Summary: How high is up? Current cultural trends challenges every person to find a life goal worth living and standards by which we should live to achieve that goal.

Matthew 5__20 Christian Authority

The 6th Sunday after Trinity

Blessed Lord You have prepared for those who love you good things that surpass our understanding; Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle. Romans 6 Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ

6 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[a] that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

The Gospel. St. Matthew v. 20.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. 25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Sotomayor is not a household name this year; in 2009 there was considerable discussion of Sonia Sotomayor because she was the first justice nominated to the Supreme Court to be of Hispanic background. The Hispanic part was not significant; her credentials and experience were better than many who have been appointed to the bench in the past. By her achievements, she was a cut above her peers at Yale Law School and other justices in lower courts.

On July 23 1993 Another Sotomayor set a record of excellence that to this day has

not been surpassed. Javier Sotomayor of Cuba set the world high jump record at 8 feet.

Being world High jumping champion gives one a more lasting status than that of sitting on the Supreme Court. There are, over the course of a century, dozens of Supreme Court Justices.

Since 1993 there have been 20 justices of the United States Supreme Court, but there has been only one person holding the world high jump record; Javier Sotomayor.

One cannot fairly compare the achievements of an athlete like Sotomayor with the achievements of a Supreme Court Justice because we are comparing things that differ. Undoubtedly, the achievement of a world class athlete is far more difficult because there is a standard – an unalterable standard to be met. For a person to become world high jump champion, he must make a jump higher than that unchangeable standard set in July 23, 1993 – 8 feet.

Supreme Court Justices have a softer job – while charged to uphold the constitution of the United States, the laws of the land, they are given considerable latitude in interpretation. Our high jumpers have a high standard to meet and exceed, if they are to make their place in Olympic history.

The Scribes and the Pharisees were not all bad people, and the fact that they had standards of righteousness that they taught and upheld in their society was a good thing. Jesus applauded the law and the prophets.

For the past 500 years, since the Renaissance and Reformation there have been continual attacks made on the Church, both from foes without and false friends within, claiming that standards of righteousness are hypocritical and are contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ. A recent book, written for seminary students, church leaders and theologians, affirms that “orthopraxy” meaning right living is more important than Orthodoxy, meaning right teaching.

The author goes on at length, using today’s Gospel and other passages to affirm that Jesus was more interested in right living than in orthodox teaching. He depicts those of us who take it that Christian teaching is important, as being more concerned with words than deeds, and depicts those of us who proclaim orthodox doctrine as being hypocrites like the Pharisees.

I know we all have sinned, and I am a sinner – often saying one thing and living in violation of the laws I teach. We all, every Christian, pleads guilty to not living up to the Christian standards.

I am very well aware that I and many others like me perhaps argue a bit too much about our differences with others, when we should be doing more teaching by example.

But though that may be true, it is also true that both Jesus and the Apostles taught that it is critical to Christian living, righteous living, that we understand who God is and what He has revealed to us as to the things that make for a good life.

Jesus, though he was critical of the hyprocrites of his time, was not critical of the law. He valued practice of the law as well as teaching so.

Consider what Jesus said in today’s Gospel. - “Our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees –“ Those Scribes and Pharisees lived by the 10 laws – we are to do that and more.

A common teaching among some Protestant groups has been that the Pharisees were hypocrites, concerned only with keeping the law, and that Jesus was not concerned with the law – he was not a legalist – he set us free from the law.

That is not what Jesus or the apostles said – in fact our lectionary reading in the Book of Common Prayer leaves out the entire statement of Jesus on this subject, omitting a statement that proves that Jesus was not only concerned with freeing us to live righteously, but he saw this in terms of fulfilling the laws demands.

We couldn’t do it on our own, but by God’s grace we can be justified and live righteously not disregarding the law, or demeaning it, but fulfilling it.

Hear the words of the Lord starting at Matthew 5:17 as he tells us that we, both by our life and teaching are to be the light to the world.

15Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

17Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

18For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

19Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

20For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

In light of that clear teaching, how would anyone, who claimed to be a Bible scholar, a seminary professor, and a minister come to the conclusion that Jesus of all people was not concerned with Orthodox belief and would use the 5th chapter of Matthew as proof of his proposition. He deliberately casts aside Jesus saying, “Not one jot, not one tittle will pass from the law until called least. . . .”

I can remember Professor Foster at Cincinnati Christian University lecturing on this passage in 1957. He went to the blackboard and wrote the Greek letter iota. The Greek letter iota is the same as our small printed letter i. He explained that what the KJV calls a jot is the Greek letter iota and the KJVersons “tittle” is an asterisk.

