February 10, 2020
O God of ev'ry nation,
of ev'ry race and land,
redeem your whole creation
with your almighty hand;
where hate and fear divide us
and bitter threats are hurled,
in love and mercy guide us
and heal our strife-torn world.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #713]
The assigned lectionary readings for Sunday, February 16, 2020, The Sixth Sunday After the Epiphany, are as follows:
I confess that, before last Thursday (February 6), I couldn't have told you who Arthur Brooks was. Though he regularly writes an opinion column in the Washington Post, I am infinitely more familiar with columnist David Brooks of the New York Times. They are not related, by the way.
The Washington Post Brooks, also a Harvard professor and president of a conservative think tank, was the keynote speaker at last week's National Prayer Breakfast, just ahead of the President.
That exchange made it difficult for me to read this Sunday's Gospel lesson apart from the social and political climate in which we live. The news has been dominated by the impeachment of the President and his retaliatory reaction. The Democrats have begun primary elections, and though the debates have shown little in the way of antagonism, we can rest assured that they won't stay calm for long.
But conflict isn't limited to politics or the U.S. alone. England has its Brexit. There is the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East. Pinpoint any country and there's a seemingly endless war. Incidents of gun violence are a daily occurrence. The list is endless.
Because I feel an obligation to remain knowledgeable on current issues and events, I am forced to listen to comments and have conversations that I find at the very least unsettling, at the worst, reprehensible. I am challenged to be gracious.
But as I have written often; in our life together there are bound to be tensions, there are bound to be anxieties, there are bound to be conflicts. But pain and anxiety are part of the life of people who want to grow in their service and in their relationship to Christ.This is not about eliminating or ignoring differences, but rather about not regarding our differences as cause for resentment or mistrust.
As we continue our journey through the Beatitudes, Jesus touches on several of the most sensitive, complex and controversial issues known to humankind. Jesus discusses anger, adultery, divorce and taking an oath or making a promise.
There are two more issues Jesus mentions that we seldom read in worship because of the varying lengths of the Epiphany season. They are retaliation and loving one's enemies, which Brooks addressed last week.
It is from those seldom read verses [Matthew 5:38-48] that we derive the famous sayings about "an eye for an eye," "turning the other cheek," and, of course, "love your enemies."
What Jesus is doing is challenging his disciples and, by extension, us, to see the world in a new way. In each of the scenarios, Jesus is calling for an entirely new way of viewing human relationships.
Of the four gospels, Matthew has the most to say about conflict. In these verses Matthew's Jesus informs us that our aim as Christians is to break through the limitations of our excuses, to destroy all reasons that we might offer to treat one person as less than another and to enter into relationships with each other that are based upon our equality before God.
As I reflect on my time in this office I can say that the most distracting, the most physically exhausting, the most emotionally draining aspect of my role is mediating conflict. The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that we can meet all the demands of love that are expressed in the law in one way - and only in one way - if our hearts go there first.
This Friday we celebrate St. Valentine's Day. With that in mind, let me close with this: God loves you with an everlasting love. Therefore, love each other. Love each other, not with the love that depends on chemistry, on mood, or of feelings; not even with the love that depends on the behavior of others, but love each other with the kind of love that Christ refers to in this Sunday's reading from the Sermon on the Mount.
It is the love that goes beyond what seems right and enters into the Spirit of what God wants for us, the love that enters into feeding others, into healing others, into showing grace to others, into giving peace to others; the love that values others, regardless of who they are or what they have or have not done.
This coming Sunday morning, I will be with the people of God at Trinity Lutheran Church in Sebring. This is another first-time visit to which I look forward.
This week and always, may you choose to act faithfully, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him.
+Bishop Abraham Allende