Sermon – 04-05-20 – Palm Sunday – Cycle A
Scripture: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 21:1-11
Sermon Title: “And the World Was Turned Upside Down”
Makes you think of pineapple upside-down cake, doesn’t it? At our house, the oven is being used, the frying pan is being used, the roasting pan will soon be used. All because my son has more time now and I can’t use restaurants as my regular place of retreat. We have water and heat. There are towns in this country where there is no drinking water available and no water for keeping clean. We are very blessed. But did we check our neighbors? The possibilities are endless for what is good about this pandemic and what is truly disastrous.
If we think too hard our brains go upside-down. There is no way to plan. The only way to exist is to give it to God and be attentive for his answer and outright guidance. Isaiah 41:10 CEV says, “Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Don’t tremble with fear. I am your God. I will make you strong, as I protect you with my arm and give you victories.” The NRSV says it this way, “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”
So there is no need for some of us to be afraid. We can prepare our gardens and lawns; gathering the sticks, the branches. Rolling the lawn with a very heavy drum of some sort. Spreading weed-and-feed from the local gardening store if it is open, of course. Raking the leftover leaves and the no-good walnuts and hickory nuts that even the squirrels won’t touch. These nuts are no longer useful, just waiting to damage the lawn mower. Twiddling our thumbs is not necessary. There is so much to do. Now that we are home we can’t help but see the dirt, the streaky mirrors and windows. Why did we ever think we could take the easy road and skimp on cleaning?
We can take time for rest to examine our souls. Think on the things we have said. Think on the things that should have been left undone. Think on the things that should have been done. It is self-examination time! It is time to discard things in our homes. It is time to discard things in our minds and hearts. What is still useful? What is sentimental? Isn’t it important to keep sentimental items? On sad days don’t they make us feel good?
Right about now, I cherish empty floor space, empty table tops, empty closet floors, and a heart cleared of clutter; a heart empty to receive the Lord Jesus Christ in all of his glory!
But, we are still walking with Christ when the glory is hidden. Oh, there is this parade on the donkey between the walls of people who lay coats and palm branches on the ground. Yes, hosanna it is! Hosanna in the highest! Glory to his name! But, why is this man not riding on a white stallion? We think he is supposed to be our king – the king to save us from Roman rule! Why are we not waving flags for this candidate for king instead of palm branches?
The truth is that humility is the word for Jesus, not glory. Jesus is taking on the servant attitude. He knows he is approaching an unpleasant time to say the least. He knows he will not be the earthly king for which these people long. We heard these words from Philippians. Being found in human form, Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.
So to receive this humble king into our empty hearts, we need to wear a cloak of humility. The humble king is not going to filter through a proud heart, an arrogant heart, a self-serving heart.
I have been reading how people, in this time of the COVID-19 virus, are either being humble or arrogant. We are either helping our neighbors or we are arrogantly spreading the virus with indifference for our neighbors.
We heard the reading from Isaiah today. In this passage Isaiah is called the suffering servant. Isaiah is being a model, a type, for Jesus. Isaiah is saying that he turned his back to be hurt more and he offered his cheeks for his enemies to pull out his beard. But . . . Isaiah knows that God is near. God will vindicate Isaiah. “Let my enemies confront me,” Isaiah says, “It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?”
With this same servant attitude, Jesus rides into Jerusalem, the city of his crucifixion, the city where his enemies will confront him. But Jesus knows, he knows that what he is doing is part of the plan for the salvation of everyone who believes that he is the Son of God – that he truly is the Messiah, the Savior. This is not a fake pageant. This is real pain and shame. In the Garden of Eden and again on the Cross we hear Jesus asking God to “Take this cup from me” and “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
All through the fear and jealousy of the religious leaders, Jesus endures just as Isaiah and other prophets endured as the years moved along through the “before Christ” years in history. In this human form, Jesus humbles himself and becomes obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.
The cruel people taunt Jesus to save himself. Even the robber on one of the three crosses cries to Jesus, “Save yourself and us if you really are the Son of God!” But . . . the other robber said, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” You know what Jesus replied, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
Just as when Jesus is being tempted by the devil in the wilderness in the beginning of his ministry, Jesus does not give in, he does not allow himself to be tempted, just so here on the cross, Jesus does not expect God to save him from death. That would be spectacular! Jesus is not about spectacular. He is about humility.
