A Better Life is Possible for You
If you want to live, you have to live for God.
All of us want to live well, not just live. I think we can all relate to the idea, or have known someone who lives but seems miserable all of the time. Have you ever met someone who seems like they should have it all - a big house, fancy car, nice clothes - but is the first person to road rage in traffic or be rude to a neighbor?
Or perhaps you can think of someone who spends their whole life complaining about every hard thing that happens to them, or even the tiniest of slights against them?
You can likely also think of someone you know who, though they seem to have very little and have experienced great hardship, carries a sense of joy, peace, calm, love, and generosity to others.
So living well means going beyond just having the job we want, the house we want, the stuff we want. Living well means living with joy and fulfillment. The only way to attain that is to live with purpose. And we will only find our personal fulfillment when we start living for God's purposes. If you want to live, you have to live for God.
Jesus seemed to see the Law of Moses as a means to an end, not an end itself. Jesus - not unlike many of the prophets before him - viewed the Law as the way to God's fullness of life. This is why Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount that he came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it. Yet he engages with it, and argues against following only the letter of the law but not the spirit.
The Ten Commandments say not to commit murder. But Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount that harboring anger, resentment, making insults, or even saying "you fool" are the same. I know I can't even drive down Garrett Road without saying "you fool!"
The Ten Commandments say not to commit adultery. But Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount points out the way in which the Law was used by a patriarchal society to oppress women by making them powerless against men to divorce them and leave them with no status.
The Ten Commandments say not to bear false witness against someone, but in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that is not enough. Speak truth; let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.
Rather than abolishing the laws of Moses, Jesus is engaging with them, and revealing how much farther we must go then the letter of the law if we are to receive the life of the Triune God, which he calls the "reign of God" or the "kingdom of heaven."
This church season of Epiphany we are in right now as I write this post is a season about the revelation of the True Light of God in Jesus. Christians believe that we've seen the light, and now that we've seen it, we're being called to live it. We're being invited to follow that light for ourselves just as the Wise Men followed the star, into the life of God. This isn't meant to be just some far away concept or something we receive when we die. We're invited into a better, fuller life today. We're invited to choose prosperity and flourishing by living for God's purpose for us.
This journey of faith begins at our baptism, but baptism is only the beginning. We make our own vows, our own promises, when we are baptized. They are a bit like our own law of Moses, they are a covenant we enter into and a way we commit to follow. But if we also only follow the letter of that covenant, rather than living into the fullness of the spirit of what God is inviting us into, we will never receive the fullness of the life God longs for us to live.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is especially angry about those who use religion to oppress, or hold back, or put demands on, or restrict others. We see this later in the Sermon on the Mount in Chapter 7 of Matthew when he says that "not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven."
The world is full of baptized people. The world is full of those who have professed to following Jesus as Lord. There are over 2.2 billion Christians on Earth today. Yet how many choose life? Do we see the reconciliation, humility, service, forgiveness, peacefulness, and love of the Sermon on the Mount and God's law of love lived out throughout billions in the world? Do we see the coming reign of God among us?
How about just at my own parish, Incarnation Holy Sacrament Episcopal Church? How about in my own household? How about in my own heart? Do I hold hate for others, especially those that I think have wronged me? How often do I forgive those hardest to forgive? Do I hold onto resentment? Do I make excuses for my anger? What is my relationship to those in my life, is it marked by sacrificial love, or by getting my own way? Am I living for God, or myself?
If you want to live, you have to live for God. No matter your circumstances, no matter your status or prestige in life, no matter your wealth or your scarcity, whether you strive or thrive, you can live life with the fullness of God's joy and peace if you follow his way of love. If you live for God, not yourself, no matter your circumstances you'll have joy and peace that you can barely imagine.
It is possible to experience great hardship and have peace. It is possible to suffer, and yet rest in God's faithfulness. It is possible if we inscribe God's law of love on our hearts, not only on our lips.
If you want to really live, you have to live for God. Every other way leads to death. Choose life, and choose the way of God's purposes.
So this week, I want to you to consider one of these three things that you may harbor in your heart: anger, lust, or lies. Be honest with yourself and honest with God, and choose one of these areas to live into God's law of love this week.