Friday, February 21, 2014

Choosing Life...and Being Chosen...

CHOOSE LIFE…today’s reading from Deuteronomy, the voice of
Moses speaking to the people, sounds a little like the gospel of
prosperity being bandied about by far too many “Christian”
writers and speakers today-Joel Osteen and others like him…
those who tell us that following Jesus means we will be both
healthy and wealthy…And yet, Moses is actually saying that
in choosing life, the people of Israel would be choosing to live
in relationship with Yahweh…loving God and obeying the
commandments…  for that means life…which is a very different
kind of prosperity.

And then, along comes Jesus in Matthew’s fifth chapter…that
conglomeration of teachings called by us “The Sermon on the
Mount”. And it sounds like a laundry list of impossibilities to
me this re-working, this re-focusing of emphasis in the Law
of Moses, the Ten Commandments. Because Jesus takes them
and makes them harder to keep, more difficult to follow…
which somehow doesn’t seem very loving or accepting, does
it? And completely lacking in Good News.

 Jesus was speaking to the “crowds”, not just to the disciples…
he was teaching all who followed him as he traversed Galilee,
including the sick, the demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics- all
mentioned in the previous chapter…the broken and the
hurting, the needy and the seeking and searching. And
because there were so many, he went to a high place where
he could sit down and teach in true rabbinic fashion.

Beginning with blessings- the affirmation that they were all
beloved of God, even with their difficulties, sorrows,
sadnesses, brokenness- Jesus then progressed to the images
of salt and light- YOU ARE, he told them. YOU ARE…not,
well, perhaps if you get things right or maybe if you follow all
the rules and get your act together, but YOU ARE…blessed,
beloved, valued, carrying the light of the love of God within
your very being.

So what’s going on here? In this part of the teaching from
the mount? Well, the preface, the lead-in to this passage
was read last Sunday- though I think it should have been part
of this week’s reading- but I guess the devisers of the
Lectionary thought that would make this week’s Gospel too
long for the standing-up part- though there is no earthly or
heavenly reason, for that matter, why you can’t sit for the
reading of the Gospel, since the respect and reverence are
in how you hear it, receive it, and not in your posture while
doing so. But I digress…

Here are the verses which immediately precede today’s

 Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have
come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and
earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass
from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks  or
annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to
do the same, will be called lest in the dominion of heaven; but whoever
does them and teaches them will be called great in the dominion of
heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the
scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the dominion of heaven.

Jesus is issuing a warning…telling all those who are listening
that being in relationship with God is not about keeping the
letter of the Law- the scribes and the Pharisees do that, and
do it very carefully and self-righteously. No…loving God,
revering God, honoring God is about going beyond the letter
of the Law to compassion and justice and totally radical love…
which Jesus goes on to spell out even more fully in NEXT
WEEK’S Gospel-

And the yardstick…the measuring rod…is not our human
values but the very values of God! Now I can’t speak for you,
but I know this scares the be-Jesus out of me…yet Jesus is
making it clear that this following-him thing is no walk in the
park- that it will not be easy. Okay, an occasional hour or so
in church, prayers here & there, some money in the offering
plate once in a while, a few cans of food periodically for the
Crisis Center or homeless shelter, and, hey, we’re home free-
or so we like to think, to believe. Because to hear Jesus…TO
HEAR JESUS in the depths of our hearts, to take him
seriously, to really feel the call to walk in his footsteps- well,
it should bowl us over. It should have us quaking in our boots.
It should take our breath away. It should- so why doesn’t it,
I wonder?

This past Tuesday evening I went with several friends to hear
ELCA pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber speak at Wait Chapel on the
Wake Forest campus. I had already read her book- and will
be reading it again, I’m sure- I had been following her blog,
and so I was eager to see and hear her in person. After
reading a bit from her book and talking a little, she invited
questions so we could be in dialog with her. One woman-
I suspect she was clergy- asked if there were any doctrinal
or scriptural matters which particularly bothered her and,
after a brief silent but pregnant pause, Nadia replied, with
deep conviction, “All of it. I am bothered by all of it, every
day. My angst about faith is not existential or metaphysical.
It is situational, and I struggle with it every day of my life.”

My eyes filled with tears as I heard a sister in the faith, a sister
in ministry, acknowledging that this following Jesus thing, this
being a Christian thing, is not an easy endeavor…was not
meant to be easy…and that she does it always with fear and
trembling. And it is NOT simply about believing the right way
or saying the right words or having the theology down pat or
knowing the liturgy by heart or…NO! It is about LIVING out
the call of Jesus the Christ in our liveswith our lives…
loving God because God first and always and ever loves us…
and loving others and our world because of that love…to show
our immense, life-changing gratitude for that love by feeding
the hungry and sheltering the homeless and visiting the lonely
and praying for our enemies- NOT to gain anything for
ourselves- NOT FOR A REWARD or stars in our crown, but
simply/ and not so simply- because this is what it means to
BE A CHRISTIAN…to follow Christ.

I can remember- as a teen-ager- when anyone would ask me
if I were a Christian, my reply would be, “I’m trying to be.”
Somehow, with the infinite wisdom of my teen-aged self, I
knew that this Christianity thing would be a journey, a
challenging journey, often of one step forward and two steps
back. And so it has been- up hills and down into valleys,
through thick and thin, in good times and bad, sometimes
believing fully and faithfully and other times stumbling along,
clad in doubt, in the light and in the darkness…a long and
arduous journey which continues day by day by day to this
very moment. But always, ever- even when I had trouble
seeing him or recognizing the reality of his presence- even
when I had troubled believing that I was worth his loving
care and concern and attention,  Jesus was there with me,
loving me through it all, picking me up, dusting me off, calling
me by name and letting me know that I am not in this alone.
And neither are you! 
              And that, THAT, is the GOOD NEWS!   Amen

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