That is how, on Easter Sunday morning, on the third day, he is sneaky about his resurrection. He arises to an empty garden. So humble. But this is where the world turns upside down forever after. This is where the second part of our Philippians reading shines.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!
When we read and hear that our world will never be the same for the people who survive the virus of 2020, will it be anywhere as dramatic as the Easter Resurrection experience? Will our world be a good upside down or a not-good upside down? We could be fearful, yes we could. But we have the upside-down world of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord to keep us alive in Christ on earth or in our heavenly home.
Remember, in Isaiah 41:10 we have this assurance, “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” Amen
Sermon – 03-29-20 – Lent 5 – Cycle A
Scriptures: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45
Sermon Title: “Are We In A Holding Tomb?”
Jesus purposely does not go to Lazarus in time to save him from dying. Jesus knows the Father is allowing the death of Lazarus in order to prove that he, Jesus, is the Messiah, the true Son of God. The display of power and authority at the rising of Lazarus is quite spectacular.
Is it possible that we are in this tomb of Coronavirus, or COVOD-19 if you will, for a bigger plan. Or is it really just a huge, ugly nuisance from which no good will come – only hardship?
Just as Mary and Martha are agonizing over their friend, Jesus’, lack of compassion and urgency, are we the Marys and the Marthas in this situation in 2020. We find some kind of sick relief by pointing fingers of blame toward the lack of compassion and urgency in our leaders. Did evil start this scourge of sickness and death? If you had been awake, Lord, when this began, could you not have stopped it?
Does the raising of Lazarus, spectacular as that is, save Jesus from dying? No! It proves that he is the Son of God and that he has to be stopped before he takes over the established religion of the time and place.
Well, here we are facing uncharted territory. Can’t you just picture the houses in our neighborhoods blowing up one at a time as the personalities within blow their gaskets! How are Amercan familes going to retreat to days gone by when people played table games and listened to the radio and one person cooked and everyone ate whatever that was. Luckily, we now have electronic games for individuals.. You know we might get by if it were not for food and . . . the stoppage of income! Starting all over from 1929!
It does seem that way, does it not? The picture seems as gloomy as the field of bones in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. These bones are not skeletons. These are separated bones – dry bones, long lying in that valley. Who knows how they got there. God gives Ezekiel the power and the authority to tell these bones to come together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. They rattle as they move to join the right each others. Gradually, these bones become skeletons – good-fit skeletons, and they grow sinews (tendons) and flesh and skin and finally feel the breath arrive within. They are alive again and stand on their feet. They are renewed by the Spirit of God.
As we feel strung out to dry, disconnected from life, think of the dry bones. There is life after death. But what about Jesus on the cross and his short trip to hell. Not so good was that weekend! But, the third day was a whopper! Picture the resurrection from this plague called COVID-19; from the hell of it all! Undoubtedly, some of us will have experienced the true, forever resurrection so let us all be ready in case we are called. Let us get our houses in order – that direction is specifically for me. Let us prepare our souls. May we clear the cobwebs in our minds and hearts, let us be clear for the meeting with Jesus. For those of us who will find ourselves resurrected on earth, it will be time for renewal of the Spirit. It will be time to hear the Alleluias bouncing from the clouds, the trees, the roads. Picture it! Oh, that we are using this time of suffering and fear to rest our souls and let Jesus prepare us to hear the Lord saying, “O my people, I will put my spirit within you and you shall live.”
Sermon – 03-08-20 – Lent II – Cycle A
Scripture: Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17
Sermon Title: “How God Touches Our Lives”
Bruce and Mary are serving a short-term mission. This is not the repairing-buildings kind of mission. This is share-the-gospel kind of endeavor, like in saving souls. This is a salvation mission. They find themselves in a section of a big city where gangs rule the turf. Bruce and Mary are pretty tough themselves. Their lives as children left a lot to be desired. Before they were “saved,” they were part of a group of bikers – not out to damage or injure but definitely no “Jesus” talk. Now that they have opened their hearts to Jesus, they are eager to share the good feeling and the good news.
When they were looking for an opportunity to witness to their exciting new faith, they heard an ad on their favorite Christian radio programming for young couples to move into a specific area of this big city and make a difference for Christ. It is announced to be a year in length. Without too much analyzing, they apply, they are accepted, they inform their landlord, they pack their meager possessions and off they go.
They take a day to settle in – their apartment was already secured for them by the organization that is paying them to do this work. Mind you, the word “pay” here hardly deserves that name; more in the nature of a tip perhaps. But these two people are zealous. They have just met the Lord and nothing is going to stop their enthusiasm. Well – almost nothing!
