Jesus Says Relationships Matter!

“Jesus Says Relationships Matter!”

Matt 5-22 angry, bird

Matthew 5:21-26 – February 16, 2020

The Psalm reading for today tells us all about the Bible, and how wonderful it is. Every single verse of Psalm 119 – and it is the longest psalm in our Bible – mentions the Word of God. We get just a taste of this with our reading today. The first eight verses, talk about the law, the statutes, the decrees and the commandments of God, using different names in each verse for the marvelous book, the Bible.

These words from Psalms are all describing God’s Word. I want us all to get this concept in our heads: this psalm praising the Bible is describing God’s Word as God’s rules for living life.

Some might already know one or two verses from Psalm 119. These two verses are extremely meaningful to me, and I have memorized both of them. The first, Psalm 119:11 – “I have hidden Your Word in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” The second, Psalm 119:105 – “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” In other words, it’s all about the Bible, the Word of God.

The same with our Gospel reading today. In this part of the Sermon on the Mount, the Rabbi Jesus is giving an extended talk on the Law of Moses, part of the Word of God, the Bible. But, what do we do when the words of Jesus are difficult to swallow?

What gives, Jesus? I can understand a murderer getting sent to hell. That’s what Jesus said in verse 21: 21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’” Okay. Depending on people’s views on capital punishment today, they may not exactly agree with the Law of Moses and its rules and punishment on murder, but few people would have serious discussion with the Rabbi Jesus for stating this rule from the Law of Moses.

Here is the part that is hard to swallow. Listen to the next verse, the next thing Jesus says: “22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Idiot!’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

Seriously, Jesus? Really? Look here, Jesus, You have got to be kidding. Aren’t You? I mean, Getting sent to hell for losing my temper and calling someone an idiot? That’s only human. We are all fallible. We all lose our tempers and get angry, once in a while. Don’t we?

Let’s go back to the idea of the Bible described as the rulebook God gave us for our lives. We all know about rules. Good, clear rules make a great deal of sense and make lots of things easier. If it wasn’t for traffic rules, the rules of the road, there would be lots more accidents and lots more people getting hurt on the road.

What about rules for playing games, and rules for different sports? I bet we all know lots of rules. For baseball, a basic rule is “three strikes and you’re out!” In football the ball proceeds down the field ten yards at a time: “First down!” And, in basketball, the object of the game is to get the ball through the opposing net. If players did not follow these basic rules, they would end up in the penalty box – like in hockey! And, if we do not follow God’s rules for life, what happens? Is there a heavenly penalty box that we can end up in? Or, something even worse?

“That isn’t fair!” How many times have we heard that, either on a playing field or over a board game? Following the rules can be a tricky business. Some people take rule-following to an extreme. But, isn’t there a way to follow the spirit of the rules – or the spirit of God’s laws?

That is what I think Jesus is getting at here in Matthew 5:22. My goodness, if God decided to throw everyone into hell for name-calling, getting angry and calling each other “idiot” and “stupid,” would anyone end up in heaven? I seriously doubt it. I don’t think Jesus means this literally – He is exaggerating to make a point, like He did a few verses further on, in verses 5:27-28. Jesus talks about cutting off hands or plucking out eyes to keep from sinning. Plus, many other commentators believe this, too. Jesus is using hyperbole here, exaggerating to make an important point: Jesus cares about relationships between people. He cares, and cares very deeply!

One of my favorite commentators, Dr. David Lose, said exactly this: “our God cares about our relationships—cares deeply and passionately, that is, about how we treat each other because God loves each and all of us so much.” [1]

If we acknowledge that our relationships with one another matter deeply to God, we are being faithful to the spirit of this reading. We agree with the nature and the purpose of God’s commands and God’s rule-book. Jesus doesn’t just heighten the force of the Law of Moses, He broadens it. Jesus makes this relational command all-encompassing. “It’s not enough just to refrain from murder. We should also treat each other with respect and that means not speaking hateful words.” [2]

What a profound concept. Jesus gives each of us a basic lesson on how to get along with each other in the next verses—how to reconcile with each other.

Jesus knows people get angry. What is a common saying? “I’m only human!” A shrug of the shoulders, and people try to sweep their anger and bitterness under the rug. Not deal with it, and avoid it. (This is not psychologically healthy.) However, Jesus gives us an excellent suggestion on how each of us can cope with anger. Everyone does get angry, sometimes. As commentator Carolyn Brown says, it just happens. “Good people get angry as often as bad people do. Adults, teenagers, and children all get angry. So the question is, ‘what do you do when you get angry?’” [3]

Jesus says not to wait too long to do this. (We all know that anger and bad feelings can fester if left alone for too long.) Name the problem that makes us angry, and figure out something each of us can do about it. Jesus wants us to be reconciled with the person who made us angry. That means for each of us to work it out together, to figure out how to solve the problem between us. That is not easy, and it may help to get advice or help from other, trusted friends. [4]

Commentator and preacher David Lose has a suggestion. He would like each of us to call to mind one of the relationships in our lives that is most important to us. One that is healthy, whole, and good, and sustains each of us regularly. What makes that relationship good? Why is it important? We are invited to give God thanks for that person and the relationship we share.

Second, think of a relationship that is also important, but has suffered some damage. Please don’t concentrate on the blame for that hurt. Let us hold that person and relationship in prayer, right now. Let us offer that broken relationship to God as an offering, and ask God to help us and heal that relationship. What might each of us do to move that relationship to great health and wholeness?

Each of us, let us pray that God would continue to use both God’s commands and God’s Good News of the Gospel to heal and restore ALL our relationships. [5]

Alleluia, amen.

