Monday, February 17, 2014

Fulfilling All Righteousness Again!

Matthew 5:21-37
Chatfield United Methodist Church
February 16, 2014
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

If you remember during the first Sunday of the year I told you that the first words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew says a lot about the message of Jesus in Matthew. Jesus said of his ministry and mission in the world:
I have come to fulfill all righteousness.

In Matthew 5 Jesus is calling us beyond the law to what the law was supposed to teach us. Jesus is calling us to fulfill all righteousness. But which we, being the sort of humans we are, didn’t get.

We love laws that we can follow. And we love to see how far we can push those laws before we get caught.
We are all like toddlers who try our parent’s boundaries. If a parent says don’t crawl up on the table, a typical toddler will slowly and slyly slip her foot up to the table, just to see if that is allowed.
If a parent says clean up your plate, a toddler will see just how true this statement is by refusing to finish their meal.

And teens do I even have to talk about what you do to try to find the boundaries of your parent’s patience?

But adults, we do the same thing. We run our speedometer up 5 mph because we are sure the speed limit is only a suggestion. And we follow the rules at work so that we don’t get fired, but don’t expect us to go too much beyond following the rules unless it will benefit us in the long run.

Jesus as a human being understands this about us. And as he looks around the landscape at his fellow Jews he discerns that following the ancient laws isn’t really doing society, God’s Kingdom on earth, any good.

It’s not enough to simply not kill your neighbor. If you refuse to get along with your neighbor or refuse to acknowledge your neighbor or refuse speak kindly of your neighbor then the Kingdom of God is not yet a reality.

For Jesus it isn’t hoe far can we go before we break a law, for Jesus it is how far do we go to keep a Law.

Jesus looked around and saw communities that were not working together because people didn’t get along. He saw a people of God who were suspicious of each other. Who were taking people to court willy nilly without cause or with overblown causes. He saw a litigious society.

And I love his advice. Stop going to court over these petty matters of pride and self-preservation.
You are going to end up paying, Jesus says, paying every last penny whether you win or lose.
Don’t you ever wonder what life must be like after being in a court case worthy of Judge Judy or any of those televised courtroom cases? Do you think you would just go back to being family or neighbors or community again after that kind of public display of disgrace?
Yes, Jesus says, you might have been wronged. But is the damage enough that it is worth tearing the fabric of God’s Kingdom?

I was asked why we use the word ‘trespasses’ in the Lord’s Prayer instead of the more modern word “sins” as in ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’
I thought about that for a while and have decided I like the use of the word trespass even though it is archaic; because it gives the sense of invading personal space. And boy oh boy, we don’t like our personal space invaded, do we?
In our culture, we have a right to our personal space.

Which is fine, until we start suing people for wandering into our lives in ways that offend us.
 ‘Trespasses’ is a good word to reclaim as we learn to live in more intentional communities together. Allowing other people to veer into our personal spaces while being civil about it. Not being the first to offer an insult back. Not being the first to take offense. Trying to live for a minute in the other’s person’s shoes to see if there is a different perspective. Not a more tolerant perspective but a more loving perspective.

I think in Jesus time the Jews had to learn how to live in a culture that was slowly being invaded by Greek and Roman norms.
Do they eat at table with their neighbors or do they maintain a more holier than thou attitude? We are Jews we don’t eat that way.
We are Jews we don’t…. We are Christians we don’t…
Instead of we are God’s people let us welcome all God’s people into our lives and see how God can be revealed through them.
We can maintain our custom, traditions and holiness laws within our own doors but out in the public we can be hospitable. Non-condemning. Open to our neighbor’s ways.

We can be civil.

I will be teaching about civility in the workplace at the RCTC this month and next month. To the staff, facility and administration. Isn’t it strange that we have to teach civility, the common courtesies of polite behavior and mutual respect to a group of professional people? This is a two hour course!

Do you know that there is a whole field of study on the need for office civility? Do you know that rude behavior in the work place can cost the US economy billions of dollars per year?
You do know this don’t you. Because you all live with this everyday. It is why I get paid to teach such courses.

Into these hostile environments God calls us. But Jesus didn’t teach us to be civil because he was concerned about how many widgets we could produce. Jesus calls us to civility because a civil society is a place where each person is respected for wholly who they are. A civil society is getting closer and closer to the kingdom of God.

Jesus looked around at our lives and got it. He taught: It’s not enough that you refrain from lewd behavior with another person; you must also refrain from lewd talk. or even the suggestion of disrespect towards another person’s sexuality. Everyone should feel safe and fully respected.
It is not enough that you should love your friends, your should honor your enemies.

Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill the law’s righteousness.

