Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
So what’s an epiphany? Pastor Sattler described these Sundays of Epiphany as those in between the end of Advent (the birth of Jesus) and the beginning of Lent (Ash Wednesday through Easter and the resurrection of The Messiah). These are Sundays where The Church focuses on the lessons Jesus taught while incarnate. The most recognizable lesson would be The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, chapters 5,6,7). The lessons Jesus taught were called epiphanies because He made known, showed how obvious some lessons were, or unveiled new ways of seeing the laws to His followers and unbelievers alike. Why did the Jews need a refresher course of their own religion? Near the year 600 BC, the Jews were exiled to Babylon. This lasted ~70 years and upon returning to the Holy Land on or about 530 BC, they were determined they would never be exiled again due to their fallouts with God. This time they were determined to follow follow follow the Law Law Law. That’s it! They determined The Ten Commandments were not enough, despite what God said, and that each of the Commandments needed refining. God said ‘keep the Sabbath day holy’. God meant for it as a day of rest and worship for His people, to recharge for the coming week. The pharisees and sadducees were the leaders of the people and they decided that resting and worshipping wasn’t enough for the people. They put more restrictions on what could be done so God wouldn’t be angered by them ‘working’ on the Sabbath. They said a person couldn’t walk more than a thousand steps on the Sabbath so everyone had to live within 500 steps of Temple or synagogue. They later altered the law so a man could at least walk around his home unhindered by his number of steps. Then those laws were rejiggered to allow a person to go outside and pull his donkey out of a ditch. You can tell where this is going. Before they knew it, there were 613 laws from the original ten to determine how a Jew should live. It was no wonder that the pharisees thought they were big shots. They were known for keeping the laws perfectly, according to themselves, thus headed for good things after death. What became important to a holy life was what could be read from a scroll. Then Jesus came along and uttered this:
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
That can’t be good.
Unless there is more to what Jesus is saying we don’t know about. Jesus said this about adultery:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:27-30)
Jesus is saying that it isn’t adherence to a scroll we need to be concerned about but our own sinful hearts leading us astray. If you’re married, it isn’t enough to say
‘I’m righteous in this way because I haven’t done the hoochie-coo with my neighbor’s wife”.
If you’ve slobbered over yourself thinking about ‘that woman’, that’s crime enough. And if you do it, you can’t fix it, but Jesus will when you ask His forgiveness. That is what grace is all about.
A side note:
DO NOT. I repeat, DO NOT join a denomination that encourages eye gouging or hand chopping. That is not a grace based church but rather a rules based church.
I’m going to end the sermon part of the view with what seems to be counter-intuitive ‘good news’:
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)
What’s so great about that? It is great because I know I am useless when it comes to fixing my sins, known and unknown. I have to leave them in the hands of a loving God. When I know my sins are being dealt with it leaves me more time and energy to want to help people in need, leaving me less time and energy to cry in my coffee about my sins, which leads me to ….
You get it now.
Did you ever get a song stuck in your head that it made other songs sound like it? When I entered Holy Cross, the praise band was practicing what sounded like Bob Dylan’s Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. It wasn’t of course but it sounded like it. The first two songs the band played sounded like the Bob’s Knockin’…, perhaps for the first time ever. Here I Am to Worship and Better is One Day were, for a moment in eternity, Dylan classics. Thy Word, Amazing Grace, and Your Grace is Enough rounded out the hymns.
What else happened during service? I prayed for The Church. I prayed for Holy Cross and its members. I confessed my sins (silently) but even better, had them tossed into what Leon Trotsky called ‘the dustbin of history’, but in this case, God’s dustbin is ultimately more efficient. And we had Holy Communion. Always good. Always good. Always good.