I don’t know about you, but when things aren’t right, or aren’t going the way I believe they should, I can easily think it’s the end of everything and all is lost. I can even get angry.
I recall an incident when I was in junior high school. As you know, math was not my favorite subject. I was at the kitchen table working on geometry with my dad. I couldn’t get it. My frustration mounted. I began to think I’d never succeed as a student. My life was over. I stood up and with anger kicked a hole in the wall. Not a good thing. My parents were calm and collected. They discussed my faith in Jesus and how it might have helped me avoid such a flashpoint. They also made me call a contractor friend and tell him what I did. I spent time processing my anger with my parents and began to deal with how anger is not the most constructive emotion. My frustration with geometry persisted and my foot hurt. And, I had to pay the contractor friend for materials needed to repair the hole and paint the wall. Dr. Emil Coccaro, a researcher and professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago Hospitals relates the following:
Anger seems to be epidemic these days…. many hotheads suffer from Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED)…. a new drug called Depakote, introduced by Abbott Laboratories in 1995 was to be a cure-all. Interestingly, an effort to find volunteers with volatile tempers for the clinical studies has been unproductive. Apparently, few people see their anger as a problem. “The other day I got into a friend’s car and I noticed the visor on the passenger’s side was gone.” …. “I asked what happened, and the driver told me, ‘Don’t get me started on that. My wife ripped it off.’ I told him these things are hard to rip off, and he told me, ‘Well, she was really angry.’”
Religion is a means to connect with the Divine for a better way to make decisions.
Christianity provides an opportunity for humans to respond to God’s decision to engage us. God has a warm relationship with us. God loves us and wants us to love others with that same warmth, affection and presence. A warm relationship is characterized by listening, being empathetic, caring, loving, acting and speaking with compassion. Developing and nurturing warm relationships involves a series of choices.
The texts in Deuteronomy 30:15-20, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 and Matthew 5:21-37 demonstrate that choices matter. In fact, God choosing us really means nothing unless those chosen to respond to God do so. Our choices over a lifetime define the distinctiveness of our journey. Choices exert influence in our own lives, the lives of others and society. Matthew gives us insight on how to develop and nurture a warm relationship with God and others through choices, easy and difficult.
Matthew 5:21-37 focuses on decisions related to four Torah prohibitions which are then intensified by Jesus. The prohibition against murder is intensified to prohibit even anger. The prohibition against adultery is intensified to prohibit even lust. The prohibition against divorce without a certificate is intensified to prohibit divorce except for sexual immorality. The prohibition against breaking oaths is intensified to prohibit taking oaths in order to emphasize keeping one’s word. It is clear that Jesus does not dismiss the Law, because Christians cannot disobey the Law in that Jesus fulfills it. There is blessing in observing the Law. However, Jesus ramps up the lifestyle implications of the Law in that his intensity forces relationships to occur. As Christopher T. Holmes observes, relationships form “communities of justice, peacemaking, and reconciliation.” Justice, peace and reconciliation are righteous things to pursue. When our desire for God becomes an appetite we want fulfilled, we begin to do God’s will.
Jesus taught the importance of call to God’s covenantal promise. That is, God has promised people blessing and influence, but it is not without a cost. God never breaks promises. Oh, we do when it comes to God and others. But God is always faithful, trustworthy and present with us. The cost is obedience. And being obedient to God’s call brings about words and deeds that others may perceive as odd. Jesus’ call then and now is a call to prophetic oddness. Then and now, followers of Jesus face a moment of choice. According to Walter Brueggemann, Christians will “…either sign on uncritically to the powers that surround us, or take on the prophetic task of exposing the contradictions and performing the alternatives.” Not conforming to the powers that ask Christians to compromise every day will make our words and deeds call out the abuses of the powers that surround us.
Today is The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany. The Greek word epiphaneia means “manifestation.” Epiphany is the celebration of the manifestation of Jesus to the Magi and the manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God to humanity at his baptism. Do you expect things to be different because of the manifestation of Jesus? Richard Rohr, the author of The Universal Christ writes, “No Gospel will ever be worthy of being called ‘Good News’ unless it is indeed a win-win worldview, and ‘good news for all the people.’” Trust and draw from your experience of the manifestation of Jesus Christ in your life.
In Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, Jean Valjean steals silver plates from the bishop, Monseigneur Bienvenu. When stopped for questioning by the police, and the silver plates are found in his possession, the police take Valjean to the bishop’s residence. The bishop did not press charges, but instead offered the silver candlesticks in addition to the silver plates that he stole. Grace, not law, guided the bishop’s decision and actions. If things aren’t working out as planned, it is not the end. Don’t give up. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and its best teacher. Participating in God’s mission of prophetic oddness requires covenant loyalty even when it feels like the end. It is through warm relationships of faithful prophetic oddness that lives change in attitudes, words and deeds. Loving our enemies is the ultimate expression of obedience to the way of Jesus. Just ask Jean Valjean.
Be transformed by the call of God to prophetic oddness. As we live in such a call, God, through us, articulates that alternative world that God has promised. God is bringing about the alternative world every day…. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” When things are not all right, it is not the end. To the contrary. The alternative world is breaking through.
Found on preachingtoday.com 2/14/20. The illustration citation is Mike Conklin, Chicago Tribune (7-28-00); submitted by Lee Eclov, Lake Forest, Illinois.
Christopher T. Holmes in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby and Carolyn J. Sharp, editors, Connections, Year A, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 255.
In this textual analysis, I have benefited from the thinking of Patricia K. Tull, Ken Evers-Hood, Charles L. Aaron Jr., Scot McKnight, Christopher T. Holmes and Zaida Maldonado Perez as found in Connections, Year A, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 242-244, 244-246, 249-251, 251-252, 253-255 and 255-257.
Walter Brueggemann, “Called to Dangerous Oddness” in Sojourners January 2020, 27.
Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ (New York, New York: Convergent, 2019), 185.
Adapted from Jeannine K. Brown, Matthew in the Teach The Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, Michigan: BakerBooks, 2015), 63.