Lenten Services.300dpi

Pastor Nancy Rakoczy’s cycle A sermon Sixth Sunday in Lent

In today’s gospel, we are being asked to use our imagination. FIRST, there are a lot of DIRE things that Jesus says. If you do THIS, then THAT will happen. If you are angry, insult a brother or sister, if you look with lust then what you need to do is tear out that eye or hand. Or if you swear falsely, you will be liable to judgment, or the council, and its better if you lose a body part than go to hell.

What are we to make of these things that Jesus says? Should we ignore them as irrelevant to people who live 2000 years after him? Should we say maybe Jesus was having a bad day, and we’ll listen to him when he’s in a better mood?

We have been on a thematic journey where we have been mulling over what it means to be righteous. We started with the Star of Bethlehem leading the three wise men, and then Jesus took over the job of the star. HE is the light that we have been following, from the Jordan River, to the Sea of Galilee, to the mountain where he gives us this sermon.

I have held up his father, Joseph, as an example of someone who didn’t do the bare minimum, when the bare minimum of righteousness would have gotten Mary shunned or stoned to death. Joseph must have wondered how could those actions, grounded in the LAW, be considered righteous when it would result in DEATH?

As I said, today’s gospel is asking us to use our imaginations. Jesus is addressing these harsh words to those people who consider themselves very righteous. If there was a scale of zero to ten, there are listeners who would have given themselves tens on the scale of righteousness.

But today, Jesus is saying, ‘but what about?’ What about anger? What about insults? What about nurturing anger in your secret hearts? What about those grudges?

What about forgiveness? Where is reconciliation in your life? What about lust? What about divorce? What about swearing falsely? What about what about what about . . .?

For those listeners, many may have been cringing. What IS righteousness when you factor in all these other things? The law and the prophets don’t mention any of them, yet, Jesus says he is not here to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfill them.

In today’s gospel we see the disposition of our hearts MATTER, and Jesus addresses hearts, always. Jesus is RELATIONAL. RELATIONSHIPS matter.

The Light of the world sheds LIGHT on hearts that would prefer to remain in the shadow, because the legalism of the day doesn’t challenge hearts at all. The list Jesus gives us is DAUNTING. Jesus presents a new world of relationships, where love is the difficult path we walk. Where we reconcile with each other as brothers and sisters.

Where we put aside our anger because there is no such thing as righteous anger for us humans, as his holy people.

The only one who gets to have righteous anger is GOD. And we say, where is this world?  We have an inkling that it cannot be made by HUMAN righteousness. We hit our limits as humans when we read today’s gospel.

For example, when Jesus brings up lust, he confronts the MALE gaze of his time, and he says when you LOOK – SEE the women as children of GOD, as children of the Father.

In Jesus’ day, divorce would be life-threatening for the woman. She would be left to starve in the street, with no recourse to her family of origin. Jesus just got through saying their righteousness has to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, the good people, who pat themselves on the back as being the best of the best, the holiest of the holiest.

But there are even bigger things than our individual righteousness. Jesus is addressing a CROWD of people and saying YOU in the plural sense. When this gospel was being written, there were Christian communities being formed around Jesus’ words and his life, death and resurrection. The questions would be what do you need to do to keep this community going? The law and the prophets weren’t enough. Sure, thou shalt not kill is a useful commandment, but chances are that no one was going to kill each other in the newly formed communities, so what else do they need to do to be a Christian community?

If any of you work or have worked in an office, would you call it a Christian community just because no one there gets killed? No, of course not. In order to make a Christian community, MORE is expected than refraining from killing, the bare- bones of the ten commandments. Using our imaginations, how could we make the workplace or the office LIFE-GIVING? For one thing, KINDNESS, is necessary. Putting aside our anger is another. Not holding grudges. SEEING each other as children of GOD is essential. Granting people dignity. A Christian community is where score-keeping is not done.

When Jesus speaks about lust and adultery and divorce, he speaks to the WORTH of the individual. Where the dignity of the individual IS kept. Jesus is speaking to mind sets where some people are seen as expendable and disposable, especially women. You could make a list of what is necessary to make your work place a Christian community.

These words of Jesus are not an academic exercise from the past. A large sum of money walked into this church – and now we see it’s not about money. It shed a light on the squabbles it caused. Jesus speaks to all of us NOW to build a BELOVED community NOW, as St. John Lutheran Church of Bellmore. Putting away anger and not keeping resentments is useful and NECESSARY instruction. There are different and NEW directions and paths opening up for us at St. John to follow, let’s ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, remember the necessity of being KIND.

Even if you are certain that the new path is the right path, let us BE KIND to one another. Even if you are certain that YOUR way is the ONLY way, remember that Jesus is THE WAY.

No matter where we are on the spectrum of discipleship, we cling to Jesus as THE WAY. Remember Jesus’ words about the first being the last and the last being the first. There is no competition here, except a competition in KINDNESS.

There will be no Christian community, there will be no BELOVED community of St. John of Bellmore without kindness. Kindness is not the instructions for the other person, but for me, and you and ALL of us. So, let’s take a deep breath and remember to BE KIND.

And look at today’s reading from Corinthians; Paul says that the Corinthians are still on milk, not solid food, meaning they are UNLEARNING their old ways of living, and they are still learning this NEW WAY of LIVING. For them, it was to UNLEARN jealousy.

What is the task before the people of St. John? Paul’s words are relevant NOW as we deal with each other in KINDNESS. Jesus came to start NEW ways of relating to each other. Doing the bare minimum was not going to create and sustain these new Christian communities of love, these BLESSED communities.

