Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
February 16, 2020
Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Psalm 119:1-8, I Corinthians 3:1-9, Matthew 5:21-37
I think about a visit on Wednesday with Domingo, Luis, Alex, and Angel, the four young men from Central America living in our Grace House. Their Samaritas caseworkers, Lisa, Makayla, and Joel were at their living room table, together with Kay, Bruce, Bob, Juan, and myself to express our love and support for them on their still long journey toward citizenship in the U.S.
Partly because we didn’t know each other well and partly because three of the four young men are not yet comfortable with their English and we, except for Juan, struggle even with the most elemental Spanish, the conversation felt to me jerky and awkward. Yet there was love in the room, practical love like attending to a faulty burner on the stove, love in an offer to help with cleaning supplies, love expressed in prayers and well wishes for them.
I think we were all encouraged by their expressions of gratitude for our concern and prayers for their future safety and well-being. It was not difficult to talk with them about grace, the name of this congregation, about how God’s grace is unconditional, non-judgmental, always seeking the best for all of us. As awkward as it often can be to be with one another, especially when have such different life experiences, to not criticize, to not judge, but rather to cherish one another, to see Christ in each other, is love at its purest. I think we witnessed that on Wednesday.
The texts appointed for this day are so much about loving God and each other, about choices we make to love or not love, about, scripturally speaking, choosing life and blessings or death and curses. Every day we make such choices. Either we take time each day to pray that God would cleanse our hearts, to straighten or remove the clutter, the worries, the fears, the obsessions in our hearts that can so easy rule our thoughts and behaviors, that prevent us from loving God and each other or we don’t take the time to be still and pray. Either we ask God to take away our frustrations and anger and/or to transform those emotions into life-giving, healing, constructive acts of love or we hold on to our anger, deepen the alienation, and widen our distance from one another (which is essentially what “hell,” repeated twice in the Gospel reading, means.)
Either we rely every day on the strength and wisdom God is always poised to impart or we forget or are too stubborn to ask for such help. Clearly, God wants every person to be surrounded by love, always “customized” to be appropriate for each moment of our lives. But the book of Deuteronomy, a really long farewell sermon of Moses before he dies and before the Israelites enter the promised land, is about choices. Choose to love and trust God above anyone or anything else…which because God is love, means to choose to love one’s neighbor as one’s self, to care for the stranger, to make sure the hungry are fed, to fairly compensate those who work for us, and yes, even to demand that our government provide safety nets for those most vulnerable. And in his Sermon on the Mount (in today’s gospel) Jesus preaches to those who were married: choose from your heart to be faithful to your spouse. Both Moses and Jesus counsel us to choose to be patient with one another, to treat each other with respect, to speak up for the voiceless among us, both human and non-human, when it is no longer okay to be silent. It means that when your heart is becoming agitated and the seeds of anger are sprouting, to choose very early on to love God enough to share those feelings with your Savior, to ask for God’s guidance and peace.
Moses said to the people: “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity….I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days…”
And Jesus, not wanting our lives to “go all to hell”, requires us to choose each day to love him/God above all else, to so value above all else that God in and through Jesus loved us so much that he willingly died an excruciating death in order to thwart the power of Sin and Death in our lives, to over and over wash away our individual and communal sins, to make it possible for us to live with an ever new freedom to love one another. To choose life is to live each day, even our darkest days, with a measure of joy and hope which God in Christ so abundantly won for us through his death on the cross. Both Moses and Jesus require us to love God as the first and most important thing we can choose to do every day of our lives. And loving God will always simultaneously mean loving and cherishing our neighbors as much as we are learning to fully accept and love ourselves.
I think about the future of Grace Lutheran Church. Borrowing words from Deuteronomy, how does loving God connect with “life and length of days” for Grace? Is it folly, is it too bold to believe that if we choose life, a life of love and forgiveness of self and others, of caring deeply and sacrificially for one another and for our neighbors, a life that humbly trusts in the steadfast love and strength and faithfulness of God, that God would give Grace “length of days”?
Haven’t many of us sometimes wondered if the best days for Grace are in the past? Maybe sometimes we still do. But what if all those 103 years of life for Grace were meant to be a prelude, a preparation for what our world, our families, this neighborhood, this city of Lansing, this state and country needs now, in this tumultuous, polarized, hate filled, and often cruel, “hellish” time? What if Grace in the months and years to come were rightly known as a safe and loving place, and more importantly, a gathering of people who refused to quarrel with one another, who chose not to be jealous of one another? What if Grace were known as a community of people striving to be faithful and seriously repenting when they were unfaithful? What if God used all these years to teach the members of this congregation how to deal with different opinions and convictions and in fact to cherish them? What if Grace in the months and years ahead came to be known, in the words that Karla preached last Sunday, to be a people of salt and light? What if Grace was known to be a place and a people where one could be honest about one’s frustrations and weaknesses and in that honesty choose to love God ever more deeply?
These words about a future Grace describe an “already” reality in so many ways! May God grant that the roots and fruit-bearing branches of this vine called Grace, already so very alive, would, by the grace and power of God’s love, continue to deepen and to multiply for “length of days,” for years to come.