February 12, 2023 – The Sixth Sunday After Epiphany

Fr. Cal Calhoun

In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Interesting readings this Sunday.  Our Collect of the Day, prays: because in our weakness, we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you in both will and deed.

The readings all seem to revolve around doing the right thing, choosing the good thing, providing guidance for making decisions that go beyond choosing the best option for me, but rather to consider others, to have compassion, to not judge others harshly.

In our reading from Deuteronomy, Moses is telling the people to love God and follow God’s commandments and all will go well in the new land that they are about inhabit. “I have set before you life and prosperity, death and adversity.” Choose wisely, Moses is saying.

In First Corinthians, Paul is urging the community to choose unity over division. Yes, he says, I planted, Apollos watered, but it is God who gives the growth. You are not servants of Paul or Apollos, you are servants of God.

Our Gospel reading today is another part of the Sermon on the Mount. Two weeks ago, Mother Elizabeth commented on the first part of the Sermon, the Beatitudes: Blessed are the … poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. She reminded us that these words are so familiar, like the familiar roads or highways that we can move along with little attention to the directions because we know the way. Last week, we got the next part of the Sermon, “You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.” Today’s Gospel is yet another part of the Sermon on the Mount which continues through the rest of Chapter 5 and all of Chapter 6. It’s a looooong sermon. Jesus seems to be getting into the details here, different from the Beatitudes, where Jesus is blessing with broad strokes, but Jesus is surprising us by who he is blessing. Blessed are the poor in spirit, really? Blessed are those who mourn? Blessed are the meek? These aren’t folks we usually think of as blessed.

In today’s gospel, Jesus seems to be tightening the screws in terms of expected behavior. Jesus says, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not murder.’” “But I say to you, if you are angry with a brother or sister, you are liable to judgment. If you insult a brother or sister, you are liable.” So, Jesus has said, it’s not just murder that is wrong, these other things, being angry at another, insulting another leaves you liable to judgment. “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, anyone who looks at another with lust has already committed adultery in his heart.

Where do you think Jesus is going with this?  In Luke’s version of this sermon, the Sermon on the Plain, Luke begins with the Beatitudes just as Matthew does. But it seems to me that Luke summarizes the point being made here with a few lines not found in Matthew. In Luke, Jesus says “Do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned.

You see, it is easy to say, as you read the law, Do not murder, I haven’t done that! Look at me!  Do not commit adultery. I haven’t done that. But be angry with someone. We’ve pretty much all done that, right? Beginning with parents and siblings when we didn’t get our way, we’ve been angry with people. To look at another with lust, we’ve pretty much all done that, right? It almost sounds absurd to compare one with the other, murder and being angry?  And yet, that is just what Jesus has done. So, the question, becomes is Jesus being absurd, or is he using exaggeration to make a point. I think the latter. You don’t need to be in the business of judging or condemning someone else. We are all guilty of something.

Alison Barton, a lay person from St Paul’s Kingsport, preached at the Eucharist at Diocesan Convention last week. She talked about the German word schadenfreude. Schadenfreude is a combination of the German nouns Schaden, meaning “damage” or “harm,” and Freude, meaning “joy.” So schadenfreude is the joy or delight in the harm or misfortune of another.  What I hear Jesus saying in today’s gospel is that schadenfreude, joy at another’s misfortune would not qualify as a Christian virtue, or not what we are to be about. Freudenfreude? (I’m making this up that is not likely a word) Joy because of another’s good fortune? Like celebrating with the shepherd who found his lost sheep, or the widow who found her lost coin, that seems proper. And schadenschade? (again making that word up.) Sadness at another’s misfortune? Yes, I think Jesus would line up behind that. We might view Syria as an enemy. The King holding onto power in a 11-year civil war, propped up by the Russians. ISIS given birth in the power vacuum in Eastern Syrian and Western Iraq. There might be plenty of things we could hold onto as negative about Syria. Today, the reports from northern Syria are especially dire. Because the territory is largely inhabited by refugees fleeing the eleven-year civil war, the situation there is literally “an emergency within an emergency,” as one of the local victims put it. War has made it particularly difficult for relief to reach those who need it desperately. We need to pray God’s mercy and blessing on all those affected and reach our hand to help as we are able.

Sometimes we view things differently if it becomes more personal. Reverend Mary Davis, who is part of us, she led the recent conversation on gratitude in Adult Formation the last few weeks. She has developed a close relationship with our refugee family. They are from Northern Iraq, but were in exile in Turkey for 8 years before being allowed to come to the US. Anmar, the husband and father of our refugee family, shared that his brother Ali and his family, and many Turkish and Iraqi friends have lost their homes and are suffering because of the cold. It feels different when you know someone who knows someone….

More than 28,000 dead. UN officials have said that number could double. And if there are that many dead, there are many, many thousands more injured, displaced, without food or water. That’s a bad situation. It’s the kind of thing that can happen anywhere. There’s a fault line along the Appalachians. Now it’s not very active by comparison, so don’t want you leaving here spooked, but people, average ordinary people don’t deserve that kind of disaster. And I have to believe God doesn’t work in that way. God may be able to redeem such a tragic event, but God didn’t cause it.

And as Father Matt said last week, God is there, in the breach, in the chaos, in the suffering. God is there. May God’s presence be known and felt in that suffering. May God’s mercy abound, in Turkey and Syria and everywhere people are suffering. And may we reach out our hand to help as we are able. Amen.

Year A, The Sixth Sunday After Epiphany  –   February 12, 2023   –   The Rev. Cal Calhoun