+May I speak in the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
To be honest, part of why it means to much to me to preach tonight is that I’ve had a horrible week.
On Tuesday morning, I came to my car and found that the passenger window had been completely smashed. I spent all morning working my way through police reports, explaining that “mysteriously, nothing was taken.” I then contended with insurance adjustors and then the auto glass company. The police said they’d get back to me about finger prints, but never did. The auto glass worker couldn’t come ‘til Wednesday. I looked forward to my roller derby practice that evening, but when I went to leave I couldn’t find my gear. I frantically searched only to remember that my $700 equipment had been in the car and was gone, stolen. I was stunned and angry with myself. I remembered that last Monday night my teammates and I sat in a circle talking about how we ought never leave our gear in the car in case it gets stolen. I kicked myself for it and still haven’t forgiven myself.
I like to say that God’s mercy and kindness are abundant, but if you’re like me and if you’ve ever had one of those weeks, it can be hard to see that mercy and kindness in our day to day existence. It can be hard to see it in the Gospel text, even.
Sometimes it feels like you just can’t get it right. You start keeping score. I know I felt foolish after I realized I had left my expensive equipment in the car. Utterly foolish!
That scorecard is brutal, too, and it’s hard to shake.
I know that the first time I read this passage in Matthew 5, I was tempted to measure myself against it, to use the scripture like a scorecard. And when we do that, the results aren’t good. Everyone comes out guilty.
Who hasn’t been “angry with a brother or sister”? Who hasn’t insulted someone? Who hasn’t called someone a “fool”? Who hasn’t had someone hold something against them? Who hasn’t been accused? We know that 30% of all internet traffic is pornographic in nature, so we know that plenty of people are lusting. We know that about 50% of all marriages nowadays end in divorce and remarriage is common. Swearing “in God’s name” is also very common, for who truly believes a simple “Yes” or “No” in weighty matters? This helps me realize that Francis Spufford is right when he calls the church the “international league of the guilty.”
And yet, if we pay attention grace is there.
If we look closely at the text, we can see that the point isn’t doom and gloom. The text isn’t one of threats, but about the kind of love that God wants for the world, regardless of the world’s worthiness.
The bad news is that everyone’s guilty of something, the good news is that Jesus’ is taking care of it and we’ve just got to join in.
All four of the topics in today’s Gospel -- Anger, Lust, Divorce, Oaths -- highlight the importance of personal relationships. God cares about people skills. God really cares about how we treat each other. In fact, it’s paramount.
To be angry with a brother places one before a judge; to insult a brother places one before the council; and to say “you fool!” (i.e. moron, stupid, worthless) places one before the final judgement, the hell (Hebrew: “Gehenna” or the “trash heap”) of fire. The altar and the courtroom become places where reconciliation becomes absolutely necessary. There’s no wiggle room here. God’s set a high moral bar.
Curiously, there’s no mention about who’s worthy and unworthy.
God doesn’t care who did what, just "do your part to make it right."
If we’re serious about the scorecard, nobody gets a perfect score. We’re all stuck in the mire of our own anger or frustrated desires. In my case, my anger was about losing this equipment.
The story gets better, though. Grace does abound, somehow.
The same day I realized I lost my $700 pads, skates, wheels, nuts, bolts, bearings, tools and helmet, I told the coach what happened. I went to practice that night anyway.
I was stunned to learn that everyone on the team had pulled together and -- despite the fact that losing my gear was entirely my fault -- that the team had pulled their resources to bring me every last bit of gear I needed to play. An anonymous donor even paid $140 for a reorder of my jerseys.
They made sure, as a community of grace, to help me continue on. Despite my own foolishness, nobody took the opportunity to shame me. Nobody said “I told you so” and nobody asked me why I left my bag overnight in plain view.
Instead, they just overwhelmed me with hugs and spare gear and left me teary-eyed on the bench, with an embarrassment of riches.
They could’ve called me the fool. But they chose the higher bar. And let me tell you, it meant the world to me.
The way of love can save a person.
I was overwhelmed, realizing that these women knew I had fallen short, and yet they cared enough about me to help me move on and get back to normal.
Despite my own unworthiness, they showed me the kind of high level of love that’s described here by Jesus. They acted as a community of grace for me.
Part of what I'm saying is that there’s abundant opportunity to show grace, unmerited favor.
Our Presiding Bishop preached this week and said: “I am more and more convinced that Jesus came among us to show us how to become more than simply the human race...He came to show us how to become the human family of God.”
We, the church, like my teammates, need to be willing to take the high road and become the community of unmerited grace and radical welcome.
We’ve got to try to put good, healthy, loving, liberating relationships above all else.
We’ve got to stop calling people names, because it all starts there.
We’ve got to take initiative when accused and take personal responsibility. We’ve got to leave our gift at the altar. Reconciliation takes precedence over legal settlements, too. Jesus places utmost importance on good relations between people because nothing is more important than good relationships.
Jesus is saying “Don’t give an offering to God until you’re right with your brothers and sisters.” Don’t look at them like pleasure-objects, don’t try to prove you have integrity by saying “I swear to God,” just be the kind of person that does good and says truthful things. We’ve got to become more than merely human.
And the best part is that we don’t do this alone, we have each other. We have each other.
“The world needs such a manifestation of Christianity...because it will lead to a desperately needed reconciliation among [brown and beige, camouflage and rainbow, blue collar, white collar] and even among ‘red folk and blue folk.’”
Our world needs this kind of high bar of love right now. We need that level of loving, liberating, life-giving human interaction, don’t we?
Curry says, “Christians must be people of compassion, people of goodwill, people who dare to live the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ words in the Matthew 25.”
Presiding Bishop Curry is fond of saying “The way of love can save us all.” The way of love can save us all. The way of Jesus’ love does save us all.
“Imagine how legislatures, corporate board rooms, schools and health care in America would be different if they were approached ‘not by what I can get out of it but how it serves the common good?” What if we all approached each other knowing that unless we speak love, we aren’t speaking. What if we decided to never again use the word “fool”?
What if we decided to stop calling each other names?
What would happen if every Christian became an embodiment of love, if even just for one afternoon? What if -- overnight -- no Christian would go to court? Or call someone names? Or objectify anyone? What if we left this place determined to be radiant as people of grace, no longer just members of the human race, but as the family of God, the family of grace?
“Don’t be afraid to be people of love.” The way of love can save us all, and it always has and it always will.