Holy Eucharist Rite II at 10:30 a.m. with hymns and organ, sermon by the Rev’d Hope Eakins.
Worship at Home:
Click here for the Service Bulletin; scroll to read full sermon text.
NOTE: Choirs were cancelled for the morning due to inclement weather. The music listing below reflects the service as it took place.
Full Service Audio:
Voluntary Aria Flor Peeters (1903-1986)
Flor Peeters was organist of the St. Rombaut Cathedral, Mechelen, Belgium, and a renowned teacher and performer. Aria is his best known organ piece with its plaintive melody set against pulsing chords.
Processional Hymn 474 When I survey the wondrous cross Rockingham
Gloria S280 Robert Powell (b.1932)
Sequence Hymn 674 “Forgive our sins as we forgive” Detroit
Offertory Preambule Louis Vierne (1870-1937)
Sanctus S130 Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Fraction anthem S164 Jesus, lamb of God Franz Schubert
Communion Music Berceuse Louis Vierne
Hymn in Procession I will trust in the Lord Trust in the Lord
Voluntary Prelude in G Major J. S. Bach (1685-1750)
Full Sermon Text:
While you were shoveling and plowing snow this week, my husband and I were visiting a friend – in Florida. One of the things we anticipated with delight was our host’s invitation to a book group discussion of Small Great Things, a novel that focuses on modern day racism. We had read this story of an exceedingly compassionate and competent black nurse who is removed from the care of a white baby because the child’s parents refuse to let a black nurse touch him. In the discussion of this racial intolerance, several book group participants questioned whether the nurse was just a little too hypersensitive about losing her job because of her race. “It depends on how you see it,” they said, one way or another. “Two people can have the same experience and interpret it different ways – it’s like alternative facts.”
Jesus didn’t think much of alternative facts. “ Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No‘ be No’,” he said.
Just before Jesus preached the sermon in this morning’s Gospel, he told the folks on the hillside why he was preaching it. He said, “Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I have … [come] to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)
The Law meant a number of things to the Jews. First of all, the law was the Ten Commandments given to Moses. Secondly, the Law was the sacred Torah, the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Scriptures. Finally there was the Oral Law, carefully repeated and finally written down by the Scribes.
Just like pious Christians, pious Jews, the ones known as the Pharisees, found it hard to keep the Ten Commandments not only because it was difficult but also because the commandments were confusing. And so the attorneys of their day, the Scribes, piled up law books ceiling high with thousands of regulations spelling out what the Ten Commandments actually specify. An example: the Commandments say, “Do no work on the Sabbath.” But how do you define work?
The Scribes said that carrying a burden was work. But then what was a burden? It was “Food equal in weight to a dried fig, ink enough to write two letters of the alphabet, honey enough to put on a wound.” But you couldn’t actually put honey on a wound because healing was forbidden on the day of rest – remember how much trouble Jesus got into for healing on the Sabbath? The Law said that, on the Sabbath, you could prevent a patient from becoming worse, but you couldn’t promote healing, so you could put a plain bandage on a wound but certainly not any honey.
It was to a people caught up in this kind of exhausting legalism that Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” On that basis, we are all convicted, because none of us seems to keep Ten Commandments, let alone thousands of Scribal additions. So when Jesus continues, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not kill,’ but I say that if you are angry with a brother or a sister, you will be liable to judgment,” we cringe because we all have been angry. And when Jesus persists, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ but I say that it is better to pluck your eye out that to look lustfully at another,” we want to say, “Oh Jesus, I can never be more righteous than the Pharisees for not only Jimmy Carter but I have done that myself.”
So Jesus explains to the people and to us that obeying the laws is not as complicated as we make it. He says that we should start by living the law of love, a matter that goes beyond legal observance to the habits of the heart. When a lawyer asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the greatest?” Jesus told him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:35-39). Jesus didn’t pick his favorite law; he summarized the essence of the Law as respect for people, for the earth, and for truth. Jesus says that keeping the Law is not so much a matter of justice as a matter of mercy, not so much narrow legalism but abundant love and care and respect for all creation.
