The Matthean passages are what we began discussing last week.... Jesus declares that he has come to fulfill the law, to embody it and then he goes on to describe in today’s passages some of what that looks like. In every case it looks a little different than the laws as they were written. In each case it goes beyond them…far beyond them. Each one of these could be the topic of a sermon all in itself. But, taken together or apart, the bigger message is the same: We talk a lot about what we should do as followers of Christ. We focus constantly on our call to be more giving, spend more time in prayer, be more loving to the stranger, more willing to reconcile and to ask for forgiveness, more willing to talk to each other and work through problems, more willing to love even our enemies and to help them, too, become the most whole they can be. If I wanted to go there again today, these would be the perfect passages to tell us how we are not quite getting it yet, how we need to keep striving to do better.
But today I want to focus a little differently. It may seem odd, when we are finished this morning to take these scriptures that seem so strict, so demanding and use them to talk about gratitude and about living in joy. But that is what I want to do today. So we are going to focus on two parts of today’s readings. From Deuteronomy, verses 19-20: “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life,…” And from Matthew, we will look at the bigger picture, the picture that says that these commands, too, are calls to live our lives fully, completely, and in the joy of God.
Choosing life. What does it mean to choose life? What are your thoughts about choosing life?
As I’ve said before, I believe that every single thing that God asks us to do is out of God’s love for us. In other words, everything God asks us to do is in service to our own ability to really live. Everything that God has done for us is out of God’s love for us. God came to be among us, as one of us. God showed us how to be and how to love. God knew that would lead to death and God went there willingly. We no longer have to fear death because Jesus overcame it. We are offered real life. We are invited into real living and reassured that we can do so without fear. Even the strict mandates Jesus lays out for us in today’s passages I believe God gives us out of deep love for us. Jesus invited us into real living. Taking each of them in turn, when we let go of anger we are freed from the grip of negative thoughts, negative planning of revenge, negative focus. When we find ourselves trapped and imprisoned in guilt, shame or addictions (such as the lust mentioned in this passage), we are enslaved. Freeing ourselves from that, too, allows us to live fully, not just in ourselves, but in our relationships to other people as well – honoring our commitments and focusing our energy where it needs to be, on the people we love, on those in front of us, on what is real and not made up in our heads. Not swearing also frees us to simply do the best we can in every area, not worrying that we’ve made oaths that somehow we may not be able to fulfill. We do our best and we pray that we can fulfill every commitment, but we recognize that because of our humanity, that isn’t a reality all of the time. We live life caring about the other, because life connects us and when I hurt you, I hurt me. So we live, really live, our lives by living in God, through God, through our faith in and connection to God, not because these are rules we are told we must obey. But because that is what living, really living looks like.
Finally, we live, really live, by seeing, with gratitude the blessings that God gives us and surrounds us with every single day. We live by delighting every day in what we are given in each moment. We live by inviting the joy of God, the joy of our faith, the joy of living in the Lord into our lives daily. That is a real thing, a practical thing, but it takes practice to choose to live in gratitude for the blessings rather than in the many things that cause our lives to be difficult or challenging. We are so blessed, even by the challenges that come our way. All that we have, all that God gives us is a gift, if we can learn to live in each moment, deeply enough to really see the gift in everything. These challenging scriptures which call us to be better than we are, that call us to be more wholly giving and loving and completely selfless than we probably will ever be. These, too are gifts to us, calling us into wholeness, showing us a vision for what we could be and what the world could be. Do we feel their strict words to be a burden? Or can we live, really live, striving to fulfill them not because we “have to” but because we recognize the gift in all that God calls us to do and experience?
I picked songs for the Praise team to sing today that focus on those blessings, those many, many gifts which fill and surround our lives and I want to finish my sermon time by showing you a clip that also reminds us of the gifts that surround us. (For those who come to our Wednesday evening service, you will have seen this before..for that I apologize!)