Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
Last Sunday after Epiphany
Today is the Last Sunday after Epiphany, eight weeks after Epiphany, and nine weeks since Christmas. We are trying to get a better understanding of who God is and what this means for us. We can try to understand who God is from nature and the world around us through Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, Biology, Philosophy, English Literature and Medicine. We live in a complex world with no simple answers, where everything is dependent on the other and all is held together in a delicate balance.
We try to get to know God as revealed through Scripture, hearing the stories of God’s people and their interactions with God and their understanding of who God is. We learn about God through the prophets and the messages they proclaim from God. In the Christmas and Epiphany seasons we seek to know God as revealed through his only begotten Son Jesus Christ, the Word incarnate, the Word embodied in flesh. In the personality and actions of Jesus we can come to understand the personality and actions of God.
The author of the Gospel of Matthew goes to great lengths to compare Jesus to Moses. Moses was under threat of death by the pharaoh as an infant until he was taken under the protection of the pharaoh’s daughter. Jesus was also under threat of death from Herod but was whisked away to safety when an angel told Joseph to take his family and flee to Egypt, Egypt where Moses was born and where Moses, at the prodding of God and the help of God, negotiated the release of God’s people from slavery to the Egyptian pharaoh. Jesus, working on behalf of God, works for the freedom of God’s people from slavery to sin.
In this morning’s readings both Moses and Jesus are having a mountain top experience. In ancient times a mountain was where you could encounter God. The mountain reaches up, up into the sky through the clouds into the heavens, where God can be found. The Hebrew people were led through the desert by a cloud and a pillar of fire. When Moses ascends the mountain with Joshua the mountain top is surrounded by a cloud. When Jesus, Peter, James and John ascend the mountain they too are surrounded by a cloud and the presence of God. Moses’ face shines after his encounter with God and he wears a veil to hide the glow from the Hebrew people so that they are not afraid. When Jesus encounters God we are told God’s glory shines through Jesus whole body, even through his clothes. Moses reflects God’s glory, but God’s glory shines forth from within Jesus.
On the mountain top Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus. Jesus is not doing away with the law and the prophets, but Jesus has come to fulfill the law and the prophets. In Moses encounter with God on the mountain top, God gives Moses the law which we call the Ten Commandments or the Decalogue. God tells Moses what he expects of his people, that they are to love God and to love their neighbor as themselves.
Over the past few weeks we have been hearing different parts of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is explaining to his disciples and to the people what it means to live God’s commandments. Just because you haven’t killed anyone or you haven’t slept with your neighbor’s wife does not mean that you have done what God commanded. God expects so much more. It is about our attitude towards God and towards other people. Yes we are not to worship idols or anything other than God or to recognize any god but the one true God. We are to honor the Sabbath and we are not to use God’s name inappropriately, but God wants us to actually care about Him, to love him, to want to spend time with him not as a duty or obligation, but as something we really want to do.
God commands that we respect our parents, that we do not murder or commit adultery or steal or lie or desire what is not ours, but not because we fear a lightning bolt from heaven or the Albion Public Safety officers coming and arresting us or because we fear the morality squad or because I say so. We don’t do these things because we genuinely care for each other, we genuinely don’t want to hurt anyone physically, emotionally or spiritually. It is not about following a set of rules and anything not specifically ruled against is permissible, it is about doing the right thing. It is about treating each other with kindness. It is about wanting the basic necessities of life for others as if they were our own children. God wants us to have life and not just life, but life in abundance where we are happy, in good health, have good food and water, are warm and dry and feel safe and secure. God wants that for everyone and wants us to want that for everyone too. There is more than enough for everyone. It is not a competition to see who can get the most Easter eggs. It is not a competition to see who dies with the most toys. God’s Kingdom is a place where we truly care about the wellbeing of our neighbor, where we care for the sick, stranger and elderly, where we feel successful when our neighbor is successful, where we love our neighbor, where we love ourselves and where we love God.
