Bishop Michael Rinehart

Santiago Apóstol / St. James Houston

Que placer estate con mis amigos y amigas a Santiago hoy, 16 Febrero, 2020. Gracias Pastor Jhon Jairo Arroyave y Pastor Arthur Murphy

Yesterday the Churchhill a neighborhood event at the school across the street. 700 people showed up. Good work everybody.

My superior photography skills.

The Heart of the Law: The Six Antitheses (Part 2)

Listen to the Podcast for Sunday, February 23, 2020 – Epiphany 7A

Epiphany 7A – February 23, 2020

Prayer of the Day – Holy God of compassion, you invite us into your way of forgiveness and peace. Lead us to love our enemies, and transform our words and deeds to be like his through whom we pray, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 – When you harvest, don’t strip the fields bare, leave some for the poor and the alien. Do not defraud. Do not delay giving workers their wages. Do not lie. Do not abuse the deaf and blind. Do not take vengeance or hold grudges.

Psalm 119:33-40 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 – Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.

Matthew 5:38-48 – Continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. 5th and 6th 4 of The Six Antitheses: You have heard it said… But I say to you… 5. Retaliation and 6. Enemies. You have heard it said: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but I say to you, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give to all who beg from you. You have heard it said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” but I say to you love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…”

Antitheses (Part 2)

February 23, 2020 is the last Sunday in Epiphany. February 26 is Ash Wednesday this year. Most Lutheran congregations observe Transfiguration Sunday A on this day. I’m going to focus on finishing up the Antitheses from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. If you would like thoughts about the texts for Transfiguration A, CLICK HERE.

I want to give a shout out to Pastor Steve Rieke, a friend who was also a teaching assistant when I was studying at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. He helped put together much of the material for this post. Steve formerly served as pastor of Peace Lutheran Church in College Station, Texas.

The first lesson, from Leviticus 19, reminds us of what righteousness and justice look like in Hebrew law. Don’t glean your fields a second time. Leave some behind for the poor and for the alien. This is the ancient safety net, a circle of protection for the poorest of the poor, for the homeless, for immigrants and refugees. Those passing through the land, those who are widows, orphans or just plain poor, always have the freedom to walk into a field and get something to eat. It will be slim pickin’s, but they won’t starve.

This Leviticus text is likely included today because of the last part. Do not take vengeance or hold a grudge. Jesus will, in these last two antitheses, embody the heart and soul of this passage. He is not countering the law. He is countering the prevailing interpretation of the law by the religious leaders of his day.

Our gospel text is week four of our four-week February walk through Matthew 5, the first part of the Sermon on the Mount:

February 2, 2020         Matthew 5:1-12          Beatitudes
February 9, 2020         Matthew 5:13-21        Light and Salt. Not abolish but fulfill the law.
February 16, 2020       Matthew 5:21-37        #1-4 of 6 Antitheses
February 23, 2020       Matthew 5:38-48        #5-6 of 6 Antitheses

To remind us of our context: The Sermon on the Mount is the first of five great sermons or discourses in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus begins this discourse with the Beatitudes, which some say is the Preamble to the Sermon on the Mount. Others say it forms the moral foundation for everything that follows, all of Jesus’ teaching:

            You who are poor in spirit, morning, humble and starving for justice: God bless you.
            You who are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted: God bless you.

Blessed are you, those forgotten by the rich and powerful. Blessed are you who have been driven from your homes by poverty and violence. Blessed are you whom no one wants.

After the beatitudes, Jesus tells his listeners they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Let your light shine. So, with the Beatitudes, salt and light in mind, the antitheses follow. Last week we covered the first four. This week we cover the final two, #5 and #6.

You have heard it said                                                     I say to you

  1. You shall not murder, liable to judgement.        If you are angry, if you insult, if you call                                                                                                someone a fool…
  2. You shall not commit adultery.                            If you look at someone with lust, you’ve                                                                                              committed adultery.
  3. You can divorce wife with a certificate              If you divorce a woman, or remarry you  divorce.                                                                     commit adultery.
  4. You shall not swear falsely.                                 Do not swear at all. Let your Yes be Yes, &                                                                                         No be No.
  5. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.         Do not resist an evildoer. Turn the other                                                                                             cheek.
  6. Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.         Love your enemies and pray for them.

Antithesis #5: Retaliation

The lex talionis was the law of retaliation. The punishment should fit the crime. While an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth sounds brutal, it was originally meant to be merciful. You don’t kill someone for stealing a sheep.

Jesus says, “You have heard it said you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy…” The “eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” passage from Matthew 5:38 is sourced from the Torah:

Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return. Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered. – Leviticus 24:19-20

So you shall purge the evil from your midst. The rest shall hear and be afraid, and a crime such as this shall never again be committed among you.  Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. – Deuteronomy 19:20-21

This second passage is from the Jewish Bible reading for this Sunday. In a third passage, from Exodus, the same rule, 21:24: “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,” is nestled between two very specific applications of this lex talionis, and presumably associated to them. Exodus 21:23-24 says,

When people fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth…

How do you follow an eye for an eye in a miscarriage? Already there is a provision for financial compensation.

