from Matthew. It’s a bit of a doozy, but when you consider verse 48 with the Beatitudes, with Jesus telling us to be Salt of the earth and Light of the world, and even with last week’s difficult lessons, the picture becomes a bit clearer. For me, this passage is really broken open with Jesus telling us to BE PERFECT.
BE PERFECT? I have never ever, ever in my life been perfect at anything, as much as I hate to say it. And I don’t know many people who are. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the pursuit of perfection, that we can easily lose sight of what God wants from us. We try to impress and we try to show those around us that we have it all together. But when Jesus tells us to Be Perfect, this should not be seen as an indictment on our ability to keep up appearance, but instead it should be seen as a challenge to love others in the same way that God loves us. A love that is complete. A love that is all-encompassing. A love that stands in the face of Death and banishes it!
When we think of Jesus’ call for perfection from the standpoint of Love, we see the world differently. When we realize that the ˜Perfect’ to which Christ is calling us is the Perfect Love of God, then things change.
To love in the way that God loves is a tall task indeed. It doesn’t mean that we are simply called love one another. No¦ The Perfect Love of God is active. It means that we have an incredible responsibility as Disciples to tend to the work of Christ all around us. And, my friends, it IS work. HARD WORK. There are hungry people to feed, there are poor people to care for, the meek and the mourning, the outcast, the down and out, those who are persecuted, those who are pushed to the margins of our society”in our community and outside our community. The Perfect Love of God calls us to serve, calls us to feed, calls us to clothe, and calls us to befriend these people. This call is about action! God doesn’t just want a world where people are fed. God doesn’t just want a world where people are clothed. NO! God wants a world of people who feed. God wants a world of people who clothe. This is the calling of the Perfect Love of God: actively going out and caring for God’s people in a world that is broken and hurting in the way that God cares for us and loves us.
The Perfect Love of God calls us out of a passive state of what feels good to us. It draws us out of our comfort zone and out of what we are used to. It brings us out of our Status Quo.
I have seen this active kind of Love here at St. John’s Church¦ St. John’s is so good at being a place that isn’t concerned with just being a good place. But it’s a church and a community that lives into the idea that we are to strive to love as God loves.
One of the great examples that I saw was one of the times that that I went to Honduras with the Mission Team here. It was the 2nd or 3rd day into the week medical leg of the trip, so at this point we had already seen at least 200 patients and we felt good about the work we were doing. Like everyone else that morning I had enjoyed my breakfast of fresh coffee and huevos rancheros and had enjoyed our normal morning chatter on the van ride to the clinic that I had grown used to. However, nothing prepared me for what I would see when our vans pulled up to the clinic building. The line to be seen by the medical brigade wrapped around the entire building. At the front of the line, though, is the person I remember. There was an old woman sitting on the front stoop at the entrance. She had to have been in her late 80’s. She seemed so frail and so vulnerable. When we talked to her she told us that she heard that we were coming and wanted to be seen by a doctor¦ so she walked. She walked all the way to the clinic. She walked all the way from her house in the mountains something like 12 miles to be seen by our doctors and nurses, and she walked it on her own. And so, the day began with her. She was cared for along with well over 100 more that day. Each person was for cared with respect and dignity, as the Imago Dei (the image of God) was seen on both sides of the stethoscope.
The work that we are charged with as followers of a God who loves perfectly calls us to places like Honduras, but it also calls us to the places we work, and the places we live. It calls us to shine the Light of the Perfect Love of God wherever we go, no matter what. But it’s important to recall that every light has a source. Our source is God. And where do we encounter God? We encounter God here as we worship together. My friends, worship is the most important thing that we do together! When we gather ourselves at the altar, we take in the words that are said, we consume the Body and Blood, and we are united with Christ and with one another. Then we are sent forth, a people, healed, forgiven, renewed”ready to take on the difficult work that is ahead of us.
Just the other day, I was sitting in the office of one of the faculty members at Virginia Seminary. We were just catching up and having a casual conversation about what was next on the horizon for me as I prepare to graduate and begin working in a church back home. I was talking about my anxieties about graduation, job placement, moving, and my excitement about beginning work in the church. He said to me something that I hope I never forget. He said: You know this work that we do”It’s an absurd way to make a living, but it’s a good way to live.
Hear me when I say this, my friends¦ YOU DO GOOD WORK here at St. John’s. But also know that the work doesn’t end! We live in a world that needs people who feed, people who clothe, people who befriend. So, continue your good and faithful work with God’s help!
I am thankful for the Perfect Love of God which I see at work here at St. John’s. I am thankful to be sponsored and supported by a community that takes the work of the Resurrected Christ to heart! As my time in seminary comes to a close and my work in parish ministry begins anew, know that you have my deepest thanks, and I hope that you will continue to pray for me as I will certainly be praying for all of you. Thanks be to God for his complete and Perfect Love! And thanks be to God for St. John’s Church.