Transfiguration: Not for Jesus Only

17 Six days later Jesus took Peter and the brothers James and John with him. They went up on a very high mountain where they could be alone. 2 There in front of the disciples, Jesus was completely changed. His face was shining like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.
3 All at once Moses and Elijah were there talking with Jesus. 4 So Peter said to him, “Lord, it is good for us to be here! Let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5 While Peter was still speaking, the shadow of a bright cloud passed over them. From the cloud a voice said, “This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him. Listen to what he says!” 6 When the disciples heard the voice, they were so afraid that they fell flat on the ground. 7 But Jesus came over and touched them. He said, “Get up and don’t be afraid!” 8 When they opened their eyes, they saw only Jesus.
9 On their way down from the mountain, Jesus warned his disciples not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Son of Man had been raised from death.
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Let’s approach this English-teacher style:
Q:    Who are the main characters in this story?
A:    Jesus  Peter, and the brothers, James and John
Q:    Whose idea was it to go up on the mountain?
A:    Jesus took Peter and the brothers James and John
Q:    What is the setting for the story?
A:    on a very high mountain
Q:    Why did they go up to the mountain?
A:    so they could be alone
Q:    What happened to Jesus?
A:    Jesus was completely changed. His face was shining like                 the sun, and his clothes became white as light.
Q:    Who joined the group?
A:    All at once Moses and Elijah were there talking with Jesus.
Q:    What was Peter inspired to do?
A:    “Lord, it is good for us to be here! Let us make three                     shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Q:    Why?
A:    There are no right or wrong answers here.  Peter might                 have wanted to make the moment more permanent.  He                     might have wanted to honor Jesus and Moses and Elijah. Peter                 was a man of action.
Q:    Who interrupted Peter?
A:    God
Q:    What did God say?
A;    From the cloud a voice said, “This is my own dear Son,                 and I am pleased with him. Listen to what he says!”
Q:    When were these words spoken earlier in Jesus life?
A:    At his baptism.
An interesting observation is that the first Sunday in Epiphany celebrates Jesus’ baptism and the last Sunday in Epiphany celebrates Jesus’ transfiguration.
Q:    How did the disciples react when they heard God’s voice?
A:    When the disciples heard the voice, they were so afraid                 that they fell flat on the ground.
Q:    How did Jesus handle their fear?
A:    Jesus came over and touched them. He said, “Get up                 and don’t be afraid!”
Q:    What warning did Jesus give the disciples after he helped them         up?
A:Jesus warned his disciples not to tell anyone what they had                 seen until after the Son of Man had been raised from death.

Those are the easy questions.  Let’s ask the interesting questions. Here’s a technical one:
Q:    Why do you think Moses and Elijah joined them? Why not Isaiah or Adam or Esther or Daniel?  Or David and  Solomon?
I’ll give you this answer, because I looked it up.  It harkens back to the Hebrew Bible. First from Exodus.
Exodus 34: 28 Moses stayed on the mountain with the Lord for forty days and nights, without eating or drinking. And he wrote down the Ten Commandments, the most important part of God’s agreement with his people. 29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai, carrying the Ten Commandments. His face was shining brightly because the Lord had been speaking to him. But Moses did not know at first that his face was shining. 30 When Aaron and the others looked at Moses, they saw that his face was shining, and they were afraid to go near him.
Next, from 2 Kings:
2 Kings 2:11 Elijah and Elisha were walking along and talking, when suddenly there appeared between them a flaming chariot pulled by fiery horses. Right away, a strong wind took Elijah up into heaven. 12 Elisha saw this and shouted, “Israel’s cavalry and chariots have taken my master away!” After Elijah had gone, Elisha tore his clothes in sorrow.
Moses and Elijah represent the two principal components of the Old Testament: the Law and the Prophets.