If you look up the 18th verse of Matthew 5 in a Greek New Testament it is clear, even in Greek that the meaning of our English word jot came from the Greek word iota. Jesus literally said, not one mark as small as an asterisk or the letter “i” will be taken out of the law. In Matthew Jesus was not saying disregard the law of Moses, He was saying fill it full, fulfill it by living it. Jesus quoted the law which says, “do not kill”. Jesus does not abrogate the law against murder, he intensifies it by saying, “don’t hate.”

He does not say it is o.k. to commit adultery, rather he repeats the law and then says, not only are you not to commit adultery, you are to control your lust – the motivation that leads to adultery.

Jesus has standards and therefore the Body of Christ, the living Jesus of today in this time and place has standards. They are high. How high can we jump? Can we go higher in our life than the scribes and Pharisees – Jesus says that is what we must do if we are to see the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus was not opposed to the Pharisees for teaching the law, it was the hyprocrisy, the self seeking, self-glorifying aspects of some that he opposed.

Sadly, during the times in which we live, much of the time since the 1980’s has been one in which our courts and our legislatures have turned aside from our Christian cultural heritage. What standard did the Supreme Court uphold in the Roe vs Wade decision in 1973? I carefully read the decision and presented my findings to our Church’s Synod, and pleaded with our synod to issue a clear statement on the matter of abortion. After a bit of a debate, our Bishops did meet and issue instructions to our congregations to the effect that except in cases where a woman’s life is in danger, that abortion is wrong, the taking of an innocent life.

I commented at the time, and still hold it to be true that the Supreme Court decision and the paper justifying the decision was badly written, exhibited poor research and was factually in error. That decision was one that went against centuries of Christian teaching and the traditional morality of Western Civilization. The question as to whether a life was being taken if an abortion occurred before the first tri-mester was settled on the basis of the concept of “quickening”. The idea being that life doesn’t begin at conception, but rather happens later in pregnancy. This concept was repudiated by doctors long ago, and the Supreme Court Justices should have been well aware that it makes no logical sense to say that a newly conceived life is any less human than one that has been in the womb 3 or 6 months.

In our present day, the 9 justices will have to look at another high hurdle – the issue of defining marriage. The California Supreme Court is facing that issue in September, and the United States Supreme Court will have to decide whether to hold with the current laws of the land and our Christian heritage, or abandon the Christian concept of family.

At a time like this, when all our institutions are in trouble it is especially appropriate to pray for our families and pray that the Sanctity of Marriage be made apparent in our land. The prayer book again is correct in teaching us to pray,

O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal. (Collect from Trinity 4).

The legislatures, the courts may give in to the trends of the times, thinking that there is no absolute standard of right and wrong, that we can change the rules of living as we go along. We take such a relativist stance at the risk of undermining our civilization.

I understand that ½ the students in Indianapolis public schools are being reared in single parent households. It is also true that a very high percentage of high-school students are dropping out prior to graduation. Drug and alcohol use is being spotted in children as young as age 12. The well-to-do suburbs are not immune to these ills.

As the Body of Christ in this time, we are indeed rowing against the tide; I can recall that when I was a very young priest that a man only perhaps 10 years younger in effect said that my teaching was out of sync with the times that my opinion was my own and that what I read I interpreted it to suit myself and others would have their own perceptions and no one was in a position to say one view was right and another wrong.

This of course he had read or heard at college from a professor who taught that there are no absolutes. The concept of relativity was taken from one scientific field and applied to the realm of human behavior and morality.

Yet in spite of relativist opinions – there is one world high jump champion, Javier Sotomajor. Unless someone can jump higher than 8 feet, he will remain the World High Jump Champion. He is proof that there are still standards of excellence in this relativistic, post-modern world.

There are also standards of morality, standards for living happily in this world that God has made. People can choose to close their mind to that idea, and may find here and there legislatures and even justices that will go along with the denial of any standard of morality.

But having found some elements of our society that agree with the relativistic view, does not mean that one will find a happy life.

We can deny there are standards. We can refuse to jump. Many, perhaps most in our society are doing that today. Perhaps that is the reason for the widespread discontent and unhappiness in our day. That may well be the reason why things are not going well.

St. Paul has been more influential in our Western culture than any other Christian teacher or writer.

He often uses sports as an illustration of the effort a person should put into disciplining his life to be like Christ.

St. Paul, how high can you jump? Are you living righteously? Paul understood what Jesus was teaching in today’s Gospel reading. He says in Phillipians 3rd chapter:

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

(You see, since he was a Pharisee – a Zealot, he understood the value of the Law – the customs and traditions of his faith. He lived it, and valued it. But then, he can also jump higher as Jesus taught him to do.)

7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

We to should press toward that same goal and win the prize – knowing Christ and rising with Him in the new life he gives us daily.