Epiphany 7A

206: February 19, 2017

Psalm 119:33-40  Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

Featured Musician - Christopher Grundy, “Church of the Shelved” from his album In This Life.

Tasty Wafer of the Week:

51: February 23, 2017

Matthew 5:38-48 - You have heard it said

Initial Thoughts

  • Complete or Perfect

  • Jesus was not a Biblical literalist

  • From Charles Cousar, Texts for Preaching, Year A.

    • “Any of these lessons isolated from the context can read like a horrendous burden laid on the backs of disciples, who must exhibit a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20). It is critical to keep the lessons firmly anchored in the setting that Jesus is God’s Son… A radically new era in God’s relations with the human community has been inaugurated, and the Sermon on the Mount clarifies the nature of the new era.”

    • “The lesson for today focuses on the final two antitheses established between Jesus’ teaching and the teaching of the law, culminating in the command to be perfect ‘as your heavenly Father is perfect.’”

  • Some of Jesus’ most difficult, countercultural, and ignored teaching.
  • There’s so much here, be careful to only preach one sermon.
  • “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bible Study

  • Law of Retaliation

    • “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” → “Do not oppose those who want to hurt you.

      • Slap you on the right cheek → Turn the left cheek

      • Haul you to court for your shirt → Give them cloak

      • Make you walk a mile → Go with them two

      • Ask → Give

      • Ask → Lend

    • Insult: Turn the other cheek
      • The strike on the right cheek would almost certainly refer to a backhanded slap, which is a sign of insulting, not pure physical violence.
      • Still counter-cultural, “Un-Manly”
        • “The three most destructive words that every man receives when he’s a boy is when he’s told to ‘Be a man.’”
        • Strikes in the face of “Be a Man” culture. Watch the trailer for “The Mask You Live In” From the producers of Miss Representation, this documentary takes a look at modern understandings of American masculinity.
    • A slap in the face, a lawsuit, and conscription are all things that would be commonly understood in an occupied territory. All of Jesus’ prescribed reactions are revolutionary.

      • An insult is not to be returned.

      • A poor person about to lose his shirt would shame the one taking it by also offering the cloak - which could be the last thing preventing the person from death.

    • Walking the Second Mile

      • “The Romans could force anyone to assist in an exercise.  It displayed public control over the colonized.  Later in the Gospel narrative, Matthew describes one such example: Simon of Cyrene is forced (aggareuo) to carry the cross of Jesus (Matthew 27:32).  Jesus' response epitomizes a response unlike the Zealots: "go also the second mile" (5:41). Do not receive the humiliation intended.” (Emerson Powery, Working Preacher)

      • The Roman term “milion” is used instead of Greek “Stadion.”  Douglas Hare asserts this is a direct allusion to Roman occupiers (Interpretation: Matthew, p. 57).
      • “Resistance to Rome was futile, and the nourishing of bitter resentment was self-destructive.  By going a second mile, one could demonstrate to the oppressor one’s inner freedom from oppression” (Hare).
    • “Jesus does not adjust the law of retaliation to make it more humane… It is not the improvement of this world’s system he is about, but the vision of a new world, the depicting of human conduct that becomes the sign of God’s rule of peace and justice.” (Cousar, p. 153)

    • This is about ending cycles of violence - not perpetuating them.

      • This is not a command to remain in an abusive relationship - for to do so would be to ignore the command “to be complete in love.”

  • Law of Love

    • “You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” → Love your enemies and pray for those who harass you.

      • Where is it written to ‘hate your enemy’? I’m not sure that is directly in the bible, but we have certainly heard it said.

      • Cultural understanding of an enemy is that it is one who is worthy of hatred.

      • “Speak all the good you can to and of them, who speak all evil to and of you. Repay love in thought, word, and deed, to those who hate you, and show it both in word and deed” John Wesley’s notes

    • Who is worthy of my hatred? Who is worth changing my heart, perverting my faith? Who is worthy of distorting myself so much as to hate them? No one.

    • Paraphrase: “It’s easy to love the people you like. It is much harder - and much more important - to love the people you don’t.”

    • Frederick Buechner “If people hurt us or cheat us or stand for things we abominate, we're less apt to bear arms against them than to bear grudges. We stay out of their way. When we declare war, it is mostly submarine warfare, and since our attacks are beneath the surface, it may be years before we know fully the damage we have either given or sustained.”
      • It is easier to hate someone when you think of them as enemy, or other, or alien, or movement, or faction, or party.  
      • It is much harder to hate someone when you think of them as son, or father, or hurting, or created in the image of God.
  • “Be perfect” or “Be complete”

    • Show love to everyone.

    • Justice is love distributed - not just to those whom you favor.

