Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sermon for 20 February 2011, Epiphany 7C

The Rev. Paul J Cain
Matthew 5: 38-48
Mercy in Christ
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, 20 February 2011
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You hear a lot of things said in this world. Not all are worth hearing. Not all are said in proper context. Some things that are “said” are not said in love or to be constructive.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” You’ve heard that said and it is garbage. Don’t believe it. Words can hurt over and over again in our memories long after the physical bruises and broken bones have healed.
There is little Gospel in today’s text. It is primarily law. Let’s understand both in proper context.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ You have heard that. Is that the whole story? This is what the Old Testament literally says. This is what Islamic sharia law is like. What does Jesus say to put this command of punishment in proper context?
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,7 let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Turn. Let him take. Go. Give. Do not refuse. There’s law and then there’s LAW. This is some of the heaviest there is. How many sins of omission, of not following these verses can you think of in your own life? Getting slapped usually leads to slapping them back or worse. Lawsuits are unpleasant and costly to all sides. Compelling someone to go along against their will leads to plans for escape, not another mile. Americans, particularly American Christians and Christians in general are a very generous people. We give and we lend, but we tend to be suspicious for fear of scams
In The Tragedy of American Compassion, Marvin Olasky notes some criteria developed in the late 1800s to help those in need in St. Louis:
“The St. Louis solution was to require volunteers to abide by a set of rules of giving:
·         To give relief only after personal investigation of each case…
·         To give necessary articles and only what is immediately necessary…
·         To give what is least susceptible of abuse.
·         To give only in small quantities in proportion to immediate need; and less than might be procured by labor, except in cases of sickness.
·         To give assistance at the right moment; not to prolong it beyond duration of the necessity which calls for it…
·         To require of each beneficiary abstinence from intoxicating liquors…
·         To discontinue relieving all who manifest a purpose to depend on alms rather than their own exertions for support.
These rules have guided our social assistance here in Sheridan. We want to deploy our limited funds so that they can make a difference. In 2010, Immanuel was able to help two families avoid foreclosure on their homes. We also make every attempt to protect the anonymity of donors as well as those we help.
LCMS World Relief and Human Care, while under the direction of the Rev. Matthew Harrison, Pastor and former classical school Headmaster and now LCMS President, developed the following “Theology for Mercy.”
The introduction reads like this: “Love, care and concern for those in need (diakonic mercy/ love) are actions motivated by the gospel, when faith (fides qua creditur/the faith by which we believe) apprehends the righteousness of Christ and his merits (Augsburg Confession IV&VI), unto eternal life. The gospel thus laid hold of, produces love. Love seeks and serves the neighbor. Love for the neighbor, while an action mandated by the law of God, is a reflection of the very being of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (1 John 4:7). This love finds its source and motivation in the deep gospel matrix and totality of the true faith (fides quae creditur/ the faith which is believed).”
Turn. Let him take. Go. Give. Do not refuse. Uncomfortable actions like these are what sets apart Christians in this life. These are works of diakonia, works of mercy in conjunction with our witness and our life together in Christ.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,8 what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. [1]
Yes, even tax collectors and sinners “love” those who “love” them. Imagine someone who refuses your love, even rejects your love some or most of the time. How long would you put up with it? Human beings reject God’s love far more than they love Him back, yet God still loves us and continues to love us in Christ Jesus. You are all sons of your Father in heaven, Children of the Heavenly Father. Yes, there is some Gospel in this text.
And then the uncomfortable and inconvenient commands return: Love. Pray. Greet. Be perfect. We are given to love our neighbor as our own selves. This is the Golden Rule. But be perfect? You’ve heard the answer to this before—only two weeks ago!
I ask you, “Does your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees?” Are you perfect? (Pause)
Awkward silences teach us to examine ourselves, hopefully using the Ten Commandments as the yardstick. Christ Jesus gives you His righteousness and declares that you are Salt and Light. Therefore, your righteousness is good enough for the kingdom of heaven, for you have Christ’s own righteousness as a gift, righteousness far greater than scribes, Pharisees, or anyone else in all the earth. You are perfect in Christ, but only in Christ. That is your righteousness in relationship to God. Striving for righteousness in service to your neighbor is ongoing.
Christ is merciful and we are given to be merciful and forgiving as we have already been forgiven and have already been shown mercy in Christ. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Lutheran Service Book Three Year Lectionary. 2009. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.