I can't tell you how much I hate it when the weather keeps us from being together in person. It does seem to happen at least once or twice a year, though, so I've gotten in the habit of posting something of what I would have said in the sermon. The good news about that is that it won't take you as long to read it - as it would have taken me to preach it. :)
First, go and read the texts for today by clicking here. You'd have heard Deuteronomy this morning, not Sirach.
O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The part of the Gospel that brought everything together for me this week is at the very end of the passage: "Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” In other words, Jesus is telling us to be consistent. To be who we say we are - and to do what we say we're going to do. At the heart of all these passages today is this theme: If you say that you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus, then show that to the people around you by being who you say you are - and doing what you say you're going to do. We get the examples in the Gospel this morning - hard examples - because being a follower of Jesus isn't easy. It requires rather a lot of us.
To really follow this Jesus, we have to work at being true to our word. We have to work at maintaining kind and peaceful relationships with one another. When something is broken, or we've hurt someone, we have to have the courage to go and fix it - to put it as right as we can - because we owe that to one another. And because God expects it of us. Because God wants us to respect each other, and to love each other. To see each other as people, to recognize each other as children of God - not just women or men or children or a means to an end, or someone we can use to get what we want. God expects that like Jesus, we'll look hard into the hearts of the people around us - and find there that same divine spark that God gives to all of us. When we make a promise, we ought to work hard to keep it. And you don't need to swear, by the way, because if you just do what you say you're going to do - people will believe you. So don't swear if you don't have to - and certainly not about the things that are important to us, not about God. If you find that there is something in your way, something preventing you from being good Christian people, then remove that obstacle - no matter what it is. Because it's more important to have this kind of Christian integrity - it's more important that we really follow God.
Let's also acknowledge that this Gospel is a hard one - that it requires things of us that might not be easy. And that some of us might feel convicted by this passage for past choices or past decisions. Remember that none of us get this right all the time. Not every promise can be kept, not every relationship can be fixed. We don't live in a world where that is always possible. And yet - as Christians, we know that it is our work to persevere - to keep trying to be these consistent, intentional, faithful people who do what we say we're going to do. There's grace to cover us when we fall short - but inherent in our faith is the idea that we try again. And that we try not to get hung up so much in some of the little, nit-picky things of the world around us. In the Epistle, Paul is trying to direct the church in Corinth back to God - and away from cliques and divisions. Like most churches, the church at Corinth got stuck every once in a while in squabbles about what to do - and who should be in charge, and who's ideas were better. Paul wants them (and us) to remember that we're about much bigger things, here. We have much more important work to be doing - many more important conversations to be having - about how to serve our neighbors and share the good news of Jesus. This is what our time together is really about - it's about learning to love Jesus more fully together...and knowing that if we do that, our life together will be blessed.
Moses is saying the same thing to the people of Israel that Jesus says to us in the Gospel. Moses tells them that they have the choice - to follow God and choose life, to live by the law, to love one another, to seek justice for each other...or they can choose to not live this way. And he sets this up as the choice between life and death - so Moses sees this choice as really important. The choice to live - and to know that God loves us - or to forget God and to put our trust in other things - temporal things - that can never offer us the grace and mercy of God.
We have the same choice. To choose life - by choosing to follow Jesus. To love God - and trust God. By trying to live by the example that Jesus set - by loving our neighbors, and seeking peace, and trying to be the people we say we are when we use the word "Christian." If we're serious about it, it means that we'll try to live like Jesus - who was always caring for the hungry and sick, lifting up the poor, welcoming the stranger, and making room at the table for the people that society had cast out. Trying to do this - to do this kind of good, and trying to do this good all the time makes us people who are true to their word, people who follow the law (remember Jesus said there are two great commandments - to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves). We have the same choice - to experience the freedom of life abundant now - to know Jesus for who he is, to see him in our neighbors, and to be truly free from the fear and the limitations of this world.
Where are the obstacles in your path that keep you from choosing this life? What habits or ideas, people or problems are keeping you from follow Jesus down the road? Where are the areas of your life where you could do better, be more consistent, or just be more comfortable in your own skin as a child of God? Where are the places God might be calling you to do better? To keep your word more often? To repair relationships? To love your neighbor? It's not always easy - in fact, it's usually not. But it is the road that leads this world to peace - and us to joy.
So, let your yes be yes - and your no be no. Don't just say it - but do it. Don't just claim the name of Christian, be who you say you are. As often and as consistently as possible - because this is the journey of faith, the quest for God. Our faith is a great gift - and a winding journey. And God has so much goodness stored up for us - we don't want to miss it.
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
I hope you're all safe inside - and that you're able to rest on this snowy sabbath day. God bless you and keep you until we meet again.