Two or Three Gathered – February 12, 2017 – Epiphany 6A


Matthew 5:21-37mirror_baby

So you had some homework last time we met.  Were you able to recognize the sacredness in others?  When you looked at people, were you able to see that inside them was the same sacredness that we feel when we hold a newborn, that there is something holy, something special inside those you ran into this week?  Were you able to see the sacredness in each other?

Karoline Lewis reminds us of some key points of being disciples in her commentary on the Sermon on the Mount this week which I have adapted a bit.  She writes,

“This next section of the Sermon on the Mount begins to turn the perspective of the disciples outside of themselves. They are not disciples for their own sakes, and their own actions, but for the sake of those around them as well. There is an accountability, a responsibility to the other for the sake of good of the community.

Nothing we do as disciples, as believers, is an autonomous action. It has an effect on those around us. And when we remember there are others around us, perhaps then our actions might very well be shaped by that answerability.

To be accountable to a community puts some checks and balances in place when it comes to being a disciple—and when it comes to being a leader in the church. All too often, we witness leadership in the church that seems oblivious to the fact that the shaping of a community is at stake. Leaders in the church make decisions as if no one is watching, no one cares, or that the decisions do not matter in and for the lives of others. Those moments when we think that what we decide is only of our own accord. Those moments when we forget that the Kingdom of Heaven might very well rely on our willingness to think outside of ourselves.

This is a moment to remember that the actions of your individual faith actually matter for the individuals sitting next to you in the church pew every Sunday. That what you do during the week might reflect on or give witness to your fellow parishioner. That who you choose to be in the world is not only a revelation of yourself, but also a manifestation of those with whom you are in relationship or claim connection. When we start thinking and understanding that our actions not only reveal who we are but also the communities of which we are a part, we begin to feel the weight of what it means to be a member of a community—and we should.

At the same time—and here is the promise of this text—to be a part of a community means you are not alone. The disciples needed to hear this truth. How they work out what it means to be disciples of Jesus is not a solitary affair, but can and should happen within a community of the faithful. There is no way that what they do, what Jesus will ask them to do, can reach its full potential without the realization of the company and the community of the faithful with you and beside you. Furthermore, once you realize that your potential as a disciple, who you can be as a disciple, is not just dependent upon you but helped by another, it is then that you begin to believe it.

Lest we think this is obvious, this is a very challenging truth to consider. Our world favors and rewards individualism, autonomy, and independence. To preach the necessity of connectedness, community, and dependence is not a popular message. We need to be prepared for a questioning and resistant world, or even a flat out rejection of Jesus’ demands. Why? Because they go against what the world favors and values.

Going against the world’s criteria for success is never a loved message. But sometimes, such is the nature of sharing the Gospel and perhaps this is why Jesus’ first act in Matthew had to be a sermon—a prophetic sermon. A sermon that was willing to tell the truth about ourselves, about discipleship, about God, and about what is really at stake because Jesus is Emmanuel.

A claim easily sloughed off. A conviction readily set aside. A confession regularly deemed as utopian. Yet, at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount, in fact, the only way that this sermon could be preached, is the premise of Jesus as Emmanuel.  Remembering that Emmanuel means God with us, and when we remember that God is with us, not just that God is with me, we begin to realize we are not simply members of community but shapers of community and are shaped by community, all of which tells a critical theological truth—our God is a God of community.”  

Considering these words from Lewis made me think of a mirror.  Similar to the Beatitudes last week, our reaction to this Gospel today is to look inside ourselves, to use the mirror to look at ourselves.  However, the Beatitudes were not a checklist to measure ourselves on, and neither is today’s Gospel a checklist to say that we are good or we are bad.  Jesus’ words today are a reminder that the rules do not save us, that following the rules is not what will bring us into relationship with Him.  The Jews were using rules to justify their actions.  It was okay to hurt others with your words as long as you did not physically murder them.   It was okay to hold grudges because you were giving your offering, or it was ok to have impurities in their minds as long as they didn’t act on them.  The Jews were using these laws as a mirror to look at themselves and to justify themselves.

But Jesus is pretty clear, harming others is just like committing murder, holding a grudge makes our offering insufficient, thinking impure thoughts is the same as carrying out the act.  Jesus does not give us this Sermon on the Mount so that we will take out the mirror and look at ourselves, He gives us this Sermon on the Mount so that we will take out the mirror and reflect the love of God into those around us. 

It is not about us as individuals, but about us as community.  People first, rules second.  Emmanuel, God with us, not God with me, but God with us.  In the same way that the Beatitudes were a reminder that we need to turn our mirrors to reflect God’s love to the meek, the poor in spirit, etc., today’s Gospel is a reminder that we are a part of a community, and we are responsible to that community.  It is too easy to justify ourselves using rules, rather, Jesus wants us to justify ourselves by carrying justice out in community.  Notice all the things that Jesus mentions today is about people first, and rules second?  All of the scenarios Jesus mentions is about a broken relationship with others? Brother or sister, accuser, adultery, divorce.  All of these are relationships, and broken relationships, and Jesus is asking for wholeness.  Insulting one another isn’t murder, but it does break relationship.  Holding something against each other is breaking relationship.  And on, and on.

So for us, people first, rules second.  Recognizing that we each are part of community and recognizing that you have a sacredness in you, and you have a sacredness in you, and you have a sacredness in you is about wholeness, reconciliation, redeeming.  God making us whole.

Lewis made a point that I didn’t understand until now.  She made a comment about Jesus saying, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there” when she talked about being a disciple is not an autonomous action.  I didn’t really get it at first, but maybe I see it now.  Where two are three are gathered in my name, when two or three are gathered in relationship, when two or three are gathered and recognize me in each other, I am there.  God is with us.  Emmanuel.  When we recognize the sacredness in each other, God is there, His love is there.

Whoa.  People first, rules second.  Emmanuel.  God with us.  So people first, rules second.  Let us be the blessing we were created to be, recognizing the sacredness in those around us, recognizing that they are connected to God, the same way that a newborn is, and let us live as Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount, not to turn the mirror on ourselves or to justify ourselves using the rules, but to be faithful. Thanks be to God.


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