Another question: What happened to Jesus on the mountaintop?  We call this Transfiguration because Jesus was transfigured, changed in some way. But was Jesus changed or were the disciples changed?
The disciples had never seen Jesus as anything but a typical Galilean, dark-skinned, dressed in a garment made of coarsely spun cloth.  In other words, he looked at lot like them.  He did not stand out in a crowd unless he was speaking. On the mountaintop, he took on a wholly different appearance: Jesus was completely changed. His face was shining like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.
Up to now, Jesus had depended on his disciples for companionship, But the time would soon come when his disciples would be on their own.  They would not go back to fishing or collecting taxes. They would continue to carry on Jesus’ teachings and more importantly, they would spread the good news of salvation, of a new way of living. By revealing to them his Godliness, Jesus prepared the disciples to be ready to accept and understand his death and resurrection.
The transfiguration is important to the disciples because they learn that Jesus is God.  They don’t fully understand until after the resurrection, but this transfiguration of Jesus, this new appearance of the familiar Jesus, is also the beginning of their transfiguration from very ordinary, undistinguished, commonplace laborers to the first followers of a man/God who would change the course of history.
It is important to understand that Jesus himself did not change on the mountaintop. HIs appearance changed.  Jesus had always been God, but for most of his life on earth he looked like an ordinary earthly human.  The transfiguration was how he looked as God.
Jesus said things like “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” he didn’t mean just this one incident of blazing glory.   He meant that divinity had been on display every day of his life.  Divinity was on display when he spoke kindly to ostracized women and outcast lepers.  Divinity was on display when Jesus wept over a dead friend and when he smiled gently at a misguided yet earnest rich young ruler.
This knowledge that Jesus is both human and God is the catalyst for action, the seed for evangelizing, not because it is a prophecy come true but because it is the difference between every other prophet, every other human claiming to be the Messiah. Prophets, everyone of them, were 100% human.  They were in close relationship with God, but they were not God. They could speak with God, they could speak for God, but they were still only human.  Jesus is God and thus has the power to conquer what no human can conquer on his or her own: no one can conquer death.  Except that because Jesus is both human and God, he could conquer death.  He had to be human to die; he had to be God to rise from the dead.
What can we learn about ourselves from Jesus’ transfiguration?  We are humans, 100%.  But what if, by our words, our actions, our thoughts, we were transfigured in the eyes of those who know us?  What if, like Jesus, our love of Jesus was on display to our family members, to our co-workers, to our friends?
What if our love of Jesus made us different, not in size or skin color or clothing?  What if that difference was apparent to those who felt safe around us? What if that difference made us more understanding?  What if that difference moved us from impatience to forgiveness?
What would people say?  Already, I humbly claim that this congregation has experienced a transfiguration that is seen in the community. I claim that we are a transfigured people, not because we stuck it out, not because we called a new pastor, not because we painted the basement.  Our appearance in the community is a holy appearance, the manifestation of the mercy and grace given to us by Jesus.  Jesus, all human, all God, has shared with us His skill, HIs ability, His love, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, enabled us to be, to really be  Him in the form of our actions..
Somewhere I ran across these words:  “Following the way of Jesus is more important than admiring Jesus.”
Sr. Joan Chittister, one of the best-loved authors of our time, puts it this way:
“Religion, you see, does not call us to the rational. Religion calls us to the Beatitudes, to the works of mercy, to the casting out of demons, to the doing of miracles for those in need, to the being and act of irrational love and burning justice of God.That is what the Transfiguration is about, that is what religion is really about, changing ourselves so we can change the world.”
This week, as we approach Lent, I challenge to think about yourself—-not about the person sitting behind your or in front of you, not about me, but about yourself.  How will you be transfigured this week, in the middle of your hectic routines, in the middle of unexpected chaos, how will you be transfigured?
What will your best friend or you coworker or you child notice about your appearance? Will you, by following Jesus, be transfigured?  Amen.

Persist

Matthew 5:38-48New International Version (NIV)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.
If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.
If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?     Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?     Do not even pagans do that?
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
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Be perfect.  As perfect as God.  That’s today’s lesson.
Is Jesus for real?  How can Jesus ask us to do the impossible? Listen to this list of instructions:
Do not resist an evil person.
If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.
If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
Give to the one who asks you.
Do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

