Far and Beyond

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
Matthew 5:21-37 and 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Rev. Helen Kennedy

When I read the text for today, I groaned!  This lectionary passage touches parts of my life where I would rather not go. Why can’t we be like an evangelical church where I can choose a topic or something?  I know that Jesus is speaking in hyperbole, but we are so good at taking this literally.  When I do take it literally I don’t like it!  For someone who has lusted after Johnny Depp for many years, I don’t like this passage.  I should be blind by now, many times over.  For someone who has had murderous thoughts about a whole host of people, some of whom are in this room, I don’t like this passage.  I should be burning in hell fire by now.  More seriously, as a divorced and remarried woman, I am causing my husband Stephen to commit adultery, and committing it myself, so I don’t like this passage.  But then, if I try and make sense of it into my own life, it sounds all too easy, as though I am trying to manipulate the text and make excuses for my own behaviour, trying to justify my actions. So I really don’t like this passage!  I did try and see if there was someone who could take this Sunday for me, but I wasn’t quite so lucky.

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So here we go…

Just to be very clear… Jesus is not talking literally… Jesus is not speaking literally; he is exaggerating a situation to make a point and get a message across.  “I have told you a million times, don’t exaggerate!”  It is that kind of thing.  Now, placing any piece of scripture in context is always a good idea.  This gospel reading is after the beatitudes, where Jesus has told the disciples, those who followed him up the hillside, that he is bringing in a new way of life.  The way life is right now is not the way it is supposed to be.  Those who mourn will not be left to their own devises; they will be comforted.  Those who are at the end of their rope can now experience more of God’s action in their lives.  The oppression that is being felt under the rule of the Romans is not the way God wants life to be for you.  Jesus is saying, “I am bringing in a new way.” If you understand that, by caring for one another and upholding and lifting those who are weaker, then you will change the way society functions.  If you can grasp that, it is by loving your neighbour as you love yourself, then your life will be changed by it, and we will have the kingdom of heaven right here.  Jesus then goes on to tell them that their very substance as a human being is good, useful and unchangeable.  They are to be light and salt in a dark and tasteless world.

He then tells them about the Law, that it will remain until it is fulfilled.  The present Dalai Lama said, “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”  This is where I see Jesus going with this.

You have heard it said in ancient times, you shall not murder; but I say to you…go far and beyond not murdering people: don’t be judgmental; don’t be hating; be nice people.  If you have got an argument with someone, sort it out.  Don’t come to church all pious when you have issues with someone; kiss and make up, and do it for real; let it go; let forgiveness be a marker of who you are.

A little piece of liturgical trivia: It is for this reason that we share God’s peace before we join around the table in communion, so that you can reconcile yourself with those around you before you bring your offering to the altar.

You have heard it said, you shall not commit adultery; but I say to you…go far and beyond not committing adultery; don’t be lecherous.  Men and women are not to be objectified or traded in for a better model; seek the value in each human life.  It is not becoming of you as a fellow human being, to treat a person in that way.

You have heard it said, you shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord; but I say to you…don’t swear an oath at all.    Go far and beyond needing to make an oath; simply follow through with what you say.  If your word cannot be trusted, it cannot be trusted.  Swearing on a your grandmother’s life or on a stack of Bibles does not increase your credibility if you are a person not to be trusted.

The old categories are being scrambled.  Jesus is saying that life in the kingdom is marked not only by a different way of living, but a different understanding of life entirely.  The new thing that is happening is not a “new and improved” old community.  Rather, it is a reconciled and beloved community in which all people are treated with dignity, respect and affirmation.

Which is why this reading is paired with Paul’s slapping down of the Corinthians.  He, in no uncertain terms, is telling them that they have no spiritual depth at all.  They are babies, still squabbling about which preacher they liked best.  He is telling them that they are not ready for this new reality. The Corinthians are still “fleshy” because they’re acting as though the resurrection of Jesus has not changed a thing.  They have failed to realize how the gospel of Jesus crucified and resurrected has brought a new reality, a new creation.  They are still acting as though the pursuits and the goals of the world are defining for the church.

I wonder if we are still doing that, acting as though the pursuits and goals of the world are also for the church.  Not so much here, but most Anglican churches are concerned that they don’t have enough growth in their church.  They look to the priest to save and grow the ministry.  Paul reminds them that each and every one of us is called to nurture and water with mercy, compassion, love and justice, and to leave whatever growth, in whatever form, to God.

That is the new reality in which we live: reconciled and beloved; treating each other with dignity, respect and affirmation; calling each of us to go far and beyond the standard of care; going far and beyond the respect given to another, or far and beyond the dignity ascribed to another human being; going far and beyond what the surrounding society expects us to go.  That is what Jesus was calling his disciples to do; that is what Paul was chastising the Corinthians for not doing.  Let us, in this community strive for far and beyond.


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