Sermon for Epiphany 7
Sermon For the 7th Sunday After Epiphany February 24th, 2019
“A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
I suppose it’s probably a good thing that we don’t, at the door of our churches each Sunday, ask everyone to give us an inventory of their behaviour throughout the past week with only those who lived up to the Christian life being allowed in.
Not, of course, because I think any of us are particularly heinous people, but because sometimes the calls of Jesus in the scripture to live in a certain way can seem completely beyond our reach. In Matthew 5 Jesus says, “be perfect, therefore, just as your father in Heaven is perfect.” If this kind of perfection was the requirement for being part of church and coming through the doors then I would indeed be a very lonely person up here every Sunday (that was a joke…)
But in truth these are challenging passages to hear, today’s Gospel being no exception. We are faced with very absolute statements by Jesus, ones that seem to have no room for wiggle or interpretation – and so what do we do with them? The temptation of course is to wave our hand and say, “yes, but that’s not reallywhat Jesus meant,” or to think it doesn’t apply to us, or that it has succumbed to mistranslation over the millennia that it has been written down. It’s so easy for us to want to get out of it, to get out of having to think of what it means to give all that we have, or not to judge; it’s hard because it might make us have to face the ways that we can all from time to time be judgemental, or miserly, or unloving.
And these are major challenges for a lot of people. A not uncommon reason why people don’t go to church – and maybe you’ve heard this – is, “Yeah but I’m not perfect” or “I’m not good enough or holy enough for church,” as if either a) all of us are good and holy, and b) that church is a place only for those who are! But as we will see today, if this is how we feel and what we think of ourselves then the church is exactly where we must be.
The Gospel reading today is the second part of the sermon of Jesus’ we heard last week, the Sermon on the Plain, where he offers those words about the poor and the persecuted being blessed and offers warnings to those whose situation in life may cause them to forget God. You will remember that while his words offer warning they also offer great hope as they are a vision of the characteristics and nature of God’s Kingdom: His kingdom is a place where the poor are fed, the sad are made joyful, and the oppressed find freedom.
His words in today’s Gospel have a bit of a sharper edge to them, though, and are much more personal and direct, here Jesus sounds more like a worried parent than a prophet, re-iterating to us that golden rule taught to us by our parents of, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But even though these are rules for us to live by they are no less an image of who God is and what his Kingdom represents; Jesus says near the end of the Gospel to be merciful as our father in heaven is merciful, that is to say, we should strive to do all of these things because God has already done them and is doing them in our lives even now.
Loving enemies, offering the other cheek, giving to those who beg, loving those who hate you, lend and expect nothing back: this is like a recipe for living a righteous and a holy life, if you want to know what it means to live our lives as Christians in the world then look no further than this.
But this doesn’t make any of it any easier does it? These still seem to us to be laughably impossible tasks, for no matter how holy our lives may be now there is someone in our lives that we are struggling to forgive, there are people to whom we have been unkind, we do not love our enemies in the same way that God loves us, and we often give and expect something in return. This is why it is so tempting to assume that Jesus is asking more than we can ever give or that these rules somehow don’t apply to us, or that they are simply misinterpretations of what he was reallysaying.
But I want to suggest to us today that none of that is the case. That when Jesus says to us to love our enemies and to lend expecting nothing back he is not speaking in riddle: he means love your enemies and lend expecting nothing in return, full stop. But God knows how hard of a task this is for us given our imperfections and so we are helped in this task by his Grace and love.
Because you see living a holy life is not something you either have or don’t have, it is something that is acquired. We are called to be likeour Father in Heaven, to be loving, and generous, and forgiving, and merciful just as He is merciful, but we need to work at it. This sort of holiness comes through discipline and work; it comes through those moments when we need to swallow our pride and forgive someone we don’t want to forgive or apologize when we don’t want to apologize. It comes through giving more than we want to give to someone to whom we don’t really want to give anything. This holiness – this becoming blessedor being sanctified – comes to us through prayer, through worship, through fasting, and through self-sacrifice. This holy life is something that we learn how to live by coming here, to this place.
Maybe you’ve heard the phrase before, “The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners,” and I think this is true.
Church is not a place to which we should come and go and never change. It is not a place that should prop us up in feeling great about ourselves. It’s a place where, like a hospital, we learn about our own brokenness and our need for God’s love in our lives. This is a place where we come to have our wounds bound up, our hardened hearts softened, to receive and to know that we are forgiven so that then we can go and forgive others.
This is the place where we learn how to do even those seemingly impossible things that Jesus asks of us.
If you feel like you are unworthy. If you feel like you are imperfect. Judgemental. Unforgiving. Overburdened. If you feel you are a failure. If you have let people down in your life. If you need forgiveness. If you struggle to love or to receive love.
Then the good news is, you’ve come to the right place.