Limits and Minimums

Epiphany 6

Year A
Sirach 15:15-20
Psalm 119 1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

 

Hello… my name is Mike… and I am a sinner… no matter what I do… or don’t do… I am a sinner… not because I want to be… not because of Original Sin… but because I am separated from the full glory of God… from the mind of God…. and from the heart of God… and it doesn’t matter if my good deeds are 99% of what I do… there’s that bothersome 1% to deal with… and even if I could get rid of that… get my good deeds up to 99.9%… there’d still be that mountainous 1% of 1%…

And because I’m a sinner… I cause hurt… and disappointment… in others… and in myself… sometimes by the things I do… and sometimes by the things I don’t do… by my sins of commission… or sins of omission… and I have hurt hearts that I love… and my heart has been broken too… sometimes by the same thing… like when I told my eleven year old daughter that I was moving ninety miles away… I don’t know anyone… whose heart hasn’t been broken… or bruised… anyone… whose heart couldn’t use some healing…

And its’ interesting that this reading comes to us so soon after Valentine’s Day… because I’m also reminded of the passage that comes about ten verses later… in Matthew 15… in which Jesus reminds us that it’s what comes out of our mouths that defiles us… because what comes out of them proceeds from the heart… perhaps from hearts that have also been wounded… or are hurting… and Jesus repeats in that verse… some of the same sins that he names in today’s reading… which is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount… Jesus reflects Moses… and expands the Ten Commandments… and what he teaches has everything to do about relationship…

Jesus reminds us that whoever murders shall be liable to judgment… and we think… well… I’m good… that lets me off that hook… but then he moves seamlessly… quickly… and without interruption… to being angry with a brother or sister… in fact… what he’s doing… is putting anger on the same level as murder… because of the way it kills relationships… and he includes insults… and judging others in the same breath too…

Pastor Martin Billmeier writes… Jesus goes on… to expand the understanding of the sixth commandment… and what it means to commit adultery… and by expanding the understanding of what it means to transgress these commandments… Jesus is doing two things… first… he makes it impossible for any of us to claim that we have kept all of the commandments… he shows us that the law points its finger at all of us…

And it does this in two ways… for example… there’s a law along M-6… it’s not called the speed minimum… but the speed limit… and most of the people who drive along it… rationalize… why it doesn’t apply to them… and there are other laws… like the minimum wage… but very few people feel compelled to exceed it… and there’s a priest I know… here in the city… and when they were redoing the church parking lot… the law said there had to be at least ten handicapped parking spaces… the priest said… let’s have thirty… and the contractor questioned him… challenged him on that… referring to the law which said that only ten were required… but the priest said… let’s do better than the law… and in last week’s Gospel… we heard Jesus say the same thing… that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees… you will not enter the Kingdom…

And second… Jesus gets to the heart of the matter… by saying that faith is not a matter of commandment keeping… but faith is a matter of the heart… now the commandments have their place… they help preserve order in society… and show us our sin… but our focus must be on Jesus…

The Rev. Josh Bowron… Rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Charlotte, N.C. writes… Jesus’ teaching on the taking of oaths… is probably the best indicator of the community’s morality that is centered on him… here… he tells us not to swear by anything… and instead to simply let our Yes be Yes… and our No be No…

Oaths… like any oath of office… are interesting because… when you think about… they basically say… we usually lie a little bit… or a lot… but in this case… I really mean it… taking an oath… means that lying and deception are the usual workings of things… but now… now I’m really telling the truth… and have you ever been in a situation where someone says something outlandish… and you responded with… really? swear to it…

And there is no harder thing than seeking forgiveness when you are convinced that you are good… I mean… what do you have to be forgiven for… well… look at Jesus… how are you doing by that measure… and these [so-called rules are not here to make us feel bad… they’re here to draw us closer to God… and to our brothers and sisters… and that doesn’t exclude anyone… once we realize that we’re are not as good as we thought… then we can begin to rejoice in God’s goodness towards us…

That’s why it occurred to me some years ago… that we can’t have bright… shining… glorious Gospel lives… without first tending to our family of origin woundedness… to our broken hearts… to the things which come out of our mouths from them… and ask ourselves… where did that come from

And that may be why some of Jesus’ nuance may be lost on us… because he doesn’t say… if when you are offering your gift at the altar… you remember that you have something against a brother or sister… but if you remember that a brother or sister has something against you… and I think it’s easier to seek atonement with God… easier to offer sacrifice at the altar… than it is to seek out the ones we have wronged… or who have wronged us… and be reconciled… the only caveat being… as AA’s ninth step says… except when to do so would injure them or others…

Because it’s more much important… for there to be unity among God’s people… than it is for sacrifice to be offered at the altar… and this kind of dynamic is so subtle… that most people would not even be aware of it…

I don’t know how we can be unconditionally loving to everyone we meet… unless we realize how fully… and how unconditionally… we are loved by God… I don’t know how we can forgive others… unless we realize how fully we are forgiven… I don’t know how we can begin to heal our family of origin wounds… unless we re-cognize how worthy of healing we are… and I don’t think that I’d need God… if I wasn’t a sinner… and I need God… because I miss God’s mark…

Our hearts are broken… we all carry some kind of wounds… some kind of scars… we all face some kind of battle… but we are still lovable… we are able to be loved… and one of the ways we know that we love someone… is not wanting to disappoint them… and God doesn’t disappoint us… because the light and love of Christ will heal us… and make us whole…

About the author: The Rev. Mike Wernick

The Rev. Mike Wernick is a second-career Episcopal priest who grew up in a Reform Jewish family; though he relishes his role as the Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Officer for two dioceses and affirms all faith traditions (he has this idea that diversity was never intended to be divisive). He serves on several diocesan and synod committees, including the N/W Lower Michigan Synod’s Task Force on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity; and is finishing the final year of a practicum to become a Spiritual Director.