Following this, the next verse, Exodus 21:26 gives another example:

When a slave owner strikes the eye of a male or female slave, destroying it, the owner shall let the slave go, a free person, to compensate for the eye.

As mentioned above, the lex talionis, or “law of retribution” was established to provide fairness. It set limits on retaliation, thereby restricting unbridled “getting even.” However, note that in Exodus 21:26 ‘evenness’ could be achieved through monetary compensation in place of an identical ‘matching item for item,’ exchange. Lex talionis, however, was reserved for adjudicating civil matters, not private, personal problems between you and your neighbor. The Torah leaves no room for vengeance on a personal level. Paul confirms this in Romans 12:19:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

The question Matthew may be addressing for the church to which he is writing may be: How are the people of God, the people of Christ, the Church, to live?

Dr. Walter Wink is Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City.  Previously, he was a parish minister and taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.  In 1989-1990 he was a Peace Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace. Wink struggles to apply the ethical framework from the Sermon on the Mount. Here are some of his books.

Wink says violence is the religion of our society. He proposes a careful look at the Sermon on the Mount, as a way out of retaliation and the cycle of violence. A shorter summary of his views can be found here:

Wink sees it this way: When it comes to retribution or retaliation, the church is to handle, or live, situations of being wronged in a way that reveals God’s kingdom at work at the very moment. The text then, “Do not resist an evildoer” means acting in the moment of “evil” in a way that reveals the kingdom’s presence then and there – in the very presence of ‘evil.’ When it comes to ‘aggressors,’ the ‘kingdom’s way’ is to live and act in such a manner that ‘allows’ the aggressors to behold both themselves for who they are, and see God/Christ in the one who is being wronged. The kingdom of God is a “teaching way,” a “lamp unto the world’s feet, and ours (Psalm 119:105).

This is a profound teaching, expounded upon in Martin Luther King’s The Strength to Love. In times of crisis and violence, human nature pushes us to fight or flight. Jesus encourages us to do neither. He shows us a third way.

Wink puts it this way:

Neither of the invidious alternatives of flight or fight is what Jesus is proposing. Jesus abhors both passivity and violence as responses to evil. His is a third alternative not even touched by these options. The Scholars Version translates ‘antistenai’ brilliantly: “Don’t react violently against someone who is evil.”

Wink is saying this: Don’t become like your aggressor; you are a son/daughter of God.

Wink illuminates the meaning of Jesus’ statement. The striking on the cheek is not a fistfight. It is an insult. Jesus is saying: When challenged to fight, don’t take the bait. Wink continues:

Jesus clarifies: “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Why the right cheek? How does one strike another on the right cheek anyway? Try it. A blow by the right fist in that right-handed world would land on the left cheek of the opponent. To strike the right cheek with the fist would require using the left hand, but in that society the left hand was used only for unclean tasks.

As the Dead Sea Scrolls specify, even to gesture with the left hand at Qumran carried the penalty of ten days’ penance. The only way one could strike the right cheek with the right hand would be with the back of the hand.

What we are dealing with here is unmistakably an insult, not a fistfight. The intention is not to injure but to humiliate, to put someone in his or her place. One normally did not strike a peer in this way, and if one did, the fine was exorbitant (4 zuzzim was the fine for a blow to a peer with a fist, 400 zuzzim (זוזים) for backhanding him; but to an underling, no penalty whatever). A backhand slap was the normal way of admonishing inferiors. Masters backhanded slaves; husbands, wives; parents, children; men, women; Romans, Jews. 

What’s depicted here is a set of unequal relations, in each of which retaliation would be suicidal. The only normal response would be cowering submission. It is important to ask who Jesus’ audience is. In every case, Jesus’ listeners are not those who strike, initiate lawsuits, or impose forced labor. Rather, Jesus is speaking to their victims, people who have been subjected to these very indignities. They have been forced to stifle their inner outrage at the dehumanizing treatment meted out to them by the hierarchical system of caste and class, race and gender, age and status, and by the guardians of imperial occupation.

Why then does Jesus counsel these already humiliated people to turn the other cheek? Because the action robs the oppressor of power to humiliate them. The person who turns the other cheek is saying, in effect, “Try again. Your first blow failed to achieve its intended effect. I deny you the power to humiliate me. I am a human being just like you. Your status (gender, race, age, wealth) does not alter that. You cannot demean me.”

Don’t run. Don’t cower. But also, don’t fight a useless fight, especially one you can’t win. Stand defiantly before your oppressor. Your blow failed to achieve its intended effect. I deny you the power to humiliate me.

