Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Third Sunday in Lent March 23, 2014 Third Sunday in Lent, Year A Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95, John 4:5-42
First Sunday in Lent March 9, 2014 First Sunday in Lent, Year A Matthew 4:1-11
Ash Wednesday, Year A March 5, 2014 Ash Wednesday, Year A 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A March 2, 2014 Last Sunday after Epiphany Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-21. Matthew 17:1-9
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Year A February 23, 2014 Seventh Sunday after Epiphany Leviticus 19:1-2. 9-18; Matthew 5:38-48
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A February 16, 2014 Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A Matthew 5:21-37
John Hines sermon February 11, 2014 Daily Office I Kings 8:22-23, 27-30, Ps 84, Mark 7:1-13
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A February 9, 2014 Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Isaiah 58:1-12, 1 Corinthians 2:1-16, Matthew 5:13-20
The Presentation, Year A February 2, 2014 Presentation in the Temple, Year A Luke 2:22-40
Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A January 26, 2014 Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Matthew 4:12-23
Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A January 19, 2014 Second Sunday after the Epiphany Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, John 1:29-42
First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A January 12, 2014 First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Matthew 3:13-17
The Epiphany, Year A January 6, 2014 Epiphany, Year A Matthew 2:1-12
Second Sunday After Christmas, Year A January 5, 2014 Second Sunday after Christmas, Year A Psalm 84, Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a, Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
Christmas Eve December 24, 2013 Christmas Eve, 2013 Luke 2:1-20

 

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Sermon Date:February 16, 2014

Scripture: Matthew 5:21-37

Liturgy Calendar: Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A


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"Hands across the Divide" – Maurice Harron. A metal sculpture in Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Since the 17th century, Londonderry has had two cultural traditions: Catholic and Protestant, Irish and Ulster Scots. During the Troubles, this became a big problem. The city became best known for tragedies like Bloody Sunday, and so most tourists stayed away. Yet since the start of the peace process, Londonderry has been transformed. It’s rediscovered its rightful role as a cultural destination, and its dual heritage has become an asset, rather than a source of strife. The image is included in relationship to the Corinthians reading.


Ok, I’ll admit it.  I’m a total sucker for fortune cookies.  

I love the crunchy texture of the cookies, but the fortunes on those little slips of paper tucked inside are the best part.  

Sometimes the back of the fortune has a Chinese word on it—and I’d have to eat a lot of fortune cookies to learn Chinese.  And sometimes the slips of paper have lottery numbers—I  don’t play the lottery so I’ve never become rich from eating these cookies either. 

The most entertaining thing on that little piece of paper, as far as I’m concerned, is the fortune itself—some of them are wise (after all, tradition has it that early fortune cookies contained quotes from Confucius or even from the Bible)—some of them are funny, and some of them are downright ridiculous.  

I save these fortunes, and periodically I’ll find one in a jacket pocket, or in the car—and they amuse and entertain me all over again. 

Recently, after lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Alexandria, I got this fortune. 

“Fortune truly helps those who are of good judgment.” 

Not exactly a Biblical quote, but this fortune summarizes the philosophy of life that we find in the Torah and also in the wisdom literature in the Bible—that the choices we make in our lives have consequences.  

In the Old Testament reading today from Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people as they prepare to cross over into the Promised Land that they have choices to make.  

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity….life and death, blessings and curses.”  

And if they are of good judgment, they will choose life and obey the commandments that The Lord has laid out for them—the summary of the law being that we are to love God with our whole heart, and soul and might, and love our neighbors as ourselves.   

As Moses puts it here, to obey God and to hold fast to God— 

Now if Moses could create fortune cookies out of all that manna that the Israelites ate in the wilderness, he’d slip in fortunes like “Love God.”  “Walk in the way of God.”  “Obey God.”  “Hold fast to God” — and maybe the Israelites  would tuck these fortunes away as a reminder of how to stay connected to God and to  choose life and blessings in the land they were about to enter.  

What about Jesus?  If fortune cookies had existed in his time, would he have used them as a way to impart his message of fulfilling the law and the prophets?  

Maybe Jesus, the bread of life, is one huge fortune cookie, and the message he’d share with us when he is broken open for us is the same message that Moses shared with those Israelites. 