Bruce and Mary were led to open their hearts to Christ by a Christian denomination that believes that God pre-determines who will be saved before the person is born. It also means that God pre-determines who will not be saved no matter how hard someone tries.
So they take a stroll in their new neighborhood in early evening to get a feel for the people in the streets on this warm summer day. They say hello and smile. Some smiles are returned, some not. They mention to these people that there will be a small gathering under that tree over there tomorrow evening about this time. “Come and see,” they say.
Same time the next day, Bruce and Mary are under the tree, with their guitars, singing nicely but a bit apprehensively. Will anyone join them? Then they start to wonder between their songs, “How will we know which persons God has predestined to be saved?” Shall we say John 3:16 to everyone as a blanket invitation? Do we tell everyone that God so loved the world that he sent His only beloved Son to die for their sins? Do we tell everyone that Jesus died for them and that he loves each of them? Is that lying?
People gather. Bruce and Mary tell everyone that God loves them and had his Son die for them because how could they not include everyone with that news? Later, alone in their dwelling place, they look at each other with puzzled looks. “What do we believe?” they admitted. When we opened our hearts to Jesus, did we think we were favored ones? Did we think we were exclusive – better than other people?
They each pick up their phones and use a few thumbstrokes to search for Christian beliefs. There they find facts. Aha! For whatever reason some Christians think God totally controls everything in a person’s life. The person is just a puppet attached to the strings that are manipulated in God’s hands. Funny, is it not? I believe that God knows and sees and hears everything but to imagine that God is holding strings in his hands for each person in the world and each cloud and each rain drop or each wild animal and each volcano seems like a comedy. Okay, let’s say there are no strings, it is just that God can control without strings, more like wireless communication that we have on earth. Feels like prison. Of course, with this belief nothing is our responsibility. We can’t be blamed for anything!
Then Mary and Bruce read more. Some other people believe that God just created the world and then turned his back. We are on our own. The hills and the rivers and the oceans and the trees are on their own. No one to watch over us. No one to receiver our prayers. No one to protect us or cheer us. No control! Freedom is nice but it demands a lot of responsibility. We can make our own mistakes and learn the consequences. Really!
When we say, “everything happens for a reason,” if we are believing that God controls everything, then we believe that God plans and makes bad things happen to good people. If we believe that God is doing no controlling and we say “everything happens for a reason” we look around for someone or something to blame. Or we realize that we are to blame! Or that we are totally at the mercy of nature’s whimsy.
Bruce and Mary look at each other and say together, “There must be a better way to believe!” They move to the middle between these two opposing ideas about God.
They say at the same time, “It is about love. Did we not feel an overwhelming sense of being loved when we opened our hearts and Jesus flowed in while the pastor laid hands on our heads? Belief in God has got to be about love! What kind of love did we feel? Love like a parent? Love like a lover? Love like God does not want to lose us? Oh, a love that God wants to save us. He does not want us to be weighed down with our sins, our unkindnesses, our bad timing. He gave Jesus, the Son, to die temporarily – real death you understand – but not for long! God as parent! Loving us so much!” Mary and Bruce feel good. They agree about this understanding of how God fits our lives, how God touches our lives.
However, the next day, when Bruce forgot to look the second time before driving from a stop sign, he is injured and his bicycle is demolished. Where is God? Why did God not place a wall in front of Bruce to keep him safe? Is God not always a loving God? a protecting God? Clearly, it was in Bruce’s power to look to the left again to make sure he had a clear space. What is the reason for this hardship? It was Bruce’s negligence in this case.
Then there is outright evil. Why does God not protect us from evil as our Psalm 121 says? Or does he protect us? How does God work in our lives? How does God touch our lives? I was reminded last week that God does send angels to be close to us, to protect us, to comfort us. Looking at the picture on the cover of our bulletin, we see an angel doing what angels do. Until next week, please be in thought about how God touches your life.
Sermon – 03-01-20 – Lent I – Cycle A
Scriptures: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
Sermon Title: “The Saga of the Serpent”
Serpent as in snake! What are our serpents? What can’t we resist? We can start simply like McDonald hamburgers or chocolate candy or ice cream. How about talking negatively about other people? Misusing our credit cards. Taking our family members for granted. Causing our families grief. Addictions: smoking, drinking, gambling, eating too much. Using coarse language when there are millions of acceptable words in the English language. Insisting on our own way. Thinking we are better than other people. Forgetting to look for Jesus in each and every person we meet.
