- February 12, 2017
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for February 12, 2017 (Epiphany 6, Year A) – 8 AM only
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Psalm 119:1-8; Matthew 5:21-37
Title: Merely Human
“For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ and another, ‘I belong to Apollos,’ are you not merely human?” (1 Corinth. 3:3-4).
My friends, don’t you think that is an odd question from the apostle Paul? “Are you not merely human?”
This is a rebuke, of course. It is a rhetorical challenge which assumes that a different mode of being is possible. Paul assumes that a MORE than human way of being is possible, AND that the believers in Corinth are capable of living in a way that is MORE than merely human.
In his mind, it is not enough to be ordinary, it is not acceptable to be merely human just like everyone else.
And, to be clear, this is the same kind of assumption that the Lord makes in this long Gospel passage from the Sermon on the Mount.
Do not get caught up in all of the threatening consequences. Don’t get lost in the drastic measures suggested by Matthew’s gospel.
The point of the Lord’s teaching, and the goal of this new community that he is forming, is to live together and to work together in such a way that these kinds of actions are never even considered because they are entirely unnecessary.
And how could that be? Because the disciples are living lives that are more than merely human.
Nikos Kazantzakis, famous Greek author, gave us a little parable that speaks to the goal of these texts. Once, a disciple approached an almond tree with a request, and said, “Friend, speak to me of God.” And the almond tree blossomed.
The almond tree gave witness to God simply by manifesting its true nature and by bearing its fruit. That was enough.
This new community of disciples, the church, gives witness to God simply by manifesting their true nature in Christ and by bearing their true fruit. That is enough.
Context means everything when reading this Gospel passage.
Remember, please, that in this Sermon on the Mount, the Lord is speaking to his new community sitting around him, listening to him as he teaches. Together, they are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. And this means that they cannot be merely human any longer.
Now, if you read through the four Gospels, you will definitely notice that there are a few things which our Lord Jesus most certainly stands strongly against – actions that really seem to bother him – things like pride, greed, and – yes – divorce.
There – I said it. You know, divorce is a difficult subject. Pretty much my entire life, I’ve been told that it’s unkind and impolite to discuss the views of Jesus on divorce.
But someone else has recently suggested that we don’t have time to be politically correct, so I guess it’s okay now to talk about divorce again!
So I will just come out and say it: God hates divorce. That’s what the Bible says pretty clearly.
I know it’s sounds harsh, but listen please: divorce is not the unforgiveable sin. And, yes, there are times when divorce IS the appropriate and right way to end a marriage.
We do not have time here and now to get into the details of when and how divorce is appropriate, because we need to dig deeper and understand why the Lord stands so strongly in opposition to divorce, and to insulting others in anger, and to lusting after others, and to swearing in conversation.
Why do these things matter to the Lord? Because they all result in a rupture within the community.
Dig deeper into this passage and you can find the underlying principle right here. “When you are offering your gift at the altar…first, be reconciled to your brother or sister, then come and offer your gift.”
First, be reconciled. Do you see it, my friends? Within this new messianic community around Jesus – this new community intended to embody the kingdom of heaven, there is to be one rule above all other: the rule of reconciliation.
To be people who serve as a living witness to the Jesus Creed of loving God and loving neighbor means that we stay ALWAYS reconciled with one another.
After all, what could one of us possibly do that would be unforgivable?
Seriously, ask yourself that question: what would someone within Saint Mary’s have to do that would cause me to walk away from this community and never return? For me, what is the unforgivable sin? What is the line in the sand that I cannot tolerate if it is crossed?
Ask yourself that question. And then pause and consider this: God has no such line in the sand. And we are here to love, to forgive, in the same way that God does.
This is why marriage takes on a different – and deeper – significance within the church. It is not just about getting our needs met. Marriage is not about feelings of love or romance. To think that way is to be merely human.
Within this Christ-community, marriage is about embodying the kingdom of heaven. This is why Jesus raises the bar. Within the culture of his day, divorce was an widely acceptable option, and it was used on a regular basis to dissolve marriages.
But Jesus sees the situation differently. His people are always to be reconciled, always to heal any breaks or ruptures among them, even within their context of marriage.
To be a disciple of Jesus, to be part of his Body, to be salt of the earth and light of the world – this means living in a way that is more than simply human.
It means following a higher standard. Not because we are trying to earn some kind of prize – either from God or from other people.
No, not to earn something, not even to prove something, but simply because we ARE something, because in Christ we ARE something more than merely human.
The almond tree gave glory to God as it blossomed. The disciples give glory to God as we stay together, always reconciled, always serving, always loving in a way that is more than merely human.
God grant us grace to live together in this way always. Amen.