Welcome to worship for this 6th Sunday after the Epiphany, February 12th, 2023! There was a mishap with the stream, and it was inadvertently cut into two parts. Both videos are below, but unfortunately the sermon was cut out.
The bulletin for this service can be found here. We’re trying out another new hymn from the All Creation Sings hymnal supplement, so the music for that song, as well as the other liturgical pieces out of the ACS book, will be in the bulletin. Also included would be the rest of the words and responses to the liturgy, the hymn numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon manuscript. The words and music just described will also be on your screen, and the sermon can also be found on this page after the actual worship video.
For a fuller online worship experience, you are invited to have a lit candle in your space to signify the presence of Christ and the Spirit with you, as we are joined together in worship across space and time. The candle can be extinguished with the altar candles after the sending hymn. And you are also invited to participate in communion with something small to eat and drink prepared for the appropriate time in the service. Further instruction will be given to you then.
May God’s loving nature and nurturing grace be apparent to you, this day and always!
Loving God, may we anointed by your Spirit to hear you speak to us this day, that we be filled with your truth and love to walk in your ways of righteousness and community, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Well, this is awkward. I’m talking about that gospel lesson that was just read, of course. I mean, I’m all for Jesus teaching us stuff, and I’m a huge fan of his Sermon on the Mount. In fact if I had the chance to actually be there to hear it in person, I’d be the least Lutheran person there as I’d make sure I’d have a front row seat. Anyway, it’s awkward because it’s just that… whenever Jesus gets real down and dirty into the nitty gritty of life, when he pulls and twangs on those real sensitive strings in our hearts, when he unapologetically calls out our shortcomings and sin, well, that’s just when it gets kind of uncomfortable.
Because really, we are sinners. We have all done things that we aren’t proud of. No matter how much we try to deny it, those closets are just overflowing with these skeletons that we’d rather just forget about and keep locked away forever. And so when Jesus starts picking at these skeletons, then we might start squirming in our seats. I mean, on the surface, sure, we aren’t so bad. On the surface we would probably say that we’re pretty good. On the surface, we can even fool ourselves into thinking that we don’t really do anything wrong.
And that’s when Jesus goes full Judge Dredd mode and goes over every aspect of life and points out all the evils that we didn’t even know were evil. I mean, the big ones, sure we know them. We know that we aren’t supposed to kill people, of course, that’s bad. We’d never do something like that (at least I don’t think so). But to call someone a fool? Yeah, I probably do that 5-6 times during my 10 minute commute to work every day. Double that if I’m running late. Quadruple it if there is snow on the ground.
If that wasn’t awkward enough, Jesus talks about lust. At the best of times we don’t like talking about that or even saying that word. But while we’re still reeling from how much we enjoy calling people fools, Jesus explains that a simple glance, perhaps lingering on the wrong body part, is the same kind of lust that drives us to cheat on our spouses and partners and is punishable by death. Right? Maybe there’s some grace in my aging eyes that don’t see so well anymore, because dang, that’s awkward.
Then Jesus goes and talks about divorce and ain’t no one want to touch that one with a 10 foot pole… And then he wraps it all up with not making promises and oaths, which seems innocent enough until we realise that he’s telling us to rely on our own integrity to speak for itself. Our integrity, Jesus? You mean this thing that you’ve just ripped to shreds by pointing out all the seemingly harmless and innocent actions as us deserving to burn in the pits of hell? It’s like we can’t win with this guy. What are we supposed to do?
I’m reminded of Paul’s discourse in Romans about doing what we know we shouldn’t do and not doing what we know we should and can’t help but do what we do and so on and so forth. It’s like this Christian life is impossible, if even the great Apostle Paul calls himself the chief of sinners.
So what’s the point? Why did Jesus lay on this guilt trip? How can we ever break free from this cycle of broken integrity, unknown wrongdoings, our sinful nature?
Here’s the thing, I remember in school we learned about the whole nature vs nurture debate, which is basically asking the question of whether or not we’re born to be a certain way (nature) or are we formed by upbringing and outside influence to be a certain way (nurture)? Are we, from birth, just stuck to be one of those enneagram categories that we talked about a couple weeks ago? Or can we learn skills and talents from our parents, education, and various other sources to be something completely different? Are we trapped by our sinful genes, passed down by sinful Adam and Eve and the whole human race, or are we trapped by our sinful upbringing, passed down by sinful Adam and Eve and the whole human race?
Whatever it is, there really is no escaping who we are as sinner. We will do what we do when we do that thing we do. Sure, we could be genetically predisposed by nature to be a certain way, but really, we’re also nurtured to accept or reject that initial program, depending on how it is. And deep down at the heart of it all, I believe that is what Jesus is trying to teach us with all this. While we are somewhat trapped in our sinful nature, we are also nurtured by the Spirit and various stimuli to not just stop the wrongdoing, but to see things differently.
I mean, Jesus is really laying down the law here in this passage. He is pointing out these faults that we might not have even guessed were faults, and showing us just how broken and sinful we are as a human species and just how far we miss that mark. Like he really is driving that home, almost to the point of us wanting to give up and not even try anymore.
But let’s not forget the context of Jesus’ words here. Let’s not ignore what preceded this this text that we talked about the past two weeks with some pretty riveting words of my own that I’m sure changed all your lives. Let’s not take just this passage at face value full of all its guilt-inducing shame, but instead, let’s remember the tone of Jesus’ words that led us to this today.
You are the salt of the earth, remember? You are the light shining God’s righteousness in the world. You. Are. Blessed. Even you fools who call other people fools. Even you wandering-eye hormonally-inclined human beings that tend to think with body parts other than the brain. Even you people, all people, who have very little integrity when compared to the very high standard of God’s perfection.
See, Jesus called these people blessed salt and light, and many of the folk heard this and might have been like, yeah of course we are, we’re awesome and we’ve earned it. They might have on the surface told themselves and each other that they’re the perfect ones, the examples for others to follow, the standard to which everyone else needs to put on themselves. But Jesus says hold on now, before you put the glory on yourself and your own discipline, don’t forget you’re also like this. You’re murders. You’re adulterers. You’re liars. You are sinners.
But the good news in that is that we aren’t judged by those sins, not according to God’s justice and righteousness, at least. I mean, we totally are by the world’s standard of course and we still shouldn’t be engaging in those things. But the point is that not even that kind of behaviour would disqualify us from God’s forgiveness, grace, and love.
Not because God condones them, God doesn’t at all as Jesus so clearly points out to us. But because God’s love is just that big. Big enough to envelope even us. Big enough to invite and welcome us into God’s kingdom. Big enough to save us, sinners and all.
And so while it is totally in our nature to be sinners, we can be nurtured to be saints, not just to stop doing these things but to see people differently. To see others as God sees them. To see how each and every one of us, even in our sin, is given immeasurable value and are dearly loved and saved by a benevolent God through a grace that surpasses understanding. See our being saints isn’t something that we can gain for ourselves through discipline and hard work, by solely by the gracious and salvific action of God.
Again, that doesn’t mean that we can go and live out our sinful nature and act out our every carnal desire. What it means is that through the nurturing of the Spirit and the Word of God, we can learn how to not want to treat others and relate to our community in that way, but learn to regard all people as we are regarded, as God’s beloved children, saved by grace, redeemed by mercy, and brought together in community by love.
So in this season after the Epiphany, may we continue to see each other as we are created to be, sinners by nature but nurtured to be saints, living as the diverse body of Christ in the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.