“Love God.”  “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

Typical of Jesus, though, is the fact that he knows that choosing life is not always a stark sort of choice which is obvious, and loving God and our neighbors can be a pretty challenging process.     

And so, especially in the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus is all about giving us some guidelines on how to discern what to do when the choices that are set before us just aren’t all that clear. 

Have you all heard this new word in our English language?  

“Listicle.” 

A listicle is an article in the form of a list.  

Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with a listicle.  Blessed are the poor in spirit, and so on. 

And today’s reading, a continuation of the Sermon on  Mount, is an elaborated listicle. 

Jesus presents a list of things that might appear in someone’s fortune cookie. 

You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not divorce your wife, you shall not swear falsely. 

Great advice, but Jesus knows that these simple statements by themselves are only things on a list that don’t mean anything unless they are ingested, and used as nourishment to fulfill us and those around us.

When you get right down to it, Jesus is all about relationships.  After all, he lives in an eternal relationship of love with God and with the Holy Spirit. 

And Jesus wants us to live in those same sorts of eternally loving relationships with one another.  God loves us so much!  And God cares about our relationships and wants them to be loving and fulfilling.  Love is the bottom line in relationships and also in commandment keeping.  

So let’s take a look at this list of commandments that Jesus brings up today as a way of talking about love and keeping  the commandments.  

“You shall not murder.” 

You may manage not to murder someone, but if you harbor anger in your heart at the person you’d love to kill, then you haven’t fulfilled this commandment at all.  In fact, you are killing yourself, committing a long slow suicide, by holding on to your hatred toward that person that you didn’t kill because you were trying to keep the commandment. 

“You shall not commit adultery.” 

You may manage not to commit adultery—Bill Clinton felt that he had not committed adultery with Monica Lewinsky because of some technicalities I won’t go into—but if you see other people as simply objects for your own pleasure rather than respecting  their dignity as a human being beloved of God, then you eventually delude yourself into thinking that the whole world is made for your own pleasure, and so you find yourself grasping and greedy and selfish—even though you may never have technically committed adultery. 

And then the divorce statement—a very thorny commandment.  Divorce was common in Biblical times, just as it is now.  So Jesus gives us some advice about how to fulfill this commandment that is helpful to all of us, especially to those of us who are married, or for anyone who has to live in a house or even in a community with someone else.  

Jesus says that especially in marriage, respecting the full humanity of our spouse is essential if the marriage, or as far as that goes, any relationship, is to be fulfilling.  That means that, as I said in Bible study on Wednesday, I can’t just seek a divorce because of the fact that recently  I keep finding  grape jelly globs all over the milk carton because Ben lets jelly dribble down the side of the jelly jar  when he makes his peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day and doesn’t  clean that up before putting the jar back in the refrigerator.  

Maybe in order to keep the commandment itself, I’d stay married and just let those little resentments like jelly globs build and build, and at last Ben would be nothing but an annoying person in my life I’d rather do without—I would have kept the commandment, but Iwould have broken the great commandment—to love my neighbor, in this case, my husband, as myself and to have some patience, and to grow in love rather than to harbor ongoing resentments.  

Have you ever known a couple, married forever, but they openly resent each other so deeply that it’s painful to be around them and to listen to the sniping and belittling that goes on?  The law not to divorce has been observed, but the commandment to love has been totally broken.  

You get the idea. 

So let’s do a little exercise.   David Lose suggests this idea in this week’s “Working Preacher” commentary—not the cookie part, but the pausing part.  So here goes…. 

Pretend you’ve just eaten a delicious Chinese meal, and you open your fortune cookie at the end and find this fortune.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

Now pause for a minute.  Think of someone you love, someone who makes your life wonderful and fulfilling.  As we pause, thank God for that person.  

And now, pause, and think of someone important to you who you truly do not love, someone who rubs you the wrong way, has upset you, or is making your life miserable.  Pause—pray for that person and your relationship with that person and then offer up that relationship to God for healing.  Pray about some ways in which you could help move toward more love and greater health in your relationship with that person. 

And now, pause and think about eating your next fortune cookie. 

Imagine the message you might find inside when you break it open—a message connected with your present fulfillment and eternal happiness.  

Imagine what that message will be. 

Amen. 

 

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