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Epiphany 6 February 12, 2017 - The Rev. Janet Campbell
EPIPHANY 6 Year A RCL  Annual Meeting Sunday
Isaiah 58:1-9a, [9b-12]; Psalm 112:1-9, I Corinthians 2:1-12,
            Matthew 5:13-20
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, February 12, 2017
The Rev. Janet Campbell
What kind of a people,
what kind of community,
are we to be?    
A perennial question
for the people of God
of every denomination
and faith.
What kind of a people,
what kind of community?
The people of Israel,
          the chosen people,
were chosen by God
          not so much for themselves,
but that they might be
          a light to the nations
                    around them . . .

God gave them
the Ten Commandments,
          the Law,
to guide them:
a practical discipline
          grounded in spiritual principles –
love of God and neighbor,
faithfulness to God,
honesty and fairness toward all.
The Law would shape them
as a loving community of justice and peace
          whose way of life would reveal
                   God’s love and graciousness
                   to the world. 
The Law,
a loving discipline,
not imposed
but given
as the spiritual practice that would lead
          to life in community
                   as God intended it to be.

Obedience to the Law
would protect them
          from their own worst impulses –
greed, dishonesty, envy, arrogance,
          abuse of position or power,
those failings that infect a community
          with misery, suffering,
          spiritual, if not actual, death.
But there was always freedom and choice.
“I set before you life and death,” said Moses,
“Choose life, so that you and your descendants may live,
loving the Lord your God, obeying him,
          and holding fast to him;
for that means life to you, and length of days . . .”
Choose . . .
because it is only
in the freedom of choice
          that the power of the life chosen
                   will be manifest . . .
for good,
          or ill.
“Choose,” said Moses,
“choose the way
that leads to life.”
Jesus came,
he said,
“not to abolish the law . . .
but to fulfill it.”
“You have heard that it was said . . .
‘You shall not murder’
and ‘whoever murders
          shall be liable to judgment.’
But I say to you
that if you are angry with a brother or sister,
          you shall be liable to judgment.”
“You have heard that it was said,
‘You shall not commit adultery.’
But I say to you
that everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
“You have heard that it was said,
‘You shall not swear falsely,
but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’
But I say to you,
Do not swear at all,
but let your word be ‘Yes, yes,’ or ‘No, no’.”

Jesus had a passion for the Law,
a passion not for the words of it,
but for the Love in those words . . .
          Love of God,
          Love of neighbor.
Love that is offended
not only by crimes
          against person and property,
but by crimes
          against heart and soul and spirit.
Love that is saddened by
the little murders we commit
when we harbor a resentment
          against a sister or brother,
when we treat a sister or brother
          as if she or he exists
          for our pleasure
                    or convenience
when we don’t keep a promise,
          and the trust of a sister or brother
Love that is grieved by
          the little deaths we die, too,
                   when we do those things.

If it takes hyperbole to get his love across
he will use it:
“If your right eye causes you to sin,
tear it out and throw it away . . .
if your right hand causes you to sin,
cut it off and throw it away . . .”
He is preparing his disciples
for the tough times
he knows they will face.
And in those tough times,
they are called to be a community
of blessing for the world,
shaped and formed by
the Beatitudes,
which do not replace the Law
          but interpret it . . .
The Beatitudes,
a discipline of love . . .
for the life God intends for them.

“Blessed are you,”
he said to his disciples,
“when you are poor in spirit,
          depending only on God for your life.
Blessed are you
when you are merciful, pure in heart, meek,
when you share the grief of the world,
when you hunger and thirst for righteousness,
when you seek to make peace.”
Blessed by this manner of life
          the community of disciples
          are to be conduit of God’s blessing
                   to all of creation:
                   the salt of the earth,
                   the light of the world,
so that all people might come to know
          God’s love and graciousness.
Jesus is saying,
in the power of your freedom
choose the way that leads to life
          so that you and others may live.

Peer into the depths
of the Law,
and there you will find the Beatitudes.
Peer into the depths
of the Beatitudes
and there you will find the Baptismal Covenant –
the renunciations of evil,
the commitment to Jesus Christ
and the promises
that shape and guide us
as Church.
Peer into the depths
of the Book of Common Prayer –
pages 302 - 305 to be exact –
and you will find
the kind of community
we are called to be.
A community
freely choosing the discipline
that is the road to freedom
in God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
Lutheran pastor and theologian
in Nazi Germany,
was arrested and imprisoned
for his resistance to the Nazi regime.
You might know him
as the author of the Cost of Discipleship –
he knew that cost personally.
While in prison
he wrote this poem
a meditation
on freedom
and the discipline that enabled him
to exercise his freedom in Christ
even while in prison
and under the threat of death:
the death which he knew
awaited him.

Stations on the Road to Freedom
If you set out to seek freedom, then learn above all things
discipline over your soul and your senses, lest passions and
lead you now hither, now thither, in random directions.
Chaste be your mind and your body, completely subjected,
and in obedience seeking the aim set before them;
none learns the mystery of freedom with discipline lost.
Daring to do what is right, not what fancy may tell you,
seizing reality boldly, not weighing up chances,
freedom’s in action alone, not in wavering thought.
Leave aside anxious delay and go into the storm of our
borne along solely by faith, and God’s will and commandment;
freedom, exultant, will welcome your spirit with joy.
Wonderful transformation. Your hands, so strong and active,
are bound; helpless and lonely now you see your action
ended; you sigh in relief, the right committing
calmly into a stronger hand; and rest content.
Just for a moment you blissfully touched upon freedom,
then, that it might be perfected in glory, you gave it to God.

Come now, thou greatest of feasts on the journey to freedom
death, cast aside all burdensome chains, and demolish
the walls of our temporal body, the walls of our soul which is
so that at last we may gaze upon that which here is
          begrudged us.
Freedom, how long have we sought thee in discipline, action
          and suffering:
dying, we know thee now in the visage of God.*
A poem for his time,
A poem for our time . . .
A poem for us . . .
for the community God calls us to be:
a community of love and blessing and courage
          and self-offering
on the road
          to freedom.
* From Letters and Papers from Prison, SCM Press, 1971, as found in
Mark Pryce, Literary Companion to the Lectionary, Fortress Press, 2002