Sunday, February 19, 2017

Year A Epiphany 7 2017 "Be Ye Therefore GROWN UP"

Year A 7th Sunday of Epiphany 19 Feb 2017
“Be Ye Therefore Grown-Up”
St. David’s Episcopal, Aylett, VA

Lectionary Readings: Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23, Matthew 5:38-48

I am going to start at the end, so that it makes sense. The job of a preacher is to teach and explain the faith in such a way that it is do-able by the people of God. And the last verse I read today is impossible, and Bishop Ted said as much in his wonderful explanation of the Baptismal Covenant last week.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Now some of our Pentecostal brothers and sisters will argue me on this, but perfection is unattainable. I can be honest before you that I am not perfect. I never will be, not on this side of heaven anyway. And it is a hard thing even consider. It is not that I want my faults, nor do I flaunt them. But almost weekly we pray in the Confession of Sin (which I want you to notice we include almost weekly for a reason),
“we confess that we have sinned against you [God]
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”

That is a lot of ways of missing the mark, and that is what sin is, when we miss the mark that God set for us. Then why does Jesus call us to perfection? I am not playing word games here, or looking for an out clause, but I painting a picture that what Jesus calls us toward is not only do-able, but also desired by Christ. And here the translation gets in the way. While this word may be acceptable translation, I think the baggage that comes with “perfect” outweighs the benefits of using it.

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The word perfect here is τέλειοι (teleioi). And while you may not know Greek, you do know the prefix tele-. We use it all the time. Tele-phone. Tele-graph. Tele-kinesis. Tele-pathy. Tele- is the Greek word for distance, or far. We are called by Christ to have gone the distance, to go the full measure. We are called to be complete, whole, finished. In other words, we are called to be mature, or in colloquial, GROWN UP.

We are all under enough pressure to be perfect as it is. So, for today, let’s translate that verse, “Be GROWN UP, like your heavenly Father is GROWN UP.” Can we agree on that?

One of my favorite movies is a little known, little watched sleeper of a film about golf. I am not a golfer, but it is as philosophical as movie as could be, even though a comedy. The movie is called Tin Cup. It is a Greek myth wrapped up as a quirky sports flick with Kevin Costner and Rene Russo in the leads. Like I said, it is one of my all time favorites. At the very beginning Costner’s character is a golf pro giving Rene Russo a golf lesson, her first, and he is trying to teach her how to swing the golf club. The first part of his stroke, as he teaches, is to “Give a nod to the gods, that perfection is unattainable.” This sounds to be the exact opposite of the instructions of Christ, and if both are taken literally they would be.

But Tin Cup in the movie and Jesus here in the Sermon on the Mount, are both stopping to acknowledge that God is God, and we are not.The verse “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” is aspirational, and “Give a nod to the gods, that perfection is unattainable.” is an acknowledgement. But both the aspirational and the acknowledgement are calling us to be our best, the best that we can be. Nothing less, with the understanding also that we can be nothing more.

Sometimes, at “bad-dad” moments, I tell my daughters to grow up. I am calling them to behave better, and even though they cannot literally grow up, I am setting before them the goal of living up to the best of their ability to the fullness of maturity. I do this in the full recognition that they are 10 and 11, and sometimes I call them to do their best to be a little bit more.

So does God. And we are always wondering what is enough.

In our lectionary readings, we look at list or rules in Leviticus 19, several of them echoed in the 10 Commandments. It even starts much the way Jesus in today’s Gospel finishes. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” God is calling us to our best selves. Holy here meaning set apart.

And if you look at the rules given here, it is calling God’s people to go the extra mile. And even that phrase, extra mile, that rolled off my tongue so quickly is from today’s Gospel reading, where Jesus tells us to go the extra mile when we are forced to go one, we are to go two. In Roman times a Roman soldier could force anyone to carry his sack one mile. It was a common practice among the occupied territories, and was in no way metaphorical to Jesus’ listeners. Jesus is calling us to be better than our enemies, or those who may be more powerful or influential than us. He is calling us to be the bigger person in any and every situation. He is calling us to be the Ethical Adult in the room, especially when those around us are behaving like Immature Children.

