These are my thoughts for the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Deuteronomy 30: 15 – 20, 1 Corinthians 3: 1 – 19, and Matthew 5: 21 -37.
This is also Boy Scout Sunday and Evolution Sunday. Evolution Sunday is a project of the Clergy Letter Project; this will be the third year that I have participated in this project (see “The Differing Voices of Truth” and “That Transforming Moment”).
Now, I have to first begin with that same thought that John Meunier had last Tuesday (“Laity Lectionary Blogging – Mt 5: 21 – 37”). How do you write about murder and divorce, the two main topics of the Gospel reading? Those that know me that the latter of the two is especially uncomfortable for me as well. But when I looked at what Paul wrote to the Corinthians and I considered what was being said in Deuteronomy, I saw a theme of commitment.
The three scriptures spoke to me of a commitment, a commitment to know who I am and a commitment to know something about the world in which we all live. It is a commitment to show and lead others so that they can discover who they are and know more about where they live.
Sadly, there are many people who do not wish to know more about the world in which they live. They have no desire to seek the world beyond the horizon nor do they want to know anything about what may be on the other side of the road.
It would seem to me that this was an issue that Paul was facing when he wrote to the Corinthians. It would seem that they, the Corinthians, were quite comfortable with letting someone else do the work, of accepting Christ as their Savior but then not doing anything once that was done. We have that same mentality in our world today. We basically let others tell us what to think and we have no desire to determine if what we are being told has any degree of truth to it. As we watched the developments in Egypt over the past two weeks, we also heard many people warn us that great danger will come out of all this.
And as I read the words of Paul, I read Paul literally saying that it was time for each of those who heard his words to begin doing the work. And doing it at a level far beyond what we might do on our own. To reach such higher levels or to meet higher expectations means that we must be committed to the task.
If we say that we are Christian, then we are saying, at the least, that we are committed to walking a path through life with Christ. But do our words echo that same commitment? Over the past few weeks, I have talked about the feeding ministry at my home church and how some members of that church are resentful or angry that those that they feel are lesser than them are allowed in “their” church. But it is interesting to see some of those who come to the ministry and feel that they are somehow entitled to take all they wish, knowing that there are others who will not receive anything because of their greediness but seeming to not care. Do we turn away those who abuse the system? We have made a commitment in the feeding ministry to not turn away anyone; we do not ask that you meet some sort of criteria. But we have decided that we will, as it were, call their bluff, to point out that they have received their fair share and that others have the same right. If they get angry, so be it. Their poverty does not grant them the right to expect more just as the relative wealth of others does not grant them the right to deny as well.
What is expected is that each person does what Jesus calls us to do in the Gospel reading today, make sure that what we say and what we do are consistent. If our lives need to change, then now is the time to make that change. There is a new land on the other side of the horizon, the Promised Land of the Israelites. But one cannot, as the writer of Deuteronomy noted, survive in that land unless one is willing to make the necessary changes in one’s life.
I will always acknowledge that my life changed when I made the decision in 1963 to pursue the God and Country Award while I was a Boy Scout. And I realize that there was a time in my life where I did not keep the commitment that reaching that goal meant. I saw it in my life and I knew that I had to make a change.
Similarly, I made a commitment to a life of searching for truth when I told Wray Rieger that I would major in chemistry when I began my studies at Truman State University. No one told me that one could not follow Christ and also be a student of Robert Boyle or Joseph Priestly (though I didn’t know that I would walk such a path at that time – see my notes on Boyle and Priestly in “A Dialogue of Science and Faith”).
And just as Boyle and Priestly were determined to understand what it was that God did with this universe, I find myself amazed by the wonders as well. And I know that God has given me the ability and the opportunity to delve deeper into that realm. Am I to say that is beyond my vision?
There are those who will tell me that I must; that I must choose one path over the other. It always strikes me that when someone tells me this, they are trying to lead my life for me and they have no desire that I understand the truth for myself. The one thing Paul wanted us to do was see the truth for ourselves and not rely on what he or others might say.
We stand at the beginning of a new century, just as the Israelites stood on the banks of the River Jordan so many thousand years ago. We can, if we desire, stay where we are, just as those who stared at the Promised Land did. But time will not stop for us, no matter how hard we try and we must make a decision.
Shall we be committed to a life in Christ? Shall we accept the idea that this commitment requires great things from us? We do not have to see beyond the horizon but to not do so will mean death. If we commit our lives to Christ, we can see beyond the horizon and we can find ways to get to the land beyond the horizon.
Our decision to follow Christ means finding the truth, of understanding who we are and where we are in this universe. It is an exploration of the depth of one’s soul and the width of one’s world. To decide not to follow Christ is to say that one wants a very small world. To make the commitment opens the world and that is what we are invited to do today.