The ‘antithesis’ here of ‘giving the other cheek’ reveals to the abusers the truth of who they are  while also revealing the kingdom’s way of living already in that moment. Give people the opportunity to see who they are, let shame reside where it appropriately should and do not demean your status by succumbing.

We can practice this on a weekly basis, even if no one is trying to kill us or attack us physically. Recall the first antithesis, last week: you have heard it said, ‘You shall not murder…’ But if you are angry or insult another, you are liable… Attacks come in many forms. How do you respond when someone is angry, or attacks you verbally, in a way that reveals the greater values of the kingdom? We could spend a lifetime learning this.

As usual, Jesus gives further examples.

If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.

This is incredibly amusing in a two-garment society. Turn the law against your creditor by obeying it. Follow the letter of the law, but throw in your underwear as well. Expose your creditor’s greed by revealing his own ruthlessness.

If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.

It is said that a Roman soldier could conscript any civilian for assistance. You would be required to accompany the soldier for 1 mile. Jesus seems to be saying, go beyond the law. Instead of being bitter about the overbearing Roman domination, instead go 2 miles. Show your enemy your love. This must inevitably change your enemy. He will relate to you in one way during the first mile, but in the second mile he will be looking at you with great curiosity. He will begin to wonder what kind of person you are as you do more than what is expected. This is what the kingdom looks like.

Give to everyone who begs from you,
and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

People have a difficult time with this one. Must I really give to everyone who begs? What if they are charlatans? Jesus encourages us to live a life of generosity. If someone is begging on the street, it will not hurt me to hand that person an apple. I don’t have to give my life savings. It is better to risk giving to someone who doesn’t need than to risk not giving to someone who does need. This is what the kingdom looks like.

A member of my previous parish witnessed to me with this passage. We were trying to determine if a cause was worthy of a donation. He told me privately he always gave when asked. “I’m not smart enough to figure out who is worthy and who is not. And I’ve been given so much. I always give. Maybe not the whole farm. Maybe just a few dollars, but I always give.” I will always remember this witness from a kind indigenous Texan with a clear and simple faith.

Antithesis #6: Love for Enemies

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect

Love your enemies. Matthew 5:43 comes from Leviticus 19:18 “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

Buddhism, the Dhammapada of the Sutta Pitaka (5th century BC?):

Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law.


Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matt. 5:44)

Buddhism, the Dhammapada of the Sutta Pitaka (5th century BC?):

True love is unconditional and impartial – thus the metaphor of the sun that shines down on all life. It is tested and proven by encounters with those who are difficult to love. Where true love prevails, there no enemies are found.


for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous . . . if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Matthew 5:45b-46a

I’m not saying Jesus is quoting Buddhist thinking. Perhaps Jesus is simply tapping in a deep spiritual truth about power in this life

Hate cannot drive out hate. It doesn’t work that way. War will not solve our global problems. Dropping bombs on people may stop an aggressor for a moment, but it creates so much pain, suffering, anger and hatred, it launches new conflicts. The outcomes of our support of guerilla warfare (we called “Freedom Fighters”) in Afghanistan created Osama bin Laden. Our wars in the Gulf created Al Quaida and ISIS. The future belongs to people who recognize Jesus teaching: Only through compassion does one win over an enemy.

I am reminded of the words of Desmond Tutu in his African Prayer Book:

Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through him who loves us.

You can sing these words in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #721.

I am also mindful of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.

Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Verse 46 says, “For if you love those who love you . . .” The Greek word, ‘aspazomai, (ah-spah-dzo-mai) truly means “welcome” as in to “welcome another into your home and treat not as a guest, but as one of your own kin.”

Hmmm, whom to love? Jesus is a good rhetorician! In this last antithesis, Jesus argues the case a fortiori, meaning “with greater reason.”

Beginning with what’s easy (love your neighbor), Jesus reasons to the much more difficult, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’

Why? Well, “if you love those who love you, what regard do you have?” And, again, “If you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?” In other words, what difference is the world to see in you if all you do is to do what everybody else does? How is that being the light of the world or the salt of the earth? However, if you love your enemies, praying for them even when they mistreat you, what then will the world see in you?

And consider this: If you “love your enemies and pray for them when they persecute you,” imagine what deep love you will love those who care for you!

Could Jesus have in mind the Samaritans of his day?

Hear the words of Martin Luther King in a November 17, 1957 sermon on Matthew 5:38-45, “Loving Your Enemies,” preached in Montgomery, Alabama, at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church:

Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. It is the lifting of a burden or the canceling of a debt. The words “I will forgive you, but I’ll never forget what you’ve done” never explain the real nature of forgiveness. Certainly one can never forget, if that means erasing it totally from his mind. But when we forgive, we forget in the sense that the evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding a new relationship. Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again. Without this, no man can love his enemies. The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies.