I was having coffee with a young woman who was upset over a situation last week. As she described it, I could hear where it was going. An older person at work was acting in a way that she found immoral or unethical, and against her deepest feelings and beliefs. This person with whom she was in conflict was old enough to be her parent, and I think this is what was burning her up even more. After hearing her for a while she said, “Why is it I have to change? Why do I have to be the bigger person?” She did not say it, but it was almost like she was complaining, “She is old enough to be my mom! Why do I have to be the Grown Up?!?!” She did not go there, but I almost expected her to say, “It’s NOT FAIR!” And no, it's not fair, but it is what it is. I was encouraging her to see herself in a bigger role, a bigger sense of self which is always hard. C.S. Lewis reminds us in Mere Christianity, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive…” And yet, that is where God is calling us. Forgiveness. And God is calling us to be bigger, and behave better, than those around us, even when, especially when, the world is going to hell in a handbasket. We are the Non-Anxious Presence when everything else is falling apart.

And Jesus systematically calls us to that better self, and he does it in such a way that is simple and clear.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.

Now this is hard to hear, especially in a country that celebrates the idea and mythos of the self-made person. Jesus is quoting here the law from Moses. And the law was meant to be a just and respectable law. It was made to make things FAIR and JUST.

It is human nature, pinch me, I slap you. I slap you, you hit me. You hit me, I punch you. And so it goes. We escalate and escalate thinking it will end, but like we learned in the movie WarGames, “The only way to win is not to play.” Moses said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth to prevent escalation. Like for like. No more, no less. MAKE IT FAIR AND JUST. But as Gandhi taught, if we obey an eye for an eye it leaves the whole world blind. Jesus calls us to stop it; he calls us not to escalation but to forgiveness. He is calling us to a new law, a law not of Justice and Fairness, but a law of GRACE.

Jesus said, “But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”

These instructions are the how-to of Grace. Get slapped, show forgiveness and love. Someone takes your cloak, give him more. If a Roman soldier, following “fair and just” Roman laws, then obey the law and return the unjustness with Love. That second mile he instructs here is what Grace looks like.

So that we are on the same page, Grace is an undeserved, unexpected gift that is beyond what one deserves. It is beyond being nice or polite. It is always a surprise. It is always amazing. It is the type of love we receive from God, most manifest in Jesus the Christ, God’s only Son. It is what Jesus is calling us to here. That is the only way that things like the following are possible.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven...”

This calling is NOT FAIR, as my friend the young woman tried to express when I was speaking with her. Grace is not fair, by definition. If it was FAIR, it would be JUSTICE, not GRACE. Going further, Jesus gives us an image of GRACE as drawn by God in ways that we all can see.

“...for [God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect τέλειοι (teleioi), therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Be GROWN UP, mature, whole, complete in your faith, just like Jesus, just like God is GROWN UP, mature, whole, complete. Jesus went the distance and asks that of us as well. We are called to a high calling, to love this world, even to the point of death. And in loving the world like that, people say and give glory to our Father in Heaven because love like that does not come from here. Even a blind man can see that.

If you look at the whole of the Sermon on Mount, one of my favorite authors looks to it as “a Curriculum for Christlikeness.” [Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy] And I would argue that we have to get past the point of where we have to think about it.

In The Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi had young Daniel paint the fence, up, down, up, down, up down. He had him wax the car, wax on, wax off, wax on, wax off. Over and over again. He had to get the motions and moves down so completely that it was ingrained and intuitive. Coaches have students do drills where the athletes can, and do, do them in their sleep. Have you ever wondered how a receiver can stop running, catch a pass, dodge the defense, and get both feet in bounds all within milliseconds of each other? I do. And then I remind myself that he has done it 10,000 times. It has to move from head knowledge, to heart knowledge, to muscle memory. It ceases to be a thing we do, and becomes WHO WE ARE.

There is a phrase from the Asaro Tribe of Indonesia, "Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle." And that is the call of Christ, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It has to move from head knowledge, to heart knowledge, to muscle memory. It ceases to be a thing we do, and becomes WHO WE ARE. Until GRACE becomes us, it is just a rumor.

Be ye therefore GROWN UP. Love and live in such a way that GRACE is more than the rule. GRACE is WHO WE ARE. And when we do, we just might be perfect, perfectly what this world needs. Amen.

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Blessings, Rock