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Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany February 20, 2011.

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

Psalm 119:33-40

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

Matthew 5:38-48

As someone who preaches semi-regularly I find a constant challenge with preaching on familiar readings. I'd much prefer to preach a reading like 2 Kgs 2:23-25 (Elisha and the she bears) to a reading like the Good Samaritan or today's reading from Matthew that has the familiar words, "turn the other cheek." I believe that my apprehension is rooted in the fear that I won't be able to do anything new or creative with the reading. When we approach beloved or well-known texts I feel that we are going up against a history of sermons, Sunday school bulletin boards, and bumper stickers that have rephrased, explicated, and illustrated these texts in a million different ways, and hence our job as preachers becomes burdensome in the quest to continually find new and exciting ways to proclaim the good news from the words of such well-loved and familiar scripture passages.

I definitely felt this familiar panic after reading Matt 5:38-48. After reading the Gospel text I then read the words from Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth, "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid, that foundation is Jesus Christ" (vv. 10-11). After subduing my fear of creative inadequacy by remembering that the point of the sermon is the good news of God's promises and not the wittiness of the preacher, I began to approach each of today's readings keeping in mind the prevalent themes that arise in the time after Epiphany--the manifestation and revelation of Christ.

Reading today's texts through the lectionary lenses of the time after Epiphany we can see the pericopes gearing the reader for their eventual inclusion into the promises of the Lord experienced at the Transfiguration. In the passages picked for today there appears to be a rephrasing of the law, a desire to turn to the Lord, a reminder that the Lord is the foundation in whom we are all planted, and a new approach to living. The readings for the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany seem to serve as a primer before the big day, a sort of lectionary-based catechesis two weeks before the celebration of the Transfiguration.

In the reading from Leviticus we find a portion of the Holiness Code that seems to rephrase a majority of the Decalogue. Both the lectionary for today (Lev 19:1-2, 9-18) and the story of the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:1-17) begin with the common Old Testament proclamation, "I am the Lord your God," embedded in the opening line. Worth mentioning is that in the Leviticus text, all the commandments are summarized in v. 18, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus echoes these sentiments in Matt 7:12 in what we've come to know as the Greatest Commandment.

In the psalm we find an outright cry of the psalmist to know the desires and will of the Lord. Liturgically this is a very "come, Holy Spirit" sort of moment. "Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart." The word translated to "heart" in this text is the Hebrew word leb that denotes the center of emotion and can be translated a number of ways including; inner person, mind, will, or heart. The leb is the place where many things dwell including pride, pain, idols, joy, wisdom, and the word of God. (6) Reading the psalmist's words we can echo a desire to have the Lord appear before us and send us moving in a new direction. However, instead of the Lord appearing to turn our hearts with decrees, we wait to see Jesus radiantly appear on the mountaintop with Moses and Elijah moving us as Christians into the promises made to Abraham so long ago.

Paul asks a very simple, and yet very important question in his first letter to the church in Corinth: "On whose foundation do we stand?" This question inspires reflections that reveal Jesus as Christ, Messiah, and Savior. He is the one on whom we stand. Together we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Christians of all times and ages as people gathered around, planted in, and supported by Jesus. We are part of a whole people of God through Christ Jesus. It is this revelation of Jesus as Christ--as our foundation, as the platform on which we stand before God--that is quintessential as we make our way to the glory of the Transfiguration.

Ending with the reading that brought me so much anxiety in the beginning we turn our attention to Matt 5:38-48. Where is God manifest in this text? How is Christ revealed? Isn't Christ revealed in the way that we deal with the neighbor? Loving the one who hates us seems like a tall task, but doesn't it help bring together the community? By seeking to constantly bring community together we are constantly seeking to share the love of Christ with all people. By spreading the love of Christ to those who hate us, those we might see as unworthy, we are extending the grace of the covenant that others might have seen as being wasted on the Gentiles. Teleios, the word that is often translated as "perfect" twice in v.48, carries with it the connotation of something being fully developed or complete in a moral sense. (7) This verse changes if we read it, "Be complete, therefore, as your heavenly Father is complete." As the promises of the covenant where carried throughout the world by the words and acts of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, let us continue to carry the good news of new life to the entire world.

(6.) William D. Mounce, Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 327.
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Title Annotation:Preaching Helps
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2010
Words:974
Previous Article:Sixth Sunday after the epiphany February 13, 2011.
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