King sees retaliation as continuing the cycle of violence. Someone has to be a big enough person to stop or you always have the Hatfields and the McCoys. Here is King’s simple example:

I think I mentioned before that sometime ago my brother and I were driving one evening to Chattanooga, Tennessee, from Atlanta. He was driving the car. And for some reason the drivers were very discourteous that night. They didnt dim their lights; hardly any driver that passed by dimmed his lights. And I remember very vividly, my brother A. D. looked over and in a tone of anger said: “I know what Im going to do. The next car that comes along here and refuses to dim the lights, Im going to fail to dim mine and pour them on in all of their power.” And I looked at him right quick and said: “Oh no, dont do that. Thered be too much light on this highway, and it will end up in mutual destruction for all. Somebody got to have some sense on this highway.”

This can be a difficult sermon to preach, and it will ring hollow if we are not willing to live it in our everyday interaction with members of the parish and nonmembers in the community.

If you need another example, consider this story about a woman who forgave the man who killed her only son:

Try praying for your enemies in church and see what happens. Pray for ISIS. Pray for the Taliban. People will bristle, but it may be a good teaching tool. Pray for their conversion from what have been horrific acts of evil.

Consider prayer vigils in your town, in places where violence has taken place. Where you put your feet matters. Jesus lived this in his life and death on the cross. He invites us to follow him.

Keep in mind Jesus’ own witness to his entreaty to pray for ones enemies. On the cross, as he was dying, he prayed for his torturers. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” For whom do you need to pray?

Port of Houston Ministry

On Tuesday, February 11, 2020 I had the pleasure of visiting The Seaman’s Church Institute’s Center for Maritime Ministry, Houston International Seafarers Center, and Blessey Marine’s M/V Jack Haskell hosted by Port Captain Ben and Pilot Allan. I met Rabbi Jonathan Siger, from Houston Jewish community North in Spring. Rabbi Siger is also a Police Chaplain. River Chaplain Associate Diane Bacon Burson was also able to join us. Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston member Bill Mintz was present. Bill wrote a Living Lutheran article on Chaplain Rhoades:

HISC Chaplain, Rev. Tom Edwards is the blue water chaplain (ocean vessels). He educated us on the issues ship mariners face. Chaplain Tom Rhoades is the brown water chaplain (vessels on the river and Inter-coastal Waterway).

The Toms:

80% of all good come by ship, through our ports. Beaumont, TX, Baton Rouge, Corpus,

There are 11,000 “calls” at the Port of Houston each year. 115,000 seafarers/year, from 72 countries. The Houston Seafarer’s Church Institute is the first ecumenical one in the world. They get 12,000 Christmas shoeboxes to give to Seafarer’s. For some this is the only Christmas gift they will receive. They give out Bibles in 48 languages.

New Orleans and Houston are two of the busiest ports. Baton Rouge, Beaumont, Corpus and Texas City are close behind in tonnage.

The Seaman’s Church Institute has providing training for pilots for years. Here they are using the Navi-Trainer Professional 5000 simulator.

Chaplain Tom Rhoades.

Port Captain Ben

Chaplain Edwards and Rabbi Siger

Saint Valentine

Valentinus is a saint recognized by Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches. He’s particular to me because several of my great and great great grandfathers were named Valentine.

Born in 226, Valentine is the patron saint of the betrothed, of those with epilepsy and of the island of Lesbos.

Valentinus was a fairly popular name in Late Antiquity. It means valiant or worthy. There are over a dozen martyrs with this name, but the one commemorated on February 14 was buried north of Rome on February 14, in the Via Flaminia. I’m sure Rome aficionado Pastor Jim Giannantonio could tell us more.

Not much is known about Valentinus. He is listed as a priest (in Rome), presbyter, bishop (of Interamna) and martyr (in Africa, a minor Roman Providence somewhere south of Italy). The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates him on July 6. Valentinus does not appear in the earliest martyr lists. His feast is established by Pope Gelasius I in 496, who says his acts are known only by God. The early Christians had an egalitarian society. Women and slaves were welcome. They cared for the poor. They practiced charity, something Rome found demeaning. Their unwillingness to cave in to the power structures of the day was borne out of love. It often cost them their lives, living in these new communities.

Legend holds that he was martyred by Claudius II. He was arrested for helping Christians, which was against the law. It was said that Claudius took a liking to him until he tried to convert Claudius. At that time he was condemned to death by stoning. After beatings and stoning he didn’t die, so they beheaded him outside the Flaminian Gate sometime in the late 200’s. Some have suggested that Valentinus’ saint day grew because it was held on the pagan festival of Lupercalia. Pope Gelasius I abolished Lupercalia. Churches and altars have been dedicated to Valentinus.