Well I got myself here, starting with the McDonald hamburgers. Where did you feel a twinge or maybe even a stab of pain? This is reality. No matter how rich or poor, no matter skin color, or style of living, not matter what religion or no religion, no matter the age, we are tempted to do things or say things that are not healthy in any way. They don’t work!
There was Eve as the story goes. God said, “Don’t touch, don’t taste!” What does Eve do? Of course, just what we would have done probably. She touched the fruit. She tasted the fruit. I would normally say, “Oh, my goodness!” In the case of Eve in the perfect garden, I should be saying, “Oh, my badness!” Just think – no work. Imagine that! Apparently no weeds to pull. Eating that fruit was definitely not a healthy thing to do! If she was bored, she certainly changed that!
And you know how it is. Once we touch and taste, it is too late. There is no easy way to retrieve anything we have digested or done or said. Of course, we like to look for company in our badness. Eve found her company in Adam. She tempted him to be the accomplice. But . . God is God! Nothing slips by him. I believe God is all-knowing among other “alls” that apply to God.
In this story, God is ready with the consequences for Adam and Eve. But in our own lives, God often sits and waits for the consequences to happen to us after we goofed. The Ten Commandments and the Two Great Commandments are our rules for living that work. They are the Constitution and By-Laws of the great institution of living.
Moving forward through thousands of years to Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism in the Jordan, we find Jesus using words from the Hebrew scripture to rebuke and resist Satan, otherwise known as the devil or the snake or the serpent. Picture this: there are these fasnachts on a plate on the table or there is this person who says, “Let me buy a drink for you. What are you drinking?” Do we remember to pull out these words: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” That piece of chocolate cake has my name on it. That piece of lemon sponge pie is calling my name. That cigarette which someone wants to use to tempt me is absolutely screaming at me. “Oh, God, help me!”
What about the movie that does not make us think of God’s goodness, only selfish desires or revenge that seems appropriate or nasty words? Where are the words about not living by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God?
The bully says, “I dare you to ride your bike on the back wheel alone.” (There is a word for that but I don’t know what it is. You know, I am sure. No one ever dared me to do that.) The bully might go so far as to say, “You think your God will save you. Let’s see if you can ride your bike to the edge of the cliff and just stop in time. Will your God do that for you – stop just at the last eighths of an inch?” Which young person is going to remember or even know to say, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Where is our spiritual wholeness? How can we find it or replenish it? How can we increasingly notice temptation leaving us alone? How can we resist without thinking two seconds about it? Well, there is the reward. Angels. When we have resisted with all our might, angels visit. They bring calmness and peace and a closeness to the Father. We may not see the angels, but we can feel their love and kindness and their trust in us to stay looking to Jesus.
Managing to chose friends who seem close to God is a good way to resist temptation. You may remember the word “type.” People who appeared, or still appear, momentarily who prepare us for the real live person. There is this King Melchizedek, also called the Great High Priest, who is mentioned several places in the Old Testament. He is the prototype, or just type, for Jesus. He brought bread and wine to Abram after God helped Abram win a battle with his enemies. In Psalm 110, we have Melchizedek mentioned again to David. Jesus is a descendant of David. We find in the Old Testament these veiled references to Jesus. David is saying that Jesus is his Lord when in fact Jesus is a descendant of David. The Lord said to my Lord means “The Father said to Jesus.”
All along from the time of Abram, we have this prototype of Christ. The model of rightness and goodness. The model of being beside us to give to us power to resist, the longing to do what is right, what is God’s way of living. We can have pleasure while living God’s way. It is the way of water for our thirst and our cleansing, of decent clothing but not lavish, of only being addicted to God’s way, of only kind words coming from our mouths. Only looking for the good in people, not the bad or annoying characteristics.
As the story of Eve and Adam moves through scripture, Eve drops out of the picture as being the original instigator. She does not count. She is a female. That is a sermon for another day – how females and children were not even counted in the crowds in the Bible stories. So in ignoring Eve, Adam gets the blame. Double unfairness here!
So Adam’s power to draw us into sin is overcome by the appearance of this Holy model named Melchizedek. Finally, the fruition of this model into the life of the Son of God, Jesus, breaks, once and for all, the power of Adam’s sin. One man’s trespass is overcome by the righteousness and mercy of this type moving through the Old Testament, appearing to Abraham and then David, ancestor of Jesus, and then Jesus is with us in real time on the cross and in the grave and then risen as we declare “Hallelujah!”
