February 12, 2017

Pastor Tammy Sharp

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 Matthew 5:21-37
Who doesn’t like a shortcut? Really! A friend of mine…(Go Vickie Stephens) recently qualified to run in the Boston Marathon. Apparently, that is not something you can just sign-up, pay a fee and run. You have to qualify. And, her qualifying isn’t for the 2017 race. It is for 2018. I guess they get qualified so they can train for over a year to be ready for one of the most prestigious marathon events in the country. I admire her. I hear her workout regimen and it blows my mind. The only way I could ever run a marathon is to be like the SEVERAL people I read about on line who have taken short-cuts to get to the finish line faster. My short cut would be to hear the starters pistol, run 30 feet to the nearest car, parked out of sight; ride to just before the final stretch; splash water on my face to look like I am sweating, and then, run the final 50 yards to the finish line. Who doesn’t appreciate a good short cut?
Well, that is the good news for today. There is this massive shortcut given to us when it comes to salvation and that shortcut is God’s amazing grace. It is not a part of our text this morning, but those of you who have been in church most of your life have surely heard it, and most everyone else has as well. “ For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of your own doing. It is the free gift of God lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection is the shortcut you and I have been given when it comes to Salvation. We do nothing to earn it and there it is. No sweat. No shin splints. It is there….. BUT….
Oh, there is no “but” when it comes to salvation. The but is that people of faith seem to really have a hard time with this. I would even say that the people of our culture, and others, have a really hard time with this. Oh, we say it. I think that most people even think that they live that way. For many people, and I would say most people to some extent, they say they are saved by God’s grace, yet their actions, and their words to the world seem to reflect something completely different. I truly believe that we are a society that loves the idea of Free grace, but we are close to incapable of living out free grace.
Our three texts this morning; well even the Psalm for today; take us on a real journey of faith. Our Old Testament lesson announces the Law of God. As much as we want to profess our belief, even our understanding that we are saved by GRACE ALONE, in far too many ways, we live as though we are in this Old Testament world. Moses and the Law were all about DOING IT RIGHT. While the laws given to us by God in those ancient days of the Old Testament were given with love and grace in mind, they were laws to follow. It was how God helped us learn to live together as human beings. As Moses spoke to the people, he tried to explain this love from God by showing that if they would follow God’s command and live in the right way, then good things would come to them. If they work hard and follow the laws of God they would prosper. Hardly anyone who calls themselves a Christian would say that we live in this understanding that God will make us prosperous if we follow God’s laws, there are lots of people in the world who live as though they believe that they are prosperous BECAUSE THEY are doing right by God. It is how we can justify having so much when there are some who have nothing. Anyone who has nothing is that way because they haven’t worked hard enough or they have not done the right thing. Very few people would say it quite that bluntly, but the way we respond to people in need says that in a very loud voice.
As people of faith who have enough: I mean we have enough to eat, and we have clothes to wear and we have a roof over our heads; As people of faith who have enough, we can fall into a way of life that reflects the idea that all that we have is because we are blessed by God because we work hard. Because we believe that, we in turn become people who are more than happy to point fingers at the world and all its evil ways.
How long does it take after a national disaster before some preacher is professing on TV that the disaster came about because the people of that location had some horrible evil among them? Katrina was one of the loudest examples of this. Pat Robertson was quick to say that Katrina happened because of Abortion. Other’s said it was because of homosexuality. Either way, Christians standing up to proclaim a word of God proclaim that devastation came as a result of one particular sin, implies very loudly that God is in the business of blessing and destroying based on OUR WORKS. That is Moses’ message to the people. If you follow the ways of God life will be good and if you don’t life will begin to get really lousy. Read the Old Testament. It is full of those messages. As much as we want to be New Testament people who are saved by grace, we really are far more comfortable living in the Old Testament because it makes sense to us that if we do the right things we get more and if we don’t do the right things we don’t get things. We are not people who are comfortable with Free Grace. We are not comfortable with people getting Free anything, so how could we be okay with Free Grace.
As Jesus stood up on the mountain, or on the plane as Luke describes it, Jesus knows the people who are before him. He knows that the people have had the Laws of God hammered on them. The idea that if you have prosperity, then God has blessed you which in turn means the way you are living is the right way. You are doing God’s will if you are prosperous. It was a way for the powerful and the wealthy to justify whatever they did, and the common people of the community just lived the best they could, many seeking to please God, but often being told they were not worthy of God’s blessings. Before these people, Jesus stands and confronts this legalism and does what Jesus always does by turning the pointing finger.
One of the ways us Christians make ourselves feel better is to point out all the flaws in what THOSE PEOPLE over there are doing. We point to their life style, who they choose to live with, how they choose to express themselves to remind ourselves we are doing it right. We see in their poverty that they are not working, or they are scamming the system and it allows us to justify not “wasting” what God has given us. The religious leaders of Jesus day had gotten so good at point fingers and determining what was Holy and what was not, that they expected Jesus to do the same thing. I am willing to bet that those people who had lived within the law were ready for Jesus to blast those lowly people. But instead, Jesus wraps his arms around everyone there and confronts their sin. Jesus says these words, “You have said if you murder you are liable to judgment, BUT I SAY ANYONE WHO IS ANGRY WITH A BROTHER OR SISTER IS LIABLE TO JUDGMENT.” “You have heard it said you shall not commit adultery. But I say anyone who looks at a person with lust has already committed adultery in their heart.” He goes on to say if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. If your eye causes you to stumble rip it out.
I picture Jesus on the Mountain, in a gentle voice proclaiming the words of the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for there is the kingdom of God. Blessed are the peace makers for they will be called children of God.” I know there is much more to the beatitudes than that, but you get it. Jesus slowly walking about proclaiming God’s blessings and God’s favor for those in need. And then…. The mood changes and the tone in his voice get louder and more intent. I am willing to bet he even pointed his finger a bit.
“YOU HAVE HEARD……… BUT I SAY……” Loud and strong. As a kid in confirmation, several of my friends and I would sit near the front together during church and we would always pop to attention when Pastor Homer Larsen God LOUD and banged his hand on the pulpit. That is the intensity I hear in this text. Jesus wants the attention of the people. Jesus wants our attention. Make no mistakes, Jesus is turning what the people have always heard about God and the law and turned it upside down. Jesus is no excusing in anyway the sins of those who are poor or are in that lower class in a very class based society. It isn’t that he is saying they do nothing wrong. But Jesus is leaving no room for misunderstanding here. Those people are already listening. They are seeking a way to find favor with God. They have been told they are bad, wrong, less than. They are paying attention. But it is all those other folks that have sat back and puffed out their chests because look, they are blessed for their efforts which means they are right. They are on the RIGHT side of the proverbial line in the sand. So, Jesus cranks up the volume and the confrontation. No one in the crowd; Rick, poor, healthy or sick, young or old, could escape this message. Every last one of them is a slave to sin. Every last one of them has fallen short of the glory of God and Jesus is not mincing words. You want to live by the law, then make no mistake, the law is far more broad in Gods eyes than it has been in the eyes of the people. You want it to be about you, then here you go. Live by this. I can’t imagine that anyone in the crowd felt righteous after these words from Jesus.
The real point for today…… WE HAVE TO HEAR THIS MESSAGE MORE THAN EVER. WE ARE THE PEOPLE ON THE SIDE OF THAT MOUNTAIN WHO HAVE ALLOWED OURSELVES TO BELIEVE THAT BECAUSE WE ARE NO DIGGING IN GARBAGE CANS FOR OUR FOOD WE ARE BLESSED AND THAT IS BECAUSE WE WORKED HARD. Jesus is confronting us today and TELLING us that the finger pointing must stop. Not one of us is better in the sight of the Lord. All have fallen short.

