Epiphany 6A, February 16, 2020
Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37
Fons and I were on the Mount of the Sermon on the Mount last May. Our pilgrimage to Jordan, Israel and Palestine included many of the sites important in the life of Jesus, including the Mount of Beatitudes. It is near Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
The Sea is a huge lake surrounded mostly be farmland on rolling hills that come right down to the water’s edge. Mid-way up the side of one of those hills is a shallow cave. It overlooks the Sea and the acoustics around that cave are great. About half our group walked to the cave from the guest house where we were staying.
Henry, a biblical scholar, joined us there and led us to the cave.
His explanation of what happened there was what I want to share with you today.
Jesus was the next Isaiah, a prophet in most people’s eyes. His mission was to reform the faith in God that already existed. Get Israel back to being the holy nation of God. Live by the Ten Commandments, Make the religious leaders fair and compassionate again.
But, the reform Jesus had in mind went further than that. Worldly life is full of greed, power plays, and mean-spirited people, even in religious circles. Always was, always will be. Nations rise and fall. Countless civilizations rose and fell before the time of Jesus. Think of how many since then. Could any of that be changed? Realistically?
No, but Jesus had a spiritual reformation in mind. Reforming individuals. Obeying the law as a rote practice is okay. But, hey, everyone can do that. If not because of the values in the laws themselves, perhaps because we fear the consequences of not behaving well.
Jesus talked about intention in what we do. It isn’t enough not to do wrong, thinking about doing wrong is already putting your spirit in a bad place.
We’re pretty good at the practice of the law. But how do we stack up with obeying the Commandments the way Jesus sees it?
Loving God: There is only one God. Not a physical idol. No using God’s name when you swear (oops). and take a rest one day a week, the Sabbath. Okay, I am not good with this.
Sure I usually go to church on Sundays and do believe in one God. But there are lots of distractions in my life – vacation, or doing laundry, or supporting my kids playing sports on Sunday, working in a hospital, a store or restaurant – or having someone else work there so I can shop.
My intent could be to slow down on Sundays, because I remember that God knows I need a day off to give thanks for all that I am and all that I have. Plus get my energy back.
Loving neighbor: or ‘keep society in tact’
Respect your parents and elders.
No murder, adultery, stealing, envy, or slander. Here we go. All those things that require respect, self discipline, honoring boundaries, and placing ourselves in second place.
Could I hate someone enough that I act on it? No, but dwelling on that hate or criticism or anything in between, means my spirit is in a bad place. Drooling over beautiful or handsome actors means I’m not paying attention to the people I actually know and love. Envying people who have more than I do, are prettier than I am, are wealthier than I am. If envy becomes an obsessive, I can’t find joy in where I am in my own life. Again, putting my spirit in a bad place.
If we hate, envy, or discredit the people we meet, we are abusing a creation of God, and that means abusing or misusing God.
We just can’t do that. But we do. That means we have been breaking a lot of the commandments meant to keep us whole and holy creations of God.
The Sermon on the Mount elevated the status of all those who are weak, in mourning, seeking faith, creating peace – normal people, simple people. Elevating them to being the light of the world. Anyone can have faith and strength through God, with a spirit of pure intention.
How can we create intention?
Reconciliation. In Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a great emphasis on reconciliation. You have to acknowledge that your behavior has hurt others, and you need to make amends with them. It gives you both peace. It takes away the guilt that you have from hurting others.
If that doesn’t work, “Don’t go away mad, just go away.” Jesus anticipates that reconciliation doesn’t always work. Some relationships can never be mended. Brush the dust off your sandals and walk away. Don’t let the grudge or hatred or bad feelings keep you from returned your soul to being whole, from being fully in God’s hands.
Joshua’s rallying call to the Hebrews, “Join me and God!” makes us want to jump up and be part of the good guys, the A-team. When we get on the field, though, the requirements get tough. Do we still want to be there? Or do we want to retreat to the stands. We can cheer (or pray) that others do the work, the heavy lifting so to speak. And maybe that is all we can do. Intention is important. And it makes our Christian faith a lot easier to follow.
We want to help others. We influence our friends to help others. We can change our leaders so that they help others.
Try reconciling with God. “All that we have done, in thought, word and deed. Not loved you or our neighbors with our whole heart. We’re sorry and want to try again.”
Here we are, ten days before Lent. What timing!
Joshua asks us – “are you ready to follow God?”
Jesus asks quietly, “Is your intent to be 100% in all you do? Then promise to turn around and start paying attention to your life in God.”
We have ten days to decide how we will serve God in this Lent.