Sermon for the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany

Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37 (NRSV) (KJV)

If there is a theme that ties today’s readings together it is that we as humans have choices—choices which determine what our relationship with God will be like.

Deuteronomy is one of the five books of the Pentateuch which observant Jews believe were written by Moses. This despite the recording of the death and burial of Moses found in the last chapter of Deuteronomy. If Leviticus is the book of laws, Deuteronomy can be described as the annotation of that law, providing the guidance necessary to fulfill the law and please God.

Our reading for today is part of the long address by Moses to the people and the leadership as they prepared to enter the land that God had promised them.

Remember that everyone who is present to hear Moses with the exception of Joshua son of Nun and his fellow scout is a child of the original group which left Egypt. All others in the original group have died.

Consequently, Moses with his experience of the time in the Wilderness sets before them the choices they have. The choices are laid out early—life and prosperity or death and adversity; loving God and following God’s precepts or perishing.

Moses makes a particular point of stressing that they must not bow down to other gods and serve them. Sadly, we too have these choices as well. Think of all the things which seem of primary importance to many—are they not served to the true exclusion of God who wants our first and foremost devotion.

As he closes out this portion of the oration, Moses characterizes the choices again: life and death, blessings and curses. He urges them to choose life and blessings.

It might seem that Paul is not writing about choices but he is. The choice before the Corinthian Christians is to stay at the entry level of relationship to God as revealed by Jesus Christ or to go deeper—to taste the solid food of an engaged faith.

That is our choice as well. Do we stay with a surface relationship with Christ nourished by that once in three weeks attendance which is the average for Episcopalians or do we commit to engaging in the scripture, to pray the prayers of the Eucharist silently, and to establish a religious life outside of Sunday church.

Are we willing to commit the time to deepen our spirituality or not? It is our choice as it was for the Christians in Corinth.

But when we digest the words of Jesus in this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, we find that the choices are more finely focused—that the bar of conduct has been raised.

Jesus equates murder to having rancor and disputes with others in the church; he equates litigiousness with someone in the church as an affront to God with very real civil penalties. He equates adultery with lusting after another mentally.

He uses hyperbole as he says to sever any body part which causes us to sin and reminds those who would divorce except for certain circumstances to be engaging in adultery if they remarry.

Finally Jesus says that swearing falsely can be equated with swearing at all. It is the source of the words “I swear or affirm—the yes, yes—used in courts today and in oaths of allegiance.

Those of us who are of an age remember the furor when President Carter admitted to lusting after other women in his heart. But when we lust after someone, are we not objectifying them?

Remember that when a man divorced a woman in Jesus’ time, she was left destitute and you can understand his strong prohibitions against easy divorce.

Finally, Jesus provides the perfect illustration of why swearing in the name of God or anything else religious is wrong because we usurp God’s prerogatives.

Finally, he finds ridiculous swearing on one’s head which was probably equivalent to promising on the grave of one’s mother because we can not control whether our hair is black or white or whether we can have hair or not.

There is a whole movement in today’s metaphysical environment toward mindfulness. We are expected to do everything deliberately to gain the greatest value from it. There is mindful eating and mindful walking. Many need the practice of mindful emailing.

But at the heart of mindfulness is the making of choices. How will we live? What will be our relationship with others? What will be the depth of our relationship with God?

Choices, choices—it is at the root of the freewill that God affords us as a gift. Make your choices mindfully.