Later, in Chaucer’s time, a time when court romance became en vogue, Valentine’s day became associated with romantic love. Chaucer wrote the first known reference to Valentine’s day as a romantic day:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

Many legends surfaced about Valeninus during the Medieval Period. By the 15th century, Valentine’s Day became a time for lovers to express love for one another with flowers and candy.

The earliest surviving valentine is a 15th-century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orléans to his wife, which, according to a Wikipedia article on Valentine’s Day, says,

Je suis desja d’amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée…

—Charles d’Orléans, Rondeau VI, lines 1–2

“My very sweet Valentine…”

John Donne wrote:

Hayle Bishop Valentine whose day this is
All the Ayre is thy Diocese
And all the chirping Queristers
And other birds ar thy parishioners
Thou marryest every yeare
The Lyrick Lark, and the graue whispering Doue,
The Sparrow that neglects his life for loue,
The houshold bird with the redd stomacher
Thou makst the Blackbird speede as soone,
As doth the Goldfinch, or the Halcyon
The Husband Cock lookes out and soone is spedd
And meets his wife, which brings her feather-bed.
This day more cheerfully than ever shine
This day which might inflame thy selfe old Valentine.

—John Donne, Epithalamion Vpon Frederick Count Palatine and the Lady Elizabeth marryed on St. Valentines day

Who could not like a day set aside to express love?

Love, it is, that binds the gospel together. The Hebrew Bible centers around the Shemah, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength…” It is this passage that Jesus quotes when confronted, and asked about the greatest commandment. He replies, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul and strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like unto it: love your neighbor as yourself.” He reminds the disciples that love is the defining mark of the church: “By this shall all people know you are my disciples: that you love one another.” The most well-known verse of the Bible is about love, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…”

In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul exalts love above faith and martyrdom. “Even if I have faith to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing….” John points out that the person who does not love does not know God, in 1 John 4:7-8. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love.”

The word for love in these passages is not romantic love (eros). It is, of course, agape. It is interesting to talk about the different kinds of love, and parse the different Greek words for love. But in the end, we must admit that they all have something in common. Love binds us together. It draws us together and, if it matures, it keeps us together. After I Corinthians 13, my favorite treatise on love is Shakespeare’s 116th Sonnet. For those new to this, read slowly and carefully. This is the best English-language connection of eros, phileos and agape.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Fishers of People

Does anyone know the artist for this? My friend Vonda Drees suggests it may be John August Swanson.

The Heart of the Law: The Six Antitheses (Part 1)

Listen to the Podcast for Sunday, February 16, 2020 – Epiphany 6A

Epiphany 6A – February 16, 2020

Prayer of the Day – O God, strength of all who hope in you, because we are weak mortals we accomplish nothing good without you. Help us to see and understand the things we ought to do, and give us grace and power to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 – I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Sirach 15:15-20 – If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.16 He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.17 Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given.

Psalm 119:1-8 – Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9 – I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

Matthew 5:21-37 – Continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. 1st 4 of The Six Antitheses: “You have heard it said… But I say to you…” 1. Anger 2. Adultery 3. Divorce 4. Oaths. You have heard it said “You shall not kill,” but I say to you even if you call someone a fool, you’re liable to hellfire. Be reconciled first, then offer your gift at the altar. If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out…You have heard it said, “Do not commit adultery,” but I say to you, even if you look at someone with lust, you have committed adultery in your heart.

Antitheses (Part 1)

In Deuteronomy the giving of the Law is followed by this ominous warning: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse… Choose life, so that you might live!” As we delve into Jesus reframing of the Torah, it is important to remember that the Law was given for our own benefit, that we might have fullness of life. The editor of Deuteronomy, speaking for Moses, speaking for God, wants us to choose life, and live. As the Psalmist says, “Happy are those who walk in the way of the Lord.” Paul may be quick to point out that the Law isn’t able to create a righteous life, but he is also fully cognizant that the law was our guardian until Christ came. (Romans 3:24)

The 1 Corinthians passage is a good reminder to those who plant congregations, and those who come in after church planters: Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” Neither the planter nor the waterer amount to much. It is God who gives the growth. Every farmer knows that God grows the corn. We just plant and water. The planting and watering is necessary. There is a role for us, but we should not overestimate our importance. We should, rather, give thanks to God, and recognize God’s work when it grows.

Our gospel text is week three of our four-week February walk through Matthew 5, the first part of the Sermon on the Mount:

February 2, 2020         Matthew 5:1-12          Beatitudes
February 9, 2020         Matthew 5:13-21        Light and Salt. Not abolish but fulfill the law.
February 16, 2020       Matthew 5:21-37        #1-4 of 6 Antitheses
February 23, 2020       Matthew 5:38-48        #5-6 of 6 Antitheses

To remind us of our context: The Sermon on the Mount is the first of five great sermons or discourses in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus begins this discourse with the Beatitudes, which some say is the Preamble to the Sermon on the Mount. Others say it forms the moral foundation for everything that follows, all of Jesus’ teaching:

            You who are poor in spirit, morning, humble and starving for justice: God bless you.
            You who are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted: God bless you.

