February 19, 2017

Pastor Tammy Sharp

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 Matthew 5:38-48
“God helps those who help themselves.” “God will never give you more than you can handle.” “This too shall pass.”
These are phrases we say to people in times of trouble, often times implying that they are words from the Bible. Our intentions are good, but, oh how hurtful they sometimes can be. The words can be hurtful for two reasons. When people are struggling, or suffering through a difficult time in their lives, throwing out catch phrases can be annoying and even dismissive. People need to be allowed to hurt. People need to be affirmed even in their struggle. Throwing out catch phrases minimizes the struggle as if we can just hear kind words and shut off the hurt. The bigger problem with these phrases, and many others like it, is that they are often said as though they came right from God through the Bible, when in fact, they are nowhere in the Bible. They sound good. They fit into our need for God to be a certain way, and because they are said so often, people assume they are Bible verses much like John 3:16 which is averse from scripture and it too is often misused.
Rick and I are in a Bible Study with his parents, his brother’s family, and a host of other folks that are in my brother in laws circle of friends. There were 19 of us there last week. I am often the one who struggles a bit with these Bible studies because of the studies that have been chosen. That is a long story of its own. One of the dangers of having some theological training is the inability to take things at face value…. This Study has been pretty good so far. This week, tonight to be exact, we are going to be talking about the Scripture as the word of God. Believe it or not, not all Christians read the Bible in the same way. I again, tend to be the odd woman out because I don’t, we in the Lutheran Church don’t tend to read the Bible literally. One day, we can do an entire class on how we read scripture, but that is too much for us to cover today. What is universally true about all of us who read the Bible, weather we are Christian or not, is that we read the Bible through our culture and our personal experience. We can fight that and argue about it, but it is impossible for us to open the Bible and start reading and not bring our life circumstances with us. The best thing we can do is to acknowledge this fact SO THAT we can use that knowledge to sort through what God is saying to us in scripture. The reason verses like the ones I began this message with are so easily credited to scripture is because they support the very core of our American culture. These quotes support the idea that if we work hard we can be and do anything we want to do, our great American work ethic, and who doesn’t like knowing that God is on our side? But God doesn’t say these things. People who likely honestly love God say them because we have a deep need to say something. But if we are going to inject God into our conversations it is important to know what Jesus says.
It is also important to remember that many of the things that we like to quote that are from scripture are not things that Jesus said. They are in the scripture, but they are words of Paul sent to specific churches wrestling with specific issues, and we say them as though they are straight from the mouth of Jesus. That is dangerous. So today, we get to hear from Jesus. We get to see what exactly Jesus expects of those who follow him.
Read Matthew 5:38-48
The “eye for an eye” verse is one of the favorites of all time. People like for “THOSE PEOPLE” to get what they deserve. We like the idea that what is taken from you, you can take back. Honestly, when Josh was little we told him not to hit, but as he got older, we did tell him he did not have to stand around and get harassed and picked on. If someone started something he could defend himself. And, He did. But Jesus stands before the people gathered and tells them that Jesus demands more from us. To follow Jesus is to give more, love more, sacrifice more. No longer is the Eye for an eye the word from God. Jesus says to turn the other cheek. If anyone wants to sue you, give them what they ask and even more. And, when someone asks you to go with them, go even further. Go the extra mile.
Bottom line, Jesus demands more than they have ever been ask of before. The great American work ethic is not the message of scripture. We read through the Bible and somehow, we are able to say that God favors the USA, but are we in the USA actually living by the principles Jesus has set before us today? Are we doing what Jesus has asked of us?
Jesus takes words from scripture that emphasize personal gain and retribution and turns them upside down with words of love and grace. We love knowing that Jesus died for our sins so we do not have to be paranoid weather we are following all of those laws in Leviticus like not eating pork or shrimp. Which is good cause I made shrimp last night. We like knowing that Jesus freed us from these laws allowing us to live life more freely. But we fail to listen when Jesus tells us what his expectations are for his followers. We gloss over these verses because let’s admit it; they do not fit into our American way of life. We have all sorts of ways of glossing over what Jesus says in this part of the sermon on the mount, but make no mistake, Jesus said them.
