Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Deeper Blessing

So it is interesting that we have been talking about the “nones” (People who check none of the above when asked on surveys what religion are you.), because this week I met one.
I was in Pittsburgh, PA, (long story as to why) and at the end of the night we were having a drink at the bar next to the hotel.
The bartender was a really great guy.
One of those Irish bartenders who likes to talk to you and get to know you.
He finds out that I am a pastor so he starts to talk about his beliefs.
“I am spiritual. I believe that you treat others the way you want to be treated. Follow the golden rule.”
I thought a lot about what he said.
Of course, this is nothing new to me or to you.
We hear this all the time from many different people.
But I was thinking about our Gospel for this morning.
What the bartender said is true we should treat others the way we want to be treated.
We should love our neighbors as ourselves.
But for me this is only the base line.
It is only the start.

Take our Gospel this morning.
It is really challenging.
Jesus seems to setting up goals that seem impossible.
That if you are angry with someone, or if insult someone, that is equal to murder.
Or if you just look at someone else with lust you have committed adultery.
Or that we should never swear to anything we are not 1005 sure of.
These are hard teachings.
In these antitheses Jesus is not trying to get rid of the Law of Moses, but is probing deeper into what that law means as we live in the kingdom of God.
They are part of what Jesus is expecting of the Church.
Jesus wants our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees.
But this is why we keep coming back to church, because to be a follower of Jesus Christ is to go beyond common wisdom.
It is about more than merely being kind and nice to other people.
It is about giving even more.

When I read Jesus teaching this morning I will tell you that I am convicted.
I was wondering what I was going to preach without being legalistic or moralistic.
Because when I read what Jesus said I know that I don’t do these things always.
I would be lying if I told you I never looked at another woman.
I would be lying if I told I never was angry at someone, or that I never insulted someone else.
I would be lying if I told that I never said, “I swear that so and so is true…” only for it to be false.
I fail at so many of these things.
I suspect that you do too.

This is one of the reasons why I am glad I am a Lutheran.
I am glad I am not a biblical literalist because if I was I would have had to pluck out my eye, and cut off my hand.
I don’t believe that Jesus is being literal there.
What he is doing is trying to make a point.
That following God is not as easy as we think.
It demands of us our total concentration.
It demands everything of us.
And that is what my bartender friend didn’t seem forget.
Not that he was a bad person, or that he wasn’t spiritual.
But that he was only starching the surface of what it means to know and follow God.

And that is why I love being part of a community of faith.
It keeps me honest.
It helps me to do and be better.
And yes, when I fail this is the place I come to be forgiven.
This is the place I come to so God can lift me up and then send me out into the world to lift up God for others.
Following Jesus is not easy, and that is why I need a community of believers with me on this journey.
This is why we need each other.
So that we can learn from one another.
So that we can grow together.
I can’t do faith without all of you.

Also while I was in Pittsburgh I had breakfast at the best breakfast place ever.
It was called Pamela’s.
On the wall at Pamela’s are all kinds of pictures.
And I notice there was a framed letter with the title “blessing”.
Here is what it said in part, “We thank you (God) for the blessing of family and friends and for the loving care that surrounds us on every side.
We also give you praise for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us and in particular this new venture, this restaurant whereby people will be fed and nourished in body.
Let this place serve not only to satisfy physical hunger, but as a place of delight, of comfort, of welcome, of blessing.
We ask your presence here not only today, but all days and that all who work here, eat here, visit here would be blessed simply by crossing the threshold.”

This is what we all desire.
We desire for God’s blessings to show forth in our lives.
We could easily say this about our houses, our work, our marriages, our friendships.
We would like for people to feel blessed when the cross the threshold into our lives.
Jesus is getting at this deeper meaning of what things are about.
Marriage is about more than a piece of paper, it is about the ways that we serve and love one another.
Being a member of congregation is about more than merely giving money and sitting in the pew.
It is about giving our lives over to God, and learning every day the will of God for our lives.

This is what Jesus is trying to get at this morning and with the Sermon on the Mount in general.
We could just do the basic thing.
We could do the easy thing.
But that is not worthy of us who know the blessings of God.
It is not worthy of us who receive God’s best everyday of our lives.
God has called us to a higher calling.
God has called us to go the extra mile with one another.
Think about the killing commandment.
I think that most of us can refrain from killing each other.
But the idea that we shouldn’t be angry or insult one another is harder, and it demands of us practice and learning.
Jesus calls us to this higher place.

The problem is that most people see this higher calling as a burden.
But Jesus means it as blessing.
Just as the blessing, on the wall in Pamela’s restaurant, called for high quality of food and hospitality, but not as a burden but as blessing.
So that all that came to that place would be blessed.
I have to say having eaten there a couple of times, it really is a blessing.
The food is so good, the service friendly, and people inside are just so happy to be there.
That is what the kingdom of God looks like.
It looks like people living the will of God with joy.
It looks like people going beyond what is simply the baseline of what is expected to something more.

So let us go forth to not merely love our neighbor, but to bless them with the blessing we have received.
Let us go forth this week and give our best to the task that God has called us.

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