“Living Above Average”

Matthew 5:17-20, 38-48

(From the series, “Summer School: The Core Teachings of Jesus”)
By: Michael Roberts

A couple of years ago we used a video for a sermon series titled “Anything But Average.”[i] I want us to revisit this theme today, in a different context. Here is the video again ... Yes, we can be above average in the way that we care for one another and for our world…

Let’s think about average for a moment. I read recently that the average American spends a staggering 10 hours a day in screen time – that can be TV, computer, phone, gaming system. 10 hours! So, if the average American also sleeps 8 hours, that only leaves 6 hours for other things. Now, for full self-disclosure, if I include the time I work on a computer, and the fact that I read mostly from a screen these days, I must admit that I fit into this average. Seeing these hard-cold numbers makes me rethink what I want my averages to be. Perhaps related to that average, here’s another one: the average American also gives less to the church or to charity than a few years ago. One reason is that we are less engaged. We might be too self-absorbed (hold up phone). Our question today is this: can we rise above average?

Jesus dealt with some averages in his day. For example, he said, “You have heard it said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” This was the established law. This was the average expectation, and believe it or not, this average was an improvement over the previous average. Before this law there were no limits on retaliation and revenge. People might take a life for an eye, or burn a village for a knocked-out tooth. So laws like this one marked the beginning of something much more civilized. These laws brought about a much more equitable and just average.

But then Jesus came along and challenged his disciples to be above average. “You have heard it said, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, but I say to you, do not resist evildoers or repay evil for evil. Instead, respond in a way that is life giving, and honors the power of forgiveness, mercy, and love. Be above average.

Jesus gives several examples that have made their way into our common vocabulary. I’ll show you. Finish this sentence. Turn the other ____. (We know it). Jesus says, “If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to them as well.” This verse is interesting. It doesn’t mean we should let someone bully us or that we shouldn’t defend ourselves. The key is the image of the “right cheek.” Most of the world is right handed. If a right-handed person punches you with their right hand, they would hit your left cheek. In that day, slapping someone with the back of your hand (like this) on the right cheek was an insult. It was a way to embarrass and claim power over another.

Jesus is calling us to a higher standard. If someone insults you or puts you down, don’t stoop to their level. Try to love them. Seek what is good for them. That’s the principle here.

Ok. Now finish this sentence. “Go the extra ____.” (Mile, yes). Jesus says, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” In that day, Roman soldiers could demand that others carry their gear for them, but the law said that they only had to carry it for one mile (or about 1,000 steps). So, people would count out the steps and then drop the gear as soon as they could. Those who were under occupation hated the fact that the Romans could make them do this. So, once again, they had to be shocked when Jesus told them to offer to go the “extra mile.”

This is meant to be a metaphor for lots of things. How might you go the extra mile? One might clean their bedroom and then clean the bathroom as well. One might give money to the food pantry and then show up to help at the Amazing Grace Café, and experience the reward of heaven right now by doing so. One might go to a funeral and then go and sit with a friend who is grieving. One might watch the news and then get involved in a cause. When we get up and go the extra mile we reveal the kind of love that God has for all of us. In Christ, God went all the way to the cross to conquer sin and death and to open up the way of life for us. That’s going the extra mile.

Our scripture tells us that Jesus came to fulfill the law or to make God’s law fully present. But that is a bit confusing since we know that Jesus was critical of many of the laws and ordinances written in the books. Like the prophets before him, Jesus denounced many of these laws and considered them a burden. So what does this mean that he came to fulfill the law? Jesus came to make fully present the higher moral law of God that governs even in heaven. At its core, we are talking here about the great commandment, the summary of all the law, as Jesus says. It is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as a part of yourself. This law is not just written on tablets, or in books, or on monuments; it is to be written on our hearts. It is this law of love, inscribed here (heart), that raises us above the averages of the world.

Jesus gives one big example. He says, in God’s kingdom, we don’t just love those we know, or who are like us. What good is that? That’s just average. The way of God is to love even your enemies and seek what is good for them. And the only way to be able to excel in this way is to open our hearts to God and God’s love and let this love flow through us. When we do that we enter the kingdom of God. That’s what Jesus says. When Jesus talks about the kingdom, he is not just talking about where we go when we die. We pray that this kingdom come, and for God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. We pray for this kingdom to come here (heart). That’s what Jesus is talking about. In this kingdom, we are challenged to live, right now, by a much higher standard. When we love we fling open the doors of the kingdom. We enter God’s kingdom, where God’s blessings are poured out to us in abundance.

So, let’s think about average again for a moment. The average person, we might say, only hangs out with those who are like them and either ignores, or even puts down, others who are different. The average person promotes revenge. The average person builds walls ... even walls around their own hearts. The average person watches life go by rather than live life fully and faithfully. In this Sermon on the Mount we learn that God wants so much more for us. You are capable of being blessed beyond worldly measure. Through Christ and with the Holy Spirit, you can excel - in goodness, in mercy, in love. That’s what disciples of Jesus do. Amen.

