Perusing the Valentines Day card display at my local Hallmark, I searched the racks for clever cards for my family and friends. Without thinking, I realized I was also searching for the elusive Valentine Birthday card for my Dad. (He was born on Valentines Day, 1932.) As happens so often these days, I have to remind myself (or am reminded) that my father has died, that I no longer have to hunt for the lone dual-purpose card suitable for my Dad’s sweetheart birthday.
My father and I never quite “got” each other. Though I never doubted his love for me, I often wondered about the way it was expressed. And he, in turn, couldn’t quite understand my life choices, the decisions I made. There were too many times when we did not speak, or when we exchanged harsh words, or when battle lines were drawn. But I know he loved me, in his way. And I, in turn, loved him in mine.
As I slowly, sadly, live into my status as a middle-aged orphan, I find it increasingly difficult to remember what it was we argued about, why we were so often at loggerheads. The details of our disputes, the rationale for our wrangling no longer seem to matter. Perhaps it is the gift of time that softens so many hard edges, or the gift of a faulty memory that can barely remember what I had for breakfast. Or maybe it is that he and I grew up in the same faith community, were shaped by the same faithful leaders, were schooled by the same scripture. Though separated by a generation, and wildly divergent in the paths we chose, we shared a common faith in the God of our ancestors and the Lord of life. And that common faith changed the way we viewed the world and each other.
On Sunday we continue our sermonic slog through the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5.21-37) Jesus abandons his broad-brush musing on his relationship to the law and the prophets to address specific issues about which we, brothers and sisters in the faith, still wrangle and argue. Dissatisfied with the then-common, often-simplistic interpretations of the Ten Commandments with regard to murder, adultery, divorce and duplicitous speech, he drills down on the specifics. Four times in Sunday’s gospel he begins his remarks with “You have heard it said, but I say to you . . .” In other words, Jesus will leave everyone offended.
He defines murder (commandment 5) as more than the “mere” taking of a life, but also as unrepentant anger. That is, slaying with speech is as destructive as with a weapon.
He defines adultery (commandment 6) as not only sexual infidelity, but also as a wandering eye or heart.
He defines divorce (commandment 6) as more than a legal proceeding, but as a decision with life-long consequences for all involved.
He defines the commandment against wrongful use of God’s name (commandment 2) by saying, “Let your yes, be yes. Your no, no.” In other words, be true to your word.
What does this have to do with me and my Dad? With you and those you love? With us in our life together?
The commandments still stand. As Jesus said just last week, “I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.” We do the commandments—and one another—a disservice when we limit their intent, soften their impact, exempt ourselves from their truth. We do equal damage when we torture ourselves about the particulars, punish ourselves for failing to live up to both the letter and the spirit of the law.
Here’s what Jesus asks of us: that we view the commandments as both a loving gift and a piercing light, a protective boundary and an honest mirror, a community decision and a personal quest.
I always look forward to our time together on Sunday mornings. Though during the week, we walk many different paths, grieve private failures, celebrate small victories, we come together as disciples willing to sit at Jesus’ feet. To listen. To learn. To be convicted. To be forgiven.
We have all violated both the broad intent of the law, and the daily challenges of life in community. Today I give thanks for my parents, for their faithfulness to one another, to our family, and to God. Today I give thanks for you and our community’s deep desire to live faithfully in large and small ways. Today I give thanks for God’s poor memory for sin, and long patience with us sinners who, inexplicably, have found our way into God’s heart.
See you Sunday,
Pastor JoAnn Post