ucc logo
Plymouth United Church of Christ
Making a more loving world
Picture of Building
Open and Affirming
2010 Moholt Dr. (Directions)
Eau Claire, WI 54703

Worship at 10:30 am Sunday
Fully accessible
facebook Twitter Podcast

Right click to download to your computer.

Subscribe to Plymouth's podcast and receive sermons and other special events automatically (this link for iTunes only. If you don't have iTunes, this link might work for you).

(the sermon is the only thing that was recorded this Sunday, so no option to listen to entire service)

“Choose the Way of Life”
Sermon, Year A, Epiphany 6, February 16, 2014
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Matthew 5:21-37

Imagine. Use your imaginations for a moment here for a moment. Imagine that you are who you are. Ok, that doesn’t need a lot of imagination to be who you are, but imagine you’re you in the year 25 or whatever year this is that Jesus is delivering this sermon on the mount. Imagine you are there among the group of people. You are there, but with your life situation – your human anxieties, struggles, suffering, your joys – you have brought with you. All that you are in that sense, imagine being there at Jesus’ feet listening to this sermon on the mount. Now imagine also the situation of these people economically, religiously, politically. Politically especially the situation is very different. You aren’t in the United States any more, you are in ancient Israel. And in this are you are surrounded by the signs of violence. Signs of violence as a proper political tool. Your country is not your country. It is occupied by the Roman Empire. Your governor is a pawn of that empire, even though he is one of you. Some of your religious leaders, political leaders, and merchants are in collusion with the empire as well. Roman soldiers walk the streets of your towns armed and ready to deliver justice, Rome’s sense of justice which is justice through violence. They are ready to deal swift and deadly justice of their kind to anyone that they deem a threat or a danger. And they do so without much recourse for legal defense against it.

Your people, your fellow Jews (since if you are there listening to Jesus, you are probably Jewish, but there were probably some gentiles there as well), have been occupied for hundreds of years. You have dreams of being a free people again. You have dreams of getting rid of Roman occupation. Maybe you even have some dreams of revenge on the people who have taken over your sacred lands and interfered with your religion. Rome did not interfere a lot with your religion, but it did interfere some. But there was also the fact that this land was given to you by God to be yours and now Rome has it. That’s an injustice. You might be angry about that. How do you feel about that?

To come back to today, I think of the level of anger that I see in letters to the editor, or TV pundits, or the comments section on news websites. The anger I see from who are absolutely convinced that because the president is not of their party that their country has been taken away from them. I see the anger and the lament feeling that their country has been taken away from them even though it hasn’t. I can understand it, but at the same time I will say that to claim it does an incredible disservice to the people around the world who truly have had their countries taken away from them.

To see the level of anger going on here in the U.S., what must the level of anger have been for the Jewish people who truly have had their country taken away?

We know the zealots were very angry against Rome and they eventually did rise up, which ended in the year 70 with Rome destroying the temple and much of Jerusalem and killing tens of thousands of Jewish people.

Or maybe if you weren’t angry, you just didn’t care. You had such little power that whether it was your country or whether it was Rome in charge, you lose anyway. Maybe the anger isn’t about who is ruling you, but that whoever is in charge always abuses you or doesn’t lift you up or try to make things better for you. You’re at the bottom of the power structure living day by day being taken advantage of by those who ought to be protecting you. The rich get richer while you get nothing. Or maybe you are a woman in this culture that is very male-centric. Being a woman who also feels the insecurity of being a female, subject to harassment at any time with little that you can do about it or penalty to the person who might harass you. Or the anxiety of being a wife knowing that you can, at any moment, end up divorced. Your husband can simply decide not to be married to you any more and divorce you. There’s no alimony, no support after that. You’re cut off and sent off to fend for yourself. Hopefully your father or a brother will take mercy on you and take you in. But even so you are still a tainted woman in a lot of ways. That’s a kind of death sentence. Always niggling away in the back of your mind, “Is it going to happen today?”

Then this man shows up. This man Jesus shows up and he says, “YOU are the blessed one! YOU are the God-favored ones. You who are meek, mourning, who are peacemakers, you who are poor, hungry, thirsty for righteousness, you are the spiritually prosperous, you are the God-favored.”

How does that make you feel?

He goes on to say that you are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world. Not the emperor, or the governor, or the merchants, or the Pharisees or Sadducees or Scribes, or the rich or the powerful. You! You who are the underclass. You who have come to hear me. You who bring your brokenness. You who bring anxieties and worries. You who have been oppressed, left behind, or left outside on the margins. You who have always been told that you’re not special enough for God or government to care about unless you go through the hoops we put before you and live like we tell you to.

YOU are the salt and the light. Imagine that! You’ve probably never heard that before from anyone. Perhaps a few teachers who have come through before and said that, but probably not with such authority or compassion that Jesus brings.