Jesus speaks to those who are following him everywhere he goes; so much so that he cannot get a minute alone; he calls out to them and tells them what it means to follow him. Turn the other cheek; go the extra mile; if someone wants something of yours, give them even more. Jesus was not passive aggressive. Jesus didn’t mince words. Jesus didn’t sugar coat what he expected of those who would follow him. He expected more and he had no problem telling them; telling us. To follow Jesus is hard. To follow Jesus is sacrificial. To follow Jesus is uncomfortable. That is the message we hear come from Jesus, but that is not what we want to hear. We want to hear how following Jesus will make my life easier. We want to hear how following Jesus affirms my way of life. We want Jesus to fit into the boxes each of us very naturally make for Him. And Jesus will have none of that.
Like last Sunday, Jesus isn’t confronting the lost souls in the crowd. Jesus isn’t giving a wonderful speech to win souls for heaven. Jesus is laying it all on the line. He says nothing about salvation and getting to heaven. Jesus is talking about the here and now and he is not mincing words. If we are going to truly follow Jesus we better put on our seat belts and hang on because it will be a bumpy ride. Are we really willing to do what Jesus calls us to?
People who do not profess a faith in Christ are easy to deal with. I am overjoyed when people who don’t have faith seem to naturally do the right thing. I am excited when I see someone who gives of themselves so unselfishly dispite the fact that they are not a person of faith. When I see people who don’t have faith being hateful, and selfish, and unloving, I am certainly disappointed, but I am not surprised. I don’t get all bent out of shape when people who do not have faith are not the way I want people to be. I don’t expect much from people who do not have faith. BUT…
People of faith; people who carry around their Bibles and quote Bible verses as though they are the ones who speak for God, those people make me crazy. People of faith make me crazy when they are greedy and vindictive, and judgmental, and selfish. I get angry when people of faith say hurtful things to people in the name of Jesus. It breaks my heart when I meet someone who tells me they stopped going to church when the pastor of their church told them they were no longer welcome them because their life style was not appropriate or because their child’s disability made them a bit loud in church. Yes, I have met people in both of those categories. My stomach turns when people of faith chose words of condemnation when what Jesus tells us over and over again is to love. I get angry when people of faith proclaim words of hate as though they are from the mouth of God. Jesus expects something different from people who claim to follow Him and I guess, so do I.
Oh, don’t worry, I get pretty upset with myself when I am the one who is selfish and judgmental. My judgmental nature comes out towards Christians most.
When Jesus quotes the Old Testament he reveals that scripture has been fulfilled, or he turns the old laws upside down. Jesus’ words are words of love and grace and sacrifice. Where the leaders of the faith had turned the law into a prison, Jesus freed us from those chains and calls us to so much more. He doesn’t take away those laws that demand we care for the poor among us, as we heard in the first lesson from Leviticus, he simply brings the entire law into a place of love and grace. By freeing us from the law, we no longer have to worry about getting it just right as the ancient people had to do. We no longer have to spend every day counting what we have done wrong in order to get right before God. We are free to live life. But we are called in that freedom to a new way of life. No longer are we to worry about ourselves first, we are to think of others above ourselves. We are to give freely to those who ask and in doing so share the undeserved grace we have already been given.
BUT THAT DOES NOT FIT INTO MY AMERCIAN, WORK ETHIC WAY OF LIFE. The words of Jesus do not justify our belief that you get what you deserve in life. The words of Jesus do not excuse us from caring for those who are different than us. The words of Jesus do not allow us to live in fear.
Do we really believe in this Jesus who lived, died and rose from the grave? Do we believe that Jesus died that we might have eternal life? Do we believe that Jesus loves us unconditionally? I am certain that the answer to all of those questions is yes. But we cannot claim to follow this Jesus if we are not willing to live the life Jesus calls us to. We have all sorts of ways of justifying our selfishness. We have all sorts of ways of Justifying keeping what I have for myself. We have all sorts of ways of excusing that we do not except people as they are. But those justifications are not from Jesus. The only people who Jesus ever shares words of anger with are those who have been charged with leading the people of God. They too got so wrapped up in the law, because doing so certainly gave them status and power in their world, and Jesus would have none of it.
So, are we really disciples of Jesus? Do we really believe in this Savior of the world? Take time to consider how you see God, and how you present that God to the world. Be honest about the fact that when you read God’s word you do it with a culture and a way of life in your head that can cloud the message at times. Then, pray that God will clean up those glasses you wear when you read God’s word. Be willing to hear Jesus confront your short comings. Know that you will never get it all right, but Jesus calls us to be more. Jesus calls us to give more; more of our time; more of our money; more of who we are for the good of people we don’t even know. And then take time to pray that the Holy Spirit will walk this journey of faith with you, confronting you when you fall short and lifting you when you are walking the way of Jesus.
AMEN