Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I was having trouble getting started with the message for this day. It felt like everything I did was just procrastinating and furthering the delay of getting my words down on paper. I got caught up in a Facebook discussion on the existence of hell with a few forays into decision theology. I collaborated with a few others on creating a catechism song to the tune of Beethoven’s “Hymn to Joy,” and reveled in the many likes and comments that received, particularly since many of us will include the elements of the Small Catechism in our Lenten Series this year. Then I saw a commercial. I didn’t realize it was a commercial at first, because it was from Quaker, and when I saw Quaker my mind immediately jumped to the religion before I remembered the oatmeal.
It started out with someone writing on one of those yellow sticky notes a question: What good will you pass along today?
Then it showed a mom and daughter passing in the hallway and the daughter sitting down for breakfast, finding a note under the edge of her cereal bowl that said, “You are amazing” with a couple of eyes and a smile. The next scene has this same girl in the bus with her friends. She notices a younger girl sitting by herself, staring out the window with a sad face, so she reaches into her pocket for the note from her mother, and sneaks it into the younger girl’s backpack.
At her locker, the younger girl finds the note, reads it, and smiles. It is next found in another student’s music book as she readies to play her violin on stage. Then I think it’s a custodian who finds it, and after that, a cook. Then a young boy finds it on his lunch tray. He photographs it with his phone. The last scene is the first girl in the bus going home, As she looks at her phone, she finds picture after picture of that one little note which says, “You are amazing” with the little eyes and the smile. She likes them, by touching them to add a little heart on top of each of the photos.
The commercial ends by stating, “We are the good we make.” It kind of makes a person feel good, to watch a commercial like that, because it looks so easy. All the mom did was write a note. All the daughter did was pass it on—all anyone else did, really, was pass it on. What’s so hard about that?
Then there’s the Family Circus cartoon a few days ago that had little Billy (I think) talking to his mother, “Yes, I cleaned my room without being asked. Why does that make you think I’m up to something?”
It seems in our entire Gospel reading that Jesus keeps building and building on the law until it becomes completely impossible. If you are angry with a brother or sister you will be liable to judgment? And for those who sit smugly saying, “I don’t have any brothers or sisters,” let us remember that the entire church is our family, Independents, Republicans, and Democrats, to name only a few. Are you angry with any of them? Welcome to the club. We are liable to judgement.
The words equating lust with adultery are quite damning in a society that uses sexual imagery as a major marketing tool. Then Jesus’ treatment of divorce in this passage almost seems to sentence anyone who makes a marital mistake to everlasting suffering.
It seems as if Jesus asks too much of us, expecting a type of perfection that none of us can attain. Then he goes even further. We are told we are not to swear… and he is speaking of the kind of swearing that has nothing to do with taking the Lord’s name in vain. He is talking about those times when we swear to tell the truth, or swear to uphold the duties of our office. He is talking about the kind of swearing that adds emphasis to a promise. He is telling us that our word ought to be trustworthy at all times, that we should not need any extra oath, no matter how important or serious the matter may be.
A few months ago, we had a very public discussion on just how serious or important the matter of speech can be, whether we can dismiss the kind of trash talking people do as unimportant. Is it okay to talk about others with disrespect because of their beauty, their gender, their age, their race, their religion, their job, their nationality, or anything, really? Is just kidding ever really harmless, and how does one know if a statement is serious or said with sarcasm or malice?
It seems sometimes as if Jesus asks too much, and that Jesus doesn’t want us to have any fun. But fun and godly living are not mutually exclusive! We don’t have to tease others to show that we care about them. We don’t have to brag about putting something over on someone else in order to be respected by a third. That kind of respect isn’t real. What comes from posturing is empty. Of course, people might use it to gain something in this world. We’ve seen that happen, but we’ve also seen loss in its use as well.
“Jesus,” we cry, “it’s too much, what you ask. If we do things the way you say, people will walk all over us. They’ll take things from us. They’ll make us think we’re doing the right thing, but we’re just teaching them a better way to cheat us.”
Is it too much to treat another with respect that they did nothing to deserve? A young person in the cafeteria line? A young musician on the scary stage? A lonely person on the bus? A person who caught your eye? Someone whose hands are dirty? Is it too much to treat another with respect when you don’t have any idea what that person has done or neglected to do? What about when you know they’ve done something awful?
What is respect? Is it not a form of the love we are called to share with our neighbors? Is it too much that we are called not just to follow the rules, but to love our neighbors, to love those who differ from us?
What about what Jesus has given to and for us? Is that too much? Is it too much that Jesus lived and died to make God’s love known to us? Is it too much that he rose again and continues to encourage us?
What is too much?
The commercial said, “We are the good we make.”
I’d like to turn that around. It’s not really we who make the good, it’s God who makes the good. God washes us clean and sends us forth. So let’s think of it this way: We are the good God gives to this community, and to the world. Sometimes being the good is rather difficult. Sometimes, it’s very simple. Being the good God gives, I believe, is never really too much. In Jesus’ name. Amen