Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Called to Relationship

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1-12 (NRSV)

When Moses shared the Ten Commandments with the people of God, it was a way to establish covenant with a people who were trying to figure out how to govern themselves for the first time in centuries.

The rules were to establish how they should love God and how they should love one another.  For the former, we see that they should forsake idols and other gods which they would encounter in abundance.  For the latter, we see concrete rules against murder, theft and adultery which give easily identifiable guidelines to follow.

Probably the last commandment is the one that is the most difficult to define.  What does it mean to covet?  Does it require action or just deep pondering.  Do stray thoughts count?  This requires us to think about our faith and who we are as God's people.

Within Matthew's Gospel, we have arrived at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.  In writing to a Christian community steeped in Judaism, Matthew seems to portray Jesus as the successor to Moses.  It is in Matthew's Gospel that we have the baby Jesus taken by his parents to Egypt to save his life from the orders of a corrupt king.  Moses is saved in Egypt by his mother and sister from similar orders from the Pharaoh.

Moses presents his covenant with God from on high.  Jesus presents this new covenant on a mountain.  The Beatitudes are given as a way to think about how we are in relationship with one another.  But these are not presented to a free people but rather a captive people who are living under a Gentile nation that have other gods as first in line for worship and do so with idols as the obvious substitute for their adoration.  By the time Matthew records this Gospel, Jerusalem has been destroyed along with the Temple (again).  The rules that Jesus invites us to live by are not nearly as concrete at the Ten Commandments.  They are more in line with the admonishment not to covet.

Whereas the Ten Commandments are largely what to avoid, the Beatitudes are a map toward blessing.  But as any journey, we often learn as much on the way as we do in arriving at the destination.  This may be helpful for us in looking at them because at first glance, mourning and meekness don't sound like things we would normally identify with blessing.

I doubt if many Christian prayers start with "Lord, make me a meeker person in all that I do today."

Is there more blessing in accomplishments achieved alone
or in helping someone else reach their potential?
But if we think about the Beatitudes as a covenant, how do they help us to more fully love God and love our neighbors?  How are these a call to relationship for a people without the power of self-governance?  For those in the United States today, we have much more freedom in how we live our lives than those in Matthew's community.  But I think that sometimes this freedom is illusory and we find that our captivity comes to things that are less obvious.

We still need the concrete rules found in the Ten Commandments.  But we also need to explore our faith through the Beatitudes.  Americans have more options for entertainment at their fingertips than ever in the history of the world.  While these can provide hours of enjoyment, they can also pacify our need for deeper thinking.  Fortunately, we have a time when we gather for worship and the deepening of our faith through thoughtful reflection.  I hope you'll join us if you are available in person in Edmond or Guthrie.  But if not, please join us online at a time of your choosing.  We'll be exploring the Beatitudes this Sunday and hope that we find blessing during our time together.

In Christ,


Photo by Adam Bautz via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license. 

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