Blessed are you, those forgotten by the rich and powerful. Blessed are you who have been driven from your homes by poverty and violence. Blessed are you whom no one wants.

Consider these beatitudes:

Blessed are the refugees
Blessed are all 72 million people who cannot go home:
   Those who are victims of war and poverty
   Those who have been evicted
   Those who seek a safe place for their children
   Those who are feared and despised
   Those hated by both sides of the conflict
   Those for whom nobody seems to care
You are children of God
And the people of God care about you

You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Don’t lose your spice. Don’t hide your light. I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Let your light shine. Let your righteousness exceed that of the legalistic scribes and Pharisees.

Matthew’s Jesus is the new Moses, the new lawgiver. This week and next week we get to hear Jesus’ reinterpretation of the law. Let us call them “antitheses.” “You have heard it said… But I say to you…” This week we get the first four antitheses (anger, adultery, divorce and oaths). Next week we get the last two (retaliation and enemies).

Here are all six antitheses we will be studying the next two weeks:

You have heard it said                                                     I say to you

  1. You shall not murder, liable to judgement.        If you are angry, if you insult, if you call                                                                                                someone a fool…
  2. You shall not commit adultery.                            If you look at someone with lust, you’ve                                                                                              committed adultery.
  3. You can divorce wife with a certificate              If you divorce a woman, or remarry you  divorce.                                                                     commit adultery.
  4. You shall not swear falsely.                                 Do not swear at all. Let your Yes be Yes, &                                                                                         No be No.
  5. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.         Do not resist an evildoer. Turn the other                                                                                             cheek.
  6. Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.         Love your enemies and pray for them.

This week we take on the first four of these.

I suppose the challenge of preaching Jesus’ ethical teaching is not preaching a sermon of law, with no gospel. People tend to revert to the law at every opportunity, so it will be the task of the preacher to help people see how Jesus is inviting us to live by faith.

God loves you with an everlasting love. All of life is grace. All of life is gift. You did not earn this life, or even ask for it. It’s grace from soup to nuts. God clothes the grass of the field and feeds the birds of the air, and will also take care of you. God is not an angry judge, but a loving parent. Even the hairs on your head are numbered. You are forgiven even before you ask. In Christ the dead are raised, and invited to live a resurrection life. What does the resurrection life look like? How might we live into our baptism, into the new creation? These words spell it out.

Jesus’ ethical exhortations are not entrance requirements for heaven, but rather the joyful response of those who have received grace and forgiveness.

Notice that after every antithesis, Jesus gives an example. This is good preaching. Jesus makes it plain how this might be lived out in the everyday lives of his listeners:

1. Anger. The 5th Commandment.

You have heard it said, “You shall not murder,” but I say to you if you are angry, you’re liable to judgment, insulting you’re liable to the council or name-calling, you’re liable to hellfire.

Wow. So, does Jesus lower the bar or raise the bar? Does Jesus relax the law, or does he intensify? Jesus is basically saying that being angry with someone is killing them slowly.

Matthew’s message to the early church is that being a follower of Christ does not let one off the hook for moral uprightness. It simply reinterprets what moral uprightness means. You thought washing your hands in the waters of purification was really important, but I say to you, how you treat your neighbor is critical. You thought tithing was a sign of moral superiority, but I say to you get your forgiveness act together first; then go about tithing.

And to give us an example, he says, tend to relationships ahead of worship. Before you go to the altar to make your tithe and show everyone how truly religious you are, first tend to the most basic relationships around you. Because if you don’t love your neighbor all that religious folderol won’t matter one hill of beans.

Matthew’s community may be asking an important question:

As long as I don’t murder, is it okay if I still hate?

Let’s hope the answer to this question is obvious. We know the errors of “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Luther draws upon today’s passage from Sermon on the Mount when he interprets the law, for example, in his explanation of the fifth commandment, from the Small Catechism:

The Fifth Commandment

You shall not murder.

What does this mean?

We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.

Luther makes it clear that a Christian understanding of the fifth commandment involves more than simply refraining from murdering your neighbor. It means not harming your neighbor in any way. It means helping and supporting your neighbor.

