Epiphany 6 Sermon

Sermon text: Matthew 5: 21-37

Good is good and done is better.

My good friend Erik shared this modern proverb with me in seminary, a phrase that his father had given to him.  Good is good and done is better.

I found the words helpful, especially in seminary, a period of life when there are so many papers to write and projects to complete.  The phrase recognizes that perfection can often be the enemy of progress, and that sometimes you just need to lower the bar, exhale, and submit the work you’ve completed, even if it isn’t exactly perfect.

Could you have done better on that sermon, or on that research paper, or on that newsletter article?  Absolutely.  But there are times when you simply need to finish an item on your to do list and move on to the next thing.  Walk into our office at Zion on any given day and there is a chance you’ll hear me utter that phrase about some task, trying to let myself off the hook.  Good is good and done is better.

There are times when you’ve fulfilled all righteousness and everything from here on out is either an exercise in vanity or an exercise in chasing perfection.  But do you know who didn’t subscribe to that phrase?  Jesus.  Just listen to him preach in our Gospel today, and see how he continues to raise the bar and set higher and more perfect standards for his disciples as he interprets the law.

For instance, do not murder becomes do not murder, be angry, or insult.  Don’t commit adultery becomes don’t commit adultery or even look at someone with lust in your eye.

If you’re a disciple hearing these words you’ve got to think that this is simply unfair.  There was a good standard established by scripture and now Jesus is making it tougher.  You’re sitting there, never having never murdered anyone, listening to the commandments thinking, “Good is good and done is better.”  Except, now Jesus is saying you’re not done!  Jesus is now saying that you have committed murder, you have broken the commandment, because you were angry with your sibling and repeatedly called them an idiot.

Really, Jesus?  Isn’t this a bit extreme?

Don’t believe me?  Sit in someday on our 10 Commandments Confirmation Course and watch our students defend themselves when I break the harsh news that they’ve all broken the 10 Commandments—every single one of them.  The first thing you will hear is an objection, “I’ve never killed anyone in my life!”  Every time, that is what you will hear.  And that very well may be true, but just listen to what Jesus has to say to those who follow in his name.

No, it is not fair.  Jesus is holding us to higher standard.  But that’s what Jesus expects from his followers.

Yes, that is what Jesus expects from us.  Jesus wants us to dig more deeply into the laws of God, to align our values with God’s values, to live in ways that fully honor God and one another.

Because, as we see in scripture again and again, relationships are what matter.  Our relationship with God, our relationships with others…they absolutely matter and God cares about them.  In fact, Jesus seems to suggest that we cannot be right with God until we are right with our neighbors here on earth.

Jesus is calling us to live well together.  To mirror his values.  To make sure that the brokenness of this world is fixed by our hands and activities and relationships.

Five weeks ago, on January 11th and 12th, this congregation was invited to help fix the brokenness of this world through our Joyous Generosity Project.  Handing out 116 envelopes the people of Zion were given $30,450 to share the light of Jesus Christ in the world as part of our Epiphany Season celebration.

As I reflect over the stories I’ve heard in the last five weeks, as I think about the countless conversations I’ve had about this project and as I read the reports that have come back into the office, I see a church community going beyond the bare minimum to mirror God’s values and to fix the brokenness of the world.  We are doing the very thing that Jesus points us to with his teaching today—honor each other and honor God by sharing what God first gave us.

My immediate reaction to reading your stories is awe.  I am awestruck at all of the varied ways we have discerned where God’s light is needed in this world.  The projects you have done extend into so many corners of our community and our world.

Most importantly, and this is a theme echoed time and again in this process, our eyes have been reopened to the need that exists all around us.  We are noticing the situations where God’s vision for us is not a current reality, and we’re taking that courageous step to act and extend the hand of God through our ministry.  God is using us to bring joy, comfort, and wholeness to people and places that have, for whatever reason, come up short.

With this commission and gift you have gone beyond the bare minimum to ensure the welfare of the community.

How have we impacted the world?  Through your prayerful discernment:

We helped many, many, many individuals who were in need or in dire situations.  This was probably the most common result of Joyous Generosity, giving the funds to individuals in need, and folks have really benefitted from this unexpected gift.

We have donated to lots of different organizations that help the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the disenfranchised, the vulnerable, and even our furry companions, pets.

We helped with medical research, hospitality ministries, housing, women’s shelters, food banks, and children’s programs.

We helped young people in need at our schools, supporting them with clothing, food, and programs that teach kindness and compassion.

From Hollidaysburg to Altoona to Pittsburgh to Africa we have spotted need and spread the light of Jesus Christ.

For the sick, the young, the old, and the caregiver. For human and animal. For physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health.  For wellness and rehabilitation.  For individuals dear to our hearts.  For institutions, organizations, and charities who specialize in their field of ministry. In all of these people and places the light of Christ is a little bit brighter because of you.

My people, I cannot thank you enough for your discernment and for taking on this happy burden of faith we entrusted to you.  May this be but a glimpse of what we will continue to do as we follow Jesus’ example to give and go above and beyond the bare minimum of what the law requires.  May we continue to align our values with God’s.

For good is good.  Done may be better.  But using our generosity and resources to share the light of Christ and to create relationships…that is true joy.  AMEN

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