“Temptation be gone. Sin be gone! I don’t need you,” we can say. “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him,” can be our motto or mantra, saying it over and over. And the angels appear! Amen
Sermon – 02-23-20 – Transfiguration – Cycle A
Scripture: Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 100, 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
Sermon Title: “Eye Witness and Personal Experience”
A retreat! A retreat from daily living! Sounds inviting. I will write it in my date book. That spot is empty yet. Well this retreat does not get written into a date book. One day, Jesus just says, “Come with me, Peter, James, and John. I need you to be with me. Come away for awhile. Let us get closer to God. It seems that God needs me on this mountain now.”
It is good to have witnesses. Witnesses share what happens to the world – or not. At the end of this event, Jesus tells the three disciples not to tell anyone! “Tell no one about this vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” This is a common command of Jesus, “Tell no one about this experience yet.” Being human, that kind of request somehow makes us itch to tell the next person we meet. I don’t think we know if James, John, and Peter waited.
What is this vision? There they are on the mountain. Drawings we have available of this event show Jesus standing higher than the three disciples. Some of the drawings which I have seen show at least one of the disciples sleeping. What else? Jesus finds his disciples sleeping at important times. Can’t you just feel the weariness that must be a constant visitor with the disciples? They walk and wait; wait and walk. We know that weariness, do we not? Two pages into a book and the book is falling out of my hands. A half-hour into a great movie, the one you looked forward to all day, and down go your eyelids. Waiting often does the same thing to us, especially if we do not know why we are waiting; not knowing what is going to happen.
Now that I have defended the disciples’ dozing, what is this event? Jesus calls it a vision when admonishing James, John, and Peter to be silent after the fact. A vision. It could not be real time because there were centuries between Moses and Elijah compared to Jesus. Yet, God chose this vision to bring history into a nutshell. Moses, representing law, and Elijah, representing the prophets.
Prophets proclaim God’s messages to people, whichever generation of people are living at a certain time. Prophets are called into service in each generation – even today. Think, who is proclaiming the true message in our lifetime? “Beware of false prophets,” Jesus says. How are we to tell? This same Peter, in the second letter of Peter in the New Testament, chapter 1, verses 20 and 21, touches on the subject of false prophets.
It is firmly established that Moses and Elijah are “truth.” They are the real thing with God. Here is this third person – Jesus. The law and the prophet appearing with the personification of love and forgiveness; a glowing Jesus. This glow was so bright the disciples had to shield their eyes; brighter even than the winter morning and late afternoon sun as we drive into that blinding brightness.
It is like Moses and Elijah are called to this time and place to hear God verify, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Just like at the baptism in the River Jordan when John the Baptist was the baptizer and the witness to God’s proclamation. But, this time God brings the past and the present together to show the unity of his plan for this world he has created. There is no separation between the Old and New Testament; the Hebrew and the Greek times. “This is my beloved Son.” But, this time on the mountain, God says, “Listen to him!”
Now the three disciples are not sleeping. They were awake to see the vision of Law and Prophet and Son of God together, never mind the problem of the time line. The eyes of the disciples were probably wide open with their minds thinking, “How can this be?” But, when the voice of God the Father came through the clouds distinctly, the disciples fell to the ground in fear. Jesus touches them and says they shall have no fear. A bright cloud appears with the voice of God. When it disappears, the Law and the Prophet are no longer visibly present. Jesus leads the three disciples down the mountain while he gives them the speech about telling no one.
After Jesus was resurrected and ascended, this Peter wrote at least two letters which we have in our New Testament. This compulsive, impulsive disciple reminds us that in this vision on the mountain, truth is affirmed.
“This is my beloved Son!” the voice of the Father was saying. We can say, “This is the Father’s beloved Son.” It is all about the love. God loves the Son person of the Trinity – Jesus. Jesus came to earth to show us that love; to share that love; to transfer the love to us so we can transfer the love to our neighbors. Yet, the source of the love is never depleted. The truth shall be shared along with the love. Showing love is fine but without the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, love is a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. The whole picture requires the Law with the Prophet with the epitome of love and light. The Transfiguration unites generations of believers and participants with the ultimate breathing and living truth – Jesus Christ the beloved Son of God.
