2/12/2017 Sixth Sunday after Epiphany The text is Matthew 5:21-37.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In Mark Twain’s great story, Huckleberry Finn, Huck says, “What’s the use you learning to do right when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong?” Huck sure had a way of stating the obvious and putting human problems into simple terms.
The trouble we have, treating one another with respect and love, is anything but simple, so the rules about what is right and what is wrong are not simple either. Murder, adultery, stealing…of course we know that these things are wrong. The command against bearing false witness, under certain circumstances, may be a more difficult rule to obey, especially for those of us who like to gossip. We are told we should not covet. We should not seek to swindle our neighbor out of anything that belongs to him or her. We are to live a peaceable sort of life and get along with others by doing no harm.
All this sounds simple enough. These are great principles and laws by which to live and they are a gift given by God to his people. They provide guidelines to be applied to individual situations in life, but if those principles and laws are extended beyond the letter to intent, beyond commission to omission, beyond action to include thought, how easy would the be to keep?
You have heard it said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders shall be liable to judgment. But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council”; and if you say something as simple as “You Fool,” you will be in deep trouble when it comes to getting into heaven.
These words of Jesus send chills down my spine. For, which one of us has not used language much worse than “You Fool” when cut off by another driver, or when someone has pushed their way to the front of a long line, or when a passing car has inadvertently splashed you with the gunk on the road, or when you received a series of telemarketing calls just as dinner is about to be served? “You Fool” is a lot milder than what I’m thinking and/or actually saying out loud.
Anger has a way of rearing its ugly head when we are frustrated or feel wronged. It snakes its way into almost all human relationships, no matter how close they may be. I know that when I was growing up, my sister and I didn’t always get along. We shared a bedroom in a small house and we couldn’t always get away from one another. And that was especially bad for Del, as she was much older and I was the typical bothersome little sister. Yet, no matter how trying the relationship was at times, I know that God blessed us by putting us into this relationship with one another.
As brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors, God would have us enjoy life with those with whom we share the earth. In an idyllic world, all our relationships would be good. There would be no angry thoughts or words, for there would be no need for anger. Everyone would be courteous, kind, caring, compassionate, faithful, and loving. But, we don’t live in such a world. We live in the real world, a world broken by sin. And in this real world, even the relationships that have been blessed by God can become broken. The bond between husband and wife can sever, creating divorce. The love between sisters can be strained to the point where one will not talk to the other. The relationship between neighbors can fray, and fear, not love, can govern the way we treat each other.
It’s not people in general who bother us – it’s the people we encounter and have to deal with. It’s easy to say, “We love children,” if we have little contact with them…but it can be stressful to live with a little baby who keeps on crying or talking out loud when we are trying to get some shut-eye. It’s easy to say, “We love young people”…but if the teenager next door doesn’t turn down the music, we are just as like to say that we’re going next door and rip out the speakers.
In reality, we may not get along with everyone we meet. There is no rule that says we are to like everyone and joyfully accept their actions. What we are called to do is to love them. The demands of love are no more and no less than respecting God’s children and caring about them as deeply as Jesus cares about each of us. It was the demand of love that took Jesus to the cross. And it is the demand of love that will eventually make our lives whole.
It was in order to restore us to one another and to our God that Jesus came…preaching, teaching, healing, suffering, dying and rising again. Jesus came to help us to see our failures, our short-comings, and our brokenness so that we would turn to the Lord for help – for Jesus came to restore us to wholeness and fullness of relationship with God and each other.
Jesus is life for us. We come to him on our best behavior; obedient to the law given by God and shared by those who loved us enough to tell us what God wants us to do. We come to him on our best behavior, knowing that we are not perfect in our love of God and each other. Sure we do not kill and we may not commit adultery; we try to remain faithful to one another even when we grow weary; and we tell as much of the truth as we dare. When we find doing these things to be troublesome, we pray to God for strength and guidance. When we fall flat on our faces and find that our best efforts are not good enough, then we ask for forgiveness and grace. We go to the altar of our Lord, not as perfect people, but as sinners in need of redemption.
We are never finished in this lifetime for we cannot achieve perfection. For how many times has the last smoke, the last drink, the last lie, the last angry word, the last anything, truly been the last? We struggle with what it means to be in a caring and loving relationship with God and with others. At times we find doing right to be troublesome. At times we find it to be fulfilling. And at times we may be tempted to echo the words of Lucy from the Peanuts comic strip, “I love humanity; it’s the people I can’t stand.”
My friends, whenever you struggle to keep your relationships loving and kind, know that God is always there to help you with your effort. And when your relationships are anything but ideal, go to the altar of the Lord, to be filled with hope and strengthened by grace.
May you rejoice in the blessing that God has given to you in those around you. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.