2/16/2014 sermon: Attitude matters

Location: The Hermitage, Alexandria, Virginia
Text: Matthew 5:21-37
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Attitude matters

“Sermon on the Mount,” Cosimo Roselli, 1481

I learned something I didn’t know when I was preparing to preach last week. What I learned was that the church’s Revised Common Lectionary has taken Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and broken up that sermon into several weeks of gospel lessons. In other words, last week’s gospel reading about us being salt and light, and today’s lesson, are parts two and three of Jesus’ teaching that is the Sermon on the Mount.

I’ll bet that you know about the Sermon on the Mount. What I remember is all those “blesseds.” For example:

  • Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy. AND
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

I’ll bet you remember part two of Jesus’ sermon:

  • We are the salt of the earth—the people of God—and if we stop being salty, we’re just garbage to be thrown out.
  • We are the light of the world—God’s light—who cannot and should not be hidden.

In last week’s gospel, Jesus also affirmed the Law, every bit of the Law, even while he said that we had to be more righteous than the Pharisees. And we all know THAT would be a tall order, given how observant the Pharisees were of the Law.

So, you might be wondering why I’m dwelling on the last two weeks of gospel lessons. I want to make sure we all know that today’s lesson is part three of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, AND that all three parts of this sermon were his answer to the big political question of his day: What to do about the Romans who occupied Israel?

The question was:

  • Should God’s people be Zealots and fight the Romans militarily? OR
  • Should God’s people hunker down in the Temple and become ultra-pious, ultra-observant of the Law as a way of preserving their identity as God’s people and waiting out the Romans?

Jesus’ answer to this “either-or” question was “NO!” But Jesus didn’t say “No” that way. What he said was:

  • Blessed are you who act like God’s people, whoever you are (Jew or Roman).
  • And, whoever you are, you must BE who you are: God’s salt that flavors the whole world, and you must do what God impels you to do: bring light to our dark world.
  • And today Jesus tells us: Staying hunkered down in church and being pious isn’t enough. Preserving our identity isn’t enough, because God is doing a new thing here. The Kingdom of God is at hand, and MORE is required. Actions matter, but so does ATTITUDE.

Today we learn that we cannot judge ourselves above those who murder. We, ourselves, are murderers. Even if we haven’t actually done anyone in, haven’t we been angry at others, belittled others, and insulted others? And even if we did these things in only our heart, aren’t these things like murder? Jesus says “yes, even anger is murder.” And in this way Jesus shows us that merely being pious isn’t enough. Attitude matters, as does living our lives for Christ in the world.

In our gospel lesson today Jesus redefines adultery as lust and even divorce as adultery. These are very high standards to live by in our world.

At this point you might be thinking, “Doesn’t the preacher KNOW that we are in a retirement community? We’re not ‘out in the world.’”

Well, I say to you, “Oh, but we ARE out in the world.” We are surrounded by people here from all corners of the world—the world has come to us. Not just in The Hermitage, but in the whole Beauregard Corridor that surrounds us.

One of the big political questions of OUR day is not a Roman occupation. Quite the contrary. What we struggle with is how to treat the immigrants and the poor among us:

  • Shall we dismiss them as beneath us, somehow undeserving of OUR time and attention? Or judge them for needing public assistance? Not publicly, mind you, but in our hearts. To this, Jesus says, in effect, “Attitude matters.”
  • Shall we benefit from the things that immigrants and the poor do for us, from their love and care, even while we privately wonder why they don’t speak English as well as we do, or understand our ways, or choose as we would choose? Jesus says, in effect, “Attitude matters.”

attitudeI am sure that you know these things, because you are here today: Actions matter, but so does attitude.

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