Epiphany 6A – Matthew 5:21-37, sermon by Pastor Robert G. Argot, Jr. 2/12/2017

Epiphany 6A – Matthew 5:21-37

Last week’s Gospel lesson was the beginning part of Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount.” That part of it gave a kind of pep talk to the crowd.  He told them that they were good, using words like “good salt” and “the light.”  He used a plural case for the word “you” to show that being God’s people is not meant to be a solo job, but instead we are part of a group.  And he reminded us that we are not perfect…that we will fall short.  This is not meant as a judgement, but as a lead in to the fact that our perfection is not something which we achieve, but which is achieved for us by Christ and the cross.

So yes, with a quick divergence to Sirach, please note what we are NOT created for. We are not created to be puppets.  We are given the ability to choose whether we follow God’s commandments or not….to choose between fire and water….when we sin, it is of our choosing.  But knowing that we have the power to choose, God wishes that we choose God’s way, which does include realizing that we can’t do it all and asking for God’s mercy, which God is just dying to give.

Now back to the Sermon on the Mount….acknowledging that God’s people are not a bunch of me’s, but a collective we, now what? Well now we get some additional instruction.  You see, even when we do see ourselves as a group, we can still have a me-oriented problem.  We can still be selfish.  We can still look inward towards our own group, rather than outwards.  So not only can we have an “It is all about me” problem, we can also have an “It is all about us” problem, and that is something which God did NOT create us for.  Instead God created us to look outward and see that we are always part of a larger community that God wants us to have a relationship with.  Today’s section of the Sermon on the Mount reminds us in a different way that we are not alone.  And since we are not alone, we need to consider our actions.

How often do you wash your hands after using the bathroom? 34% of Americans do not wash their hands after using the bathroom, and 70% do not use soap. And yes, men are about twice as bad about it as women.  But interestingly, studies show that you are a lot more likely to wash your hands if someone else is present in the bathroom at the same time as you.  So when you realize that you are not alone, you are more likely to exhibit proper behavior.

Well good news….Jesus points out that we are not alone…so maybe realizing that will help us to curb some of our sinful/hurtful behaviors. Maybe if we are thinking that we are not alone, we will realize that even some of our “lesser sins” can hurt people.  Maybe if we don’t think that “no one is watching” we will think twice about the choices we make, the things we say, the actions we take.  Even our smallest decisions, words, and actions can help to improve the lives of others.  Even our smallest decisions, words, and actions can threaten to make worse the lives of others.

(As Professor Karoline Lewis points out), “in this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus insists that life is threatened when anger and judgment and insult reign. Life is threatened when women are objectified, merely fulfillment of sexual desire or the carrying on the family name. Women, Jesus insists, are not culture’s for the taking. Life is threatened when women are consistently reduced, even discarded, based on their capacity to satisfy privileged and patriarchal needs and their capacity to bear children. Life is threatened when you do not follow through with oaths you make.”

As I first start with each new group of confirmation students, I tell them that our purpose as God’s people, as part of God’s creation, is to be in relationship with God and with each other. I remind them that Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love…love of God and love of each other as we love ourselves.  To love is to promote life, not death.  The law which God gave through Moses was meant to help preserve life and out relationships.  Jesus does not come to abolish the law, but to broaden it.

  • It’s not enough just to refrain from murder. We should also treat each other with respect and that means not speaking hateful words.
  • It is not enough to avoid physically committing adultery. We should also not objectify other persons by seeing them as a means to satisfy our physical desires by lusting after them.
  • It is not enough to follow the letter of the law regarding divorce. We should not treat people as disposable and should make sure that the most vulnerable — in this culture that often meant women and children — are provided for.
  • It is not enough to keep ourselves from swearing falsely or lying to others. We should speak and act truthfully in all of our dealings so that we don’t need to make oaths at all. (source = David Lose)So…let’s close with a couple relationship questions.Prayer of thanksgiving.Prayer for help.
  • Remember that God delights in you and loves you unconditionally and so desires the best for you in and through your relationships.
  • Second, think about another important relationship to you, but one that has suffered damage.
  • First, think about one of your best relationships….one which is healthy and good and which helps sustain you. Think about what makes it such a good relationship and why it is so important to you.
  • Yes, the law speaks, but so does the Gospel. Remember last week? What happens to those who don’t keep the law? That’s right, they are the least in the kingdom of heaven. Let me say that again…they are least in the kingdom of heaven. Last week, even the worst player on the New England Patriots could say that he won a Super Bowl. Good news…even the worst of us are still good enough to have a place in heaven. We have a place because Jesus chooses to die even for the worst of us…especially for the worst of us. Thus even the worst of us can make positive relationships, and even the worst of us is deserving of positive relationships.

