February 23, 2014 – Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

Epiphany 7 Feb 23, 2014 (Lev 19:1-2,9-18) Matthew 5:38-48    But I say… (Continued…) ******************* Matthew 5:38-48 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”February 18, 2014 *** Sometimes, I confess, when I hear the words we’ve just read, my first thought is oh dear Lord have mercy! More you’ve heard it said but I say to you Jesus sayings. We heard a batch of these last week. They were all very difficult. Now here’s Jesus telling us this week to do the virtually impossible… Saying you’ve heard it said an eye for an eye…a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you – turn the other cheek – go the second mile – if they take your coat give your sweatshirt also. Love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt or mistreat you. And if this isn’t difficult enough yet – here’s Jesus telling us – ‘by the way, while you’re at it – Be perfect… as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ I’m feeling a million miles from perfection, personally. Almost wondering if Jesus could be putting us on. He knows no one in all human history’s ever been perfect… except Jesus himself. But these are the words of Jesus… and this theme of ‘going on to perfection’ has been a Methodist trade-mark from our early days – a favorite theme of our founder John Wesley. Everyone  ordained a Methodist pastor still has to be able to say ‘yes’ when our bishop asks at our ordination service, ‘are you are going on to perfection?’ And ‘do you expect to be made perfect in love in your lifetime?’ And I remember seeing my friend pastor Ralph Howe at Troy Annual Conference, the day I was to answer that question in public before ordination – telling him I didn’t think I could say I’m going on to perfection and mean it. Asking him how did he ever manage to say this with a straight face? And I remember Ralph asking me – ‘Do you believe God is perfect?’ (Yes I do.) ‘Good. Then see if you can also believe...

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