Epiphany 6 Annual Meeting Sunday February 16, 2020

The Rev. Janet Campbell

EPIPHANY 6 Year A RCL  Annual Meeting Sunday

Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Matthew 5:21-37

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

What kind of a people,

what kind of community,

are we to be?

 

A perennial question

for the people of God

of every denomination

and faith.

 

What kind of a people,

what kind of community?

 

 

The people of Israel,

the chosen people,

were chosen by God

not so much for themselves,

but that they might become,

by virtue of their way of life,

a light to the nations

around them . . .

 

 

God gave them

the Ten Commandments,

the Law,

to guide them:

 

a practical discipline

grounded in spiritual principles –

faithfulness to God,

love of God and neighbor,

honesty and fairness toward all . . .

 

a loving discipline,

not imposed

but given

as the spiritual practice

that would lead to the fullness of life

God had prepared for them.

 

Obedience to the Law

would protect them

from their own worst impulses –

 

greed, dishonesty, envy, arrogance,

abuse of position or power,

 

those failings that infect a community

with misery, suffering,

spiritual, if not actual, death.

 

The Law would shape them

as a community of justice and peace

revealing

God’s justice and peace

to all the world.

But there would always be

freedom and choice.

 

“I set before you life and death,” said Moses

to the people of Israel,

“Choose life,

so that you and your descendants may live,

loving the Lord your God, obeying [God],

and holding fast to [God];

for that means life to you, and length of days . . .”

 

“Choose me,” God said through Moses,

“as I have chosen you.”

 

 

God had in mind a commonwealth

that would put to shame

all the world’s warring kingdoms:

 

God’s own kingdom:

embedded in the Law,

revealed

in the life, death and resurrection

of Jesus,

implanted by him

in the community of his followers.

 

In the Sermon on the Mount,

the gospel for the past two Sundays

and today,

Jesus showed his disciples

who they would become

by telling them who they already were.

 

The first part, the Beatitudes,

describes

the character

of the community of the beloved

and a quality of life

counter to the ways of the world.

 

“Blessed are you,”

Jesus said to his followers,

“when you are poor in spirit,

depending not on your own strength

but on God.

 

“Blessed are you

when you are merciful, pure in heart, meek,

when you share the grief of the world,

when you hunger and thirst for righteousness,

when you seek to make peace.”

 

Blessed are you

when you are a conduit of God’s blessing

to all of creation:

 

“You are

the salt of the earth,

the light of the world.”

 

In you, all people will come to know

God’s love and mercy.

 

 

The part of the Sermon

we heard today

might seem a far remove

from its beginning,

 

as Jesus begins to riff on the Law.

 

“You have heard that it was said . . .

 

‘You shall not murder’

and ‘whoever murders

shall be liable to judgment.’

But I say to you

that if you are angry with a brother or sister,

you shall be liable to judgment.”

 

Jesus had a passion for the Law,

a passion not for the words of it,

but for the Love in the words . . .

Love of God,

Love of neighbor.

 

Love that is offended

not only by crimes

against person and property,

but by crimes

against heart and soul and spirit.

 

 

Love that is saddened by

the little murders we commit

when we harbor a resentment

against a person,

 

when we treat a person

as if they exist

for our pleasure

or convenience,

 

when we don’t keep a promise,

and the trusting heart of a person

breaks.

 

Love that is grieved by

the little deaths we die, too,

when we do those things.

 

 

“You have heard that it was said,

‘You shall not commit adultery.’

But I say to you

that everyone who looks at [another] with lust

has already committed adultery with [that person]

in [their] heart.”

 

“You have heard that it was said,

‘You shall not swear falsely,

but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’

But I say to you,

there is no need to swear if

you are always truthful . . .

let your word be ‘Yes, yes,’ or ‘No, no’.”

 

 

If it takes hyperbole to get his love across

he will use it:

 

“If your right eye causes you to sin,

tear it out and throw it away . . .

 

if your right hand causes you to sin,

cut it off and throw it away . . .”

 

What you choose is that crucial.

 

In the power of your freedom

choose the way that leads to love

so that you and all those around you

may truly live.

 

 

Jesus came,

he said,

“not to abolish the law . . .

but to fulfill it.”

