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Epiphany 6A, February 13, 2011

Epiphany 6A RCL February 13, 2011

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119: 1-8
1 Corinthians 3: 1-9
Matthew 5: 21-37

We have some challenging readings this morning, and we could spend hours discussing them. In our first lesson, from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses is with the people and they are on the verge of crossing into the Promised Land. But he is not going to be able to go with them. So he is trying to make sure that they understand how important it is for them to keep their covenant with God and with each other.

The choice is between life and death, and Moses urges the people to choose life. Once they cross over into Canaan there will be other gods and other ways of living. Moses wants the people to choose the way that is life-giving. The choice also seems to be between prosperity and adversity. This is interesting because we know that following God does not always lead to prosperity or success in the world’s terms. Scholars tell us that the link between life in and with God and prosperity refers more to the quality of community life centered in God. A community that focuses its life on God and follows that central command to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves is more able to weather the challenges of living in a broken creation because its members help and support each other through difficult times. That love and support is true prosperity as we jump the hurdles of life.

The people of Corinth are breaking into factions, and Paul is telling them that, in God’s vineyard, Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. We are God’s field, God’s building. We are all servants, God is helping us to do the ministry we are called to do. If we truly stay centered on God, we are all one in Christ Jesus and in the Spirit.

Our Gospel for today is the continuation of the Beatitudes. One scholar says that, in reading this passage, we need to remember that Jesus is being a visionary. He is going to the root if the law. He is not here to abolish the law but to fulfill it. For example, we all know we are not supposed to murder anyone, and it is safe to say that none of us has murdered anyone literally, But, if we are angry at each other, or if we insult each other, or look down on each other, Jesus is saying that’s the same as murder.

In the early Church, when they got to the Peace, if anyone was in a fight with someone else, the Celebrant, who, in those days was usually the Bishop, would call the people who had a disagreement to reconcile right in front of the congregation. That’s what the Peace really means, that we are at peace with one another.

Jesus talks about adultery and about divorce. Back in those days, a man could divorce his wife if he did not like her looks, if he did not like her cooking, or if she talked too much. He could just write a certificate of divorce and put her out in the street. A woman without a man to protect her was totally vulnerable in that world. Unless a family member took her in, she was homeless. So Jesus is doing a revolutionary thing: he is saying that women are human. He is saying that we all need to respect each other. When he talks about adultery, he is going far beyond the actual act of adultery. He is saying that objectifying others is denying their humanity.

When he talks about swearing, this does not mean profanity; this means the taking of oaths in court, for example. Jesus says that, if we were all honest, we would not need to have oaths. When I think of this world of oil spills and Enron and Mr. Madoff, I think that the first thing a CEO does when the evidence has been gathered and he or she is charged with the crime, is to deny it. You can just expect it. It’s all a game of legal jousting. What if we all simply told the truth?

What if we truly reconciled with each other, held no anger, treated each other with respect and love, did not objectify others in any way, and told the truth? That would be the Shalom of God.

One of my heroes and role models, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has written a deeply inspiring book called God Has a Dream.
Bishop Tutu writes:
God has called us to be his partners to work for a new kind of society where people count, where people matter more than things, more than possessions, where human life is not just respected but positively revered, where people will be secure and not suffer from the fear of hunger, from ignorance, from disease, where there will be more gentleness, more caring. More sharing, more compassion, more laughter, where there is peace and not war.

Our partnership with God comes from the fact that we are made in God’s image. Each and every human being is created in the same divine image. This is an incredible, a staggering assertion about human beings. It might seem to be an innocuous religious truth, until you say it in a situation of injustice and oppression and exploitation. When I was rector of a small parish in Soweto, I would tell an old lady whose white employer called her “Annie” because her name was too difficult, “Mama, as you walk the dusty streets of Soweto and they ask who you are, you can say, ‘I am God’s partner, God’s representative. God’s viceroy—that’s who I am—because I am created in the image of God.’ ” (God Has a Dream, p. 62.)

That ability to see each other as being created in the image of God is, I think, what is at the heart of the attitudes that we are called to have as we try, with God’s help, to be shalom people. Every one is an Alter Christus. Every one is created in the image of God.

Amen

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