When The Gospel Is Still Relevant

I have gotten nothing but positive feedback about moving away from the lectionary and into a sermon-series mindset.  To be clear – I don’t think there is anything wrong with the lectionary!  I just think I had gotten to a point where I wasn’t feel inspired by the cycle and I needed something to kick start me.

This week Jesus talks about the law and the prophets.  I wasn’t really sure what to do about a children’s sermon, so I ended up using an apple to talk about the different parts of God.  An apple has different parts – peel, flesh and core – just like God has different parts – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It was a pretty good seasonal visual, which I liked – I probably didn’t think the whole “bring a sharp knife up to the children’s sermon to peel the apple” part through, but it all worked out!  I think if I were to do it again I would set up a table with an actual apple peeler.  Next time!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 22, 2019

Matthew 5:17-20

When The Gospel Is Still Relevant

I had a very proud pastor moment on Friday morning when Bonnie Meagher stopped by the office to drop off some cookies for today’s service and she was telling Kathy and me about what she had packed for the retreat she and some of ladies from RCC are away at this weekend at Camp Berea in Hebron, New Hampshire.

And here is something you should know about Bonnie – the reason she had even stopped by was she is currently trying to master how to cook and bake for all of the various allergies and dietary restrictions people may have in our congregation.  Which means that, before she left for her weekend away, she dropped of gluten-free cookies for fellowship.

But back to her packing list; A few months ago, I had given Bonnie a book on hospitality – ah! There’s that pesky word that I keep bringing up – that I was reading and she told me that, after reading the book, she decided to pack an entire suitcase – separate from what she was already bringing – full of extra hospitality items people might need throughout the weekend.

She literally thought of everything.

And I thought to myself, okay, well maybe people’s eyes are starting to twitch when I say the word, “hospitality,” but the seeds we have planted over these past several months in our conversations around hospitality are starting to produce growth that we never could have imagined.  Looking at our church through the lens of hospitality gives us all different and unique ways to love one another, to serve the community and to spread the Gospel.

I want to back up for a minute – because I do not think I have ever really shared my “mission statement,” so to speak, when it comes to worship and how it led me down this rabbit hole of hospitality.  I believe that worship needs to be three things – meaningful, relevant and accessible to all.  And so when I think about the whole of worship – the music, the prayers, the sermon, wearing nametags, how the bulletins are laid out, taking part in sacraments and rituals (like communion and blessings), even the temperature of the sanctuary – I am trying to bring all of the elements of worship together in a way that checks off these three requirements (meaningful, relevant and accessible) so that people who come to worship are able to get the most out of it.

This is one of the main reasons I have obsessed over hospitality for the last year – because it comes back to accessibility.  How accessible is, how welcoming is, how easy is it to come to and take part in our church?  We do not want there to be barriers for people when it comes to walking through our doors and participating in worship and the life of our community.

So that is one part of my worship mission – accessibility.  There are two other parts that I think are important – meaning and relevance.  I want to talk about relevance today.

It is no secret that a lot of mainline protestant churches are dwindling in numbers.  And there are a lot of reasons this is happening, but I think one of the big reasons is that people just do not think the church is relevant anymore.

I get it – we have a lot of old traditions and some of them do not always make sense and our organizational structures are a little bit convoluted and hard to figure out.  But if you think about it, these are the things that we, as human beings, have created – not the faith God gave to us, not the creating, redeeming and sustaining love that encircles us.

And so I believe it is not Christianity, itself, that people find irrelevant, but just the way we have come to define it at times.

But here’s the thing – this is not a new thing, at all.  In fact, this is the very thing that Jesus was addressing in this section of the Sermon on the Mount.

We are three weeks into our sermon series looking at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the sermon where the disciples gather around Jesus on the top of a mountain and he teaches them the golden rule of kindness, the Lord’s Prayer and various others sayings and proverbs that, for 2,000 years, have been woven into the vernacular of what it means to follow Jesus and be a good person.

