Sixth Sunday after Epiphany 16 February 2014
(Deuteronomy 30:15-20 Psalm 119 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 Matthew 5:21-37)
“Broken, Beautiful, Blessed!”
If you look around my office you may have noticed one thing that is constant. Of course, there is so much “stuff” in my office that I guess it would be possible not to notice. All these shells come from my office. Mostly small, white, yellowish, gray, sun-bleached, twisting, turning, spiraling in that gorgeous and mysterious way that seashells do. I may have one or two that are close to perfect, but my prized possessions are broken shells of every shape and size because, as far as I’m concerned, they are far more beautiful than the ones that are perfectly intact and so lovely on the outside.
I love the way the brokenness lets you see inside of them. In many ways, that’s where true beauty is to be found. That’s where I discover magnificent details not found on the outside. Yet, there they are, lying on the sand, trampled underfoot, washed ashore and pulled back by the next tide along with tangled seaweed, mixed in with discarded cigarette butts, broken bottles, and uneaten bologna sandwiches.
This all reminds me that even some of God’s most beautiful creations are cracked and dulled and broken by the pounding surf of daily life.
I walk the beach for hours at a time, picking up these shell fragments; and as I walk I am often reminded of people, broken but beautiful. That’s who we are. Not a single one of us gets through this life whole and intact!
And I believe that sometimes we all allow our hunger for wholeness to turn into unhealthy urges—whether for food, alcohol, shopping, gossip, sex, gambling or any of the many more vices—things that only pull us away from our true self and who we are in relationship with each other. We are all shattered in one way or another, all incomplete, missing pieces here and there, too often controlled by our brokenness.
It is to this brokenness of our human heart and the brokenness of human community to which Jesus addresses himself in today’s Gospel.
I beg you: let’s not hear these words as if from an irate old God yelling at us when we get angry! Let’s not hear these words about cutting out eyes and cutting off arms as if from a livid surgeon biding time to cut sinful body parts into tiny pieces! Let’s not hear these words about divorce as if from a fuming old marriage counselor ready to throw all broken marriages into the fires of hell! To hear the words of Jesus in this way is to have missed Jesus’ point altogether.
The scribes and the Pharisees were the self-appointed refiners of the law; their attention to detail had expressed itself in minute control of daily life. Though he refused to join the scribes and Pharisees in refining it to absolute details, Jesus also refused to abolish it. Jesus came, he insisted, to fulfill the Commandments handed down on Sinai, the purpose of which is to invite human freedom and create a beloved community.
We could hear this invitation no more clearly than we do in this weekend’s text from Deuteronomy, where we are reminded that more than all else, God’s law is an invitation to life. Hear again, the writer of Deuteronomy: “If you obey the commandments…loving your God…then you shall live. But if your heart turns away…serving other gods….you shall perish. Choose life! Choose life so you will live!”
God’s law is so much more than a ticket to life beyond the grave. It is the invitation to living fully in this messy, sinful world. God’s Law are the words of a loving parent who recognizes the pain resulting from decisions and choices made that only add to our brokenness.
What we hear in Matthew this morning is the difference between the Law informed by compassion as compared to the Law deprived of compassion. We can either read these prohibitions as a list of do not’s, or we can read them as an invitation to a loving response to the brokenness that fractures every one of our lives.
Because of Jesus, the very basis of our interpretation of the Law must find its fulfillment in Jesus’ command to love one another, and in his freely given sacrifice on Calvary.
The Jesus we hear described in Matthew’s Gospel is the One to heal the brokenness that drives us apart; and anger, adultery, divorce, false swearing are powerful examples of the brokenness that pervades all our lives.
To say that compassion must always inform the Law takes us to the very end of Jesus’ ministry in Matthew’s Gospel when we hear that striking story of the sheep and the goats on judgment day:“…when you did it to the least of my sisters and brothers, you did it to me…” [Mt. 25: 40].
I go back to my broken shells collected over the past 25 years, and I wonder if we can ever begin to see our brokenness as a blessing rather than a curse, a beauty mark rather than a scar. I wonder can we truly believe that God doesn’t love us only after we are “fixed,” but rather, God loves us into opening to others and loves us through our sinfulness. And as I learned in my first course here at the seminary, “if the Law is used to curb and mirror our sinfulness, it is also used to regulate and direct our lives.” [Formula of Concord]
God uses the Law to call us to a deeper love of self and others. Jesus presses us even further: know that you are broken, know that you are beautiful, know that you are blessed, and know that I have come to bring you life! Amen.