Then Jesus goes on to say, “You have heard it said that ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not...’” You have heard that. You’re a faithful Jew so you have heard the Ten Commandments many times in synagogue or Temple. You’ve heard it from the religious leaders, some of whom are maybe on the edge of the crowd listening in to check the orthodoxy of this man’s words. You have heard them say these words while they take advantage of you. They say “Don’t murder” but they sit by while you go hungry. They say “Don’t murder” but they stand by while people are sick, cast outside the city walls, buried in debt (and possibly in debt to the people saying these words), and make you pay to have access to God. You know these ten commandments, you know the stories, and now Jesus is talking about them in a new way. Taking them to their fullest implication. He goes on, “They say ‘Don’t murder’, but I say ‘Don’t be angry with your brothers or sisters.’” Because anger can lead to murder, to vengeance, to seeking justice through violence. Justice through violence is never justice, it’s just more violence. Anger can also kill the one who holds on to it and doesn’t let it go. Anger can tear you up inside and become fatal on its own. To be angry, and not turn that anger into healthy action, is dangerous. It’s not the anger so much that is bad. Anger can inspire us to do good things. Think of Rosa Parks on the bus, angry enough to not take the seat she was supposed to take. Anger can lead us to right wrongs and fix broken systems. That’s anger being turned into healthy action. But anger that we just live with and don’t move beyond is not healthy for us. It is also a denial of the God-Spirit in the person you are angry with. It is a denial of their humanity in a way. And it is a denial of the God-Spirit in you as well. You can’t be in right relationship with God if you are not in right relationship with your neighbor or your enemy.

Jesus is talking about relationships. What the Ten Commandments mean for us in terms of our relationship with one another. They are laid out as personal rules: “As long I don’t do this, I’m okay.” But Jesus is saying, “Even if you don’t do that, but you might be doing actions that leads to the same effect to your neighbors.” And so “Do not murder” becomes “Don’t be angry”. It can also become “Don’t let people go hungry or starve to death. Don’t let them be executed. Don’t let them die from lack of healthcare.” And Jesus mentions lust, which is an act that objectifies and dehumanizes, which is a kind of murder. Divorce, as I mentioned, could be a catastrophic event for a woman. “These things might be legal,” Jesus says, “But they aren’t right. They can harm relationships, they can hurt people.”

And maybe while you are sitting there listening to Jesus you are thinking back to Moses, whose story you know very well. You remember that Moses went up the mountain to receive the law, and now Jesus is on the mountain offering a new way of living into the fullness of that law. And as a faithful Jewish person you know well the story of Exodus from slavery in Egypt and forty years in the wilderness. How it was at the beginning of that journey that Moses went up the mountain and got the law and brought it down. And then at the end of the forty years as your people were ready to enter the Promised Land and Moses offers this final speech in which he says that as you enter this land which God has promised (and which is now the land that Rome occupies) you have two choices: you can choose the way of death, or you can choose God’s way, the way of life.

I think this is, in part, what Jesus is saying or offering here in this part of the Sermon on the Mount. He’s saying, “Choose the way of life. Give up anger. Give up vengeance. Give up dehumanizing acts like insults and apathy. Choose what builds up people. Choose what builds of relationships.”

To a people who might have been very well bent on vengeance on Rome – not just wanting Rome out of their country, but also punished, for a sense of justice. Or the people listening to Jesus might have wanted vengeance on some of their own people, the ones who had mistreated them, abused them economically, politically, religiously. Maybe thoughts of vengeance. Jesus is saying, “I know you’re angry. That’s why I am saying this. I know you’re angry. God knows you’re angry. And God knows you have every right to be angry. This is worth being angry about. But don’t give in to that anger. No more eye for an eye. From now on, we don’t even do harsh words for an eye. Choose the way of life.”

I imagine that Jesus could very well have added here, “I want you to watch me over the next couple years as I go to the cross and do so offering only forgiveness. I will choose life by going to the cross that way.”

You are God-favored. You are salt and light. Choose the way of life.

Now I have a task for you. Two tasks, actually. My first task is to you as pastor: choose life! I want you to choose the way of life. Make that decision. The other task is to write on your notecards “Today I choose the way of life”, and then sign it, and then list some specific things you can do that are ways of life. Could be generic, like “Be kinder” or “Be more patient”, “Let go of anger”. Something for yourself, like “Exercise more” or “Be more gentle with myself.” Or a faith choice: “Attempt to reconcile with so and so” or “help the street ministry” or “Pray more” or “Be more careful about what entertainment I spend my money and time on”. You have your own lives, your own issues, your own needs. It’s up to you.

[then we allowed some time for people to write their lists, with an invitation to then tear off the part of the card with the “Today I choose the way of life” and signature, and bring it forward and place it on the altar table as an offering to God. Our altar table has also been building over the past couple weeks with placards “You are blessed”, slips of paper with the beatitude words (like “peacemakers”, “mourners”, “meek”), many varieties of candles representing “You are the light”, dishes of varieties of salt representing “you are the salt of the earth”. We sang a hymn, and then after the hymn I offered a prayer:]

Holy God, God of life, you have seen the commitments made here this morning by us choosing life. You have seen our plans to do more life-giving acts. We lift these up to you, holy One. Hold them in your heart and bless us with your Spirit that all of us may be able to live out the choice that we have made today and be faithful to what we have written or thought of here. May your Spirit make us be the disciples that you want us to be to build the world you have imagined for us. Amen.

Share |
Follow @revdavidhuber Follow @plymouthec Tweet

Rev. David Huber's Facebook profile

Return to previous page.
Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

Webpastor: Pastor David