Gospel: Matthew 5:21-37
1st Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
I went pretty much by the book with my baby boy when he was born, like a lot of first-time mothers are. I hear the first one, you go by the book, and after that you've learned more how to think for yourself and feel a little more free to experiment. Since my baby was growing properly and eating what I put before him, going by the book worked for me. It was 6 months of mother's milk only. He grew so fast I had wrist supports for a few months because my arms couldn't support his weight. On his six month birthday, he had his first food, ground up oats mixed into milk. After that he was introduced to one food at a time for a week, adding to what he already had tried, until he had all the food groups. All his food was organic, all was homemade. All went together to make a healthy bouncing baby boy.
But I didn't just give him that food to make him bigger. Some of it was to make him smarter. Most of it was to keep him healthy. And part of it was the experience of sitting down to a meal together, looking one another in the eye, communicating, and being a family.
God also likes feeding God's children. We begin with the food that is easier for us to digest. Life is given to us in more easily digestible terms. There are good guys and bad guys, certain rules to obey without question, and we're not expected to handle information we're not ready for. We accept what other people tell us, our parents and our pastor. We don't have a lot of choice about it.
But as we grow in faith, we try foods we've never tried before, we're encouraged to eat things we don't particularly like, and we start having to chew and use a utensil. As we mature, we learn more about our world, we find out that many things are shades of grey instead of being so clear cut, and we're expected to communicate with people we disagree with in other ways than hitting and yelling. We have a chance to question everything we held as true just because our parents taught us, and we are invited to examine the faith that was handed down to us and decide whether to make it our own.
Of course our faith journey is always on the move—what we could stomach before, we can't anymore, and what our bodies and minds once needed changes. We find that faith isn't just between me and God, but that we're part of something bigger than ourselves. It is both a pain in the neck and other key areas, because other followers don't do things the way I like, and it is a blessing because the gifts of others fills the gaps in my own gifts and we can do so much more together. As we grow in faith, we begin to see God in the struggles and blessings in the conflicts and find peace in the storm. And at times we go back to eating baby food. Sometimes a tall glass of milk just hits the spot. Sometimes there is nothing more satisfying than a bowl of Cheerios.
Moses has led his people out of slavery into the desert. They suffered under slavery, however they liked being spoon-fed. They long for the food they ate in Egypt. But God is leading them on a wilderness walk to teach them who they can trust to provide their food. The taste of freedom is new to them. They aren't sure they are ready for such a thing, because it requires them to think for themselves and to go through some trials. However God is feeding them and continues to offer it to them. God knows this wilderness experience will mature their faith and their relationship with God. God hopes that their wilderness experience will change their hearts. God gives them the commandments and ordinances and decrees not to control them, but to give them life,--long life, abundant life.
Paul is writing to the Corinthians. He brought this community into this world from infancy and fed them by hand. He loves this church in Corinth, these believers. But he has some new expectations of them, that they would grow up a little bit and act their age. Instead, they are breaking into factions and arguing and fighting. Paul is offering them some food that is a little challenging to their pallets and that is the reminder of who provides food for us all, God, and who we owe our allegiance to, God.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus is teaching the Disciples. They've tried the food that is the commandments. Many of them probably feel like they are doing ok on them. The commandments have become staples of their diet. However, Jesus is challenging them to try some new dishes. They will recognize some familiar ingredients, but God wants more for them. The commandments had become a way of justifying themselves, a checklist for people to say they were better than others. However, God wants more than a checklist. God wants a changed heart, a changed orientation, a focus away from showing what a good person I am, to putting God first, a change from worshipping myself and making idol of my works, to worshipping God and living a new abundant life.
God wants to change our hearts so that we can receive new new life and live abundantly. We show what is in our hearts by our actions. God isn't interested in the actions alone, going through the motions of bringing gifts to the altar. Going and doing the mature thing, being reconciled to people you have hurt or disappointed, is what God wants to see. That is going to make for abundant life for you, more than coming to God with your gift of money or flocks or grains.
I read the scripture about tearing your eye out or cutting off your arm, and I am often puzzled. It is such a violent image. At times I have heard people use this passage to say that if a member of the body of Christ sins then they should be cut off or shunned. However, because it is right next to this passage about going to your brother or sister who you have wronged and making amends, I can't believe that is what Jesus means. Also, that doesn't sound like Jesus, to me.
This reading struck me in a different way, this time. How often do we cut off people who we disagree with? How often do we tear other people apart with no regard to how much God loves them? Why are we so hard on other people, violent even, with our words and actions? Why are we not appalled at the idea of cutting people off, at least as appalled as we are at the idea of tearing our own eye out. Instead, we have to grow up. We have to know that if we cut off one another, the same as if we cut off even a small part of our body, the whole body suffers. We have to stop cutting each other off just because we disagree. Our unity is in Christ, period.
Instead of tearing one another apart and destroying the body of Christ, we are invited to do some self-reflection. When we feel self-justified, and that we've done everything right, we are invited to examine our thoughts, our hearts, and turn to God. When we feel like we have what we deserve, God reminds us that we all fall short, that none of us has a leg to stand on when we start to examine our hearts. We all stand on the same footing whether we have committed murder or just thought about it, whether we are divorced or have committed adultery in our imagination, whether we say the “F word” or “I swear!” None of us is innocent. We all need God's mercy and love and generosity. God reminds us that we don't create all the good things we have. God reminds us where all good things come from, not from what we deserve, but because of God's abundant grace. And God reminds us of what all these good gifts from God are for, and that is for sharing, not for hoarding or holding over someone's head. Let's all take the challenge and take a good long look at ourselves and how we can better reflect the light and love of Christ, throw out what doesn't reflect that and mature into the people of faith God is calling us to.
Today, we are all invited to sit down at the table together and eat the food God has prepared for us, and all be nourished. We are invited to grow up and sit down with others who are in the body of Christ with us. We are invited to enjoy the meal. We are invited to grow our faith. We are invited to look one another in the eye and have conversations and be curious and be honest. We have a lot to digest, a lot to absorb, and the biggest part is how loved each one of us is. And when we know there is enough love to go around, we can just sit back and enjoy the meal in the presence of God and all God's children.
Before us is a spread of delicious, nutritious, nourishing food. Beside us are our brothers and sisters and even some we might call enemies, co-workers with us. Around us shines the light of God. There is peace. There is life. There is hope. Blessings are shared. Faith grows. People act in mature ways. We look to God, not to ourselves. We remember what really matters. We put our faith and hope in what is good and what lasts. We examine our own lives and make changes for the better. We try things we've never tried and we find fulfillment. All are fed. All are loved. All have gifts to share. All belong to God. We don't have to wait until the next life to live in the Kingdom of God where every mouth is fed and everyone is invited to the table. This peaceable Kingdom is desperately needed here on earth, in fact Jesus came to bring it through each of us.
Gather round the table of God. The dinner bell is ringing. All are invited to the meal of life. Receive God's nourishing love. Share your bread with others. Be nourished. Receive health. Take your place in the family and grow up in faith to welcome others to the table until all know God's love.