Liable to hellfire: I’ve discovered that when people hear “hellfire,” they take it quite literally. Jesus may have meant it literally, but I suspect not. Here’s why. The phrase reads: τὴν γέενναν τοu πυρός, means “the Genhenna of fire.” “Gehenna of fire” refers to the valley of Hinnom, which was the dump south of Jerusalem where garbage was burned. We don’t want to negate the image of judgment here. Jesus certainly is alluding to an eschatological judgment of some kind. Nevertheless, years of Greek mythology and even Dante have accustomed our people to hear this passage as an eternal torture passage. They immediately think Jesus means a place where people burn eternally. We read Dante (1265-1321 A.D.) into Jesus (0-33 A.D.). Jesus certainly means to say that there is a Judgment Day coming, in which things are going to be sorted out, good and bad. Bad stuff will be burned like chaff. But be careful not to drag along either Dante, Greek mythology or thousands of years of assumptions. Let Jesus speak, unencumbered by years of interpretation and misinterpretation. This is challenging. How might we free Jesus from all of our preconceived notions?

We have to hear this as literary hyperbole. Here’s why: In just a few verses (29) Jesus will instruct his listeners to tear out their eyes if they are a cause of sin. I presume he didn’t mean this literally. There’s no evidence that Jesus’ disciples mutilated themselves. Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. These shocking images work. They ring in people’s ears two thousand years later. He’s using a powerful homiletic tool to make his point.

St. Augustine sees the absurdity in saying anyone who says, “You fool,” is going to hell. Check out Augustines Sermon 5 on this text. St. Augustine assumes that Jesus is speaking metaphorically throughout this passage.

If you come to make your offering to the altar, and your brother or sister still has something against you, go first and be reconciled. Make peace with your accuser before you go to court, Jesus says. Or you’ll get thrown in jail. Augustine says, “And so we may interpret the altar spiritually, as being faith itself in the inner temple of God, whose emblem is the visible altar.” It’s important, when we are interpreting this text, to hear from those who are much closer to them historically.

So what’s the point? Relationships are important. More important than vengeance. More important even than generosity, and other religious obligations. Forgiveness and reconciliation are critical. We can do violence with our words. When we do, mending those relationships is more important than going to church, or making our offerings. Asking their forgiveness is as important as seeking God’s forgiveness.

2. Adultery. The 6th Commandment.

You have heard it said, “You shall not commit adultery,” but I say to you, if you look at a woman with lust, you’ve already committed adultery with her in your heart.

Lust is the craving for salt of a man who is dying of thirst.
~ Frederick Buechner (American Author, b.1926)

He that but looketh on a plate of ham and eggs to lust after it, 
hath already committed breakfast with it in his heart.
~ C.S. Lewis (British Scholar and Novelist. 1898-1963)

Society drives people crazy with lust and calls it advertising.
~ John Lahr

Jesus is very interested in the heart. Our actions grow out of our heart. If ones heart is not in the right place, curbing one’s actions is only a temporary and superficial measure. Jesus just said at the beginning of this sermon, in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” Blessed are those who are pure inside, not just outside. Jesus warns us about outward shows of piety and self-righteousness. To act righteous outwardly when one is quite comfortable harboring unrighteousness inwardly is hypocrisy. It is interesting that hypocrisy is the very word that unchurched people use to describe the church. They see us holding up a standard we ourselves don’t keep.

A search for “heart” in Matthew yields 17 results in an English Bible. Blessed are the pure in heart (5:8). Where your treasure is there your heart will be also (6:21). The mouth speaks what the heart is full of (12:34). People can honor God with their mouths while their hearts are far away (15:8). It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you, but what comes out of it, which comes from the heart (15:18). Moses allowed divorce because people’s hearts were hard (19:8). Their hearts can become calloused (13:15). Jesus’ heart is humble (11:29). And, of course, we are to love God with our whole heart (22:37), a phrase that appears all over the Hebrew Bible. Obviously, this writing is not about the organ that pumps blood. It’s about your soul, the center of your being. Jesus is concerned not as much with the outward show, but what’s going on inside you.

I suppose even if we are entirely chaste, technically, our lusting will work its way out in other ways, resulting in unintended consequences. Anger? Resentment? Unhealthy relationships? Fear of intimacy? Selfishness? I’ve always felt that lust and covetousness came from the same source. It’s the desire for more, more, more. No matter how much I have. It is, at the heart of things, self-centeredness. God will have to deal with this in us, if we are to become spiritually alive.

3. Divorce. The 6th Commandment.

You have heard it said, “Whoever divorces his wife should give her a certificate of divorce,” but I say to you whoever divorces a woman (except for unchastity) or whoever remarries, commits adultery.

This one always raises eyebrows. Out of everything, this is what people hear. The preacher cannot skirt this issue. No matter what we want to preach on, every divorced adult in the congregation (50%) will hear this and only this. If you don’t address it, they will make assumptions. They will equate 21st century Western marriage with 1st century Middle Eastern marriage. They confuse our modern understanding of equal rights in marriage with marriage in antiquity which sometimes involved a parental arrangement, and was almost always controlled by men.