If you followed all those rules, how would your life be different?
Do not resist an evil person…that sounds like the opposite of the ten commandments.
If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let them slap the other cheek.  Ouch!
If someone sues you, let them have it all.
If someone wants you to work overtime, work double overtime.
Give.
Lend.
No limits.
If we continue with the passage, we see that this is all leading up to the extreme version of “love your neighbor.” Jesus continues:
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Again, Jesus is expanding the breadth and depth of practicing the ten commandments.
He finishes this lesson with an absolutely impossible demand: Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Stop right there.  Is this where we give up? Is this where we say, well, I can’t ever be perfect.  I’m not even going to try. I’ll just skip right to asking for forgiveness because I can’t be perfect for even a minute.
One of the most recent translations of the Bible, the Contemporary English Version, doesn’t use the word “perfect”: “ But you must always act like your Father in heaven.” Still, if I am supposed to always act like God…I know that’s impossible. I don’t always act like God acts.
However, none of the English translations quite caries the meaning of the original Greek writing. The author of Matthew wrote for a community of Greek-speaking Jewish Christians, located probably in Syria, and the Greek word that is used for “perfect” is telos.
A quick check on this word in Greek exposes our tendencies toward misinterpretation. The word root is telos. Yes, it can be translated as “perfect” but meanings that better capture its essence are “completion, intended goal, determined end.” In other words, Jesus is not asking us to be perfect, but to persist in the goal Jesus has for us.
“Telos” implies less a moral perfection than it does reaching one’s intended outcome. The telos of an arrow shot by an archer is to reach its target. The telos of a peach tree is to yield peaches. Which means that we might translate this passage more loosely to mean, “Be the person and community God created you to be, just as God is the One God is supposed to be.”
Jesus says to love our enemies.  Who are your enemies? Sometimes our enemies are close to us.  Who influences your decisions?  Do our friends encourage us to follow Jesus or do they invite us to walk around the edges of morality?  Sometimes our enemies are those people who have abandoned us.  Sometimes our enemies are those who ignore our best interests.  Our enemies can be the people who don’t appreciate us, the people who don’t value us.
OK.  I can pray for my enemies, as long as I don’t have to talk to them, hang out with them, entertain them.  I’ll just pray for them to get their act together.  That’s not too hard.  Probably not too sincere, either.
Melissa Bane Sevier,in her blog, Contemplative Viewfinder, says: I don’t believe for a second that prayer will “change their hearts,” as Christians often say in their prayers about others they are trying to not-hate. But I do believe it will likely change my heart.When I pray for someone, I start to see that person as I imagine God does: as a flawed human being made in God’s image. Just like me.
Praying won’t make me less convinced of the rightness of justice, but it will help me see the person on the other side as a real person, not as someone I want to defeat. Praying, I think, will make me work harder for justice. It will also likely make my heart a little softer.
Here is a “visual aid” to help you imagine praying for your enemy:
A hiker noticed a purple flower blooming, in a place where there was no soil and where the conditions could be windy and dry. This little beauty came right out of the rock.
The hiker asked the forest ranger about that flower. The ranger told her that the seeds are blown by the wind and deposit themselves in the tiniest of crevasses, and that the plants have adapted to flourishing in a landscape that is at times hostile. Eventually, he said, the plant itself could crack the rock, or the boulder, in which it grew; it would just take time and persistence.
How like that flower are the seeds of the new order that Jesus announces today, inviting us to lives of transformational living even in the midst of the old ways of living. As communities of faith, we might just find ourselves taking small but important steps to overturning the ways of alienation and separation, by practicing the kind of faith Jesus talks of in a hostile and unforgiving world. Sooner or later, we may just find that we have begun to shatter the old order, or at least open some well-placed cracks in it, so that the new order Jesus preached could begin.
Martin Luther King, Jr., stretches the intention of our prayers further:  “Another thing that we had to get over was the fact that the nonviolent resister does not seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent but to win his friendship and understanding… The aftermath of non-violence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community. It is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor but the end is reconciliation. The end is redemption.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
How often do you follow Jesus?  I know, we’re Christians, we follow Jesus all the time. But on a minute by minute basis, I have plenty of times when I ignore Jesus and let my own sinful nature take over.  Most of these transgressions are invisible to the people around me.  They take place in my head.  Jealousy.  Anger.  Impatience.  Mockery.  What goes through my mind when I see someone I don’t know?  Do I see a child of God or do I see someone who doesn’t meet my false standards of behavior or appearance?
When I watch the news, do I judge the people who are being subjected to interrogation or who are being presented by mug shots? Do I slap a negative label on people who don’t think like me or act like me or look like me?  It can happen in a split second, before I even realize that any thoughts have entered my head.
Is it so dangerous to have sinful thoughts, unkind thoughts?  I think it is, because those unkind thoughts can trickle out of my brain and into my mouth and come out nice and loud. Sometimes those words appear as a snide comment that makes fun of someone. Sometimes those words are heard and my negative opinion is shared by the listener.  I think of that Eighth Commandment—-do not bear false witness against your neighbor—-that is, don’t say anything bad about any body, whether it’s your co-worker who annoys you or your elected leaders.  Don’t say anything bad about anybody.  Whoa!  No matter what someone else says or does, according to the commandments, we do not have the right to hold them up in shame or ridicule or judgement.
