Posted by: Michael Chance | March 6, 2011

7th Sunday After Epiphany – February 20th

Hymn: Blessed Jesus, at Thy Word (Tobias Clausnitzer, trans. Catherine Winkworth/Johann R. Ahle)
              Blessed Be Your Name (Matt Redman)

Opening Prayer: Almighty and merciful God,
     you have taught us through your Son
     that to love is to fulfil the law.
     Help us to love you with our whole heart,
     and our neighbours as ourselves.
     We ask this through your Son,
     Jesus Christ our Lord,
     who lives and reigns
     with you and the Holy Spirit,
     one God, now and forever.   Amen.  (LCA Worship Resources)

Readings from the Word:
     Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
     Psalms 119:33-40
     1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
     Matthew 5:38-48

Reflections on the Word

This week’s reading from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount is one of the most familiar, yet one of the most misinterpreted in the Gospels. It has been alternately used to justify absolute pacifism, even in the face of horrific massacres and genocide, and to advocate vengeful public shaming of those that merely disagree with a given opinion or position on a controversial issue. Both ends of this spectrum completely miss the point that Jesus is trying to make, as do many other interpretations.

It’s unfortunate that this reading appears on the lectionary calendar so infrequently, as the last time there was a seventh Sunday after Epiphany in year A of the lectionary cycle was over 20 years ago. Typically, this passage is only pulled out after some violent, tragic event, or as part of a planned sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount. But it’s important enough that it should be read and taught on a more regular basis. Perhaps that would create more thoughtful discussions about the meaning of Jesus’ teaching, and how we should apply it to our lives.

“Do not resist evildoers, but turn the other cheek.” “If your coat is demanded, give also your cloak.” “Go the extra mile.” “Love your enemies.” Taken in isolation, each of Jesus’ lessons can be used to justify all manner of behavior, most of which is not what He intended. These verses are a continuation of the examples from the previous weeks’ readings from the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus is trying to shape his followers’ understanding of what is expected of them as children of God. These are more examples of not merely fulfilling God’s law as given to Moses, but of going beyond it, toward a new “perfection” in our relationships with each other. “Turn the other cheek” tells us to go beyond the laws against vengeance and retaliation, to cause the aggressor to recognize our shared humanity by our loving, instead of hateful, response to their violent disrespect. “Give also your cloak” says to go beyond the laws that require fair dealings and justice, and show the true justice that God’s love demands. “Go the extra mile.” commands us not just give “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work”, but to be generous with those who hire us, and with those we employ. “Love your neighbor” whom you like is easy; “Love your enemy” takes God’s love to a whole new level.

While we may not ever get there completely, Jesus challenges us to go beyond the conventional, the ordinary, and being merely compliant with God’s law, to “be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Paul, in his letter to the early church in Corinth, reminds us that we are the temples of Christ’s church, laid on the foundation of His sacrifice for us. As holy, living temples to God, we should always be working toward that perfection in grace and love, according to the example of Christ. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” May we always strive to be acceptable temples for God, filled with the Holy Spirit, and working toward perfection in the love and grace of Christ. Amen.

Hymn: Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life (George Herbert/Ralph Vaughan Williams)
God of Justice (Tim Hughes)

Blessing: Wonderful God, you call us to do the impossible:
     to love our enemies, to confront injustice, to share bountifully with the poor.
     You do not give us an inch: you call us to be perfect in our imitation of you.
     And yet, you give us everything:
     love abounding, the foundation of Christ, and the gift of creation.
     Bless us, therefore, as we depart this place:
     give us the blessing of a faithful spirit, a willing heart, and a kingdom of grace. Amen!
(Rev. Elizabeth Dilley)

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