Bowl making for the Opportunity House Souper Bowl

A talented group of some young and some seasoned members spent enjoyable time together making bowls for the Souper Bowl event which benefits Opportunity House.  This year’s event was held Jan. 30 at the Crowne Plaza where Souper Bowl attendees selected a donated bowl of their choosing and could select from 30 different delicious soups donated by local restaurants. Our Friedens group donated 12 bowls showing their individual flair and talents. A great time was had by all who participated in the bowl making.  Special thanks to Lynn Higgins and Tulpehocken High School for allowing us to glaze and fire our bowls at the school.

 

“A few of my (almost) favorite things”

  “A few of my (almost) favorite things”, by Pastor Robert G. Argot, Jr.-   February, 2017

I have a favorite word. Really. I don’t use it much in conversation, but when I hear it, I smile.

The word is “penultimate.” I learned that word back in seminary. Where as the word “ultimate” means the greatest or the most or the final, penultimate is the second greatest, or the next to the greatest. So if you have the ultimate (or final)

experience of something, just before that you would have had the penultimate experience.

We don’t usually realize that we are having the penultimate experience until later and we look back and think about it. We may remember the last time we leave our house as we move, or the last time we have a conversation with someone, or the final time we….well you can fill in the blank. But do we remember the next to last time?

We have just gotten through the Christmas season. What a great season it was. In society, Christmas is probably the ultimate holiday, but for the Church, it is the penultimate holiday…for the best is yet to come. As much as the birth of our Savior is an incredible story, there is one more…the greatest story has not yet been told. The Easter story in on the way.

So yes, bask in the glow of the penultimate experience in Christmas, but as they say (whoever they are), “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”

Peace,

Pastor Rob

 

You’ve Got Mail

                 “You’ve Got Mail!”

While in middle/high school, I enjoyed walking down my drive way to get the mail. It was especially exciting to see one addressed to me…Joy!

While in college, I would often stroll by the commons area to see if there was any mail in my mailbox. It was especially exciting if there was a “package” slip in the mail, which meant I had to go to the mail office window and pick up a package. At least once a semester it was cookies from Effort United Methodist Church…..Joy!

When AOL first came out, and before spam emails were everywhere, the familiar “You’ve got mail!” was enough to make me stop what I was doing and see what popped up. And if was an actual email from a friend…..Joy!

Now, when my cell phone buzzes that I have a text message, I am quick to look at it and see what came through. And if it is a message from a family member or friend….Joy!

Why the joy? Because all these pieces of mail in their various forms are proof that I exist, that I matter, that I am loved.

On Sunday mornings, going to church gives me the chance to check my “spiritual inbox.” The prayers, the hymns, the scriptures, the messages, the gathering of people…..all these help show me the message from God that to God, I exist, I matter, I am loved.

Joy!

Peace,

Pastor Rob

 

(Untitled)

america                 “The Liar vs. The Racist”

Did that title get your attention? In a time when I would think people would be focusing on colder weather, upcoming holidays, and the like, it seems there is a lot of energy and emotion going around (still) about the election of our next presi-dent. My temptation is to say nothing, for if I say something I risk criticism. However, even if I say nothing, criticism may still come at me. So let me say about four things.

1. I find it interesting, for lack of a better word, that in a presidential election that brought out record numbers of voters, almost half of those who could vote chose not to.

2. I find it depressing at the level of hateful language that was used to encourage people to vote for particular candidates. Though this language was strongest at the presidential election level, it was seen at other levels too. Why must we use hate to convince people we are right (or that they are wrong)?

3. I will pray for the presidentelect to succeed. I hate the language that he has used. I disagree with many of his stances. But I will not pray for him to fail, because if he fails, won’t that mean we fail as well? Mind you, I will not pray that his success is necessarily on his terms, but that as a nation we will be able to look back and see that his presidency was successful. That being said….

4. I am afraid. I am not so much afraid of what one man who was elected president will do, but how our nation will react to this one man being elected. I see people expressing the belief that if the presidentelect can say such racist/sexist things, then it must be okay. I see other people giving up on hope. I see people being afraid of their futures. I see other people expressing rage. And (another opinion) I see our media covering the worst of this and presenting it as the norm. But I am afraid that the more we glorify the negative and hurtful, the more common place it will be.

So in conclusion, I pray. I pray that all those elected lead wisely. I pray that hardened hearts are turned. I pray that people talk with each other rather than yell at each other. I pray that great divides between people will be healed. I pray that we learn from each other. And I pray that God’s peace will enter into our hearts and our nation this holiday season.

Peace.

Pastor Rob

 

Attic Scavenger Hunt

Ever wondered what is in the attic at Friedens, well wonder no more. Some enterprising souls went on a scavenger hunt with pictures to prove what they found. With the Church being 120 years old it was hard to visualize what might be awaiting. And no we do not have bats in our belfry! What they found was interesting to say the least, and certainly not what was expected. See the pictures to satisfy your curiosity. Thanks to the group for sharing their trek with those of us who are not so brave or who could never have negotiated that ladder!