 

Peer into the depths

of the Law,

and there you will find

the Sermon on the Mount.

 

Peer into the depths

of the Sermon on the Mount

and there you will find

the Baptismal Covenant –

 

 

the renunciation of evil,

the commitment to Jesus Christ,

and the promises

that shape and guide us

as a community of Jesus-followers,

Christ’s Body the Church . . .

 

individual persons formed into a people

by the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,

the breaking of bread and the prayers:

 

proclaiming by word and example

the Good News in Christ,

seeking and serving Christ in all persons,

loving our neighbors as ourselves,

striving for justice and peace,

upholding the dignity of every human being,

cherishing and protecting God’s Creation.

 

Peer into the depths

of the Book of Common Prayer –

pages 302 – 305 to be exact –

and you will find

the kind of community

we are called to be.

 

A community of the baptised

choosing the freedom

of the discipline

that is the way to God’s kingdom . . .

 

 

living as though the kingdom,

which has not yet come,

is already here . . .

 

thus calling it closer and closer

to fruition

in

mercy and compassion,

forgiveness and reconciliation.

 

 

 

This particular Epiphany season,

this season of light,

finds us in a fearful and dark season

in the life of our country

and the world . . .

 

divisive, destructive,

demoralizing  . . .

leading us who knows where?

 

 

We’ve been spending time this Epiphany

in our Adult Formation Foundations class

with Dietrich Bonhoeffer,

 

Lutheran pastor and theologian

in Nazi Germany.

 

 

Many have noted parallels

between his time and ours.

I think there is no need

to enumerate them.

 

Bonhoeffer wrote

a commentary

on the Sermon on the Mount,

The Cost of Discipleship,

 

in which he examined the trials of his time

through the lens

of Jesus’ words to his followers.

 

Imprisoned for his resistance

to the Nazi regime,

Bonhoeffer knew personally

the cost of his discipleship.

 

Awaiting execution

by the Nazis,

he wrote a meditation

on discipline and the freedom of choice

that enabled him, even as he faced death,

to dwell completely and confidently in Christ.

 

A mediation that speaks strongly

to the kind of community

Jesus followers must be in every age,

that we must be today,

 

if we are to be a light to the world

in our own corner

of the darkening world.

Here is a part of

Stations on the Road to Freedom

 

Discipline

If you set out to seek freedom, then learn above all things

discipline over your soul and your senses, lest passions and

instincts

lead you now hither, now thither, in random directions.

Chaste be your mind and your body, completely subjected,

and in obedience seeking the aim set before them;

none learns the mystery of freedom with discipline lost.

 

Action

Daring to do what is right, not what fancy may tell you,

seizing reality boldly, not weighing up chances,

freedom’s in action alone, not in wavering thought.

Leave aside anxious delay and go into the storm of our

history,

borne along solely by faith, and God’s will and commandment;

freedom, exultant, will welcome your spirit with joy.

   From Letters and Papers from Prison, SCM Press, 1971, as found in

                                                Mark Pryce, Literary Companion to the Lectionary, Fortress Press, 2002

 

 

As a community of Jesus followers

we do together

the things that ground us in our faith,

strengthen and sustain us in our ministry

no matter the times . . .

 

 

We celebrate the sacraments,

we practice the disciplines,

that nurture

the freedom of the gospel within us

and equip us to live and proclaim

the gospel in the world.

 

What could be more important

in these perilous times

than steadfast witness

and courageous action

for what is true and good,

compassionate and merciful . . .

 

setting the gospel of

God’s kingdom of

justice and peace . . .

God’s kingdom of equality, dignity and respect

for every human being

God’s kingdom of care for all God’s creation . . .

 

setting the gospel of

God’s kingdom

over against the

selfishness, greed, prejudice, heedlessness,

dishonesty,

of the present time,

 

embracing the cost

of our own discipleship,

whatever it may be.

 

 

 

“to go fearlessly into the storm of our [own]

history,

living in the mystery of freedom,

borne along solely by faith,

and God’s will and commandment.”

 

In our freedom

to choose the kind of community

we are and will be,

may we choose life,

growing in stature

as a place and a people

of truth-telling, advocacy

and service,

of kindness, compassion

and unfailing hope,

of courage founded

in trust in God –

who has chosen us

for this time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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