So, of course, Jesus has to remind me to pray for my enemies.  Where do I start? How do I stay focused in the middle of all my day-to-day tasks.
Do not resist an evil person…that sounds like the opposite of the ten commandments.
What is the opposite of resist?  To accept, to encourage.
What if instead of resisting or avoiding that special person who has unfriended you, you befriended that person?
What if, instead of complaining about your enemy, you prayed for your enemy?
Is there someone who doesn’t speak to you?  Pray for them.
Is there someone who has said unkind things about you to others?  Pray for them and, don’t forget, when the opportunity arrises, say good things about that person.
Jesus exaggerates to make a point, to make us pay attention, to make us work harder.
Perfection is not our goal.  Our goal is telos—to have a purpose, to have a plan, to aim straight and true.  Sometimes we miss the mark, which is, ironically, what the Hebrew word for sin means.  If you miss the mark, work smarter the next time.
The Bible is full of people who persisted—-all the prophets whose deeds are recorded in the Old Testament. They persisted against belligerent rulers and stubborn citizens.
Think of the people who encountered Jesus. The Syrophoenician woman, who had to persuade Jesus that he should cure her Gentile daughter. The woman looking for her lost coins. Mary taking her seat at the feet of Jesus. The woman with a flow of blood who dared to touch him. The woman at the well. The women who went to the tomb. The sinful woman who washed his feet with her tears and her hair. The poor widow’s offering. His mother asking him to help out with the wine at a wedding. Mary confronting Jesus at the tomb of her brother Lazarus.
Can you think of current examples? How about Elizabeth Warren, reading the words of another persister, Coretta Scott King, only to be silenced, by Mitch McConnel.   “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
In our national story, we have seen protestors and resisters and even anarchists gathering in crowds to promote their beliefs. But there is another power that we have, and that is to persist, to keep aiming for the Kingdom of God.
Do you need a target, a manual of instructions?  I suggest not only the Ten Commandments, as expanded and explained by Jesus; I also recommend the Beatitudes:
God blesses those people who depend only on him. They belong to the kingdom of heaven!
God blesses those people who grieve. They will find comfort!
God blesses those people who are humble. The earth will belong to them!
God blesses those people who want to obey him more than to eat or drink. They will be given what they want!
God blesses those people who are merciful. They will be treated with mercy!
God blesses those people whose hearts are pure. They will see him!
God blesses those people who make peace. They will be called his children!
God blesses those people who are treated badly for doing right. They belong to the kingdom of heaven.
God will bless you when people insult you, mistreat you, and tell all kinds of evil lies about you because of me. Be happy and excited! You will have a great reward in heaven. People did these same things to the prophets who lived long ago.
The goal, the purpose of being perfect is not to score a perfect ten or to go home with a big trophy.  The goal of striving toward that perfection is to make God’s kingdom real on earth.  What does the kingdom of heaven look like to you?
Imagine, for a moment, that you are able to be perfect, that you are kind and forgiving to all whom you meet, that the news fills you with prayer and hope. Imagine that when you talk with your friends, your remarks about those who aren’t present are kind and constructive. Imagine that when you call or write your elected representative, you thank her for the good things that she has done for you and yours.
Imagine, that when you see criminals on the newscast, that your heart goes out to them and their families, and that you pray for them to receive help and support.
So, we are not excused from this journey toward perfection. But it is a journey.  There are many roads to take, but Jesus asks us to walk this road, a road that leads to a world we all want for ourselves and our loved ones. Jesus wants this world, which is an idealistic, perfect world, to be available to everyone, not just those of us who wear a cross on a silver chain, not just those of us who can sit comfortably in a padded pew once  a week.
Jesus wants this perfect world, this kingdom, this work in progress, to be available to everyone, enemy, criminal,, dictator, addict.  The only way Jesus’ plan can happen is for his followers to do everything in their power to bring about this one-of-a-kind kingdom. Who are Jesus’ followers?  There are quite a few.  Some of them go to giant mega churches with all kinds of resources.  Some of them are highly educated.  Some of them have dedicated their lives to careers that help people, like social workers and parole officers. Some of them are super wealthy and give millions of dollars to food banks and hospitals and homeless shelters.  And some of them are sitting right here, next to you.
We’re all on this journey together.  We are all resisting the enemy, not with guns, but with prayers.  We are all surrounding our enemy, not with barbed wire, but with conversation and invitation to be part of us.  When we see walls, we construct doors and windows in those walls.  When we hear fear and accusations, we sing a song of comfort and strength.
So, stay on course. Remember that you have a purpose in your life, a purpose that can change the world, just like a little seed blown into the crevice of a boulder can crack that boulder open. One seed at at time, growing and blossoming, multiplied by twenty or twenty thousand, can crumble the powers of greed and selfishness.
I invite you to look for those little seeds, to plant some, to be one, a seed of love planted into a dark place, and grow and bloom. And continue to grow and bloom. That is how we bring about the kingdom, not by building walls to shut out evil, but by persisting in sharing the love that resides in us, the love of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4818
https://melissabanesevier.wordpress.com/2017/02/13/praying-for-enemies/
http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_february_19_2017
( p. 12 in “The Power of Nonviolence” in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by James M. Washington,)

