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Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany: Alice J Stewart
[Slide 1] We have some pretty spectacular things happening in our gospel reading today. We’ve got murder, adultery, dismemberment, lust, going to jail, going to hell, and divorce. It sounds like Jesus expects us to follow Jewish law a whole lot closer than we’ve done in the past. But Jesus isn’t talking about the rules we should follow. He’s talking about relationships.
Our Christian tradition over the last few centuries hasn’t done a very good job of talking about relationships and how to improve them. In recent years, however, pastors and rabbis have dipped into the field of psychology to bring forth helpful tools that faith communities can use in our relationships and our congregations.
These tools center around the concept of a triangle. You’ll recognize this one right away. [Slide 2] There are a few interesting things about relationship triangles. First, they contain unique points but the triangle itself is unified. Here we have unique persons but one God. [Slide 3] Likewise, we can see a family with mother, father, and child. Three people, but one family.
[Slide 4] Another aspect of relationship triangles is that they interconnect. Here we have the Trinity triangle as one point of our relationship with God. In church congregations, all of our personal relationship triangles interconnect to form a community of Christ.
Finally, it’s virtually impossible to have a relationship that isn’t in the form of a triangle. The relationship triangle is the most stable, although it can be both healthy and unhealthy.
Now let’s apply the triangle concept to the situations in our reading from Matthew. Amid the eyeballs and lust and such, Jesus shows us sick triangles and asks us to heal those relationships. I think he’s pointing to our greater calling, but not by doubling down on our efforts to follow the rules. Rather, I think he’s indicating that, if we heal the relationships, through the grace of God, we will be able to follow the rules almost naturally.
In verse 28 of our reading from Matthew, Jesus says, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
[Slide 5] Let’s look at this situation through the lens of a triangle. We have the object of lust, we have the person with the leering look, and we have the marriage vow. The man’s gaze violates the woman by turning her into an object of desire instead of a human being, and this, in turn, violates the marriage vow. He wants something from her, but not a relationship with her. This situation is still valid if you mix up the genders, by the way.
[Slide 6] Now let’s change this to a healthy triangle. What if, instead of an object of lust, the observer saw something new? What if he saw through the eyes of love or the eyes of God? This turns the woman is a manifestation of beauty. What does this make the observer if he is no longer lusting and leering? It turns him into an artist or a lover or someone who praises God. This asks nothing from the woman. It respects her divine dignity. And it encourages a holy and healthy relationship.
Are you ready to move to another triangle? [Slide 7] Let’s look at the divorced couple. This one is easy. We have the wife, the husband, and the divorce certificate. Now how do we turn this into a healthy triangle? [Slide 8] One way is to realize that the husband and wife are part of the same body formed by the same creator. The body that God our creator gave us in his image. Husband and wife are versions of Body 1.0. Separate and distinct but one family.
[Slide 9] Finally, let’s go to the accuser triangle. Here we see the accuser and ourselves and a judge. This makes a lovely triangle. How do we make it healthy? Well, Jesus tells us straight out. [Slide 10] We find a way to reconcile with our accuser way before we get to the judge in this triangle. When we do that, we become the reconciler, our accuser becomes the forgiver, and the judge becomes God, our loving father.
[Slide 4] In this passage of Matthew, Jesus references Jewish law. But Jesus isn’t just schooling his listeners in the rules and regulations. He’s showing us how to heal relationships, both with our neighbors and with God.
A lot has changed in 2000 years. Relationship triangles have not. They are the structure of relationship and they are as eternal as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are in several triangles right now. Dozens of them. Maybe hundreds. Are they healthy? How can we make them healthier?
It’s easy for a preacher to stand up here and say something like, “I want all y’all to straighten up and fly right,” and then remind you of the rules in scripture. But it’s not about the rules. It’s about the relationships. And those are harder to tackle.
What are some of the triangles we can see here at Grace? [Slides 11, 12] We can see some leadership triangles, [Slide 13] a worship triangle, [Slide 14] a building use triangle, [Slide 15] an outreach triangle, [Slide 16] and a finance triangle. I think it’s important to ask ourselves: Are they healthy?
[Slide 17] Some of the signs that there is sickness in a relationship include blame, gossip, avoiding responsibility, fear, fatalism, distrust, conflict, difficulty thinking or deciding clearly, sabotaging, taking over someone else’s responsibility, being a victim, exhaustion, jealousy, anger, and becoming judgmental.
Has anyone felt or seen any of these at Grace? Has anyone felt or seen any of these in their personal or professional lives?
These are not signs that we haven’t followed scriptural rules very well. They are signs that we are in unhealthy relationships.
[Slide 18] How do we improve them? There are three main ways. We can strengthen our personal boundaries and take responsibility for our own maturity. We can allow other people their boundaries and their own responsibilities. And we can make sure that God is present.
[Slide 4] Did you notice that God is a part of each of the healthy triangles? Not only is our God a unified triangle of holy relationship between divine persons, but our God is part and parcel of our healthy relationships.
It’s not as easy as just going to church more or joining a committee or even increasing our givings. No, we must dedicate our whole selves to this most important relationship. Our relationship with God. That is ultimately where the healing comes from. And that is ultimately how we are able, through grace, to follow these rules we read about in scripture.
Get closer to God. Not through the rules, but through relationship. Relationship with God, self, and neighbor.
[Slide 19] Let me encourage you to sketch out some triangles for yourself, especially as we approach our annual Vestry meeting next week. Choose a few things that are bothering you and draw them in the form of triangles. See if you can change one point of a triangle to include the love of God. Allow that relationship to influence your triangle.
When you do that, you’ll see how being in relationship with our beloved God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – can heal your life and our life together in the unity of love.
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