Sixth Sunday of Epiphany - Holiness Requires Wholeness
Today we're continuing our journey through the Season of Epiphany, which ends the season of Christmas (the famous "12 Days") and lasts until Lent.
To recap: "epiphany" is a word that essentially means "realization" or, more specifically, "inspired realization." When you have an epiphany you know it. You feel it in your bones.
It's more important than realizing that you took a wrong turn on the way to Albuquerque and ended up in Hoboken. That would be a seriously wrong turn.
An epiphany is when you realize something that has the potential to change your life, the way you think about things, your future, and maybe your past... in other words, it's pretty momentous.
So why should we care about an entire season in the historical church traditions dedicated to having an epiphany? It comes down to what it means concerning Jesus and, more specifically, what it means because of the Incarnation.
The Incarnation is the theology of God-With-Us, the idea that God took on human form and became one of us to rescue all of us. And over the next several weeks, we'll learn why that is so important for you, me, and everyone.
Today we’re going to be exploring how God-With-Us teaches us to be holy, but to be holy, we need to act “wholly”
Have you ever had one of those moments when someone was being utterly crappy to you, dressing you down verbally, making you feel like garbage, and then they walked away in triumph, leaving you smoldering and used-up? No one?
You know that moment. It's when you say afterward, "Ohhhhhh, I wish I'd said THAT thing to them," or "I wish I'd had a better comeback!!"
So I'm going to help you out today. Because I'm that kind of pastor. I'll give you a list of insults you can use when you feel a bit speechless while the bullies in your life are stealing your lunch money.
I'm not saying I hate you, but if you ever got hit by a bus, I'd be driving it.
Some people deserve to eggs thrown at them, brick shaped eggs, made of bricks.
I'm a pacifist all right, I'm 'bout to pass a fist right across your face.
Nothing brightens up a room like your absence.
Your problem is you lack the power of conversation but not the power of speech.
I thought of you today, and it reminded me to take out the garbage.
Like I said, I am here to help.
I know those are pretty good ones, aren't they? I have to make a confession here. I've had one of those moments in my past---before I was a pastor, mind you. I used to work at Best Buy, and one of my roles at Best Buy was as an assistant manager in a store.
This other guy had the same job as me, and he and I couldn't stand each other. I tried to like the guy, but he was just unlikable. And he also would lie about me to the store manager, so there was that.
On one of the occasions when he told a lie about something to the store manager, I caught him in the act. He didn't know I was in the room when he was telling his fib, and the store manager (who incidentally didn't like him either) just stood there staring at me over the guy's shoulder with a smirk on his face.
There was an altercation, and angry words were exchanged, and then I suddenly blurted out, "I'm gonna dance on your grave, pal. And I'm going to wear a kilt!"
Good one, huh?
I have to ask for forgiveness every time I think of that story because I am kind of proud of what I came up with in that moment.
Listen, relationships are difficult to begin with. And with difficult people they are even more difficult.
But to be a whole person, according to Jesus, the kind of person who strives toward holiness, we have to be in right relationships even with the difficult people in our lives.
Here's what I want us to hold on to today:
WHEN GOD IS WITH US, WE LEARN THAT TO BE HOLY REQUIRES WHOLENESS
Let's step back into the Sermon on the Mount for a moment and Matthew 5:21-26
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Jesus said the phrase at the beginning of this passage pretty often during the Sermon on the Mount.
It was his way of reframing the commandments and explaining to anyone who would listen that there was more to having a relationship with God than just keeping a bunch of rules.
You could keep the letter of the law and do the bare minimum, but if you wanted to have a relationship with God, you had to change your heart.
He states the apparent law about killing someone could result in you being subject to the death penalty. Then he hits them with verse 22.
"But I say to you that even being angry with your brother or sister will end in judgment..."
Calling someone a Raca the ancient word for "airhead" ought to land you in court, but calling someone a "fool" will land you in hellfire.
Death penalties in the ancient world were no joke.
If you killed someone by accident, that was one thing, but if it was intentional, all it took was two witnesses to verify you had done it on purpose, and then you would have rocks thrown at you by the whole town until you died.
But Jesus takes it a step further.
Jesus says, "Ah, but murderous thoughts start in the mind, then go to the lips... and then destruction, the kind of destruction that results in murder, unfolds."
So if you get to the point in your thought life, he is teaching, where you are giving voice to the dark, cruel anger you feel toward someone who has wronged you, and you speak violence, then you are guilty of murder as if you killed them with your bare hands. And as such, you are then subject to hellfire.
When Jesus speaks of hell here, he uses the word Gehenna, which was probably the worst place anyone in first-century Judea could think of.
It was a burning trash heap full of garbage, refuse, and horrible smells. And it was on the site of ancient, evil altars to the Canaanite god Molech, where child sacrifice had been performed in the ancient world. It was an evil place--the opposite of Paradise.
So Jesus says unless you want to end up in the dustbin of history, check yourself before you wreck yourself.
His claim is that murderous thoughts lead to death--for everyone involved.
Then he says this:
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
Let's ponder this for a moment. Jesus offers up a scenario. You are about to go to the Temple to offer a sacrifice to God, maybe as a way to atone for your sins or the ways you've not followed the commandments.
But Jesus says, "Listen, I get that you think that offering is going to take care of everything, but I say to you that for you to be holy, you need to become whole. Make things right with the person you've got a feud with first.
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.