Holding grudges and resentments is not a foundation for building BLESSEDNESS. Jesus urges us to be truth tellers, without the exaggerations of making oaths. Refusing to forgive and withholding forgiveness does not build holy living.

And what exactly is holy living? Is holy living a form of RIGIDITY and a form of PERFECTIONISM where we cling to what does not give life? Abundant living is open-handed; it forgives, it lets go of grudges, it desires what is best for the other person. Abundant living sees and respects the image of Christ in each other even if we disagree with each other. What Jesus wants us to do is focus on our relationships. He uses exaggerated language like cutting off body parts and losing an eye to make his point.

Jesus’ words today show just how challenging it is to follow him. We all have our short comings. If St. John is to do more than survive but THRIVE it will be by digging deeper to find the mutual respect we need. We will need to cling to our Good Shepherd as he invites us to go deeper into relationships of Christian love and respect. Christ is the one who shares his SPIRIT with us, so that we can live the way he sees we are capable. We can do it. Let’s use our imaginations to imagine St. John as a place where we put kindness first. Let’s put on our Jesus glasses and IMAGINE what a church devoted to KINDNESS would look like.

I thank you, Lord for your challenging words. Let us all take them to heart. You show us how to have a deeper Christian community and to have a deeper relationship with all of us. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Lenten Services.300dpi

Fifth Sunday in Epiphany, 2.9.20

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” Is Jesus asking us to do the impossible?  Love your neighbor as yourself is hard enough. Now these humble fishermen and tax collectors’ righteousness have to be greater than those of the holiest people – Pharisees and scribes – people who are at the top of the holy-religious hierarchy. Continue reading “Fifth Sunday in Epiphany, 2.9.20”

Lenten Services.300dpi

Third Sunday in Epiphany, 1.26.2020

Why is today’s gospel, set by the Sea of Galilee, an EPIPHANY text? The Star of Bethlehem is long gone. WHERE is the LIGHT?

Today, we hear Jesus proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Repentance is a turning around, a coming to our senses, having our heads screwed on the right way. All done by God’s hand, and God’s power. Where LIGHT suddenly pours in, and our eyes are opened. Today, we have moved from the light of the STAR of Bethlehem to the LIGHT of the world who is standing at the Sea of Galilee. Continue reading “Third Sunday in Epiphany, 1.26.2020”

Lenten Services.300dpi

Second Sunday in Epiphany, 1.19.20

What could be more important than our name? We may love it, or hate it, or most of the time it barely registers. Until someone CALLS us. Today we hear Jesus called – but not by the name the angel gives him. Twice, we hear Jesus called, Lamb of God, and once, Son of God. He is also called Rabbi, Teacher, and Messiah. Right in the beginning of the gospel of John. Then at the end of our gospel Peter has a name change. He starts the day with one name, but by the end of the day, by four o’clock, they are very specific, his name has been changed to Cephas, or Peter. Continue reading “Second Sunday in Epiphany, 1.19.20”

Lenten Services.300dpi

Baptism of Jesus, 1.12.20

As a parent, did you ever have the experience where your small children imitated you because they loved you and wanted to BE like you?  I’m sure you have. When my daughters were young we went to McDonald’s, and I knew they probably wanted a Happy Meal, but because they saw me ordering a salad, THEY ordered a salad, too.

They wanted to be like Mommy. Continue reading “Baptism of Jesus, 1.12.20”

Lenten Services.300dpi

Second Sunday after Christmas, 1.5.2020

Beginnings are important.

On our news cycle for the FIRST day of the New Year, we all heard about babies born at the stroke of midnight. In Brooklyn and Staten Island, Aiden Zobnin and Anthony Saraceno were both born precisely at midnight. And on Long Island, little Bernard Casey Hall Nichols was born at 12:03 a.m. at Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital.

We’re always happy to mark the moment when something wonderful and PRECIOUS comes into our lives. And certainly, newborn babies get our attention as wonderful and precious. We want good health for them. We want them to have loving parents, and a long and happy life. Continue reading “Second Sunday after Christmas, 1.5.2020”

Lenten Services.300dpi

First Sunday After Christmas, 12.29.19

I don’t know about you, but there are days when it feels as if there are only atrocities on the news. I quickly hit my limit, and I have to turn off the TV, or the internet. There are days when I can’t hear or read about ONE MORE. Many of us come to church in order to GET AWAY from what the political world is doing to the helpless and vulnerable. So today, we come to church, open our scripture – and another atrocity leaps off the pages! It’s the reading from Matthew – and how the ruler of the day is trying to SNUFF OUT innocent life. We can’t get away from them. Continue reading “First Sunday After Christmas, 12.29.19”

Lenten Services.300dpi

Christmas 2019

Merry Christmas!

What’s the most creative thing you’ve ever done? It doesn’t have to be a painting or a novel. Maybe you’re good at seating people around the dinner table at Christmas so that everyone gets along – that is your act of creativity.

What if we asked God, hey God, what’s the most creative thing you’ve ever done? Continue reading “Christmas 2019”

Lenten Services.300dpi

Second Sunday of Advent – 12.8.19

Question: How do we know we’re not having a Macy’s Christmas?

Outside these church walls, it’s all red and green, and ho ho ho.

Inside these walls, we have Advent blue, and this bolt of blue fabric hurtling from the ceiling, a symbol to us that Christ is coming near.

How do we know that we’re not having a Macy’s Christmas? We know we’re not having a Macy’s Christmas when we hear John the Baptist snarling, calling us BROOD of VIPERS! Continue reading “Second Sunday of Advent – 12.8.19”