The Sixth Sunday After The Epiphany…Series A
Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (February 11th, 2017)
Text: Matthew 5: 21-37
Title: …A New Community of Character…
Something happened in the chambers of the United States Senate this Tuesday evening which reminded me of Jesus words about murder in the Gospel for this 6th Sunday after the Epiphany. On Tuesday evening, Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (Republican from Kentucky), invoked Senate Rule #19 to silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Democrat from Massachusetts) who was reading a letter written 30 years ago by Coretta Scott King (widow of slain Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.). Sen. Warren was speaking in opposition to the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions to be the next Attorney General of the United States. Mrs. King’s 1986 letter was addressed to the Senate Judiciary Committee and it expressed her opposition to Session’s nomination (by Ronald Reagan) to be appointed a Federal Judge. Senate Rule #19 has an interesting and colorful history which I won’t get into this evening/morning (if you are interested, you can Google Rule #19 and read all about it). But what Rule #19 discourages (and tries to prevent) are Senators, during a public debate, from making statements which, either directly or indirectly “impute behavior or motives unworthy or unbecoming of a United States Senator”. Senate Rule #19 was designed to try to create in the United States Senate, a community where members conduct their business in civility…where they treat their fellow Senators with the respect and the dignity they deserve. Senate Rule #19 was enacted in 1902, and it has only been invoked once (in 1979, when Sen. Lowell Weiker of Ct. called Sen. John Heinz of PA an “Idiot”). But the interesting thing is that Sen. Weiker was never silenced by the Senate (like Sen. Warren was on Tuesday evening)…in 1979 Rule #19 was invoked but it was never implemented!
So, I can imagine what many of you are thinking right now…”Thanks for the interesting civics lesson Fr. Dave, but what in the world does it have to do with today’s Gospel”?? Let me try to explain…I think Jesus’ words regarding the sin of murder (a violation of the 5th of the 10 Commandments) is the equivalent of Senate Rule #19! You see, in the Gospel for today (a portion of Saint Matthew’s version of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount) Jesus says, “You have heard it said in days of old…in ancient times…you shall not murder…but I say to you, if you are angry with your brother or sister, you are liable to the judgment and if you insult a brother or sister you are liable to the Council and if you say, ‘you fool’ you are liable to the hell fire”.
Notice what Jesus is saying here…he is dramatically expanding the meaning of murder…he is saying that murder is not primarily the physical act…the external reality…no, murder is an internal reality…a reality of the heart. So when we are angry with our brother or sister…when we hold longstanding grudges…when we insult or impugn the character and good name of a brother or a sister, then we are guilty of murder, even if we never pull the trigger…never commit the act itself! As Jesus said in last Sunday’s Gospel…he did not come to abolish or overturn the Law…he came to fulfill the law…to teach us what the Law really means. And in today’s Gospel Jesus teaches that God’s wrath is kindled when his beloved children hurt and abuse each other…in thought, word and deed!
In today’s Gospel Jesus describes a new and a radically different kind of community…a community guided and governed by a new and radically different and even more demanding ethic. In this New Community, it is not enough to simply avoid homicide…in this New Community there is no room for name calling, insults or even anger…behavior which erodes/distorts and ultimately destroys the fabric of community life. In this New Community it is not enough to avoid adultery…any behavior which treats others as objects to be used and manipulated rather than as beloved siblings to be cherished and respected must be totally avoided. A New Community where members approach the Altar only after broken relationships are repaired and restored
My friends, here is the great Good News that we celebrate tonight/today…in the waters of our Baptism we all were incorporated into this New Community…this Body of Christ…by virtue of our Baptism, we are living members…the bones of the Body of Christ…but we must be realistic and honest…this New Community is not perfect (far from it) we fall short every single day of actually living up to the high ideals and lofty aspirations expressed in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount…but this New Community is the instrument God has chosen and continues to use (in spite of it’s obvious flaws and imperfections) to proclaim the truth of His love to a skeptical and unbelieving world. And this New Community is the one place where we can go to experience the hospitality and the compassion and the mercy and the grace of the God who saves thru Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit…this New Community is the place…really the only place where we can go to hear what we all most desperately need to hear (not just once in a while… but on a regular basis)…the only place where we can go to hear the Words of Eternal Life…