Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Feb. 12, 2023

Posted by on Sun, Feb 12, 2023 in Epiphany, Sermons

The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Feb. 12, 2023

Today’s gospel reading follows immediately after Jesus says,“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” We are tempted to think in polarizing ways, someone is right or wrong, good or bad, obeys the Torah’s way of life, or does not, either abolish or fulfill. And that’s how we tend to think, but I don’t believe Jesus was advocating living in the shadow of extremes. In fact, he names an extreme such as ‘do not murder’ and then backs up to say it is not enough to consider the choices of murder or do not murder, he asks us to look at the seeds that could eventually lead us so far away. We have to go back to where our thinking first turned away from relational life. We need to think back to when we began to get angry. There’s nothing wrong with feeling anger, it can motivate us to right injustices for example. But we need to ask ourselves, do we let ourselves feel it and then move towards resolution, or do we nurture it, sometimes even cherish it?  Stopping short of killing, adultery, swearing falsely is not enough, Jesus teaches us to be mindful even for what is in our hearts and minds, to be conscientious about that which we ‘host’ in our souls. Just when we think the separation of thoughts and actions is a clear achievable distinction, Jesus comes along and shows us how blurry or much grey there is between them. 

What takes root in our hearts matters. To come and pray, break bread with each other, share the peace of God —while we are quietly seething, or angry with someone, when we have not tried or offered to reconcile, — Jesus says it makes us liable to judgment. He doesn’t say whether it is his judgment, the judgment of those around us, or of our own self-judgement. Wherever it comes from, do we feel compelled to reconcile out of fear of it or because it is (as our children’s Godly Play curriculum says) the “best ways to love God and love each other,” our best hope for our world, our communities, our souls?

Repeatedly we read, You have heard it said… but I say to you… and it sounds as if he is declaring antitheticals, as in you have heard it said hot but I say cold, right/wrong, good/bad. Instead, he is speaking of that that vast blurry space in between, steps along the gradient which may be destructive themselves, even without going all the way to breaking a commandment. He is drilling down into the deeper meaning, showing us that being right with God goes beyond established laws. To know and observe the letter of the law is perhaps the least that is expected, it is even more vital and important to live into the spirit of which these laws were given to God’s people. 

This teaching is about life’s big things and those one might consider lessor offenses; insulting someone, anger without trying to mend the breach, personal debts, swearing falsely—even these show a disregard for each other and a turning away from God. They devalue those around us and serve no one. They are also the things most of us are more likely to do than say murder! I certainly do this more often than I want to admit even to myself. We learn that although such thoughts are left unspoken, they still diminish us, and obscure the created-ness and light of others from our sight. 

It is painful and sad to live in times of polarity in so much of life, when whomever is seen as the ‘other’ becomes the enemy, one who thinks differently is downgraded to sinister or worthless. We cannot come together in the peace of God by crushing the opposition or banishing them, and certainly not by dividing up the world into red and blue, black and white, worthy or unworthy. Jesus’ day had such divisions and judgements as well. His teaching today invites us—more than that, tells us—that our tools are forgiveness and making amends, kindness, listening, seeing ourselves as part of both the problem and responsible for seeking the way forward. Seeking reconciliation with each other is part of turning to God.

Just as small hurts can lead to larger ones, anger to rage to murder, desire or lust for what is outside of the commitments we make can become actions, ones that wound, foster brokenness, destroy trust. Jesus’ teaching on adultery, marriage, and divorce are in specific relation to the law of their day, and yet instead of offering only condemnation he charges us to think seriously about the choices we make, neither marriage nor divorce is to be taken lightly, rather than do what’s expedient or quickly gratifying, consider how it affects each other, taking care. As we heard in the Book of Sirach this morning, “If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.” For us Anglicans our discerning is aided and informed less by extremes, laws or literalism, but by scripture, tradition and reason. 

Jesus knows this is the stuff of being human and wants us turning to that which is life-giving. He urges reconciliation, healing and wholeness, and places it in our hands, for us to choose how we go forward. He’s not advocating a person return to an abusive partner, he’s not saying to stay away from worship because reconciliation was tried and hasn’t happened or is unsafe or unhealthy in some way, nor are we to act lovingly only out of fear of judgement. This is the ‘Word made flesh who dwelt among us’ —who knows us.

God comes in the flesh of Christ Jesus and knows our hearths and souls, our best hopes and our worst sins. This teaching is about shaping our communities such that they strengthened, renewed, and repaired which is needed continuously, just as between ourselves and God. It sounds exhausting to say this is work never finished — it also gives us hope that our own brokenness and that around us can be transformed, even if it is one rung at a time. Jesus calling for self-examination and to identify the seeds of what leads us into trouble is part of knowing us and loving us. It isn’t to shame or humiliate us, but to raise us up as we do this work. Having lived among us as one of us this teaching is not from a far off god, it’s from an understanding of what we struggle with and where we stumble and fall. His love for us was not only evident from the cross it was evident from this sermon on the mount, from the road, the table, the very humanity he shared. God the creator loves us into being, God in Christ loves us into being better. 

© 2023 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

Post will be removed at 8:00 AM on Wed., Feb. 12, 2025.