Jesus is not just a first century Moses, but Jesus is more. Moses brought the people God’s laws. Jesus brings the people what it means to actually live morally and ethically as God’s people. The Hebrew people did not want to hear God’s voice or listen to what God had to say. They asked Moses to go up the mountain to talk to God and then come back and tell them what God said. Moses returned from the mountain with the Ten Commandments and a glowing face that the people were afraid to see so Moses hid his face with a veil until the glow faded away.
God’s people in the first century did not want to hear God’s voice either. The people wanted a warrior prince who would defeat the Romans and restore their status as a respected people, but this was not God’s will. When Jesus, Peter, James and John went up the mountain, God spoke to them saying, “This is my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with him. Listen to him.” This is very similar to what happened at Jesus’ baptism when a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Peter, James and John heard the voice of God and were terrified, but Jesus told them not to be afraid. God tells us that Jesus speaks for God and that we are to listen to Jesus.
Moses wore a veil to hide God’s glory from the people. At Jesus crucifixion the veil in the temple separating the Holy of Holies from the people was torn in two from top to bottom. God does not want to be separated from his people. God does not want to be hidden from his people. God does not want to live far away from his people in some distant heaven. God wants to be with his people, to walk with his people and to live with his people. As we move from the season of Epiphany into the season of Lent, let us give up seeking gain for ourselves but rather seek gain for our neighbor and let us contemplate what it means to love a God who loves us, to follow Jesus and a God who wants to walk with us, and to trust and believe in a God who is willing to trust his very life with us. Amen.
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Psalm 119:33-40; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23;
This morning we baptize Benjamin Everett Hill. Welcome to his family and friends who are visiting. Poor Benjamin! He won’t understand what is going on. There is a large crowd of people and then this crazy lady in a green poncho will try to drown him and Mum and Dad don’t do anything to stop her! Well this means he really does understand what is physically happening. We bathe in water to remove the soil of our day and to become clean. That is what is happening in our baptismal bath as well, the sins of our day are washed away and we are left clean. But our baptisms are more than just a bath, they are also a drowning, a death to sin, a burial in Jesus’ death and a resurrection from death to life. Through his baptism in water Benjamin is welcomed into the family of God, as a member of the church and the body of Christ. In the baptismal promises, Stephanie, Eric, Jennifer and Joey promise to tell Benjamin God’s story, our story, as told in the Old Testament and the New Testament, to bring him to weekly worship, to bring him to Sunday School and to teach him in the Christian faith and life. We, the people, will also promise to support Stephanie and Eric by praying for Benjamin and sharing our faith stories with Benjamin. We are the body of Christ. We are the church.
A few years ago in 2007, this building burnt to the ground and needed to be rebuilt. The foundation stones were carefully numbered and removed so that they could be put back in the exact same place when the foundation was rebuilt. Then the carpenters built the walls and the roof, the electricians did their wiring, the beautiful stained glass windows were replaced, masons re-laid the brick walls brick by brick and the space was painted and the furniture restored.
The “church” is built in a similar way. Jesus Christ is the foundation, the rock upon which the house of God is built. Some of us are bricks. Some of us are Electrical wiring. Some of us are beautiful stained glass windows through which the light of God shines. The church, the body of Christ, is under continuous construction. We are part of the Episcopal construction crew and Benjamin will be the most recent brick laid in the wall of the church. Paul reminds us in his first letter to the Corinthians that we may be master builders, but it is critical to remember that our foundation is Jesus Christ and the message we proclaim is the love and grace and mercy of God, the Word of God embodied in the flesh of Jesus Christ, Christ crucified and resurrected and the forgiveness of sins.
In our reading from Leviticus we are instructed to be holy for the Lord our God is holy and Jesus teaches his disciples to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. These teachings are daunting, how can we ever be holy or perfect, but this is exactly the task that lies ahead for Eric, Stephanie and those of us who support Benjamin in our prayers and witness. We will teach Benjamin the morals and ethics of the Christian church that he must not steal or lie or cheat or slander, that he needs to deal openly and honestly with others, that he must strive for justice ensuring the poor and the alien have food, water, shelter and clothing. Benjamin will be taught to love others including his sister and those who trouble him.
Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37
Our Gospel reading for this morning continues with another passage from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is referring back to laws or commandments found in Deuteronomy and helping his disciples and followers know what God really intends. This passage is really scary! Can any of us say that we have never been angry, that we have never insulted anyone, that we have never called anyone an idiot? We may have never committed adultery, but can any of us honestly say that we have never looked at someone else with sexual desire.
The only time I can remember my father ever hitting me was when I called one of my sisters a stupid idiot. I do not remember which sister or what I was angry about, but I sure remember Dad taking me to the basement, finding a suitable piece of wood and slapping my hand. I don’t remember it particularly hurting physically, just the fact that my father actually hit me. What I really remember is the feeling of injustice! My sisters swore and called names all the time so why was I being punished. My father explained to me that if I intended not to swear or use bad words then I should also refrain from calling my sisters names. I have remembered this lesson all my life.
It does not mean I have never been angry or frustrated because I can assure you that I have been. Just ask Jon. We even read about God being angry in the Old Testament and Moses calming God down. God was angry with the people before the flood. God was angry with the people in the desert after their rescue from Egypt. God was angry with the people of Sodom and Gomorra. Jesus sure looks to be angry in the temple when he turns over the money changers tables. Anger and frustration is a normal human response to a situation that we have no control over, when bad things happen, so what is Jesus saying? Jesus is telling his disciples and us that our actions and words have consequences. If I am angry and throw a pot and it makes a hole in the wall, there is a repair to be made. If I am angry and throw a spoon and it cuts my sister’s lip, stitches are required whether I intended to hurt my sister or not. When I drink too much and get behind the wheel of a car and think it will be funny to scare a couple teenagers on the side of the road and misjudge the distance and kill one and leave the other a quadriplegic, there are consequences to my actions. When we bully and harass and call another names and then hear they have committed suicide, we know that words do hurt and there are consequences to our actions. The consequences of our words and actions may not always be so dramatic, but they do have an effect slowly eating away at the self-confidence of the other. Jesus is telling us to consider the effect of what we do and say, that we are responsible for their impact on another person, that we are our brother and our sister’s keeper.
Adultery is wanting what belongs to another. Divorce can result in the spouse having no means to support themselves and their children. Spouses and children should not be treated like objects that can be replaced on a whim. Not wanting the responsibilities of a family or not wanting to make decisions based on the needs of another are not valid reasons to walk away from our family. We are not to make others into sex objects for our own pleasure. I am sorry, but I am offended by billboards that show young girls and women in suggestive poses on the I-94. What message is this sending to our daughters and granddaughters? What message is this sending to our sons and grandsons? I don’t believe Jesus is saying that we should stay in an abusive marriage or a loveless, thankless relationship. And I don’t think Jesus is saying that a divorcee is then required to live alone for the rest of their lives without love or friendship. I am not saying sexual desire is wrong. I do believe that Jesus is saying that a person is accountable and responsible for the consequences of their actions, that a person is to consider the impact of their words and actions on other people, their spouses, their children, their employees, and those who watch them, that they are responsible for the example they are setting and the hurt they cause.
Jon and I went to see the movie “A Dog’s Purpose” this week. We enjoyed the book and the movie, but you need lots of Kleenex. In one of the stories, the father was an excellent salesman, but wanted to be in management. He was a “the glass is half empty” type of guy and made his wife and his son’s life miserable. Instead of celebrating his successes as a top salesman, he mourned his perceived losses and slights. He took to drinking and being abusive to his family and eventually lost them.
The Sermon on the Mount is about moral and ethical behavior, about how followers of Jesus should act. Jesus is referring to the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not murder”, the seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, and the ninth commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”. Of course it is important not to kill or to commit adultery or to lie, but Jesus is saying that this is not enough. We are not to hurt another person physically, emotionally, or spiritually, that we need to consider the consequences of our action. I am not talking about people who can find an insult in anything we say or people who refuse to accept responsibility for themselves, but I am saying that if another is injured by our actions we need to accept our share of the responsibility for the consequences of our actions. With God’s help, we are called to lead lives of integrity and honesty, to be someone that people can trust to keep our word and do what we say we will do, to be peaceful, compassionate people who put the needs of others ahead of our own, who consider the consequences of our actions and people who accept responsibility for our words and our actions. Amen.