I Swear

Matthew 5:21-37Contemporary English Version (CEV)

21 You know that our ancestors were told, “Do not murder” and “A murderer must be brought to trial.” 22 But I promise you that if you are angry with someone, you will have to stand trial. If you call someone a fool, you will be taken to court. And if you say that someone is worthless, you will be in danger of the fires of hell.

23 So if you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God.

25 Before you are dragged into court, make friends with the person who has accused you of doing wrong. If you don’t, you will be handed over to the judge and then to the officer who will put you in jail. 26 I promise you that you will not get out until you have paid the last cent you owe.

27 You know the commandment which says, “Be faithful in marriage.” 28 But I tell you that if you look at another woman and want her, you are already unfaithful in your thoughts. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, poke it out and throw it away. It is better to lose one part of your body, than for your whole body to end up in hell. 30 If your right hand causes you to sin, chop it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one part of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

31 You have been taught that a man who divorces his wife must write out divorce papers for her. 32 But I tell you not to divorce your wife unless she has committed some terrible sexual sin. If you divorce her, you will cause her to be unfaithful, just as any man who marries her is guilty of taking another man’s wife.

33 You know that our ancestors were told, “Don’t use the Lord’s name to make a promise unless you are going to keep it.” 34 But I tell you not to swear by anything when you make a promise! Heaven is God’s throne, so don’t swear by heaven. 35 The earth is God’s footstool, so don’t swear by the earth. Jerusalem is the city of the great king, so don’t swear by it. 36 Don’t swear by your own head. You cannot make one hair white or black. 37 When you make a promise, say only “Yes” or “No.” Anything else comes from the devil.
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Jesus hits on several topics that are germane to all of us in one way or another: murder, divorce, and swearing.  What?  How can murder apply to any of us?  Divorce—-we try to avoid it.  Swearing—-of course, I don’t swear. We are church-going people.  We have no problem following the fifth commandment: You shall not kill anyone.  Check that one off the list—-only nine other commandments to worry me.  But, like all of the commandments, “killing” is not only taking a life; it can also be interpreted to mean hurting someone.  Luther puts it this way in his Small Catechism. We should fear and love God that we may not hurt nor harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need [in every need and danger of life and body].
And what about the sixth commandment: You will not commit adultery.  Who wants to admit to adultery? What does Luther say? We should fear and love God that we may lead a chaste and decent life in words and deeds, and each love and honor his spouse.
We’re all decent people, are we not?
And is there a commandment about swearing?  Yes, there is.  The Second Commandment: You shall not make wrongful use of name of the Lord your God.
What does this mean?–Answer.
We are to fear and love God  so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God’s name, but instead  use that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God.
I don’t have a problem with that; do you?  Well, yes, I do.  How many times have I said, “Oh, my god!” How about “damn!”  All right.  So I haven’t murdered anyone and I have led a chaste and I love and honor my spouse.  Two out of three.  Not bad.
Murder, divorce, swearing.  Who does Jesus think he is talking to? The Who’s Who of Sinners?
These words are part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’s most famous set of teachings, including the Beatitudes and The Lord’s Prayer.  Part of the Sermon on the Mount also includes some material that seems, at first glance, contradictory to the Ten Commandments as taught in the Old Testament.  This section is called the Antithesis, because Jesus seems to be teaching against the original Big Ten.
However, what Jesus is really doing is not refuting but expanding the Ten Commandments.
21 You know that our ancestors were told, “Do not murder” and “A murderer must be brought to trial.” 22 But I promise you that if you are angry with someone, you will have to stand trial. If you call someone a fool, you will be taken to court. And if you say that someone is worthless, you will be in danger of the fires of hell.
23 So if you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God.
25 Before you are dragged into court, make friends with the person who has accused you of doing wrong. If you don’t, you will be handed over to the judge and then to the officer who will put you in jail. 26 I promise you that you will not get out until you have paid the last cent you owe.