 

[i] This idea was inspired by a sermon and video from Northpoint church, entitled “Anything but Average,” found at northpoint.org. 2015

A couple of years ago we used a video for a sermon series titled “Anything But Average.”[i] I want us to revisit this theme today, in a different context. Here is the video again ... Yes, we can be above average in the way that we care for one another and for our world…

Let’s think about average for a moment. I read recently that the average American spends a staggering 10 hours a day in screen time – that can be TV, computer, phone, gaming system. 10 hours! So, if the average American also sleeps 8 hours, that only leaves 6 hours for other things. Now, for full self-disclosure, if I include the time I work on a computer, and the fact that I read mostly from a screen these days, I must admit that I fit into this average. Seeing these hard-cold numbers makes me rethink what I want my averages to be. Perhaps related to that average, here’s another one: the average American also gives less to the church or to charity than a few years ago. One reason is that we are less engaged. We might be too self-absorbed (hold up phone). Our question today is this: can we rise above average?

Jesus dealt with some averages in his day. For example, he said, “You have heard it said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” This was the established law. This was the average expectation, and believe it or not, this average was an improvement over the previous average. Before this law there were no limits on retaliation and revenge. People might take a life for an eye, or burn a village for a knocked-out tooth. So laws like this one marked the beginning of something much more civilized. These laws brought about a much more equitable and just average.

But then Jesus came along and challenged his disciples to be above average. “You have heard it said, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, but I say to you, do not resist evildoers or repay evil for evil. Instead, respond in a way that is life giving, and honors the power of forgiveness, mercy, and love. Be above average.

Jesus gives several examples that have made their way into our common vocabulary. I’ll show you. Finish this sentence. Turn the other ____. (We know it). Jesus says, “If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to them as well.” This verse is interesting. It doesn’t mean we should let someone bully us or that we shouldn’t defend ourselves. The key is the image of the “right cheek.” Most of the world is right handed. If a right-handed person punches you with their right hand, they would hit your left cheek. In that day, slapping someone with the back of your hand (like this) on the right cheek was an insult. It was a way to embarrass and claim power over another.

Jesus is calling us to a higher standard. If someone insults you or puts you down, don’t stoop to their level. Try to love them. Seek what is good for them. That’s the principle here.

Ok. Now finish this sentence. “Go the extra ____.” (Mile, yes). Jesus says, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” In that day, Roman soldiers could demand that others carry their gear for them, but the law said that they only had to carry it for one mile (or about 1,000 steps). So, people would count out the steps and then drop the gear as soon as they could. Those who were under occupation hated the fact that the Romans could make them do this. So, once again, they had to be shocked when Jesus told them to offer to go the “extra mile.”

This is meant to be a metaphor for lots of things. How might you go the extra mile? One might clean their bedroom and then clean the bathroom as well. One might give money to the food pantry and then show up to help at the Amazing Grace Café, and experience the reward of heaven right now by doing so. One might go to a funeral and then go and sit with a friend who is grieving. One might watch the news and then get involved in a cause. When we get up and go the extra mile we reveal the kind of love that God has for all of us. In Christ, God went all the way to the cross to conquer sin and death and to open up the way of life for us. That’s going the extra mile.

Our scripture tells us that Jesus came to fulfill the law or to make God’s law fully present. But that is a bit confusing since we know that Jesus was critical of many of the laws and ordinances written in the books. Like the prophets before him, Jesus denounced many of these laws and considered them a burden. So what does this mean that he came to fulfill the law? Jesus came to make fully present the higher moral law of God that governs even in heaven. At its core, we are talking here about the great commandment, the summary of all the law, as Jesus says. It is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as a part of yourself. This law is not just written on tablets, or in books, or on monuments; it is to be written on our hearts. It is this law of love, inscribed here (heart), that raises us above the averages of the world.

Jesus gives one big example. He says, in God’s kingdom, we don’t just love those we know, or who are like us. What good is that? That’s just average. The way of God is to love even your enemies and seek what is good for them. And the only way to be able to excel in this way is to open our hearts to God and God’s love and let this love flow through us. When we do that we enter the kingdom of God. That’s what Jesus says. When Jesus talks about the kingdom, he is not just talking about where we go when we die. We pray that this kingdom come, and for God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. We pray for this kingdom to come here (heart). That’s what Jesus is talking about. In this kingdom, we are challenged to live, right now, by a much higher standard. When we love we fling open the doors of the kingdom. We enter God’s kingdom, where God’s blessings are poured out to us in abundance.

So, let’s think about average again for a moment. The average person, we might say, only hangs out with those who are like them and either ignores, or even puts down, others who are different. The average person promotes revenge. The average person builds walls ... even walls around their own hearts. The average person watches life go by rather than live life fully and faithfully. In this Sermon on the Mount we learn that God wants so much more for us. You are capable of being blessed beyond worldly measure. Through Christ and with the Holy Spirit, you can excel - in goodness, in mercy, in love. That’s what disciples of Jesus do. Amen.

 

[i] This idea was inspired by a sermon and video from Northpoint church, entitled “Anything but Average,” found at northpoint.org. 2015