 

(I would like to thank the commentator David Lose for his article on “The Relational God,” and Matthew 5 from Dear Working Preacher in February 2014. For this sermon, I have borrowed several ideas and quotes from this devotional. I also thank Carolyn Brown and her excellent blog Worshiping with Children, for the week of Epiphany 6. I used some material from her blog, too. Thanks so much!)

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=3071

“The Relational God,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/01/year-sixth-sunday-after-epiphany-sixth.html

Worshiping with Children, Epiphany 6, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

[4] Ibid.

[5] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=3071

“The Relational God,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2014.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

God Gives Us Good Things

“God Gives Us Good Things!”

Deut 26-1-11 words

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 (26:11) – November 24, 2019

This season we are in right now I call the thankful time of the year. We give thanks for the harvest just brought in to the barns across the country. We give thanks for fruits and vegetables harvested from our back gardens in cities and suburbs. And, we give thanks for God’s wonderful bounty of gifts poured out upon us all, regularly.

Our Scripture reading from the book of Deuteronomy lists a thanksgiving for the harvest for the Jewish people. It’s not only a thank-you to God, but chapter 26 lists a required offering of first fruits all Jews ought to bring to God. The first fruits—or harvest—of the season we bring to God, as an expression of gratitude and thankfulness.

What is more appropriate for our reading today than this Scripture reading, especially at this thankful, grateful time of the year?

Deuteronomy 26 begins with these words: “When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name.”

Talk about making an actual, physical offering of the first fruits you have gathered from your farm, or orchard, or dairy, or hen house. Whatever we have the opportunity to gather from our harvest, that is what we are to present to the Lord

Yes, showing our gratitude and thankfulness to our God is truly important. But—does this Scripture passage say more than just a duty-bound thank-you operation? Our biblical commentator certainly thinks so. “God gave the unexpected and free gift of a new life to a group of stateless persons, making of them a people with a special relationship to him and giving them a ‘land of milk and honey’ to live in.” [1]

I can understand how this presentation of first fruits was so important for the Jewish people—finally with a land of their own after centuries of having no place to call their own. Wandering and landless. Just as Moses gave one of the biblical patriarchs as an example: this reading even mentions a “wandering Aramean.”

Moreover, the manner in which the Jews are to say “thank you” to God for material and spiritual gifts is important. That is what I hear when I listen to this chapter read: it has not only the instructions for presenting the first fruits of our harvest to God, but also the underlying reason why, in the first place.

“The members of the nation are invited to respond to this divine initiative by showing their gratefulness, and to do so by returning to God part of what God has given them. But how can we give a present to the invisible God? Here is where the institution of organized worship comes in, to enable human beings to make a symbolic offering to God and in this way to express their relationship to him.” [2]

So, we are not only to give God thanks individually, but we are instructed to do so in organized worship services. This is a way to gather together and to jointly—as a worshiping body—lift our voices to the Lord in gratitude and thanksgiving.

This is not just for adults. Families can give thanks. We ought to look for opportunities to get our children and grandchildren involved, too. An excellent bible commentator I often reference, Carolyn Brown, mentions how we might possibly get our children involved in the giving of thanks. “Involving children in community services is a good way to draw a crowd and to introduce children to their community’s religious base.”  She also suggests that we “provide paper and crayons or markers for children (and older worshipers) to write poems or draw pictures of where they see God all around them.” [3] These are imaginative and creative ways to celebrate God and give God our thanks.

There are many ways we can celebrate at a joint Thanksgiving service to God. One way is to sing hymns of thanksgiving and celebration and thank God for the wonderful harvest, as we are in this service today.

Can we think of a better way to have everyone in our community gather together to give thanks for all the blessings we enjoy? Just like on this coming Wednesday, when our wider Morton Grove community will gather here in this place to give thanks.

I know that several people here in this service have attended many of the past community Thanksgiving Eve services. I would like to remind everyone that the giving of thanks is a universal expression of gratitude. We have a tremendous opportunity for everyone to gather together and give thanks, despite our variety of backgrounds and despite our religious differences.

Just as we collect an offering at the close of each service on Sunday mornings, so we will gather an offering on Wednesday night. Not only are we making a symbolic gesture of our worship through the gathering of people from diverse faith traditions and various world cultures, but we all can lift thanksgiving and gratitude together as a community, no matter when each of us separately and regularly praise and worship God.

Is there a better and more praiseworthy way for us today to give thanks to God? What is more, is there a better way for us to show God how much we care for and love God? The Jewish people have gathered for millenia, in regular praise and worship of God, and especially in thanksgiving for all God has done for them in the past.

Deuteronomy 26 tells us that each individual citizen was told to rejoice with the priests (or, in this case, Levites) and foreigners. God wishes everyone to come before the Holy One with thanksgiving, including foreigners. Just saying, but God repeated informs Israel that they are to treat the foreigners who live with them exactly the same as any citizen of Israel. God makes no distinction, and tells the people of Israel those exact words.

How wonderful to have that continuity across the ages. From the Jews, wandering in the wilderness, through the time of the Temple and what formal worship happened there, up through the times of the foundation of the Church and more recent centuries—we have always had occasion to gather together to give praise and thanks to our God.

Everything, even life itself is a gift from God above, enabling us to give thanks to God in all things. Isn’t this what the apostle Paul told us in his letter to the Philippians?  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

[1] http://www.taize.fr/en_article167.html?date=2014-10-01

“Giving back to God what God has given us,” Commented Bible Passages from Taizé, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3][3] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/09/year-c-thanksgiving-day-october-14-2013.html

Worshiping with Children, Thanksgiving Day, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2013.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!