Epiphany VII, Year A, “It’s An Odd Life.”

“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.” This is actually a quote from Flannery O’Connor – noted 20th century author and Roman Catholic. But in my head, I attribute it to a priest friend who was the Chaplain to Canterbury at Baylor. – Not many sermons are often short-lived in my brain.

I tend to hear them, take a bit and then dumb all the information. I don’t feel particularity bad about it, because for the most part, I do this to my own sermons as well.

But for some reason, this quote from this person has always stuck with me. The same guy preached at my wedding, but do I remember one word be said there? No, I think the quote sticks with me because it rings so true about the Christian experience.

Take this weeks Gospel lesson-one in my opinion that is one of the harder saying of Jesus.

He starts with the easier portion from the Old Testament. From Exodus 21:22-25

22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. 23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

This is revolutionary-why because it requires us to keep our emotions in check and stop at justice.

Because when something bad is done to use, what is our natural desire? To get the person back… with interest. The Chicago way – one of theirs pulls a knife, you pull a gun. One of theirs puts yours in the hospital, you put one of theirs in the morgue.

But this stops prior to that, it stops at justice. When Exodus expands on this, it shows that the emotion is supposed to get them out of it so that justice prevails. Justice is meted out eye for eye, tooth for tooth.

This is understandable to me, it is balancing the scales of justice, and while we get in trouble for unbalancing them, at least it always gets back to level.

Now comes Jesus who takes this standard and raises it. Now granted Jesus is speaking hyperbole here. Does he really want us to look at the person who punches us in the face and say “I’m sorry you could get the other side too – I’d hate to look unbalanced?”

Because if this is the case, then it seems like going back to the model of vengeance but in reverse – Make your assailants happier by making yourself feel worse, or maybe make them pity you to the point of stopping.

No, here he is talking about deescalating the situation. It is about seeing the person and why they are doing this.

Why is this person mad enough to punch you in the face? Would it make you feel better to get the other cheek too? I’m sorry why are you stealing from me? Is it because you are hungry or cold? Here have this shirt I have in the truck and let me help you get to a place that can actually help you.

This is about going beyond just ourselves and seeking to see the other person as a whom God made with as much love as he  made us.

This is the hard part. It is easy to write off these with whom you have issue as ignorant or wicked, or all the other adjectives I see people call each other on Facebook and Twitter. It is easy to do that because we know our own story and how our beliefs fall into it.

But it is much harder to look at someone with whom we disgrace and attempt to understand their point of view – maybe even to see points of validity in them. But even beyond that, to see them as a person whom Jesus died for.

Jesus tells u s to be perfect as Our Heavenly Father is perfect. IN the Old Testament lesson we get the saying from God: “You shall be Holy; for I the Lord your God am Holy.” Holy is set apart for the sole use of God.

This is why that quote from Flannery O’Connor hits home with me so much.

Because the knowledge of what Jesus did for me and what he does for all, that blood that redeemed my sins also set me apart which requires me to live a life set apart-one different from the standards the world sets for me.

He requires more from us because he gives more to us and the life set apart he expects us to live perfectly. A very tall order – but one he never relaxes.

He doesn’t relax it, but he does provide his spirit to empower us to achieve it.

St. Paul tells us that the wisdom of the world is fully with God.

God  calls us beyond the settlement of allowing our base nature to see justice at wrong doing. We are called to the love that God has for all.

This is the truth, and if properly carried out it will indeed make us odd – but we will be all the better in our oddity.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Amen

 

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Epiphany VI, Year A “The ‘Gesimas Step into the Lenten Pool”

In the old calendar, this week what later became known as the “gesimas” Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and my favorite quinquagesima or 70, 60, & 50 days before Easter respectively. So these were Lenten prep Sundays, sort of easing you into Lent. It seems less harsh to ease into Lent – like dipping your foot into the pool before sitting on the 1st step, then the next before finally getting your whole body in the pool.

This is opposed to the cannonball of Lent that we currently have. Ash Wednesday – bam – Lent. So let us ease in shall we?

Last week, Jesus told us right at the very end “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes  and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven.”

What did he mean by this?

Mere outward observance of the law does nothing to allow you to enter the Kingdom of heaven because merely following a rule does not penetrate the heart.

This was the problem of the OT – God gave all these rules yet the people only ended up breaking all of them.

Paul talks of this in Romans, had these been no law he would not have sinned because he would not have known. But as soon as there was a law, that was the one he wanted to break.

For example: speed limit – if there isn’t one then you go according to the conditions of the road.

  • Is it long and straight? Put the hammer down.
  • Is it windy and rainy? Slow and careful
  • Unpredictable kids? Constant vigilance

But put a speed limit sign and I can guarantee I will drive over it.

So the penetration of the heart is required so that it is not burdensome, but something that we would be doing anyway. A buddy of mine told me this summer doesn’t look at speed limit signs in school zones because he knows the kids are there.

Joshua, Ben Sira the authors of Ecclesiasticus puts it in a better perspective. “Before you are fire and water: stretch out your hand for whichever you wish. Before a man is a chose of life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him.”

The goal is for the decision to be this simple life or death.

The problem is that sin clouds judgment. Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection shows us that without the confusion of sin, this is indeed possible. But in order for this to be a reality for us, Jesus had to remove this barrier – the stain of Adam that necessitated the removal of the lifelong Holy Spirit from within us.

In Baptism this is restored to us, the only thing now is to remake our hearts into a fit dwelling place.
Jesus shows us that we should never be content to sin with the promise of forgiveness.

  • Ben Sira tells us – “God has never given anyone permission to sin.”

That is falling back to the superficial way that prevents entry into the Kingdom of heaven.
One of the things that struck me this week, was AB Kwashis statement, “If you want the response of God, you will never find it in the world. But if you want the response of the world, it is readily available.”

When you ask the normal person if they regularly keep the 6th commandment not to commit murder, most will say “I haven’t killed anyone, so yes.”
The standard of the world is not killing anyone and the would will even modify and caveat the argument such that murder is only applicable in a very specific and highly unlikely event.

Yet Jesus tells us that even telling someone “You fool!” is worthy of hell fire. oops road rage?

As AB Kwashi days, “the world will try to slip sin by you, because this world is passing away and anyone attached to it as the end all be all, will be passing away to – so why not add caveats to sin so that er can’t be told we are living incorrectly?
But Jesus tells us that we are held to a different standard if we want this life offered by the Kingdom of God and it requires living a life that exceeds a nearly superficial keeping of the law.- It requires living a life of the Spirit – the Spirit given by God.

So as we begin to dip our toes into the waters of Lent, start thinking now about how to start chipping away at the death grip of sin. Start thinking now, while we are still 70 days away from Easter, how we want our lives to look when Easter comes and we again walk in the life-giving freedom of the Spirit.

It takes work, but we have been given all the tools we will ever need.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Amen