A Holy Journey

Matthew 5: 38-48         Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

1 Corinthians 3: 10-11, 16-23         February 19, 2017

“Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”

Prayer:  Holy God, ever-present on our journeys of faith, please open our minds to the ways you are near us today.  Amen.

Ever since 9-11, travel in and out of the US airports is challenging, to say the least, wouldn’t you say?  And the recent, controversial travel ban hasn’t made the TSA experience any easier, either.  Now, I haven’t flown recently, but I have to admit, there’ve been plenty of times when I’ve felt an unholy annoyance and frustration by standing and waiting in these long lines that just inch along.  Then when you finally get to the security check point, you have to take off your shoes.  You have to take off your belt.  You have to empty your pockets.  You have to put your cell phone in the big bin, your laptop, too.  And, you can see on a big table all the bottles of shampoo and conditioners and water bottles that were confiscated before entering the airport.  I confess—not so holy thoughts are running through my mind.  God forbid that I might have a big thing of shampoo in my carry-on… wait.  No, I wouldn’t have shampoo.  But, heaven help us if I carried a bottle of water to the “other side,” to the inner sanctum of the airport.  And God help me that the buzzer doesn’t go off after going through circular sweeping X-Ray machine, or worse, I get the dreaded “pat down” after going through the wand station.

So, I express my unholy frustration to Barb.  But, she’s always my counter-balance.  “I’d rather go through all that and be safe,” she says, “than not go through all that and have something happen.”  Yeah, well, OK.

Then a couple of people, regular passengers, over there, they go through a special line without so much as a wand waving over them!  Why is that?  “Oh, they’re the pre-check frequent flyers,” I’m told.  “They paid a fee to pass through.”  Wait… What?  Sorry if you’re a pre-check passenger! More unholy thoughts… about those passengers in their special line.  About those terrorists who started all this in the first place.  About all the delays.  Not a good way to start a journey.

 Jesus’ words reminded of all that this week—how difficult it is to practice what he preaches...to love one another.  Love your enemies.  What good does it do if you love only those who love you?  What more are you doing than anyone else if you only greet those whom you know, those in your network of family, friends, and relationships?  Yeah, well, OK.

 Then Jesus says, “Be perfect; just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Oy!  That’s a standard that is impossible to live up to, isn’t it?  As human beings, turn the other cheek, going the second mile, loving enemies, praying for those who persecute you… all are difficult standards by themselves!  But be perfect?  Impossible!  If God is a taskmaster, then we’re all doomed to failure trying to live up to Jesus’ standards, and I begin to resent Jesus for setting impossible standards for me and all of us.  And, all those unholy thoughts can take us to the dark side.

 But, thank God that we are not doomed to failure.  Thank God that the journey of life we’re on with God is not about living up to legislation with a “do or die” condition attached.  Thank God we don’t find ourselves inescapably trapped in the dark side of impossibly trying to measure up to the standards Jesus sets.

It’s not that way at all.   Because the foundation that Paul built for his readers (which includes us) is that people are redeemed by Christ, which means that God’s salvation is accomplished by Jesus Christ for the whole human race.  That’s the good news of Jesus Christ. We’re in a redeemed relationship with God!

And as a redeemed people, we are encouraged to build on that relationship with care.  When Jesus says “Be perfect,” with a little bit of word study, we find out that the root  word for ‘perfect’ in Greek is telos (telos) and it is the  same root word for ‘complete.’  We are urged to find ourselves in a new complete, covenantal relationship with God that doesn’t have measuring up as a standard.  God doesn’t go by an ‘eye for an eye’ relationship with humanity.  Instead, I think God has a more complete relationship with us… not one based on us striving to be a perfect specimen as a Christian, but it’s based on completeness rather like an “I see you as a human being,”... “I see you as one whom I love, one whom I’ve redeemed.”

It’s a kind of relationship where God extends faithfulness, integrity, and high quality of relationship to us, and we are encouraged to extend the same to God and to others on our journeys.  It’s where we extend love, grace, mercy, compassion, justice, and equality to others because those qualities reflect the same holy, God-qualities Jesus extended to people on his journey of life.  Is this the sense of completion Jesus means?  Is this the same sense of perfection?  To live a more complete life in God?  A more holy journey of life?

I think so.  Because at some point on our journeys of life, when we make a decision to accept God’s good news in Christ into our hearts and our lives, something holy happens.  It’s called regeneration.  Christ’s holy inner nature is regenerated in us...in our spirit.  With regeneration comes sanctification, that through God’s eyes, we’re made holy. Because not only did Jesus promise to send us the Holy Spirit, which is the same Holy Spirit that lived in him, but Paul’s words invite us to know that each of us is God’s temple  and that Holy Spirit of Christ dwells in us.  And God’s temple is holy.  We are on a holy journeyif only for that very reason.  On that journey,  are we let God’s spirit come forth in our lives? How about supporting the emergence of this Spirit in others?

It’s like what actor Andrew Garfield did as he prepared for the lead role in Martin Scorsese’s movie Silence, which is a movie out now about the Jesuit missionaries in Japan.  Garfield went to Father James Martin to help him work through the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Garfield said the Ignatian prayer exercise entails imagining himself actually in biblical scenes so as to attain an interior knowledge of God.   What surprised him about doing that spiritual exercise was that it was “really easy… falling in love with Jesus Christ.”  He found himself connecting with God in Christ who lives within him, listening to God who said to him “I am enough for you,” as a response to his own fears which said “You’re not enough.”  Garfield’s journey now has become a holy journey.  It spoke to him of his hidden life with Jesus (http://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2017/01/10/andrew-garfield-played-jesuit-silence-he-didnt-expect-fall-love-Jesus, retrieved February 17, 2017).

So, it is a good thing that the journey of life we are on is a holy journey.  Because we are the temple of Christ’s Spirit.   And as such, we can aspire toward a more complete relationship with God on this journey.

And the standards that Jesus sets for us along the way?  Turn the other cheek?  Love your enemies?  Give your coat and your cloak?  Go the extra mile?  Be perfect?  Be complete?  They’re hard.  Yeah, I get that.  But maybe they offer a saving truth that trying to measure up by our standards can never offer.  Those maturing in faith will see the truth of these pieces of foolish wisdom coming from Jesus Christ.

And so to those pre-check passengers, to those terrorists, to those who’ve ever harmed us, to those who’ve thrown stinging insults at us, those who get away with bad behavior, because we’re on a holy journey, perhaps the holy wisdom of Jesus words will come out of our mouths, and our actions will be holy actions on this our holy journey of faith.  Because we’re redeemed, and Christ lives in us, and we’re temples of his Holy Spirit.  Amen.