# 1: Jesus give murder a much larger meaning.  He declares that any of our actions that do not demonstrate love toward our neighbor, our brother, our adversary, are as harmful as taking a life.  Think about the times when someone was mean to you, when someone bullied you, when someone cheated you.  That harmed you, left a scar, somewhere inside you, did it not?  Jesus seems to know that this happens often. When I think of people being harmed being equated to murder, the first thing that comes to mind is guns.  I’m thinking of school shootings.  Why does a kid take a gun to school and try to kill people?  The back story of the perpetrator usually includes being made fun of or being tormented by other students.  And the other result of students being bullied is suicide.
But even if lives are not taken, any one who has been mocked by his classmates or his neighbors has died a little.  A small part of that person’s humanity has been destroyed. A small part of that person’s talent and potential has been snuffed out by unkind words, unkind actions.
And if we are the perpetrators, if we have said something unkind to someone, if we have excluded someone from being a part of our community, what can we do?
Jesus has advice for how to handle these conflicts.  vs. 24: Make peace with the person.  Vs. 25: Make friends with the person who is accusing you of wrong doing.   Furthermore, in vs. 24, he implies that if you are angry with someone, then you are not really ready to worship God.
Suddenly following Jesus becomes kind of awkward. It sounds like I have to apologize to everyone who is mad at me.  I don’t think there are more than ten people mad at me right this moment, but then again, I’m thinking about the approximately 5,000 students I taught over 33 years.  There are probably some who are blame me for something bad that happened in one of my classes.  Am I getting a little ridiculous?
I’m thinking that Jesus was getting a little ridiculous.  But let’s move on to the next shocking commandment.
#2 Divorce and adultery.  As long as you don’t get caught, nobody gets hurt, right?
Novels, television, movies, and local gossip would be pretty boring with out an occasional dose of adultery.  And who doesn’t like analyzing a divorce? Unless you’re the one divorcing.  But Jesus again expands the meaning of divorce and the implication of adultery that goes with divorce.
27 You know the commandment which says, “Be faithful in marriage.” 28 But I tell you that if you look at another woman and want her, you are already unfaithful in your thoughts.
Jesus didn’t say anything about a woman looking at another man, but let’s assume that all things begin equal, women, too, should avoid looking at a man as an object of interest.  Does that go for movie stars?  Can I look at Kevin Costner or Harrison Ford as simply great actors, or do I see something else?  When Jesus says “Love your neighbor,” apparently he has other motives in  mind.
Do you remember Jimmy Carter’s version of this commandment? He admitted in an unsolicited comment to two Playboy freelance writers that he had “looked on a lot of women with lust” and had “committed adultery in my heart many times,” strange revelations all the more damaging because they appeared in a soft-porn magazine.
How far would Jesus take this argument nowadays?  Would he also include watching movies where the main characters are intimate without benefit of marriage? Would he include reading romance novels?  How many restrictions would Jesus put on us?  Again, isn’t Jesus getting a little carried away?
#3 And swearing?  Really, what’s the harm?
33 You know that our ancestors were told, “Don’t use the Lord’s name to make a promise unless you are going to keep it.” 34 But I tell you not to swear by anything when you make a promise!
The kind of swearing Jesus is talking about here is when we are promising something and using God’s name to seal the promise. Jesus says that we do not have the right to take an oath in God’s name because we are assuming when we do so that we have the power of God.  Jesus points out that we have no right to pretend to have the power of God to back up our words.
Heaven is God’s throne, so don’t swear by heaven. 35 The earth is God’s footstool, so don’t swear by the earth. Jerusalem is the city of the great king, so don’t swear by it. 36 Don’t swear by your own head. You cannot make one hair white or black.
And let’s add to that: the Bible is God’s Word. Don’t swear by that?  What?
How else do we know a witness is telling the truth in the courtroom? How else do we know that the President is serious about the oath he or she makes?
Do you solemnly (swear/affirm) that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, (so help you God/under pains and penalties of perjury)?
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Presidents and other elected officials make sure we know what kind of book they swear on. It’s part of the charm of our American traditions.  The current president used the same Bible that Abraham Lincoln used.   A Minnesota Senator used the Koran, the holy scripture of his faith tradition.  If you were a diehard Batman fan, you could probably swear on a comic book.
