A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Difficult conversations and being one in Christ: Matthew 5:21-37 February 16, 2014 February 16, 2014

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 9:00 pm
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In chapter 5 of Matthew-Jesus is really just getting started in his sermon about what it is to live together as people of God. Jesus is not afraid to have these difficult, taboo and even down right hard conversations about life in community. All of these statements about anger, adultery, divorce and telling the truth to one another are not nice, neat, coffee and donut hour types of talks. Jesus is calling out on the carpet the fact that we might know and follow religious or civil laws- but only for our own sake or protection. We adhere to laws so that we can say that we are law abiding people. Jesus proclaims that laws are so much more than just being blameless but about giving life and dignity to all people.
These four issues that Jesus takes on in today’s readings are steeped in relationships. Relationships with neighbors, friends, and spouses. Jesus addressing adultery and divorce in this manner, is pretty radical for first century Palestine. In Jesus’ time, women were property and had little to no say in their own lives. If their husband wanted to divorce them, the woman was then without a home, protection, income or community. Women were not seen as full people and were often blamed for any improper behavior of men so its radical for Jesus to claim that if a man lusts after a woman, it is not her fault. How she dressed, or acted or where she happened to be at a certain time of day was not the cause of another person’s actions.
So these laws from Deuteronomy might have allowed for the human reality of broken relationships and imperfect people but Jesus is pointing out that they don’t always affirm human worth. Those things simply can’t be legislated but has to be rooted in something more than just what makes life easier; living together as people of God has to be rooted in love that calls for seeing all people as truly made in God’s image and with inherent worth.
This issue of all people having equal worth has unfortunately not been fully resolved. Some of you may know, I was in Chicago at the ELCA offices to be trained as a process builder for the social statement Women and Justice: One in Christ that will be in process over the coming years. What that means is that I will facilitate listening events in this synod around the issues of women, justice, safety, equality, cultural norms, media, etc. Some of these topics are not easy. How do we enter into the conversation as a church around the uncomfortable realities of women in the US and in the world of abuse, media and cultural objectification, inequality in leadership positions, access to education and in socio-economics? What do we as a people of God have to say about this?
We too have laws in the US and abroad that are intended to remedy some of these issues, but the reality is that laws don’t solve all of the problems. Of course this is not only a gender issue: racial, sexual orientation and other forms of inequality exist. But I am choosing what is my lived experience.
Here are some examples of how laws in the US have not improved equality for women. In the US Women make up 51% of the population but only 17% of government officials are women. In the 2010 midterm elections women lost ground in representation for the first time since 1979 and at that rate women will achieve parity with men in government in 500 years. Yes, 500 years. The US is 90th in the world for female leadership-behind countries like Iraq. Women earn $.82 on average for every dollar a man earns. This is an average and hispanic women earn $. 59 on the dollar and and African American women earn about $.78 on the dollar. White women do better and Asian women make the most at $.88 on the dollar. This is in spite of equal pay legislation. Media representation of women is a major issue in our country but at the heart of that issue is that women only make up 3% of leadership in media corporations.
It’s not just secular leadership where this inequality exists. Many denominations do not allow female leadership-and before we pat ourselves on the back in the ELCA- women make up a little better than 50% of the Masters of Divinity, ordained track students in seminaries but the ELCA reports that only 19% of actual ordained clergy in a call are women. There are congregations who will never call a female pastor. And this is just a snapshot of the US, we could use the whole rest of the day to discuss the life of women across the globe. Despite laws, resolutions, and good intentions, we still have not figured out how to truly speak plainly, listen openly and go beyond laws that are just about what’s fair and move to what is loving, life giving, and builds authentic community where everyone’s worth as a child of God is affirmed and upheld.
Jesus proclaims that the second we stop seeing the person in front of us as a child of God as a whole and complete person who is not there for our own use or neglect then we have damaged their humanity as well as damaged our own. Because we are all made in God’s image, we are also interconnected and the only way to live in community as one people of God is to keep this fact in front of us at all times. The only law that we need to worry about is the that of God’s unending and unconditional love and grace for us all. This is the law to live fully into.
In this text today, Jesus tells us the truth about how difficult it can be to live together in healthy, life giving and loving relationships. We can’t do it on our own, no matter how hard we try with great and well intentioned laws. Jesus shows us the possibility and reality of another way of life together. Jesus included women, gentiles, tax collectors, the unclean, the non religious, the foreigner all sorts of people into community and relationship with him and each other. Jesus very presence tells us how much God loves us—enough that God sent Jesus to tell us these hard things and to show us that our differences and uniqueness are a gift from God that should be affirmed and cherished by a whole community.
To God, it matters that we are all together, that we work together, it matters that we speak into darkness, it matters when we are complacent and silent on issues that deny full and abundant life to anyone for any reason. It matters that we offer and receive forgiveness from one another, it matters that we build each other up and tell the truth. This is the real messiness of life together. But in the midst of all of this talk of law today-Jesus is clear with the good news: in God’s kingdom here and now we all matter, we can point to and offer God’s vision of what the world could be like when all people are truly equal, all have dignity and all have a voice. God proclaims this radical equality of us all in the waters of baptism, and in welcoming all to the table to share in the bread and the wine with the promises to be with all of us for all time. These sacraments do more than draw us into the life of God but into life with one another, for the sake of a world waiting for this reality. Thanks be to God for our lives together as one people of God.

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