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Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,Mike Rinehart

February 13, 2011 – Epiphany 6A

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.

OR

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 – Sdf

Matthew 5:21-37 – Continuation of the Sermon on the Mount: 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.

The Six Antitheses

The Sermon on the Mount

January 30 – Matthew 5:1-12. Opening of the Sermon on the Mount: The Beatitudes.

February 6 – Matthew 5:13-20. Salt and Light. Your righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees

February 13 – Matthew 5:21-37. The 1st 4 of the 6 Antitheses, "But I say to you…"

1. Anger

2. Adultery

3. Divorce

4. Oaths

February 20 – Matthew 5:38-48, The 5th and 6th of the 6 Antitheses.

5. Retaliation

6. Enemies

February 27 – Matthew 6:24-34. You can’t serve God and money. Don’t worry about your life.

So, January 30 we had the Beatitudes, the Preamble to the Sermon on the Mount, if you will.

Last week, February 6, we were told that we were salt and light, and warned that our righteousness had best exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, or the kingdom of heaven might be out of reach.

February 13 and 20 we have The Six Antitheses. To wit:

1. Anger: You have heard it said, "You shall not murder," but I say to you if you are angry, insulting or name-calling, you’re liable to hellfire. Tend to relationships ahead of your worship.

2. Adultery: 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. Sin is serious.

3. Divorce: You have heard it said, "Whoever divorces his wife should give her a certificate of divorce," but I say to you divorce (except unchastity) and remarriage are adultery.

4. Oaths: 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.

5. Retaliation: You have heard it said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," but I say to you, don’t resist and evil doer, turn the other cheek, if they take your coat, give them your cloak, go the extra mile, give to those who beg.

6. Enemies: 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.

This week we take on the first four of these.

I suppose the challenge of preaching Jesus’ ethical teaching is not having a sermon of law, and no gospel. People tend to revert to the law at every opportunity, so it will be the task of the preacher to sandwich these ethical teachings in the context of grace.

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 the birds of the air, and will also take care of you. God is not angry judge, but 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?

1. Anger: You have heard it said, "You shall not murder," but I say to you if you are angry, insulting or name-calling, you’re liable to hellfire. Tend to relationships ahead of your worship.

So the question may be: "As long as I don’t murder, is it okay if I still hate?"

Let’s hope the answer to this question is obvious. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me," is not operative. Luther picks this up in his explanation of the eighth commandment:

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray, slander, or hurt our neighbor’s reputation, but defend, speak well of our neighbor, and explain everything in the kindest way.

I’ve discovered that when people hear "hellfire," they take it quite literally. Jesus may have meant it literally, but I suspect not. The phrase reads: τὴν γέενναν τοu πυρός. 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. Nevertheless, years of Greek mythology and even Dante have accustomed our people to hear this passage as an eternal torture passage. 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…

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. St. Augustine assumes that Jesus is speaking metaphorically throughout this passage. For example, "And so we may interpret the altar spiritually, as being faith itself in the inner temple of God, whose emblem is the visible altar." (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf106.v.ii.x.html) 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.

So what’s the point? Relationships are important. More important than vengeance. 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.

2. Adultery: 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. Sin is serious.

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. Save this for later. What you think matters. Your motives matter. Transformation of behavior alone won’t do. Actually, it won’t work. The only hope is transformation of the heart, from which flow all actions.

A search for "heart" in an English Bible yields 17 results. 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 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.

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 lush 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: You have heard it said, "Whoever divorces his wife should give her a certificate of divorce," but I say to you divorce (except unchastity) and remarriage are adultery.

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.

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, 29the 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. (Deut 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 she. 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. (Deut 24:1-4)

This reflects the capriciousness of divorce here. "She does not please him," seems to be ample grounds for a man to divorce his wife. And once he divorces her, he cannot have her back.

It seems to me that Jesus, by criticizing divorce, is making it more egalitarian. The woman couldn’t divorce anyway. Jesus is leveling the playing field. And he creates a loophole: "except on the grounds of unchastity." And it’s quite a loophole. What qualifies? I would imagine 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. Shining moment. 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: 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.

So, the question here might be: "If I make a promise and don’t swear to God, can I break it?" You know, like, I had my fingers crossed. Jesus encourages us to be people of integrity. Your word is your integrity. Yes means yes, and no means no. Don’t use God to play word games, or cheat your neighbor. My parents never allowed us to say, "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? 22, 28, 34 seem to intensify the law. 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. Those who are peacemakers, full of mercy and hungry for justice will see beyond the letter of the law to its deep inner yearning for purity of heart and a world of justice. They will exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees. Righteousness is not obedience to legislation, but perfect conformity to the will of God. (Green, McKnight, and Marshall, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels.) 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 that we are to be children of our heavenly Father. Righteous and merciful. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

Be at peace with God and with one another,

Michael Rinehart, Bishop

bishop@gulfcoastsynod.org
www.bishopmike.com
www.facebook.com/bishoprinehart

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www.gulfcoastsynod.org

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st olaf choir
The St. Olaf Choir will sing at Grace Presbyterian Houston on February 8

OF NOTE

Theological Conference EVALUATION FORM

Congregational Reports due February 15

Rostered Leader Reports due February 15

Health Assessment due April 15

ISRAEL TRIP will be led by Pastor Steve Quill October 10-19, 2011. The trip will include Christmas Lutheran in Bethlehem and Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem. Two info nights: January 13 at Steve Quill’s house, and January 20 at Bill and Dianne House. REGISTER online. BROCHURE.

Interfaith Prayer Service Sermon

Interfaith Prayer Service TV coverage

Interfaith Prayer Service Houston Chronicle coverage Prayer List

Books

Lectionary Readings

UPCOMING EVENTS

February 8 –St. Olaf at Grace Presbyterian, Houston

February 19 and 26 –Dialog: Racism

Grace Lutheran Church, Houston, TX, 9-4.
Sponsored by the CENTER FOR HEALING OF RACISM

Register: 713-520-8226 or cfhr1

March 24 – Coalition for Mutual Respect Religious Leaders’ Initiative: Mark DeMoss, founder of the Civility Project. DeMoss will talk on Civility in Public Discourse. Temple Beth Yeshurun (4525 Beechnut). 8-10 a.m. Breakfast included. No cost.

April – CAR trip

Thursday, April 20 – Coalition for Mutual Respect Religious Leaders’ Initiative: Pete Steinke. Steinke wll talk on Living in a Megachurch World. Salem Lutheran Church in Houston. 8-10 a.m. Breakfast included.

May 20-22 – Synod Assembly

June 24-July 3 –– Peru Trip to congregation in Huacho, and Rainforest

June 26-30 – Disciple Project at Texas Lutheran University

July 21-30 – Intergenerational Peru Trip, including Machu Picchu

August 14-20 – Churchwide Assembly

Leadership Gatherings (Saturday only this year):
August 6 – Houston
August 13 – Brenham
August 27 – New Orleans

October 10-19