Sunday, February 25, 2018


I am going to make two points.
I need you to do a little mental work with them.
One point is about our covenant relationship.
The other point is about our language,
            the way we talk to each other and about each other.

What I need you to hold in mind is the connection.
The way we talk is a specific piece of the covenant.
Just hold on to that and it will all be clear.
The way we talk is part of the covenant.

The Bible’s basic plot line is about how God saves us.
Salvation means making us whole, healing us, and as the Catechism says,
            reconciling us to God and each other in Christ.
It’s about our relationship with God
            and our relationship with each other.

 When God wants to draw us into relationship with him,
            God always – always – does that as a group project.
God forms a covenant establishing a relationship
among those people with himself in the middle of it.

God made a loose covenant with all humanity in last week’s lesson,
            when he set the rainbow in the sky.
In today’s lesson,
            God makes a special covenant with Abraham
            to form a great nation, a covenant people.

In Moses’ day, God spells out the terms of his covenant with Israel.
He will be their God and they will honor God
by practicing justice and mercy
            toward each other and the aliens in their land.

Finally, God expands his covenant to everyone
            in a bond of love sealed with the blood of Jesus.
In that covenant, our covenant, we learn to love one another
            as Jesus loves us.

Being a covenant people requires us to act differently,
            talk differently.
It’s a behavioral thing.
The law of Moses,
            the teachings of Jesus,
            and the Epistles of Paull
            are all about how we act and how we speak.

Covenant religion is not popular these days.
Churches are shrinking.
Church leaders explain that people are turning away from faith.
They just don’t believe in God anymore.
But sociologists tell us, it ain’t so.
People still believe in God as much as ever.
We have not turned away from God.
We have turned away from each other.
People want to practice their own little religions.
It’s their life and they’ll live it their way.
We want to pray our own way, meditate our own way,
            think our own thoughts.

I get it.
I have been up to my eyeballs in the Church for decades.
I know Church people are all too human.
We can be a pain in the neck.
I totally get wanting to steal away with Jesus.
But that isn’t how it works.
God isn’t in a spiritual zone we reach
            through secret mystical techniques.
God, in Jesus, joined the human race.

God invites us into relationship with him
as a package deal with each other.
God loves us through the agency of each other.
Being the agent of God’s love isn’t easy.
Loving people at their worst isn’t easy.
When St. Paul told the first Christians to bear one another,
            his words literally mean to put up with each other.
Bear one another.

 That brings us to the cross.
Must Jesus bear the cross alone
And all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for everyone
And there’s a cross for me.

In today’s lesson, Jesus says, take up your cross and follow me.
That means something a lot harder than
crawling through broken glass.
Our cross is each other.

We sometimes bring each other joy.
But we sometimes are pretty difficult.
People treat each other badly in large and small ways.
We naturally want to flee into solitude.
But Jesus showed us another way.
He loved people, forgave people, prayed for people
            even while they were crucifying him.

 To bear our cross is to stay in relationship,
            loving each other especially when we are not
            very lovable.
We practice love in all aspects of our lives.
But Church is the one place that exists precisely
            for the purpose of practicing this kind of love.
We practice by keeping the covenant,
            living according to its terms,
            and one of the terms is how we speak.

We get picky about 4-letter words.
Well, the Bible doesn’t say anything about 4 letter words.
But Jesus is crystal clear on one point about our language.
In Matthew 25: 22, he tells us how not to talk to each other.

Jesus says, Anyone who says to his brother or sister “raca”
 is answerable to the court.
Raca is a general Aramaic insult, any sort of put down or shaming.
Jesus goes on: Anyone who says, “you fool” will be liable to the hell of fire.
He will not stand for our insulting each other.
Insulting each other is a hell fire offense.
The President tweets raca and you fool about his adversaries
            several times each week.
But he didn’t invent it.
Fox News made it the norm of public speech in the 80s.
And MSNBC replicated their language for the left.
But the journalists didn’t invent it either.

They got it from stand-up comics
            in the 60s who discovered you don’t have to be witty,
            clever, ironic or any kind of funny.
You can just be rude and insulting
            and people will roll in the aisles laughing.

Put it together, and rude insulting language
            has become par for the course in our unchurched culture
 – left, right, and center.

But Christians are not like other people.
We have a covenant.
We don’t act like other people
            and we don’t talk like other people.
We vow to respect the dignity of every human being.
            and to seek and serve Christ in all persons.
We don’t have to agree with each other about issues,
            but when we insult or belittle the person we disagree with,
            when we call them a fool, we’re talking to Jesus.

Christians don’t talk like that.
Jesus says that kind of talk is a hell fire offense.
It ain’t me saying this. It’s Jesus.
So, anyone who doesn’t like it can take it up with him.

If you want to talk like people on tv and social media,
            you’re free to have at it.
Just don’t call yourself a Christian.
Christians don’t talk like that
            and if you use our name while spewing those words,
            you bring shame upon us
            and build a wall between other people and Christ.

 If foregoing the privilege of insulting your neighbor
            is a sacrifice, well Jesus paid it all for you.
This is what he’s asking back.
It’s at the heart of the covenant deal
at the heart of how we are saved,
            how we are reconciled to God and each other in Christ.

Hate speech is no part of the Church.
This Church is where we become more like God,
            not in knowledge or power but in love.
 This is where we take up our cross,
            where we learn the hard discipline of covenant love,
            the love God has given us to share with each other

                        that we all may become whole together.