RCL Year A - Epiphany 7 - February 19, 2017
1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23
I’m always cautious about having baptisms on days other than the appointed feast days like the day we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, the Great Vigil of Easter, Pentecost, and All Saints’ Day… And whenever the Bishop decides to visit. But sometimes, like last week, and like today, and like next week, we make a pastoral concession and have a baptism.
When we do that, sometimes the lessons are difficult to deal with…
In today’s Gospel, we just heard part of one of the most famous sermons Jesus ever gave during his ministry. But, in a way, it is fitting for us to hear this Gospel on a day when we will baptize (at the 9am service) and welcome Bo Brumfield into Christ’s Body, the Church… and make promises to nurture him in the Christian faith as part of the Trinity family.
But, what is seems problematic, is some of the difficult things that we hear Jesus saying in the Gospel lesson. Jesus is pretty clear and direct… “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Turn the other cheek, if someone takes your shirt – give them your coat also” It almost doesn’t seem like the real world, does it… How in the world can we be expected to love our enemies, let alone turn the other cheek…
It’s when we get those feeling of challenge that we need to understand that Jesus is doing it again… Jesus is inverting the value system and changing the understanding of what society would consider normal. Jesus is starting a revolution – or as Bishop Curry calls it, a “movement…” “The Jesus Movement!”
Jesus is starting this movement by calling the rules of this world into question… by describing an entirely different way for those who believe in and claim to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior… to live in this world and relate to one other… inviting us into relationships not governed by power or prestige, but governed by vulnerability grounded in love and acceptance.
So, if we want to dismiss the instructions we just heard in the Gospel as simple idealisms, maybe we should slow down and take them more seriously. They seem at first to be “crazy” statements. But in these few “crazy” sentiments – Jesus gives us the plans for the kingdom he proclaims and the movement he is starting.
And so, before joining the “Jesus Movement,” we should probably know what we’re getting ourselves into! And we should definitely know about this movement – the revolution, that we are welcoming little Bo into! Wouldn’t it be something to imagine Bo – and his siblings Holly and Cole – growing up and living in a world where we actually treat each other the way Jesus is telling us to?
Like what it says in the baptismal covenant – those promises we all make… To seek to serve Christ in ALL persons, loving our neighbor as our self and strive for Justice and Peace among ALL people, respecting the dignity of EVERY human being… Not some, not just a few, not just the ones that you like… ALL… and ALL means ALL… It’s radical, it’s difficult, but it’s gospel.
Then, there is the last line of the Gospel lesson, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” "Be perfect." When we hear that command, most of us hear an injunction to a kind of moral perfectionism. But that's not actually what the original language says. "Perfect," in this case, is the Greek word telos, the word used for "goal," "end," or "purpose." The sense of the word is more about becoming what was intended, in fullness or completeness… accomplishing our God-given purpose in the same way that God constantly reflects God's own nature and purpose on us...
While telos, can indeed be translated to be “perfect,” it typically refers to something not so much morally perfect but means something that has grown up, matured, and now has reached completion and fullness. That is, telos is the goal or desired outcome of a thing. A fruit tree’s telos, we might say, is to grow and mature so that it can bear good fruit (to use another image from scripture). So, I don’t think that Jesus is simply commanding something of us but he is also commending something in us.
That is, maybe Jesus simply knows that we have more to give, that we can be more and do more than what we have settled for – and that we can absolutely make a difference in the world if we would simply trust God and believe in ourselves.
And so I hear in the commands in this Gospel reading as an invitation to be the people God has created us to be so that we might not just persevere through this challenging life, but actually flourish, making a difference to those around us by sharing the abundant life Jesus has given us. Does this sound Crazy? Maybe.
But Eugene Peterson's translation of the gospel passage in The Message gets closer to the mark, I think… And helps us understand the passage.
He says, “In a word, what I’m saying is - You’re kingdom people. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
Now, Does that let us off the hook with all the other things? I don’t think so... But it does help us get to the root of the issue. We can only do these other things – take the higher ground, repay evil with good, forgiving and praying for those who harm us – to the degree that we can live into our own God-given identity as the blessed and beloved children of God that we are. You can't give what you don't have, and so only those who have experienced love can in turn share it with others.
Jesus, who was human like us, not only commands, he also understands – understands just how hard it is for us to love rather than hate, to forgive rather than begrudge, to share rather than hoard, to heal rather than wound, especially when we go through so much of our lives wounded and hurt.
So, today, as we baptize Bo, and promise to support him as he grows in the Christian live and faith, we are also there to remind him that he has a God-given identity as a blessed and beloved child of God. And every baptism is a chance for us to remember our own baptisms – and to remind ourselves that we too are blessed and beloved… and why we are a part of Christ’s Body the Church in the first place.
Evelyn Underhill, the famous Anglican writer of the 20th Century, once wrote, “The real business of the Church is … to bind us together—the learned and simple, the strong and the weak—in a great social act of love and worship; to provide a home for the nurturing of the spiritual life. For we cannot get on alone, in religion or anything else. Our spiritual life must be a social life too. Wonder and love are caught, not taught; and to catch them we must be in an atmosphere where we are sure to find the germs. A living Church ought to be full of the germs of wonder and love.”
So in a few minutes, as we remind Bo that he is a blessed and beloved child of God, surrounded by the germs of wonder and love, I urge you to remind yourself – too - that you are a blessed and beloved child of God.
Is that easy to remember? Of course it isn’t. So many things get in the way. Past disappointments or hurts that still haunt us. Old grudges and wounds that are a long time healing. Painful memories that are slow to fade. Just for a minute, close your eyes and think about what it is that gets in the way of your being the blessed and beloved person that God created you to be. Then, in the days and weeks ahead, try to grow past the things that get in your way – and remember just how much God loves you – and that the Church is always here to support you on your journey.
We who are gathered today to witness Bo’s baptism, represent Christ’s Body, the Church, God’s family on earth, and we have the God-given potential to change the world… Change the world, and live by the radical ethics that Jesus is teaching us – right now. We can be part of the Revolution - part of the ‘Jesus Movement,’ modeling a new and different way of being in the world… a world that we might simply call the kingdom of God.
Because, as Peterson’s translation says, “You’re kingdom people (blessed and beloved by God) Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” - Go, and be who you are!
This message was inspired by and written in collaboration with Kathleen Capcara, Lay Associate for Parish Life at Trinity.