“Jesus’ Beatitudes 3 of 4: Nothing is Possible …without God”
Matthew 5: 21-37; Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook; Northwood United Church;
February 12, 2017
I suspect that I was not alone in attending parties to watch the Superbowl last Sunday. How many people caught the game? What seemed like what was going to be an embarrassment for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots turned around into the most amazing victory of Superbowl history. Coming back from a 28-3 deficit, New England forced, the first overtime in Superbowl history and went on to victory winning 34-28 over the Atlanta Falcons. Now, I’m not going to turn this morning’s reflection into a sport’s sermon, but I did want to borrow a practice from the athletes for us to consider. After each successful touchdown is made, have you ever noticed what the player does? Before his silly dance or celebration, he points his finger up to the heavens and he acknowledges that he could not have done it without God. The player acknowledges that nothing is possible without God! The image before you is a picture of that very thing happening. The Patriot’s wide receiver Danny Amendola has just successfully scored a touchdown and the first thing he does is point up to the above, acknowledging that ‘nothing is possible without God’.
Now, I don’t want to suggest that God was on the side of New England and not on that of Atlanta. God has much more important things to worry about than a spirited game of football. What I am suggesting we take note of is that practice of an athlete’s of submission to God; acknowledging the need of God’s presence in their lives in order for greatness to ensue. Have you ever considered your need of God in order to do the big things in your life? Kerry and I did a version of this when we took our vows as your ministry team. When asked if we will be faithful to our ministry with you at Northwood, we did not just respond “Yes”. We each responded “I will God being my helper”. We respond in this way because nothing is possible without God. You will likely recall this as being a part of a baptism ceremony. Parents, guardians and adult baptizands are asked faith question like “Will you follow in the way of Jesus Christ?” or “Will you share your faith with your child?” And the response is never a singular “yes”; it is always “I do, by the grace of God” / “I do, with God’s help”. This morning, as we continue along with this third section of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, we are embraced by the reality that ‘nothing is possible without God’.
This morning’s passage, I would suggest, needs to be seen in the framework of the last few verses of last week’s lection. Having called the disciples to be “salt and light”, Jesus concludes that their thoughts and actions must be above reproach. He concludes with the challenging words “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Hearing those challenging words, it would not have been odd for the disciples to have stood up and left and gone back to their lives. It would not have been odd for them to have wished they had never met Jesus and been called to follow. Simon-Peter and Andrew, James and John would have gone back to the fishing business ~ ‘umm, Dad…I think I made a big mistake following this Jesus guy. Can I come back and work at the family business’? And if you were one of the few who braved the snow to hear last week’s passage ~ or caught it on the website, perhaps you too wondered what is the point in following this Jesus who demands even more than that of righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees? How can we ever possibly measure up and be Jesus’ people if this is the kind of living Jesus calls us to? The answer is that we cannot…unless we ask for God’s help in walking in this way.
This morning’s reading picks up this kind of high expectation style of teaching Jesus began last week as he challenges previous interpretations on murder, adultery, divorce, murder, and the swearing of an oath. Wow! Talk about biting off more than one can chew for a reflection that is usually a little shorter on a Sunday which includes Holy Communion! While it is not possible for us to deal individually with each of the four interpretations Jesus gives, I would suggest it best for us to use our time in viewing the larger picture of what Jesus was seeking to open the eyes of his disciples. I think what Jesus is opening up is the possibility to create a Kin-dom which is based on the principles of wholeness, mutual support and unconditional love. He is calling his followers to mend their brokenness and seek restoration among one another. Before they can go to the altar and offer their sacrifices, they should first address the grievances, hatred and brokenness that exist between one another must be overcome with mutual love. Have you ever considered what it means when we pass the “Peace of Christ” to one another when we come to the end of worship? This is an ancient act of forgiveness and a blessing of wholeness that is shared between two brothers or sisters in Christ. It is an acknowledgement of our brokenness and a prayer that we might be healed in relationship to one another through Christ. How can we ever possibly go up to a person who we don’t much like in church and offer them the ‘Peace of Christ’? The answer is that we cannot…unless we ask for God’s help in walking in this way.
We see this challenge being played out in Jesus’ teaching on adultery and divorce. In Jesus’ day, much of the blame for adultery rested on the woman, where her seduction was blamed for overpowering the will of the man. Feminist scholar Amy-Jill Levine notes that “by collapsing the distinction between thought and action, this extension of the law against adultery to include lust suggests that no one should be regarded as a sex object. The burden here is placed on the man: women are not seen as responsible for enticing men into sexual misadventures”. As Jesus further ventured into this thorny territory which heavily favoured the man in Jewish law, he sought compassion and concern for the divorced woman who was deprived of support and usually entered into a second marriage for her survival. They were interesting times. While a woman was prohibited from asking for divorce, men were. Reasons for filing for divorce expanded well beyond infidelity in some of the more liberal schools of interpretation. The school of Hillel, for example, allowed the man to request divorce from his wife for reasons such as a wart, the inability to cook, and constant talking. In putting things in this way, Jesus raises the issue about how ancient law was treating people as property to be moved here and there, and calls forth an equality and sanctity in the institution of marriage. It is important, scholars note, for us to realize that Jesus offers some room for the consideration of divorce. Commentators are clear to point out that while Jesus holds out marriage as one of God’s great gifts to a couple, that there is an acknowledgement that there are instances in which a marriage has moved beyond repair. And amidst those irreparable forms of abuse and neglect, finding restoration and moving ahead can sometimes be God’s best answer. Nothing is possible without God.
If nothing is possible without God, then we must constantly maintain and support our connections that link us with God ~ we must nurture our soul. In his book Care of the Soul, the former monk, who later turned psychotherapist, Thomas Moore wrote: “the great malady of our time, implicated in all of our troubles and affecting us individually and socially, is 'loss of soul.' When soul is neglected, it doesn't just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning...The emotional complaints of our time, complaints we therapists hear every day in our practice include, emptiness, meaninglessness, vague depression, disillusionment about marriage, and family, relationship, a loss of values, yearning for personal fulfillment...All of these symptoms reflect a loss of soul and let us know what the soul craves”...He continues… “without soul, whatever we find will be unsatisfying, for what we truly long for is the soul in each of these areas. Lacking that soulfulness, we attempt together these alluring satisfactions to us in great masses, thinking apparently that quantity will make up for a lack of quality”
Friends, our souls will never be still until we realize that nothing of greatness, nothing of value, that God’s dream will never be achieved without God’s help. I will give the last word to Dorothy Day, the founder of Catholic Worker movement who said: “if each of us could just remember that we are all created in the image of God, then we would naturally want to love more”
May we go forth living humbly, knowing that God will guide us, empower us, and flow through us. May we seek to be God’s children humbling offering our lives in God’s service.