Jesus starts off the sermon by talking about who we are, as human beings – blessed children of God, the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  But here in this section he transitions from blessings and encouragement to a discussion about adherence to the law.

The Gospel of Matthew was primarily written for a Jewish Christian audience – meaning the people initially reading it were people who spent their lives adhering to Jewish law; they were people who now believe in God’s new covenant through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but who still wanted to hold on to their old traditions.  So by including this discussion about the law in the Sermon on the Mount, the Gospel writer is reinforcing the point that Jesus is, in fact, an observant Jew, which makes him relevant to his audience.  Jesus is not trying to abolish the law or wipe the slate clean and start over – he is trying to fulfil the law, he is trying to demonstrate the law is still, in fact, relevant.

Let’s talk about the word, law, for a minute.  It is translated from the Greek word, nomos, which means, legislation or legal system.  So you can understand why, when we read this today, we think that Jesus is talking about laying down the law in a very black and white way.

But language is a funny thing – it is not a perfect translation.  The Greek word, nomos, is translated in the LXX, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, from the Hebrew word, Torah, which means, teaching.[1]  And so I have to wonder if its use here is not about laws, but, in fact, about teaching.  I wonder if Jesus is not actually talking about strictly adhering to Jewish laws and rules, but about teaching each generation how to live into the covenant God made with us.

I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.[2]

Jesus came not to abolish, but to fulfill – to fulfill this law, this teaching about God’s continual grace, about this covenant that is upheld through every generation.

What I think this means is that the law is still very much relevant, but perhaps just not in a black and white way.  Remember, the world is not black and white, the world, in fact, exists in vivid color.

And this is the world that God entered into through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – this colorful world of changing times and generations and beautiful diversity.  This is the law, the teaching, that Jesus is fulfilling through his life and this is the law, the teaching, that can be fulfilled in our lives, as well.

It is not about doing things the way they were done 50 years ago, 100 years ago, 1,000 years ago; this is not what Jesus is saying.  What Jesus is saying is that we are called to teach about God’s love, about the covenant God made that is still upheld in our generation, in the world that we are living in today.  What Jesus is saying to the disciples in this moment on that mountain is that the law, the teaching, is still relevant to the lives that they are living.

And the same is absolutely still true for us, today, as well.

Church may not always be relevant, but the Gospel is always relevant.  The story of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love is relevant.  The inextinguishable light that shines brightly into the darkness is relevant.  The bold and radical truth that love always wins is relevant.  The commitment to love God and love people is relevant.  The Body of Christ we are called into – the body that not only works with one another but also supports one another – is relevant.  The glimmer of hope that can be found in those moments when everything and everyone in your earthy life is otherwise telling you that hope is lost is relevant.

As a church, we need to make sure that these are the stories we are telling as we attempt to be relevant in the world we are living in today.  It is not about our rules and traditions, necessarily, but it is about teaching – teaching about God’s love in this world today and about bearing witness to the fulfillment of that promise.

Today I am going to give you a charge – tell this story in a way that is relevant to the people you are telling it to.  Show them, through your experience with church and your faith and the Gospel, how this story can be relevant in their lives, too.  Teach them about this covenant with God that still applies to them.

Jesus says:

Whoever does [these commandments] and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.[3]

The kingdom of heaven is this reality that has been brought into being through Jesus, but it is also one that we can catch a glimpse of in our own lives as we do the hard work that is required to do church in the world that we are living in today, to enact the Body of Christ in this world that is vividly colorful and full of possibilities.

So go tell this story.  Teach about God’s love.  Show the world that the Gospel is still a story worth telling.  Let your life be proof that the church is still relevant today.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Feasting on the Gospels (A Feasting on the Word Commentary). Matthew, Volume 1, Chapters 1-13. Edited bt Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson. Page. 87 – Exegetical Perspective. Written by Lisa Wilson Davison.
[2] Matthew 5:17, NRSV
[3] Matthew 5:19, NRSV

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