St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Epiphany VII 2014 Sermon

Rev. Bonnie Campbell

As Paul tells us, [The Message by Eugene Peterson] “What the world calls smart, God calls stupid. It’s written in Scripture, He exposes the chicanery of the chic. The Master sees through the smoke screens of the know-it-alls. … Everything is already yours as a gift-Paul, Apollos, Peter, the world, life, death, the present, the future--all of it yours, and you are privileged to be in union with Christ, who is in union with God.” We have some hard lessons here--hopeful lessons. We have struggled with this Sermon on the Mount series and I hope we have some insights into how Christ would have us live.

Leviticus and the laws described there were given to the people before they entered the Promised Land. Note that it is the Decalogue--the Ten Commandments in reverse. What is the message in that? Is it that being kind and honest with our fellow humans makes us holy? Is sharing our harvest with the poor and foreigner a holy response to a God who has provided for us with abundance? When you really stop to think about it, leaving the edges of the fields for the poor and the foreigner is a promise that harvests will be abundant. God is telling the Hebrews that they will live in a land of plenty. They will need to plant the crops, care for them, and harvest them, but there will be extra so they can afford to leave the edges of the field for those who do not have crops to harvest: The poor and those who do not own land. We can learn from this, too. Do we spend every dime that comes in on ourselves or do we share with those who need it? God said--no smoke screens--I can see through them all. God reminded the people “I, God, your God, am Holy.” And the way for the people and for us to be holy is to share what we have with those less fortunate.

Injustice can bring out all kinds of negative emotions. And, it should. Jesus said, Love your enemies. Some see the poor and the foreigner as enemies--that just because they exist, they steal from those who work hard. Jesus had a different idea. If someone asks for something, don’t refuse them. In fact, give them more than they asked. We struggle with this when we are making decisions about whom to help from the benevolence fund the ministerial association administers. We often discuss people we are helping who have ongoing needs and we know we can’t help them every month. We also have had a parent who has passed through town with a young teen who seems to feel we should put them up for the night every time they travel this way. The story doesn’t make sense when it happens over and over. What should we do? We try to err on the side of grace but it is hard when we start to feel someone is using the system. I guess it is like that relative who frequently asks for a loan and then never repays.

Jesus seems to be asking us to keep our emotions in check. Well, to make a choice, to love instead of hate. Sometimes it is hard to find a good quality in someone we don’t particularly like. And, what I have found personally, once I go down the road of disliking someone, it is easy to keep piling faults on top of faults. It is easy to assume the worst motives for everything that person does. It is best to stop up front when someone brings up these feelings and remind myself that God loves that person just as much as anyone else, including me. The person deserves to be treated with kindness and honesty because he or she is made in the image of God, and there must be something there I could find that would allow me to see God in them. And, if I listen, I might learn something.

So, I could look down on the foreigner or the person who is poor; but I choose to do otherwise. I choose to see someone who is maybe different but also the same: Someone who deserves to be loved. Jesus reminded his disciples that good things like rain and sunshine happen to the just and the unjust. And bad things do, too. So, even if someone has had a run of bad luck, it doesn’t mean God is punishing him or her.

The world says stick with people like yourself: your family, friends, or anyone who thinks like you do. But do we throw away the people who have the wrong politics, the people who abuse drugs and alcohol, the people who work for a minimum wage and have no health insurance, the homeless, or our own children who have lifestyles that are different from ours? Can we stop being Internet trolls? Can we practice kindness and honesty even on social media?

Paul was right, we have a good deal. God loves us and we are united in Christ--the future IS ours. If we can just set aside the idea that we know it all or that what we have is ours for our own use, I think we can make a go of it. We could actually become holy people who are honest and kind.