Perhaps it was the rigorous words of Jesus we had just heard calling us to a life that embodies the reign of God – a life that eschews not only killing, but all that leads to killing. A life that does not travel the path of anger. A life that does not travel the path of enmity. A life that does not travel the path that curses another or dismisses him as a fool. A life that not only refrains from adultery, but does not even begin to travel the paths of desire that would harm another’s family. A life that would rather bring shame on itself than shame another. A life that need make no oath, for every word is simple and true. A life that coheres with God’s work of gathering his broken and scattered world into a new Jerusalem; God’s work of redeeming, rescuing, reconciling; God’s work of breaking open prisons and setting captives free; God’s work of uniting all creation in a single song of praise.
I want to travel that path. Yet I know the passions and failures that attend life, the disharmonies that rattle within me and escape now and again.
So there, at the altar, with that bread in my hand and the words of Jesus fresh in my mind, I hear not only the radical call to follow the path of life, I hear also the bread: the word that I, even I, broken as I am, I am welcome at God’s table. I am fed by God’s own hand.
When I was ten, Mrs. Roberts made me feel welcome like that at her dinner table, as though I was just another of her large brood. Funny, that dumplings should be a lasting memory. But it is not the dumplings; it was the dinner table, the welcome, the pleasure of being part of that household.
The bread in my hand is as those dumplings: a simple, moving declaration that I am welcome in the household of God.
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How are we to behave in a world where sins are forgiven, the lame walk, the outcasts gathered in, and the dead raised to life? How are we to behave as a community that is a foretaste of that new world – and an agent in bringing that new world to birth?
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is not just tightening the rules so that we are more rigorous followers of Moses. Jesus is trying to give us a whole new vision of what it means to walk in the Spirit of God.
God is in the world to reconcile. God is in the world to heal the human community. God is working to restore the torn fabric of life. It is not just murder that rends the human community, but every word of insult and anger. We ought not think religious acts mean anything if they are not joined to the reconciling work of God. Indeed, as they prophets often proclaim, they are more likely to offend God than to honor him if we are not living the justice, mercy and reconciliation of God.
From Sunday’s sermon “Don’t Start”