The reality is that we have to be good stewards of what we have. Every one of us has a limit to our income. Some are less limiting than others, but at least in the congregation I serve, no one has unlimited resources. As a church, we have very limited resources. The same is true in our country. There are limits to the funds we have available for all of the things that need to be done for the good of the people and the good of the country and the good of our families. I truly believe that the distribution of money is the core of the fighting that is happening in our country. Those who have it want to keep it and those who don’t are desperate to get it. Who we chose to provide for and who we don’t is a great debate. But the message of Jesus confronts us with the selfishness within all of us. The words of Jesus call us to look at ourselves and see that it isn’t about how hard I work or how good I am. I am, we are NEVER enough. WE are all in need. Today, we are confronted with the Law in its most pure form so that we stop looking around for to see what Jesus is going to tell all THOSE PEOPLE out there to do to get right with God, and realize Jesus is talking to us. The Gospel message to ALL PEOPLE is the same. It isn’t our works that bring blessing from God. It is God’s Grace alone and we are invited into this relationship in order to share that Grace, in words, in deeds, even in finances, with those God puts before us. It is through us that God brings His grace and love to others.
Salvation comes to us by grace alone through faith. GOD does it. But Salvation is the end game. God invites us into a relationship of Discipleship. A relationship in which God comes to us and shows us the ways that we can share love and grace through all we have and all we are. That is the good news. Salvation is free. Discipleship requires that I look at myself and remember I am a sinner in need of God’s grace, and we look for the ways God wants to use our time, our talent and our money to bring his love and grace to the world. That is the good news. God invites us to travel down a road of discipleship. That road sometimes means giving more that we receive. It means sacrificing for others. It means pointing my fingers of judgment only at myself, while opening my arms with the love and grace of God to invite all people to come and join us on the road. Are we willing to walk that Road?