Lauren Flowers Byrd+
You have heard it said, but I say to you – it’s the sort of thing teachers often say.
It works like this: You’ve heard it said the world was made in seven days, but I say to you, Dinosaurs used to live here. And yeah I know you’ve heard it said a good pair of training wheels will keep you from falling, but I say to you, Here’s your new bicycle. Enjoy the ride.
Teachers are the great translators of our experience. One year they tell us what we need, the next year they tell it differently. Life is that kind of teacher. Jesus is that kind of teacher.
Today he says, You’ve heard it said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. And don’t you wish he’d stop right there? It’s hard work to love a difficult neighbor, but at least it feels within range of our doing. We know them, after all, are bound to see them now and then. Mutter a half-hearted hello in the grocery aisle, and you’re halfway there. On the way to love!
But then comes the part we weren’t expecting when he adds, But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. If you want to underline his single most-original teaching, you need look no further than Love Your Enemies. Everyone saw the value in loving a neighbor. But loving enemies was and is an altogether disagreeable project. Read more
Jesus aims straight for the heart today, doesn’t he? Not with sweet words. Here no paper valentine. The harsh words he speaks are like a whole quiver of arrows meant to puncture our self-deception. He means us to know the truth about ourselves.
Whenever we want to share our deepest truth with somebody else, we often say we’re naming what lives in our heart of hearts.
It’s a phrase admitting the human heart is so complicated, it houses a hidden away heart all its own down deep, an inner secret chamber where our truest loves and truest fears are known alongside our deepest losses and even deeper questions, where everything ever done to or by us is known and remembered, the good the bad the ugly the hurtful; where nothing is or can be hidden.
That’s what Jesus aims for today: our heart of hearts.
Thomas Cranmer, the first author of the Book of Common Prayer, aimed for it too when he gave us words to name out loud some of what lives there. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, he wrote, We have offended against God’s holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and, adding rather bluntly, there is no health in us.
Today, in the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus climbs a mountain to begin what we call the Sermon on the Mount. Mountains, in the ancient imagination — and very often in our own personal imaginations — are places of drawing nearer to God as if away from the whole trouble with the world down below. They are places where holy people go to talk to God and raise the big questions they have about life.
Today from a mountain, we learn God’s blessing is with the mournful, the meek, the pure in heart. These blessings are eternal promises made to people who live without hope. We meet some of these same blessings in the Gospel of Luke, only there Jesus follows up the blessings with cautionary curses, saying, “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.” Read more
Today, in the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus calls four disciples to become what he calls “fishers of men.” It’s an idea admitting there’s something spiritual about fishing, while also lending visual weight to the mission of his earliest followers. Like saying, work is spiritually significant, while also saying the life Jesus calls us to live is hard work.
Many of you know how hard it is to fish. Me, I mostly fish for keys in my purse. But some of you have memories to share of when the boat was full. Fishing tales, we call them. And some of you know about secret fishing holes, sacred places you tell no one about. A friend of mine, for instance, has been after Mr. Jones for a while trying to find out where he fishes, and so far he’s not telling. Evidently, it’s a depth you can only come into by way of working it.
The Gospel we lift up every Sunday makes use of all that: work, practice, memories, a depth you can only come into by way of working it. Read more
St. Paul tells us nothing can separate us from the love of God. And yet, tuning in to the Gospel, it’s evident we often feel otherwise. Do not let your hearts be troubled, Jesus says. Believe in God, believe also in me. His words admit our hearts are often troubled, in some way separated from the hope of love.
This reading from the Gospel according to John, commended on the occasion of a burial, has a short title in some editions of the Bible: it’s called Jesus the Way. No verb at all. The idea is that the way to heaven isn’t finally ours to do or achieve; that none of us quite knows how or where that way aims us. Which is to say, we’re all a little lost: not sure where we are, where we’re headed, or what to do about either of those realities. We’re lost, and some of us happen to know it.
I think my mother knew she was lost. And I think her lost-ness made it hard for her to ever feel like she belonged. At the same time, I think being lost means she, of all people I’ve ever known, was entirely fit for heaven because she needed it. Heaven is for the lost, the utterly lost. As our gospel suggests, the disciples were also lost when Jesus opened the subject of his own death and dying. He tells them they know the way there, and the disciples speak for us when they ask, How can we? Read more