Here is a better explanation from the website, “A Plain Account:”
All of this stands on a foundation of simple and profound truthfulness. Christians have spent far too much time trying to argue whether or not one should be required to “swear” an oath in order to testify in a court of law. What Jesus asks of his followers is an utter trustworthiness that does not need oaths of affirmation in dealing with one another. The formal swearing of an oath in court has little to do with the point Jesus is making. What he asks is that we live utterly true, transparently honest, dependably trustworthy. This is the reflection of the character of the Trinity, who in relationship with one another are never in dispute, never at a distance from one another, and never act in disregard of the value of the other.
The point is not about whose book is better or even if God cares about your oath. So, what is Jesus’ advice?
37 When you make a promise, say only “Yes” or “No.” Anything else comes from the devil.
Why is Jesus changing the commandments?  He’s not.  He is bringing us back to the reason we were give commandments in the first place.  What do the commandments do for us?
It’s not about making each of us a good person; it’s not about helping us to look for bad people and judge them. The commandments foster good relationships.  The first three commandments help us build a strong relationship with God.
You shall have no other gods.
You shall use God’s name respectfully.
You will observer a Sabbath day once a week.
The remaining seven commandments help us build positive, loving, helpful relationships with each other.
Scott Hoezee is one of my favorite sources for understanding scripture. He is Director of The Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
So what is the point?  The point is that the Law of God was meant to foster human flourishing at every level, including at the deepest levels of our hearts and minds.  God wants us to respect each other, to love each other, to see God’s own image residing deep within one another.  Human life is not supposed to be some giant game in which you scheme and scam to get ahead for good old #1.  We are not to use people as pawns, as objects of our lust, as receptacles for our scorn, as the targets for our desires to brutalize, manipulate, and then discard.
Jesus wants the best for us.  The best for us comes down, once again, to two simple rules: Love God. Love everybody else.
The not-so-simple part is that we are inclined to give in to our own lazy inclinations, our own selfish desires, our own fear of estrangement.
Again, from “A Plain Account:”
It is easier to live by lists of rules and laws than it is to live in authentic, dynamic, and redemptive relationship to people. Laws can be static and arbitrary. Jesus reached into the Law to reveal its objective: the valuing and the protection of others. For instance, it is not enough to prohibit the killing of another. The point is the value of the other. What is required is that we not only fail to do them harm, but that we are engaged in proactively seeking their good, affirming their worth, even to the risk of our own good. And it begins with us. We dare not wait for them to act, to seek us out, to offer us a hand in reconciliation. We cannot even worship well until we have stepped redemptively toward another with whom we are in conflict.
Jesus’ words in today’s text are radical.  What he asks seems nearly impossible. According to his explantations of these three commandments, we are all guilty of murder, adultery, and swearing.  What is the point of even trying?
The point is, we can follow those commandments because we are, as Christians, determined to follow Jesus. And when we stop to think about it, we see the wisdom of Jesus’s radical teachings.
I can understand why some people like to post the ten commandments in pubic places—if only other people would obey the commandments. But you know where the best place is to display those commandments?  On the kitchen table. On the bathroom mirror.  The commandments aren’t about other people obeying them. They are about each of us personally obeying them.
And, just a reminder: if you break a commandment, you are not the scum of the earth.  You are still a child of God. And God sent you brother by the name of Jesus, who loves you so much that your brother, Jesus, died a human death, just so that your slip-ups, your mistakes, your sins, could be forgiven.
Praise be to God for giving us a way to live peacefully with each other. Praise be to God for giving us a Savior to restore that peace which passes all understanding.  Amen.

Sources:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/frenzy/carter.htmhttp://www.aplainaccount.org/epiphany-6a-gospelhttp://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/epiphany-6a/?type=the_lectionary_gospel#sthash.Ou870pwW.dpuf