I want to close by reading from both Deuteronomy and the Psalms. We heard Deuteronomy before but I want you to hear it now in light of Jesus take on the commandments:
This commandment that I’m giving you right now is definitely not too difficult for you. It isn’t unreachable. It isn’t up in heaven somewhere so that you have to ask, “Who will go up for us to heaven and get it for us that we can hear it and do it?” Nor is it across the ocean somewhere so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the ocean for us and get it for us that we can hear it and do it?” Not at all! The word is very close to you. It’s in your mouth and in your heart, waiting for you to do it.
Look here! Today I’ve set before you life and what’s good versus death and what’s wrong. If you obey the Lord your God’s commandments that I’m commanding you right now by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments, his regulations, and his case laws, then you will live and thrive, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
The law of God’s righteousness is right here, in our present workplace, or home, or retirement community.
Do we want to live in a lifeless community where everyone has to be concerned about their safety or self worth? or in the kingdom of God
We can chose to do more than follow the law, we can chose to fulfill righteousness. And we bring life and hope and freedom into the way we live our lives in the kingdom of God.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Blessed Truth

Matthew 5:1-12
Chatfield United Methodist Church
February 2, 2014
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

The Sermon on the Mount is an extremely difficult text to study. Because it turns upside down everything we have been taught about life. Or as Wesley said (paraphrasing): “we seek in all the wrong places and for all the wrong motivations. According to the Sermon on the Mount
Security comes from casting away the trappings of wealth rather than building wealth. Power comes from meekness. Peace comes from an honest look at ourselves.
Cast away all delusions and hear the word of God.”

As we delve into the rich, rich text of the Gospel of Matthew and particularly the Sermon on the Mount, I want us to spend some time this morning with a little word idea that has such vast importance in our Christian walk that we can brush it aside or unimaginatively interpret it so that it means very little to us.

It is that little word that gets translated ‘happy’ ‘blessed’ ‘fortunate’ at the beginning of each stanza of the Beatitudes. It is translated with so many different words because it is difficult to translate into English. Yet this little word can make all the difference between a purposeful life and one lived without meaning.
I want to stick with the translation ‘blessed’ today because I think that that word links with a central truth of God’s word in our lives.

We will, at the end of the service sing a beautiful song: Blest are They by David Haas: the chorus repeats with these words:
Rejoice and be glad!
Blessed are you, holy are you.
Rejoice and be glad!
Yours is the Kingdom of God.

I truly believe when we believe that this is THE TRUTH, the rest of the hard words of the Sermon on the Mount become easier to understand. I truly believe, I have put my life’s work behind this belief, that when we believe that this is THE TRUTH then we have the resources we need to live out the difficult truths of the Sermon on the Mount.

So just what does this mean: Blessed are you. In our Epistle lesson this morning we are told: the wisdom of the wise is nothing compared to the wisdom of God. The wisdom of the wise is nothing compared to the wisdom of God.

According to the wisdom of God because of Jesus Christ we are blessed with every spiritual blessing. WE are blessed with every spiritual blessing. (Ephesians 1:3)
Look at the bible verse on the front of your bulletin. Take this home with you and ponder it this week as you continue to read Matthew 5.

Blessed be the God and Father of Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.

Do you believe that? Do you feel that you have been blessed with every spiritual blessing? Could you testify to the fact that you are blessed with every spiritual blessing?

Some would have us believe that spiritual blessings are akin to material blessings. The more you have the more it proves that God is blessing you, that God likes you.
If that were the case then Jesus got it wrong when he taught: Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Others would have us believe that if life goes right for us all of time then we must be in God’s will and we must be in the center of God’s blessing for us.
If that were the truth then Jesus got it wrong when he taught: blessed are you when you are reviled or persecuted for righteousness sake for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

Still others would have us believe that to be popular and have people like you and honor you means that God is looking on you with favor and rewarding you for your Christian demeanor.
If that were the way of blessing then Jesus got it wrong when he taught: Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.

So if blessing is not being wealthy or happy or liked, if it isn’t fulfilling the American dream of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then what is being blessed?
And notice not only does Ephesians say we are blessed but also that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

What is this tremendous blessing?
Hear this again: Blessed be the God and father our of Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.

God chose us. And not ugly old us who we cannot always stand to look at because we think we are such terrible people but God chose us as people who stand holy and blameless before God. Do you see that in that verse? Holy and blameless before God in love. The most Holy Being in the universe chose us freely; chose us and calls us God’s chosen, blameless and holy ones. I want you to see this for yourselves because there isn’t much in the world to show you your holiness or your blamelessness and we need to see this so that we know whom we really are.
We are told we are too fat, too unhealthy, too compulsive, too controlling, too angry, too dimwitted, too stubborn, too assertive, too undisciplined, too.... whatever someone has accused you of this week, or whatever you constantly accuse yourself of.

It does not matter; whatever it is we are accused of is of no consequence. Sure we can learn from our mistakes and round out our rough edges, but the truth of our lives is: because God chooses us, beloved by God, we are holy and blameless before God. Say this with me: “We are holy and blameless before God.”

If you think that God ignores you or doesn’t think much of you, read these verses again and again. It is almost as if God is bursting through the seams to give us God’s blessings.

We need to be reminded of this, don’t we? (Especially if you will be taken in by the commercials during this evening’s big game) It is easy to look at our lives and wonder where is the blessings of God. We don’t have money or fame or security, so where is the blessing?
But that isn’t the blessing God promises us.  Actually, the blessing of money, fame or security is a lie. It is the direct opposite of what we are actually promised.

In Scriptures we see what is really God’s blessing. Being called God’s holy and blameless son or daughter. Being lavished with God’s love.
And this is open to everyone, poor, or rich or slave or free, male or female, child or adult. Our birth circumstances or our social standing makes no difference. No matter our past no matter our future. We are God’s.
And when we know we belong to God, are beloved by God are thoroughly and completely God’s child. Then, well then, the words of Jesus become meaningful. Because then we want to be whatever it is God wants us to be.