Monday, February 14, 2011

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany A (2011)

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Matthew 5:21-37
Theme: Sanctification: Inside Out

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Humans make laws and through them try to find meaning and keep order in a chaotic universe. God orders the universe and leads people to find meaning in the freedom of His grace. People enforce their laws. God enacts His love. Today Jesus takes the customary understanding of the law and turns it on its head. Not only is the act of adultery a sin against the Sixth Commandment but the lustful intention of the heart is already a sin. Not only is the act of murder a sin against the Fifth Commandment but anger harbored in the heart is already a sin. He does this because we are prone to thinking that an outward following of the law is sufficient to keep it. An outward standard of morality can and must be legislated and enforced in any society. This is essential for the protection of the vulnerable. But Jesus teaches something more essential: The righteous intention of the heart, mind, and will. The Holy Spirit seeks to sanctify us from the inside out.

Still, you can never boast of having wholly pure thoughts. You can never completely banish selfish motivations from your mind. To believe that you can is to deny the reality of original sin. You are not capable of not sinning because you are born sinful. Yes, each of us is capable of refraining from outward transgression at any particular moment- though the Holy Spirit must assist us here too- but no one is capable of purifying his own thoughts and intentions. Our inabilities are a call to repentance not a cause for despair. Rather our dependence and appreciation of Christ’s work is increased.

Though original sin universally affects all people it is expressed in countless specific ways in individuals. Today Jesus singles out anger as a special concern. Here is a serious warning from the Lord, “Anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of the fire of hell.”1 Believers are not immune to the temptation to express their unrestrained anger towards others. God does not allow hatred towards a fellow Christian to be left unchecked. It is unbefitting of the Christian community. If we take anger into our own hands then there will be hell to pay. The person that doesn’t fear hell either doesn’t believe it exists or grossly misunderstands what it means. He doesn’t equate separation from God with unbearable punishment. Only Christ can resolve the fury and rage which so often complicates and controls human activity.

In this entire discourse Jesus is moving His followers towards a fuller understanding of the meaning of living as those blessed by God. Spiritual maturity is a daily journey. No one can claim they have arrived at the destination. This side of heaven we are always approaching it but never arriving. But, led by the Spirit, our faith is seeking and searching. Often others may have greater spiritual maturity than us. And though we may know it intellectually, we often forget that only God sees the whole picture. He sees the whole puzzle and knows how each piece fits together whereas we can often see only one little piece at a time. We pray that through the Scriptures the Holy Spirit would teach us wisdom and humility.

It’s like the man who survived the Queensland floods. He was fond of telling the story to anyone who would listen. And with each telling, the story became more embellished. He finally died of old age and went to Heaven. When he had settled in, St. Peter stopped by to ask if everything met with his expectations. “Everything here is great,” the man said, “but I surely would like to tell the story of the Queensland flood to some of the others up here.” So St. Peter obliged. He assembled a large, heavenly audience. But as the man rose to address them, St. Peter whispered in his ear, “I think I’d better warn you: Noah is in the audience.”

We could hardly impress Noah with a story about a flood. God too is always in the audience. He’s always within earshot. And we can hardly impress Him with our achievements or shock Him with our troubles. The challenge and privilege of living our faith is remembering that we are always in the presence of God. Nothing is hidden from Him. He desires that we pour out our hearts to Him in humility. The Bible says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”2 Christ came in the flesh as the icon and image of the Father’s love. His love has the power to transform our entire outlook and understanding of life. The grace and forgiveness of Christ free us to seek the welfare of others. One of the immediate implications of our redemption is recognition of our lofty place within God’s ordered kingdom.

Our faith doesn’t exist for its own sake. It’s not an end in itself. You’re not an end in yourself. We must purge this secular way of thinking from our minds. You should never think of your life as a summation of activity, accomplishment, personality and interests filling some unclear niche in a random and chaotic universe. Do not consider your legacy or passing from this life as a series or collection of accomplishments or disappointments relevant only to you or your family. To be baptized into Christ means to be an heir of the eternal kingdom and have a place in the company of heaven. This doesn’t happen anonymously. In Christ you have an identity that is significant for eternity and it has consequences every day in this life.

We exist so that in big ways and small others will come into contact with God’s unconditional love in Christ. The Scripture says, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”3 And the apostle Paul also gives this encouragement, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.”4 How marvelous that we have the opportunity to be salt and light in the world!

When we struggle to find meaning in life it’s because we’ve lost track of who we have become in Christ. Too frequently we let the truth of His death and resurrection pass unnoticed through our ears and hearts. Jesus is not simply a person of historical interest. He is the living God that gives access to the Father and fellowship with the Trinity. Every day we have Easter certainty. Every day we progress towards our own resurrection. Our struggles here, as severe as they may be, are only temporary. The Holy Spirit makes this promise, “The God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”5

+ in nomine Jesu +

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany
13 February 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 5:22 2 1 Peter 5:7
3 Ephesians 2:10 4 Philippians 2:14-16
5 1 Peter 5:10-11