7 Epiphany Yr A Feb 19 2017
7 Epiphany Yr A Feb 19 2017 Audio
Here we have the next installment of the Sermon on the Mount. We call this the Sermon on the Mount, but it’s really much more like the teaching on the hillside. Jesus, rabbi, teacher, is teaching about God’s inbreaking Kingdom, Jesus is teaching about what life as a citizen of God’s kingdom looks like.
National Public radio, over the years, has done a project called Story Corps, and this story I’m going to tell you is part of that. I’m telling it to you today because I think it illustrates our gospel very well. The story belongs to Julio Diaz, who stepped off the New York City subway platform after work one night; he was simply planning to walk over to his favorite local diner for a meal. But when a teenage boy approached him with a knife blade gleaming in his fist, Diaz, a 31-year-old social worker, knew the evening was about to take a more dramatic turn. The young man demanded Diaz’s wallet, and Diaz passed it over without objection. But just as his mugger turned to walk away, Diaz called after him: “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something.” The mugger turned around, surprised. “If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”
The teenager looked at Diaz in disbelief, and asked why he would do such a thing. Diaz replied, “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money.” He told the young man that he’d just been heading out for dinner, and that he would be happy for some company. The young mugger decided to take Diaz up on his offer, and they headed into Diaz’s favorite local diner together. As they were sitting at the table, the manager, the dishwashers, and the waiters all stopped over to say hello to Diaz, and the young man was amazed at his popularity. “You’re even nice to the dishwasher,” he exclaimed.
“Haven’t you been taught that you should be nice to everybody?” Diaz asked him. “Yea, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way,” the teenager replied. Thanks to Diaz, he was beginning to see that kindness wasn’t such a strange phenomenon, after all. When the bill came, Diaz told the teen that he’d have to get the check. After all, he still had Diaz’s wallet.
But the teenager slid the wallet back across the table without a moment’s thought, and Diaz treated him to dinner. Diaz also gave the would-be mugger a $20 bill to take with him –in exchange for the young man’s knife. “I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right,” Diaz said. “It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.”
The collection of scripture we have before us begs the question, what does the kingdom of God breaking into human existence look like? I think this story wonderfully illustrates what the kingdom of God looks like. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. In the kingdom of God Jesus says, there is not a set of laws, there is not a rulebook. Children of God, citizens of the kingdom are called to love and to serve. Citizens of the kingdom are called to respond with mercy and compassion, healing and reconciliation in all times and all places. Matthew interprets the verses from Leviticus as kingdom life as well. You shall leave some grapes in your vineyard for the poor and the sojourner, the alien, the immigrant, the migrant worker. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Kingdom life is different than worldly life, and kingdom life is not easy or even clear. And, there is not a time when we are relieved of kingdom life, that is the very hard part. Kingdom life starts now, not some later date, and not after death. Jesus says, you have heard it said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. And then Jesus goes on to say, “for God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” You see, we are all in the same boat here. We are all accountable to these standards. Not one of us gets off easy, or even out of this life alive, just because we have money, power, popularity, or fame.
But the reality in which we live is that God’s inbreaking kingdom is happening right now, we live in this in between time, this time before the fulfillment of all time. So we are called to live in this now and not yet reality, we are called to live a kingdom life in this world as God continues God’s work of healing and reconciliation.
So how does this picture of kingdom life form and inform us in this day? Most assuredly kingdom life calls us to walk to a different drummer. Kingdom life calls us to love, not to hate. Kingdom life calls us to treat everyone with mercy and compassion, not disdain and derision. Kingdom life calls us to respond to those who speak and act badly with concern and kindness.
In this world where those who speak the loudest get listened to, how do you use your voice for peaceful change? In this world where spending is about special interest and personal programs, how do we stand for moral budget making? In this world where justice is confused with revenge, how do we turn the other cheek, how do we speak about healing and reconciliation? In a world where forgiveness is unacceptable because punishment is the only acceptable outcome, how do we drop to our knees and approach our creator with humility?
You see, we could very well be with those who were sitting on that hillside listening to Jesus teach. We are the blessed, and we are those who mourn. We are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and we are the ones who loose our saltiness, and we are the ones who put our lights under a basket. We are the ones who come to the altar to bring our gifts, and the ones who need to leave our gifts at the altar to reconcile with our brothers and our sisters. We are the ones who turn the other cheek, and the ones who deliver the first blow. We live at one and the same time as citizens of the kingdom and as those who miss the mark. This is the reality of our lives, we are not perfect, perfection only comes as we live our lives enveloped in the love, the mercy, the compassion, of our God. We may not be perfect in ourselves, but we are not off the hook either.
The truth is that Jesus walks this road with us, to show us the way. The truth is that on our own we tend to miss the mark. But we are children of God, and we are citizens of the kingdom, we are the peacemakers. We are called to avoid the violence and hatred that has crept into our social and political discourse these days. We are called to offer others a chance to escape the cycle of violence and hate that is so prevalent in our society. We are called to share our abundance with our neighbors and others who have come seeking. God’s mission is healing and reconciliation. Our mission is to follow Jesus who calls us to mercy and compassion, loving our neighbors and enemy’s, feeding those who are hungry, caring for those who need care. And it’s our job to live like we really believe Jesus actually is bringing in God’s kingdom, and to realize that we get to practice living like Jesus’ disciples and citizens of this new kingdom in the meantime.
Thanks be to God.