You know, when Pastor Donna called me and asked if I would preach this week she neglected to tell me what passages were up in the lectionary, she just gave me the chapter and verses, no explanation of what going on here. When I looked at Deuteronomy I though hey, this, this could be rough, God sure is asking a lot here. How about the Psalm? Oh yeah, this, I see how this can connect to the Deuteronomy reading, walking in the ways of the LORD, makes it a bit easier to understand the Deuteronomy reading. We should still be in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, lets see what is up next there, how will I be able to tie that in? Whoa! What on earth am I supposed to do with this? Anger is Murder? Looking at someone lustfully is adultery? Divorce is adultery? And making an oath appears to be an affront to God? I have to admit; I almost called Donna back and said, “Oh heck no! I can’t do this.”
Then I sat back and thought for some time I wrestled with the text, turned it over in my head, looked at it as many ways as I possibly could. This is a passage that talks about what life looks like with God, not a life that any of us can live alone, but a life lived with God.
Looking at these texts there is a common question to ask, “How can this be done?” In asking this question we begin a discussion with God. God has told us how to live. God told us as we were about to enter the Promised Land in Deuteronomy. God asked us to choose life as we entered the Promised Land. God asked us to stay in relationship with God and the question became for the people Israel, whom we are a part of, “how do we do this?” See, it is not just each of us individually who ask, “How can I do this?” We all ask this question with God’s support. God has our back so to speak. So this is relational, whenever we say “I”, “How can I do this?” we must remember that we are not alone and that God is there with us to. So it is always, “How do we do this?” Or, “How is this done?”
Looking to the Deuteronomy text, Israel was able to be in this relationship because there was a total trust in the LORD God that stemmed from a time of wandering in the wilderness that lasted famously for 40 years. To make the journey from Egypt into the Promised Land, they wandered with God for 40 years. This forty year time period led to this passage of scripture today. Stay in relationship with God, love God, follow the commandments, and you will prosper in the land that the LORD your God has promised you. And it took the people Israel 40 years of wandering to understand the implications of this. They could have crossed the Sinai Wilderness in less than a year, but God held them there, in the wilderness, teaching them constantly to rely upon God instead of themselves. Teaching the people Israel that indeed God loves them and cherishes them, but God is jealous and if the people Israel bow down to other gods, that the people Israel will perish in the promised land. Yes, indeed the choice was given, even in the land that is the Reign and Realm of God we have a choice to follow or not follow God, and in not following God, there is a promise of perishing. And none of us would want to choose death over life now would we?
So, I have to do this, err, we have to do this, God has commanded me, us, the entire people Israel, all those who make the radical proclamation that God is the LORD. This steps outside of national affiliations, which is why we who are here now in the United States of America in 2011, can claim the LORDship of God. And when we walk blamelessly in the way of the LORD, that is when we live in the Reign and Realm of God, which is not defined by any human realm, we are walking in pure joy. Pure happiness. But as we know from wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, this is hard to do. What appears to be a short trip from the land of hardship into God’s promised land is in actuality a journey that takes our whole lives. We beg in the psalm for time to learn all the statues of the LORD God so that we may praise God with an upright heart and in so doing also be among those who are blameless and happily walk in the light of God. Later in the same Psalm, the longest in the bible, we continue to lament for our lack of understanding and beg for clarity in understanding the precepts of God. And at the end we ask God, to “seek out your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.”
This Psalm was utilized as a teaching Psalm. It is broken up into 22 sections, each section correlates to a letter in the Hebrew Aelph-Bet. And each line in each section starts with the same letter. It is a very long psalm, but was apparently very often memorized by those learning the ways of God. That is, a God who was relational and loved them and wanted the best for them. This God did not want to forget Israel. This God, the LORD God could not forget God’s chosen people. They had struggled with God for generations. And everyone imagined themselves in the land of hardship, that is, Egypt. And today, we remember, each and every time we come together, the journey we as a people have been on with God from our ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to the people as they fled Egypt into the wilderness where God formed them into the people Israel. God’s chosen and anointed.
In Gospel reading the people of God had been living in the land promised them by God for generations. The people were living in God’s realm, God’s Kingdom, under God’s reign. But they thought it was a territorial issue. They thought that the land they inhabited was the Promised Land. The land though was not the Promised Land because they inhabited it. It was the Promised Land, the Reign and Realm of God because God had said it was. And generations later, in the time of Jesus, the people had ventured far away from this understanding. They had been corroborating with the Greek and Roman authorities, trying to hold onto temporal power over the land they lived in.
This is the situation Jesus comes into. Three weeks ago we heard Jesus say, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!" These were the first words of his own in his public ministry. Jesus reminds us right away that the Kingdom of God, the Reign and Realm of God is here, it is now. We know this to be the case because we have seen what the Kingdom of God looks like. We have had the glimpses of what is going on in the Kingdom. We have seen the response to natural disasters such as the Earthquake in Haiti, we have seen the love of a congressional staffer as he staunched the bleeding of his boss after she had been shot in Tucson, and we have seen what can happen when the people of God work together to throw off oppressive governments such as modern Egypt on Friday. And here, in this very building, we have seen the Kingdom of God when we join together to take communion, when we hosted Project Home, when the scouts are outside in the parking lot roasting marshmallows on a bitterly cold Monday night in February, and when our gifts leave this building and support those around us who are hurting, who are hungry, who are sick, who are poor, that, brothers and sisters, this is truly the Kingdom of God. We have seen it, we know its power to change lives, we know its power in our lives, our hopes, and our dreams.
The first time we heard of the Kingdom of God was when the people Israel left Egypt. The people left the land of hardship, not knowing where they would end up, following some guy Moses, who’s identity was confusing in the least, and set out for the land promised them by God to their fathers Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac. We see in the Ten Commandments we know what the Kingdom looks like. I am the LORD your God. Do not make idols and bow down to them. Do not take the LORD’s name in vain. Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. Honor your father and mother. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness against your neighbor. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife. Do not covet your neighbor’s property. These all speak of what life is like in the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of God that is at hand. And these are the same things that Jesus is speaking of in the Gospel text today. Jesus speaks of what the Kingdom of God looks like. Jesus reminds the people that they live in God’s Kingdom, not their own kingdom, or Rome’s kingdom, or even America’s Kingdom.
Jesus knows that we, as fallen humanity, cannot possibly fulfill all of these rules. And yet Jesus tells us that these rules need to be fulfilled, and that in living in the Kingdom of God, they will be. This is the tension of living in this world and in the Kingdom of God at the same time. On one hand, I know that every person is a beloved child of God. On the other though, I am human and I will be angry with people, and I will not be able to resolve that anger. In the Kingdom of God, we love as God loves, we heal as God heals, we live as God lives. And we are called to live this way every day of our lives. We have been adopted as children into the family of God. We are expected to live like it. Now, go, live your life with God, go forth, you can do it. This community forms you, God forms you, and you form yourself. Live into the Kingdom of God; make it a reality upon the Earth, not just something to look forward upon death.