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Focus from the Rev. David F. Sellery, Priest-In-Charge, St. John’s Church, Salisbury, CT As Good as It Gets - Matthew 5:38-48

Pavarotti soaring in Nessun Dorma… magnificent; Astaire and Rogers floating through Cole Porter’s Night and Day… breathe taking; Olivier’s menacing Richard III… brilliant; but for pure soul stirring impact, Jesus of Nazareth’s Sermon on the Mount is as good as it gets. But in a media age, if the images don’t move and the mood isn’t captured by music, if the thought takes more than 140 characters to convey, that means we are required to think. We need to work at it to get the full impact of the words on the page. But too often, digging into scripture and coming to grips with its implications are sadly neglected priorities.

That’s why this is our fourth consecutive Sunday of slowly working our way, word by word, through all 48 verses of the fifth chapter of Matthew. And as we see again in this week’s gospel, every verse pays-off in inspiration. The depth, the breadth, the language, the passion are all unparalleled. But it is the content, not the presentation, that is the most remarkable aspect of Christ’s mountain-side message.

Two-thousand years have passed and the words are as challenging and revolutionary as the day they were delivered. The entire relationship of God and man has been redefined. Love is the new paradigm of life. Starting with The Beatitudes calling us to remodel our behavior, through the light of the world call to discipleship, to the redefining of morality and human purpose as love of God
and neighbor… Jesus leads us step by step to this week’s call to perfection. Jesus wants us to be as good as it gets. He wants us to be perfect… as your heavenly Father is perfect.

And in plain, powerful language he tells us how to make that happen: Do not repay evil with evil. Do not ever, ever turn away from those in need. Share ‘til it hurts and then share some more. Without exception, all of God’s children are our sisters and brothers… cherish them. Taken as broad-brush concepts, the message is easy to accept and honor. But talk is cheap. And worse than cheap, it is mockery to repeatedly mouth the words of Christ without the commitment to live them.

More than that, in our media-soaked environment, where brag and boast are the rule… perfection and humility seem quaint, incompatible values. Yet that is what Jesus was… both perfect and humble… perfectly humble. And that is what he is calling us to be.

Jesus is telling us that when it comes to real-life, everyday decisions… marginally moral behavior is not good enough. It’s not why the Father made us.
It’s not why the Son died for us. Hoping to squeak by with a minimum of effort and inconvenience is a formula for failure. And more than anything, Jesus wants us to succeed. So he calls us to be perfect, even though he knows we are flawed. He loves us in our sins and calls us to rise above them… always aiming higher.

It is in this gospel that we learn to go the extra mile. We learn to turn the other cheek. We are challenged to repay hatred with love. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that kind of love. I want to hit back. I want to get revenge. But Christ doesn’t. And that is the transformational lesson of this climax to the Sermon on the Mount. As St. Paul explains it: It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives within me. And as St. Francis echoes: Make me a channel of your peace. On our own we are hit or miss at best. But as channels for the love of Christ alive within us… everything is possible… even perfection.

Many folks have closed the pages on this gospel and gone away mumbling: Why bother? I’ll never be perfect… why even try? They miss the point of Christ’s call to perfection. C.S. Lewis puts the point in perspective. He tells us that God does not say: “Unless you are perfect, I will not help you.
If he meant that, our position is hopeless. I think he meant ‘The only help I will give you is to become perfect. You may want something less; but I will give you nothing less.’ Once you call him in, he will give you the full treatment.” Clearly, the love of God comes in only one grade… super, high-octane, premium.

Only one person has ever achieved perfection here on earth. Only one person has ever lived every word of the Sermon on the Mount. That person is its author. And in the gospel this morning, he calls us to perfection. If we answer, if we spend our days honestly trying our best to know and live his gospel, he promises his grace and protection. And he promises more. He promises that if we are faithful in this world, we will be perfect in the next. And that’s as good as it gets.

eDevotions from The Rev.Bob Dannals Daily Devotionals - Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Psalm 119:33-40; I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48

An eye for an eye... Matthew 5:38.

Jesus is citing the legal principle of the Holiness Code called "proportional revenge." And then he infuses this principle with original meaning and blessing. Godly love goes beyond the revenge principle. It goes beyond non-violent resistance made famous by Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Jesus is speaking about a love of non-resistance; a love which wills the good of the other, even the enemy.

Challenge and Opportunity:

We live in a world of retribution and retaliation. Many people savor feelings of resentment, we nurse grudges, people seek their brand of justice. The tall order of Jesus turns these approaches on their heads. We have in our minds what the "Peaceable Kingdom of God" would look like. You and I can take some steps each day toward that vision.

Clergy Confidential: Finding God in Daily Chaos by Tim Schenck Seeking a Moral Compass

Like the vast majority of people with political opinions, I am not a public policy analyst. I keep up with current events, think I do a fairly good job of separating “fake news” from actual news, and try to see both sides of the issues. I am aware that rhetoric and sloganeering add nothing helpful to the public discourse and that the great issues of the day are complex, nuanced, and require thoughtful deliberation.

Unfortunately this is rarely the approach, which is why we end up with precious little civil
dialogue between people with opposing views. It’s easier to demonize than debate. And with handy social media options like “unfollow” and “block,” we can tailor the public conversation to our own personal tastes and preferences.

One question that’s been on my mind of late is, “what is the role of clergy during politically divisive times?” And make no mistake about it — we’re living in politically divisive times. Not surprisingly, people have differing views on the subject. Some want their clergy out marching in the streets at every opportunity; others don’t want their clergy uttering anything political at all.

As a faith leader, I have found that few things get people more fired up than delivering what they would term a “political sermon.” Some feel politics should never be mentioned from the pulpit. There’s a desire that houses of worship be the last remaining sanctuary free from political rancor and viewpoints.
That to preach politics from the pulpit is to automatically alienate a group of people in a congregation when the goal should be to unite those with disparate views rather than divide them. That worship should foremost be about “peace and harmony.”

Others feel that faith is inherently political. That to avoid what’s happening in the world is to stick our heads in the sand and cease to be relevant. That Jesus himself was political, fighting for the overthrow of an oppressive Roman regime. That he was executed for his political activism. That worship should foremost be a call to action.

While both sides have merit, my own approach tends to be somewhere in the middle. And while the middle can be a lonely place these days, I don't believe you can ignore what’s happening in the world — a majority of the populace who feels unheard, large scale protests, fear of Muslims and fear for Muslims. Not every sermon I preach incorporates current events, but when major national or global events are on people’s minds, they must be addressed in the context of Scripture or I’ve failed to do my job. So while we can’t ignore global events, I also believe that we must maintain the bonds of community even when we disagree.

As someone who served in the military and used to run political campaigns for a living, I do indeed have a lot of opinions. But what I stand up for from the pulpit is guided by my understanding of Scripture and by the words and
actions of Jesus. I see the world through the lens of inclusion and dignity and compassion and love. The non-negotiable of the Christian faith is to show those things to all people, especially in caring for the poor, the downtrodden, the vulnerable, and the marginalized. That’s what Jesus did time and again and it is what I strive to do, as best I can, in my own life even as I seek to inspire others to do likewise.

I believe there is a role for clergy in the political conversation. We don’t have all the answers and we’re not all policy wonks. But we do have a moral compass that can keep the excesses and shortcomings of human nature in check. This is less about choosing sides and more about pointing out sinful behavior when we see it and encouraging compassionate and loving action in response.

This is not an easy balance to achieve and I do ask you to pray for your faith leaders. Just as we pray fervently for our elected officials, our nation, the world, and all of you.

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