We need the Laws of Moses, because we don’t do a very good job of living the law of love. The commandments come first, before the Good News, because we always need help figuring out what is right and what is wrong, but Jesus says that following the law, obeying the commandments, doesn’t make us holy, it just keeps us honest. It’s a waste of our lives, he says, to worry about dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s, because even if we follow every jot and tittle of the Law, we are condemned if we fail to love.
Here’s how it works. Jesus says that a man can divorce his wife if she has committed adultery, because there is no love left in that marriage, but … that a man cannot divorce his wife because he has grown tired of her, for that would break his marriage vows. Now I know a divorced man who married a divorced woman – and you probably do too. Their prior marriages failed for good reasons, and they have been happy for decades now, and their love spills out and blesses the world. But one of their children has become a fundamentalist Christian and he quotes this morning’s Gospel. The son says that these people are both adulterers, and his father should leave the stepmother so his parents can get remarried. Jesus says that the Law is bigger than that. Jesus says that the law of love trumps the holiness code, and commands us to live where love is, to weep whenever love fails, and to do all we can to birth love in this world.
Over and over Jesus quotes the Law and extends it beyond the words to the heart of the matter. “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not kill,’ but I say to you everyone who is angry with his brother is liable to judgment.” But how do we keep from becoming angry. Sometimes anger just washes over us, and sometimes folks who don’t get angry get ulcers instead. Too often Christians have misinterpreted Jesus’ dictum as saying that Christians should put on nice faces along with their nice clothes and cover up what troubles them. But Jesus tells us to address our anger and be honest, to bring it out into the light of day and deal with it fairly. Jesus isn’t talking about an indignant blast of fury, but about anger that festers and seeks revenge. We once saw this kind of anger on a visit to Sardinia where vendetta is a pivotal social value and many hillsides are blasted by explosions set by angry enemies. As we stood inside a church there, we watched one woman sneak inside while another woman was lighting a votive candle. As soon as the first woman left, the second woman grabbed the candle, spat on it and blew it out. Sardinian vendetta even permeates prayer.
Another woman in another place harbored a terrible anger toward her brother for 65 years. She was sodomized by this brother when she was ten years old, and she kept her terrible secret until his death. She never told her sister or her husband or her children or her priest; she just let the shame and fear and anger gnaw at her. Oh there were reasons for the secret, the reasons of any incest victim, but, as Jesus knew, the anger festered and killed a part of her life. Once she let the secret out, her anger disappeared. “Why did I carry this for so long?” she asked. The victim who won’t forgive is forever in bondage to the victimizer.
“You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ but I say to you that if you have looked lustfully you have already committed adultery in your heart.” Jesus was not naïve. He knew about lusts of the heart. But it is not the momentary passion, the quickening of the breath, that Jesus condemns – after all, physical desire is God’s gift to us. Rather Jesus condemns the choice to enjoy a lust that might lead to infidelity, and he warns us that adultery starts long before the affair.
“You have heard it said, ‘You shall not swear falsely,’ but I say to you ‘Do not swear at all.” Jesus is not referring to profanity. He is talking about swearing in the name of God. So what is the matter with that? Jesus is saying that we don’t need to put God behind our oaths because God is already there. It doesn’t matter if we swear by God because even liars can do that. What matters is the integrity of our word. There can’t be one kind of integrity in the boardroom and another in church. All promises are sacred because all promises are made in the presence of God. Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no,’ Jesus says; no one’s word should need an oath to guarantee its truth. And although there can be alternative interpretations, there can never be alternative facts.
Jesus makes it very simple. Don’t harbor anger; don’t destroy someone’s good name through gossip; be faithful to your spouse; tell the truth. And above all, first of all, most important of all, live the law of love. Not a bad idea for Valentine’s Day and for all the days ahead.