St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Epiphany 7 2011 Sermon
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Jim Campbell

The past three weeks we have heard in our worship service Gospel readings about the early teachings during Jesus’ ministry, as he spoke to the Jewish people at large gatherings on a mountain near the Sea of Galilee.  This is the so-called Sermon on the Mount.  [Bonnie, Mary, Yo and I saw this area during our pilgrimage to Israel in 2008, and were able to see how unchanged the area is and how it must have looked for Jesus and those people 2000 years ago.] 

First, he taught the crowd and his disciples about the Beatitudes (the blessings) of the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. Jesus said of those people who fit these descriptions, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  The next week we heard how Jesus pointed out to this same crowd that they are special; they are the salt of the earth, and the light of the world, and it is up to them all to shine and by their good works give glory to God.  Last week we heard Jesus explain to the people in his “modern” way what those Ten Commandments and other laws should mean to them, leading them to think in terms of how to be holy people under God, not by obeying laws, but by living lives that reflect their true meanings, focused on love.

In today’s Gospel, the message again from Jesus to the Jewish people is to, “Be holy as our Lord is holy!”  Jesus tells them such gems as, “If anyone strikes you on one cheek, turn the other one also”, “if anyone sues you and takes your coat, give them your cloak as well”, “if anyone forces you to go a mile, go also the second mile”, “give to everyone who begs from you, do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you”, and “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you”.  Why?  So they can be perfect as their heavenly Father is perfect.

All of our readings today have this common message.  The Old Testament reading from Leviticus about the Lord speaking to Moses says--“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”  God has Moses tell the people how to act in holy ways with their relationship with God and other people.  And, in our Epistle from Paul to the Corinthians, he tells them, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.  You belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”

To prepare this sermon I thought about what these readings mean to me, and I decided to look at a small period of time and see how Bonnie and I tried to carry out the message Jesus preached.  I looked at Tuesday and Wednesday of this last week, when Bonnie and I tried to return to our home from our vacation in Central Florida

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time for our late afternoon flight home by way of Chicago.  The processing through security and the loading of the plane went well, especially since the plane was totally full.  We taxied out to the runaway, then sat there awhile before the pilot announced that we were heading back to the terminal to have a maintenance action done before we could leave.  Everyone was told to leave the plane with our carryons and we watched all of the luggage being removed, too.  Then we all felt sick as we saw the flight crew leave the area.  The 150 or so of us looked around and saw no one to ask any questions about what would happen next.  Finally after about an hour we were told that all of the United 757s had been grounded for a maintenance issue, and that they were trying to get another plane set up to go to Chicago yet that night.  The reactions of all involved ran the gamut—from disbelief to major anger.  I will say Bonnie was better about this whole issue than I was, but we both knew things would eventually be fixed. 

Some of the things that we both did to help, even though we did not know any of the other passengers, was to let people around us know whatever we found out, so they could decide what to do.  I stood in several very slow lines talking with folks about the situation and helping defuse things somewhat.  We also told a person who had come into the terminal area to wait for another incoming flight about the 757s grounding so they could know why their flight was delayed.  We told people we saw about the very limited meal options we had found once we were given vouchers for dinner while we waited.  After we finally find out there would be no Chicago flight that evening at about 10pm, we stood and talked with folks while in more slow lines to get our new tickets for the next day and our motel vouchers for that night.  Even though we were dead tired at the end of the night, upon getting to the motel we scrambled around and found whatever cash we had to give to the van operator who took us to the motel. 

Early the next morning once back at the airport we made sure that an exhausted elderly woman and her daughter got to the correct gate for their flight, as they had been misinformed by United personnel.  We were finally able to fly in to Seattle on Wednesday afternoon and arrived home in the early evening.

I have thought about this idea of “turning the other cheek” and helping others, even those who have wronged you, and it seems easier to do this with those you do not know than your own family and friends.  I think there is a saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt”, and it is easier to be critical of those you know who you believe have wronged or disagree with you.  I admit to struggles in dealing with two of my brothers who took advantage of me or my parents financially, and in finding fault with my brother-in law (who has some emotional problems that cause excessive drinking), making life harder sometimes for Bonnie’s sister.  I sometimes find it easy to see flaws in some people in our church family here, rather than focusing on how we can all support each other in our individual and common Christian-led lives.  None of these people in my family or our church are really my enemies, but that does not take away my failure to deal with all of them in better ways.  It is at these times when I am not very holy, not doing what Jesus has asked me to.

How can I, and any of us who can relate to not being very holy at times, move forward from these failures?  I think it is by being focused on what Paul wrote, “you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you.”  As faithful Christians this is in essence our belief statement, and we can keep this in mind as we proceed in our lives.  Read the Bible and other related books to help us understand more about our faith, participate in our common worship and prayers each week for our church and larger community, and support each other however we can.

Ultimately, it gets down to reflecting Christ’s love for us in how we deal with others.  Where true love prevails, there no enemies are found.

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