    • Wesleyan concept of Christian Perfection often misunderstood.
      • Not about mistake-free. It is about motivation.
      • Christian perfection is about living through the lens of love.
      • Moving onto Christian perfection isn’t about not sinning, but in accepting the grace that Christ offers to make you perfect, and to continue to grow in grace.Moving onto Christian perfection isn’t about not sinning, but in accepting the grace that Christ offers to make you perfect, and to continue to grow in grace.
      • From John Wesley’s Sermon, Christian Perfection.
        • “Christian perfection, therefore, does not imply (as some men seem to have imagined) an exemption either from ignorance or mistake, or infirmities or temptations. Indeed, it is only another term for holiness. They are two names for the same thing. Thus every one that is perfect is holy, and every one that is holy is, in the Scripture sense, perfect.”
        • “So that how much soever any man hath attained, or in how high a degree soever he is perfect, he hath still need to "grow in grace," [2 Pet. 3:18] and daily to advance in the knowledge and love of God his Saviour. [see Phil. 1:9]
    • David Lose’s “Perfect” on Working Preacher:  
      • “When we hear that command, most of us hear an injunction to a kind of moral perfectionism. But that's not actually what the original language implies. "Perfect," in this case, stems from telos, the Greek word for "goal," "end," or "purpose." The sense of the word is more about becoming what was intended, accomplishing one's God-given purpose in the same way that God constantly reflects God's own nature and purpose.”
      • He prefer’s Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message: “You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity.”

Sermon Thoughts and Questions:

  • Is this pure pacifism? True pacifism is to never use violence - even to defend oneself. Philosophers and theologians have been debating this for generations. Things such as “Just War Theory” have emerged from the idea that this is an unobtainable goal; even an immoral one given certain conditions. Yet any use of violence by one who professes to be Christian must be weighed against this statement of Jesus.

    • Wesleybros comic strip has a great short exposition on this, using the Niebuhr brothers as a framework.

      • Reinhold: Must intervene, even with violence, when there is evil in the world.

      • Richard: Must shame evil with nonviolence. Violence is never the way to bring about peace.

      • “We are devastated by all that’s wrong, and we’re not going to sit back and watch the bullies win.  Reinholds need to take one step back and ask ourselves: will our use of force, will our verbal outrage, will that angry post help bring about the kingdom of God? Others are Richards, hoping that our acts of mercy will somehow make a difference and prove a better way.  Richards need to take a step back and ask ourselves: is this enough?  Are we doing this more to protect ourselves than out of a Christ-like concern for the defenseless?  And how are we doing this on an international level?”

  • Who is your enemy? Is ISIS your enemy? Are Muslims or immigrants, or refugees, or secret terrorists? Is Trump your enemy? Is your uncle who posts Alternative Facts? What does it look like to love your enemy in the social media age?  What does it look like to turn the left cheek to the one who has slapped you on the right? How do we balance being complete in showing love and speaking truth to power?

  • The word “complete” may soften the idea of being “perfect,” but is it really any less difficult? John Wesley talked about Christian Perfection. All ordained United Methodist clergy answered that they believe that Christian perfection is attainable, and that they hope to attain in this life.

  • “These statements are uncompromising and shocking.  Misunderstood, they can be easily dismissed as utopian. When taken legalistically and made the standard for community life, they have rarely been productive… They describe very unnatural responses, and in effect assail the consciousness of the reader, forcing the contemplation of something other than business as usual.” (Cousar, p. 154. Emphasis added)  
    • It then, is the task of the preacher to not compromise too quickly, nor reprimand those that struggle with the command.  Instead, it is to help people contemplate what the end of “business as usual” means.
  • Every ordained United Methodist minister had to answer the question, “Do you believe it is possible to attain Christian perfection, and do you expect to in this life?”  How do you answer that question?

Psalm Nugget: Psalm 119:33-40  Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 Be Holy as God is Holy

Initial Thoughts

  • Only passage to appear in the RCL

    • Appears twice this year: Epiphany 7 and Proper 25A (October 29, 2017)

    • Rare to reach this passage because usually Lent gets in the way

  • Leviticus gets a bad rap - definitely read this one because of its remarkable consistency with the Sermon on the Mount (i.e. counter Marcionism!!!)

