19 Feb 2017
2/19/2017 SECOND SUNDAY OF PRE-LENT
Fr. Randolph Calvo 2017
“‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you …’” (Matt. 5:38-39a) In the name …
Last Sunday if you braved the snowstorm you heard in the sermon about the first four of Jesus’ “But I say to you” statements. Today we hear numbers five and six. Last Sunday I mentioned that the only way these statements have any merit is because of our relationship with Jesus. We have to accept Him as having the authority to change tradition, law and expectation. If we don’t, then Jesus’ “But I say to you” has no basis. All six of these pronouncements are audacious, and none more so than today’s. They surprise and challenge us even now some 2,000 years later. This is why I said last Sunday that Jesus can’t be confined by any particular formula, institution or book. As believers we have to always be thinking about Jesus’ core proclamation and fundamental example, and then we need to figure out through that strange combination of brain and conscience what Jesus would have us believe and do today.
We can’t escape the responsibility of being thoughtful believers. This responsibility simply cannot be passed off to the church, to the Bible, to short catch phrase religious slogans. Faith is relationship and that means it’s alive and changing, constantly, and it is our unavoidable religious responsibility to keep up and maintain that relationship. I’d like to take this morning’s Lesson as an example. Leviticus 19 is the beginning of what is called the Holiness Code. In these passages, God lays out how He and the people of Israel can live together peaceably. The people must strive to be more and more like God. They need to be godly, in other words. God reveals quite famously: “‘You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy.’” (19:2) Jesus says it a bit differently in today’s Gospel, but it’s basically the same sentiment. He says: ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.’” (Matt. 5:48) But remember, this repeated Holiness Code comes after six of Jesus’ “But I say to you” statements where He takes the old commandment to a new level. This is what I mean by keeping up with our faith relationship and not letting it settle into automatic responses.
Morality, for example, is not cutting out a catch phrase from the Bible and using it to protect what we want to believe. This happens frequently with the Holiness Code, but we’re very selective about which codes we quote and which we ignore. Morality is about still listening even when we don’t want to believe. That’s where the challenge of faith resides. That’s where growth begins. Morality is not about God becoming more like us, but about us becoming more like God. And for us here God is perfectly displayed in Jesus. And for us here we are beginning again our journey to the cross. The cross is Jesus’ revelation of a scandalous love. Our reading from Leviticus and its Holiness Code demands that we love our kin, our family, the ones who love us back. Jesus’ “But I say to you,” however, says something quite different. He says “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies.” And we’re supposed to love in this strange kind of way because that’s the way God loves us. The Almighty makes the sun rise on the good and the evil; He sends His rain upon the righteous and the unrighteous. God’s love is universal and is proactive. God leads with love as a very part of His nature. He doesn’t wait for others to love first. If we are to be holy like God is holy, if we are to be perfect like the Father is perfect, if we are to understand the mystery of the cross, then we have to try and bring this kind of love into our definition of morality, and that means whether we like it or not.
Again this Sunday I have included a picture at the bottom of your Song Sheet that I would like you to take a look at. There’s a new documentary film out called Accidental Courtesy. It’s about Daryl Davis, the man to the left in the picture. He’s a blues musician, but in his spare time he has taken on a special project. Daryl Davis goes out of his way to socialize with and befriend members of the Ku Klux Klan and other neo-Nazis. I hope you can make out in the copy of the picture that Daryl Davis is a black man. For many of the people that Daryl meets he is the first and only black person they have ever spoken to. In some cases, this new relationship has so impressed the white supremacists that they have dropped out of their hate-organizations. Daryl Davis even has a collection of discarded robes and hoods that have been given to him by these people who have been changed simply by getting to know that person they assumed they should hate.
This is a film I think we should show here at Holy Name at some point and talk about in the context of turn the other cheek and love your enemy. If you would like to watch it on your own, I have included the PBS link in the electronic copy of today’s sermon on our parish website. People can assume hatred, but relationships can destroy those assumptions. I think one of the greatest threats to Christian morality is isolation, and this is what worries me about the heightened fear of immigrants and the increasing divide in American society. I’ve only seen parts of the Jackie Robinson movie. Mr. Robinson was the first professional black baseball player. In one scene, a boy and his father are at the ballpark. The boy’s father and others around him yell “nigger” at Jackie Robinson. The boy seems confused by this anger, but he imitates it. Then one of Mr. Robinson’s white teammates from that same city comes over to first base, puts his arm around Jackie Robinson’s shoulders, and stands there looking up into the crowd as they jeer and boo the both of them. The boy just learned another lesson beside hate and it was based again on relationship. This is the normal kind of reaction to those challenging “But I say to you” Jesus statements about loving when it’s the hardest thing to do or even imagine. May our Christian morality be challenged by Jesus’ words and especially His cross. May we learn to love as an initiative and not only as a response. And may we pray that our faith relationship with Jesus inspire us to build relationships with so many others that somehow we can figure out how to live together. For this may
we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+) http://www.pbs.org/video/2365936902/
Fr. Randy Calvo