Monday, February 24, 2014

... As Your Heavenly Father Is

Two weeks ago, we had the beginning of the section on law in Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount." Jesus declared that Torah and the prophets would endure to the end of all things, with every detail intact. He declared that what Torah and the prophets entail, what God commands through them, even in its smallest detail, constitutes the basis for one's participation in God's rule over the heavens. And last week, Matthew's Jesus went on to show what it means to fulfill these injunctions—rather than to engage in strategies of mitigation, relaxing the law here and there to make it a better fit to the people.

And what does it mean? Reconciliation with those you have wronged; respect for women as equals; the refusal to objectify and subject the people around you to your own will; the protection of others from the working out of your own sinful desires, at whatever cost to yourself; and the requisite humility to only promise what it lies within your power to do. This is the law, and the prophets. These are the demands of the justice of God's rule over the heavens. You could look at them as working out the two greater commands: to love God, and to love the neighbor as equal with yourself before God.

Now, this week, Jesus continues the theme. In fact, this week it gets worse! Don't look for compensation for wrong done to you; turn it into good done for your neighbor. Outdo your enemies in generosity. Give them, freely, more than they would take from you. Love and pray for even your enemies, because they are your neighbors. Be like God in this way. There is nothing more demanding. "Live a just life, as God is just."

And who could doubt from this that God wills good to every creature—and that God is in fact good to every creature, regardless of their belonging to this or that group? Regardless, even, of their actions? These commandments are not the prerequisites of God's grace, by any means! They are not instructions on how to merit salvation. That is never what "heaven" means in this context. Heaven is that realm of creation that is already properly subordinate to God, whose creatures already cooperate in doing God's will.

It is quite obviously another matter, here on earth. And so these commandments are instructions on how to participate fully in God's actions in the world. Torah and the prophets do not stand across the path that leads to God's grace. There is nothing of merit here. God's grace is already given, and given abundantly. And beyond that, as grace on top of grace, God is merciful and patient with us as we struggle to live up to that grace. God already is exactly the way God would have us be! These commandments are the shape of a way of life for a people already aware that God is so gracious to them. The emulation of God is the shape of our gratitude. And that shape is what God calls "justice."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Problem With Salt

It's time I preached some gospel again. But last Sunday's texts were more about ethics, so I'll do that, first. This past Sunday was the fifth in Epiphany, for which in the year of Matthew the NT lessons are 1 Cor 2:1-16 and Mt 5:13-20.

So let's start with the texts. A text well-translated is halfway to being preached—which is to say that these are activities which it is nearly equally hard to get right, laborious devotions of attention to the text and the audience, both of which aim to reveal the message of the text for the upbuilding of the audience. The best we can do is one message, one facet of it, for one situation. Which is what I will attempt here, today.

To that end, here's the reading from Corinthians:
And when I came to you, siblings, I did not come declaring the evidence of God to you according to the eminence of the message, or using creativity—for I chose not to know anything among you except Jesus, the Messiah, and him crucified. Using weakness and fear and great trembling, I became for you both my message and my preaching. I did not use persuasively creative speeches; instead, I used the exhibition of the Spirit and of power. Why? So that you would trust in the power of God, rather than in popular wisdom.