    • “Leviticus records more words from the mouth of God than any other book of the Bible.” Sheldon Sorge (Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 1)

Bible Study

  • v. 1-2 Commentary and reminder of the 10 Commandments

    • Command to be holy, separate, other like God is

    • These commands will not make rational sense or follow the status quo- they will set you apart as holy (as “other”)

    • Paired with Matthew 5:48 - Be holy as God is holy = be perfect as the Father is perfect

  • v. 9-10 Gleaning

    • Leaving harvest in the fields is the equivalent of leaving money or giving money to the poor and the alien - DO NOT SEPARATE THIS FROM MONEY

    • Care for the poor and the alien (read “immigrant”) is paramount in God’s eyes (and Jesus’ too)

    • You take less so that the poor and immigrants can have what is needed to survive

    • Care for the foreigner is a divine mandate (Lev. 19:34 - you shall love the alien as yourself)

  • v. 11-12 Do not steal, deal falsely, lie or lie in God’s name

  • v. 14 You shall not mock the disabled: deaf and blind

  • v. 15 Justice

    • No “preferential option for the poor” - judge equally and justly

  • v. 17 Do not hate

    • Jesus quotes this in Matthew 5:21-22

  • I am the LORD

    • If you truly believe that God is the LORD (the one to be obeyed and followed), then you will do these things

    • If you do not do these things it is the same as denying that God is the LORD

      • Faith is seen in work and life lived - not only in theology believed

      • Faith is a verb!

Sermon Thoughts and Questions:

  • What does it mean to be holy? We spend a lot of time and energy trying to fit in and go with the flow.

    • God invited us into a relationship marked by holiness, otherness, separateness

    • Jesus warns us (Matthew 5) that this “holiness” will lead to our rejection and persecution

    • Jesus shows us that this “holiness” leads to the cross and to the Kingdom of God

  • Holy evangelism - when people see our holiness (care for the poor and alien, love for neighbor, rejection of vengeance, lies and slander) we reveal God- God is seen through this

  • Be honest about your needs and wants. Tithing and gleaning is a ridiculous concept in many churches. We worry about what we need- if we leave a substantial portion for the poor and the alien - will there be enough left for me? I have found that usually the answer is resoundingly yes. There may not be enough for what I want, but there is plenty for what I need and shouldn’t my want be for my neighbor’s needs to be met?

    • How can we love one another if we are unable to help provide for each other?

    • How can I love you while you starve and I am overweight?

    • How can I love you when you are living in fear and I am secure?

    • How can I love you when you are homeless and I have spare rooms in my home and my church?

  • Love for neighbor

    • Extends to the poor and the alien

    • Requires sharing material and financial resources

    • Requires truth telling

    • Requires ethical practices in business, civics and personally

    • Requires impartial justice

    • Rejects gossip or anything that prevents you from seeing the neighbor or alien as a beloved child of God

    • Rejects vengeance, hatred, lies and an “ends-justifies-the-means” rationalization

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 (from 2014) - You are God’s Temple

Initial thoughts

  • verses 12-15 - seems like a Pauline tangent...but it isn’t

    • It is connected but is a separate point and may distract from the message of God as the foundation, we as the temple

    • Christ is the foundation - we are the temple - how we build our lives must be worthy of the temple it is build on

    • GRACE - even if it isn’t, if the temple is burned away - the builder is not destroyed, v.15

      • What a message of grace, when the fires comes it refines and burns away, but does not condemn

Bible Study

  • Three Thesis

    • Foundation of the Church is Jesus

    • The Community of Faith is the dwelling place of God

    • Everything is under the sovereignty of the Church which is under Jesus and God (not subservient to the World, only to God)

  • Temple of God - where God dwells vv.16-17

    • Ezekiel 37:26-27, “26 I will make a covenant of peace for them. It will be their covenant forever. I will grant it to them and allow them to increase. I will set my sanctuary among them forever. 27 My dwelling will be with them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

    • Destroy (phtheiro) the temple - also translated as defile, corrupt or ruin.

    • How do we defile or corrupt the temple of God?

      • Corinthians - division, self aggrandizement, etc

      • i.e. not loving God and neighbor

      • Word of grace looking back to v 15?

    • Paul’s major points in the builder metaphor (J. Paul Sampley, NIB Commentary X)

      • The Corinthians belong to God (as opposed to Paul to Apollos)

      • Each believer is expected to build good works

      • The only suitable foundation is Jesus Christ

      • The works, i.e. how and what they build, will be evaluated on judgment day (cookies and beating to commence)

      • Potential destruction for any individual

      • The Corinthians are a place for the Holy SPirit, so they must be holy

      • The Spirit resides in them

    • YOU is plural… NOT SINGULAR

      • The Temple is built in community

      • Perhaps this has nothing to do with how we treat our bodies, but how we treat one another…

  • Wisdom and Foolishness vv.18-25

    • Reorders our thinking - what matters? Belonging to God

    • When belonging to Christ and God is our focus- the rest does not matter

    • Star Trek TNG - the pursuit of “bettering oneself” not acquiring things

    • Don’t deceive yourself - Serenity Prayer

      • Do not think you can achieve more than you can

      • Do not think you are unable to achieve anything


Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (psalmimmersion.com, @pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”, "Real Ride" and “Summertime”) and The Steel Wheels for our transition music(“Nola’s First Dance” from their album Lay Down, Lay Low) and Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).