Consider this. A man could “put away” a woman by simply writing down a note. “I divorce her.” The Bible was used to justify this practice. The woman had very few options. There was a huge power differential. Jesus is upholding the sanctity of marriage. The goal is faithfulness. And fairness.

The Hebrew Bible’s laws about divorce are draconian and patriarchal. They are about men’s rights to divorce women, not women’s rights to divorce men. By and large, they assume women as a possession of men, traded for shekels like cattle. Women have few rights in this system. Consider just a couple of passages.

If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)

So, if a man rapes a woman, his punishment is paying the father 50 shekels and marrying the woman. She is forced to marry her rapist. She cannot seek a certificate of divorce, and neither can he. One can only wonder about the marital dynamics in such an arrangement.

Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house and goes off to become another man’s wife. Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)

A second man divorces his wife because he “dislikes her.” Let that sink in. This reflects the capriciousness of divorce here. “She does not please him,” is ample grounds for a man to divorce his wife. She, of course, cannot divorce him for any reason whatsoever. Jesus is addressing the deeper question: is it righteous behavior for a man to kick his wife out of the house, exerting power over her, and leaving her in an untenable, powerless situation?

It seems to me that Jesus, by criticizing divorce, is making marriage more egalitarian. He is defending the powerless person in the relationship: the woman. Jesus is leveling the playing field. And yet he still creates a loophole: “except on the grounds of unchastity.” And it’s quite a loophole. What qualifies? Cheating? Physical abuse? Emotional abuse? There’s wiggle room here, just not, “the man said so.”

I once recommended an abused wife get a counselor, a lawyer and a divorce. She was shocked: “Shouldn’t you be standing up for marriage?” I knew he was hitting her, and the kids too. She wasn’t going to leave. I worried something really bad would happen. He was furious with me when he found out. I had the privilege of being present when the police arrested him. Jesus is not a fan of divorce, or broken relationships of any kind. It’s tragic really. But even he leaves a loophole. There is grace here.

4. Oaths. The 8th Commandment.

You have heard it said, “Do not swear falsely,” but I say to you, don’t swear at all. Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.

Also note Luther’s explanation of the eighth commandment:

The Eighth Commandment

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead, we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.

So, the question burning in Matthew’s community might be: “If I make a promise and don’t swear to God, is it okay to break it?” You know, like, I had my fingers crossed behind my back. Jesus suggests we should not speak untruths whether we are swearing to God or not. In fact, it would be better to not swear to God at all. Speak with integrity. Jesus encourages us to be people of integrity. Your word is your bond. Let your word be gold. Don’t lie, whether under oath or not. Do not bear false witness in court. Do not bear false witness in everyday conversation. Yes means yes, and no means no. Don’t use God to play word games, or cheat your neighbor. I recalled my beloved parents, may they rest In peace, would not allow us to say, “I swear to God…”

We know Matthew to be methodical in the construction of his gospel. It has very clear form. As we learned a few weeks ago, even the beatitudes have a very symmetrical structure. So, why these six antitheses? Verses 22, 28, and 34 seem to intensify the Mosaic Law. Verses 39, 44 and perhaps 32 seem to overturn Moses. These six points seem to convey the behavior that Jesus expects from his disciples vis-à-vis the religious teachers of the day. Clearly, adhering to the letter of the law will not give life. Jesus is not wrestling with Moses as much as he is wrestling with the Pharisees and the Sadducees interpretation of the law. Keep in mind 90% of the population does not read. But they know the law has been taught to them by the religious leaders of their day.

Can the preacher think of examples where someone kept the letter of the law, but not the spirit of the law? How about times where someone had to break the letter of the law in order to keep the spirit of the law? Where keeping the law resulted in an unjust situation? There are plenty. What will hit home with your people? Likewise, can you think of times that people had to break the law in order to honor the spirit of the law? Or break one law for the sake of a higher law?

I hear people cite Romans 13 all the time, “be subject to the governing authorities.” What do we think of the apostle Paul wrote many of his letters from prison, because he broke the law? Should Corrie Ten Boom have not broken the law by sheltering Jews? Should Dietrich Bonhoeffer not have tried to kill Hitler? Did Rosa Parks do something wrong by not giving up her seat for a white person? How about those who defiantly sat at whites-only lunch counters and drink from whites-only drinking fountains?

Those who are peacemakers, full of mercy and hungry for justice will see beyond the letter of the law, operating instead from a purity of heart, seeking the law’s deep inner yearning for justice and peace. God doesn’t want robots, who do the least required to fulfill the law. God wants changed hearts. Jesus’ followers will exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, not by dogged adherence to the law, but by loving the neighbor from the heart. Love demands more of us than just not killing our neighbor. Righteousness is not obedience to legislation, but conforming to the will of God. That may be a bit of a Pauline spin on things, but it rings true if we keep in mind Matthew 23.

The end product is this: so that we might be children of our heavenly Father who is righteous and merciful. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

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