Peter, James, and John are witnesses and participants in this great drama. They experience it in real time. We are invited to share this experience in real time because it is still happening. According to Peter in his second letter, the light is still shining like the bright morning star. We shall let it increasingly fill our hearts until Jesus comes again. When will that happen? Can we depend on it happening? Peter writes, “Don’t forget that for the Lord one day is the same as a thousand years, and a thousand years is the same as one day. The Lord is not slow about keeping his promises, as some people think he is. In fact, God is patient, because he wants every one to turn from sin and no one to be lost.” 2 Peter 3:8,9 Aha! Does that sound as though we have a marketing job? No one is to be lost!
Oh God, give us courage and conviction. Let us not hide in a fashionable place of keeping the secret of God’s love. Help us to keep on keeping on until every last person on earth is in the fold. Help us to be among the men and women who are moved by the Holy Spirit to tell and invite. May we plant and water and share the transfiguration light so that the Holy Spirit can come along and inspire each person on earth to feel the light and the warmth and accept the love. In the name of this Jesus, we pray. Amen
Sermon – 02-16-20 – Epiphany VI – Cycle A
Scriptures – Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37
Sermon Title: “The Commandments Work”
God is leading these tens of thousands of Israelites toward the Promised Land from Egypt where they have been slaves of the government. Instead of leading them straight from Egypt to the entrance to the land of milk and honey, he leads them in circles through the wilderness for 40 years! Yes, God is upset with these people, to say the least, because, right out of the gate, they complained. Actually, I would have been among the complaining, ungrateful people. No food, no water to drink. No shelter! I could be wrong about the “no shelter.” They may be carrying tents. More reason to complain during the day but a blessed help at night.
Well, God has assigned poor Moses and his brother Aaron to lead this nation of people for 40 years. Imagine! We wonder where our life has gone! Forty years wandering without a clear goal. Complain, complain and more complaining. Several generations are born during the wandering. This is a massive movement.
First off, God says to Moses, “Come up to the top of this mountain! I want to talk to you.” So Moses climbs up and up into the clouds to listen to what God wants to say. God greets Moses with something like this. “I need to give you these rules for your throng of people. They need to know how to make their new society work.” Moses leaves Aaron in charge at the foot of the mountain. This is not a quick trip. God keeps Moses in the clouds for quite a few days.
You can imagine that the people are getting restless and getting into all kinds of trouble. This is a long story for another time. God actually makes a second set of tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments because Moses becomes so angry when he sees the behavior of his people that he throws the first set of stone tablets on the ground and they break. This story is in Exodus 20 to the end of Exodus.
The Hebrew lesson we heard today is from Deuteronomy 30 just before the Israelites are led into the Promised Land by Joshua. God does not let Moses enter the Promised Land because God is upset with Moses. Another long story for another time. However, Moses is given the privilege of repeating the Ten Commandments to the Israelites before they set foot into the Promised Land.
Then our gospel lesson from Matthew today is Jesus espousing on these commandments in a detailed way. At first we think of these sins belonging to someone else. We mentally use our pointing finger at someone we know or of whom we have heard. Well, as we are reminded, when we point one finger at someone else, the other fingers are pointing to ourselves. If you are really curious about this passage from Matthew, grab your Bible at home and find Matthew 5:21-37 and see how much it hurts.
My own personal guideline for what behavior and thoughts are approved by God and what is not approved by God is “Does it work?” Does whatever I say hurt someone even if I do not mean it to hurt the person? Am I not careful before I speak? Do I neglect to do something that would make the other person feel good?
I need to be more aware that some people appreciate hugs. I need to be more aware that people are waiting for a note from me and it is all sitting on my desk in a huge pile. My head and heart are full of regrets of things done or said that hurt someone; of things unsaid or undone that would have been so appropriate. I can picture God in heaven coaching me and cupping his hands to his mouth so I can hear, urging me to do this or that and he lifts his hands in despair, saying, “When will she ever get the hang of this?”
We tend to think of actions or words being either good or bad with a strict line between the two. If we are open-minded we can accept that things are not on opposite sides of a division – right or wrong; pure or impure. I am relieved. As I think about that idea, I feel loved and accepted. I feel hopeful about a solid relationship with God. If my heart and mind are in pain because I did or said something hurtful, I can know that God is with me in that pain. It is not alright that I sinned but it is alright in that God is finding me regardless. God finds us in our pain and claims us as his own again and again and again.
As we feel your forgiveness over and over, mold our ways, draw us to yourself so tightly that our every word and action becomes pure kindness. Amen