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6 Epiphany - Matthew 5:21-37

One year for Valentine's Day, I wrote my sweet baboo a poem.

The final stanza was an acrostic—the first letter of each line spelled out her name.

Maybe someday she'll notice and be impressed.

It's the kind of thing writers do sometimes when they are overcome with love and

appreciation, which is the story of Psalm 119.

We didn't read all of it—176 verses felt a little long.

The whole thing is an acrostic – the whole thing!

The first eight verses we did read today all begin with aleph, the first letter in the Hebrew

alphabet.

The psalm goes on to give eight lines to each letter—8 verses each for B & Q & Z and

everything in between.

It is an epic love poem about the Torah, the teaching, the law, sung to the God who gave it.


Lutherans especially need to read and appreciate this psalm after centuries of treating the law like our annoying ex.

Ever since we got hooked up with gospel, the stunningly beautiful news of God's grace that

overcomes our shortcomings which the law truthfully points out, we have tended to give

God's law the cold shoulder.

But the law is wise and beautiful, and it is, just like the gospel, given as a gift for the blessing

and enrichment and fulfillment of our life.

For Jews like Jesus, the law didn't diminish life, it deepened it.

Torah is so much more than rules and punishments and nit picking and fault finding: it

is, in later words from the psalm, a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path...your decrees...are the joy of my heart.


Last week Jesus made clear that he did not come to abolish this gift, but to fulfill it; this week, he begins to spell out what he means.

As others search for loopholes and escape clauses, Jesus pushes us to go deeper into the law, to move beyond minimal obedience into passionate romance, from yes dear into oh yes.

To achieve this, he has to spice things up, dislodge us with vivid images and exaggerations

(please do not mutilate yourself), to make us see things in a new way.

He crafts a necklace of pearls on the same string: you have heard it said, but I say to you.

You have heard it said don't murder, but I say to you drop whatever you're doing right now, even if it's a live animal you intend to slaughter for God, and go kiss and make up

with anyone you've upset, even if you have to leave church.

Go ahead, you can leave, I understand.


You have heard it said don't commit adultery, but I say to you check your heart.

You have heard it said divorce is okay with a certificate, but I say to you consider the future of

the spouse you can no longer stand and choose what is best for her or him.

You have heard it said don't swear falsely, but I say to you don't swear at all; undertalk and

overdeliver.


For all his ink stains on our law and gospel theology, Martin Luther did catch on to what Jesus was doing here.

When you've finished reading Psalm 119, review the beginning of Luther's Small Catechism.

For each of the ten commandments, Luther asks "What does this mean?"and pushes us

past the negative no-nos into positive love for God and neighbor.

We are to fear and love God, so that we do not ... but instead help and support our neighbors in all of life's needs...help them to improve and protect their property and income...come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.

The law is not so much a prohibition on freedom as it is an invitation to a better life.

Luther, following Jesus, wants us to see things differently.


In my life I have framed a grand total of one advertisement.

Apple summons its customers with one photo and two words: Think Different.

The man in the photograph is the American hero Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier in 1947 and dislodged a racist society, pushing a nation forward.

He is crossing home plate and clasping the white hand of a teammate.

He is wearing a big league uniform issued by a devout Methodist, Dodger general

manager Branch Rickey.

Before signing Mr. Robinson, Mr. Rickey brought him in for an interview.

Rickey grilled Robinson for three hours, screamed at him, swore at him, got up in his

grill and threatened to smack him, all to test his response.

Finally, Robinson said, "Mr. Rickey, do you want a ballplayer who's afraid to fight back?"

Rickey replied, "I want a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back."

Think different.


The cost of doing so is high.

Turn the other cheek also, give your cloak as well, go the second mile, love your enemies,

pray for those who persecute you, Jesus says next.

Instead of obeying the law to keep out of trouble, Jesus pushes us into more trouble to fulfill the law and unleash its promise.

The world is never ready for Jackie Robinson or Jesus followers, and it will spit at you when you shatter its expectations with creative, life-giving love and holy possibility.

People who help their neighbor at personal cost are suspicious, possibly dangerous.

People who sacrifice their own safety or personal preference for the well-being of others

surprise us; we might admire them, but dare we trust them enough to join them?

People who love their enemies are naive and stupid, and now unAmerican.

Jesus is laying out a rocky pathway in the opposite direction of security and success.

Taking his road demands thinking differently, turning negatives into positives, pushing limits

not to get away with more but to give away more and walk away with less.

This lifestyle leads to misunderstanding and mockery and scorn and rejection and crucifixion and Easter joy.

It leads to better baseball and a brighter world.


It is far easier to scour the law for loopholes than to follow it into the dangerous heart of God, who loves enemies and turns the other cheek and dies alone on a cross for his trouble.

The world that is constantly in your ear will tell you to play it safe and look out for yourself.

But I say to you there is a harder, better way that leads beyond happiness to joy.

Embrace the law, bless your ex, and push beyond minimal requirements toward maximum good.

Love God, love your neighbor, and truly live.


You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.

Think and be different.

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