WEEK THREE: BE PERFECT
Text: Leviticus 24:17-20; Matthew 5:14-20, 38-48
Drama (to introduce Scripture themes)
"An Eye for an Eye"
Mr. Fang, a dentist who also plays Character A
Mr. Squint, an optician who also plays Character B
This format, two narrators plus accompanying mime, is well-tried and is very reliable in buildings that are large enough to necessitate the use of a PA system. The "ping-pong" nature of the dialogue gives the sketch a secure structure that has pace and liveliness. This sketch is also interesting in that is based on a passage from the Sermon on the Mount that, at first sight, might look rather undramatic.
The scene opens in a courtroom. The two Narrators are dressed as lawyers; they stand downstage left and right, respectively. Mr. Fang and Mr. Squint are seated upstage center on either side of the Judge's chair. Fang is wearing an eyepatch; Squint's jaw is heavily bandaged. They both rise as the Judge enters. All three sit down.
Narrator One: Silence in the court.
Narrator Two: Silence!
Two: Mr. Fang, the dentist...
One: Your Honor.
Two: is hereby accused ...
One: of disfiguring the smile of Mr. Squint, the optician ...
Two: by the unnecessary removal...
One: of a prominent tooth.
Two: Justice, m'lord, justice!
Judge: Let justice be done.
Two: Mr Squint. [Squint steps forward with tongs and removes tooth from Fang]
One: Objection, m'lord.
Judge: Objection sustained.
One: The mistaken removal of the said tooth ...
Two: was made by Mr. Fang,
One: on account of his vision having been previously impaired by the said Squint.
Two: Justice, m'lord, justice!
Judge: Let justice be done.
Two: Mr. Fang. [Fang steps forward and impairs Squint's vision]
One: Thus you have heard it said ...
Two: an eye for an eye ...
One: a tooth for a tooth ...
Two: a nose for a nose...
One: and so on ...
Two: and so forth.
Two: No buts. There are no exceptions.
Two: Aa! aa!
One: What about what Jesus says?
Two: What does he say?
One: He says, "Do not take revenge."
Two: Are you sure?
One: Yes. Look at this. [Producing paper from notes]
Two: Let me see. [Crosses stage] Good heavens! He's right. He does. He says.. . [Returns to his position]
One: If anyone strikes you on the right cheek ...
[Fang and Squint, without their props, step forward as characters A and B. A (pantomime) strikes B on right cheek]
Two: turn to him the other one also. [A strikes B on left cheek. Pause. B kicks A hard on shin.]
One: Er, I'm sorry.
Two: [To B] To turn the other cheek ...
One: and then to kick your adversary on the shin...
Two: is fulfilling the letter of the passage ...
One: rather than the spirit. [B looks disconsolate]
Two: Do not resist one who is evil.
One: Quite categorically not.
Two: To continue.
One: You have heard it said ...
Two: love your neighbor... [A and B exchange friendly glances over garden fence]
One: and hate your enemy. [They threaten each other with machine guns]
Two: But I say to you ...
One: love your enemy. [B puts down gun]
Two: Do good to them that hate you. [B pulls out handkerchief and begins polishing A's gun]
One: Pray for those who persecute you. [B kneels]
Two: "Father, forgive them for they don't know what they're doing." One: If you are to be seen ... [A and B sit down again]
Two: as the children of your Father in Heaven ...
One: you must show the family likeness.
Two: For he makes the sun rise ...
One: on the evil... [B gets up looking evil]
Two: and on the good. [A jumps up with beatific smile]
One: He sends rain on the just. . . [A has prudently brought an umbrella; opens it]
Two: and the unjust. [B steals the umbrella]
One: People think only in terms of justice. [The fudge steps forward and restores umbrella to A]
Two: But if you only love those who love you ... [Indicating A and the Judge]
One: what's so good about that?
Two: God thinks supremely in terms of love.
[They invite B to join them under the umbrella]
[During this final section the three figures in the mime become a chorus of different voices, raising objections to the standard of love. The fudge has become voice C. They speak to the audience.]
A: But I find we're so different in temperament.
One: Love him.
C: You see, we just don't get along.
Two: Love him.
B: She and I have a completely different way of going about things.
One: Love her.
C: I find young people are so selfish.
Two: Love them.
B: I'll never forgive her for leaving me.
One: Forgive her; love her.
A: I find it very hard to believe those people are Christians.
Two: Love them.
B: They know all about the Bible, those people, but what they don't know...
One: Love them.
B: But... Two: No buts. There are no exceptions.
One: Aa! aa!
Two: Be perfect...
One: as your heavenly Father ...
Two: is perfect.
-from Lightning Sketches, Paul Burbridge and Murray Watts. London: Hodder and Houghton, 1981. Reproduced by permission of the publisher. Up to 5 copies may be made of the sketch for non- profit-making performances only, crediting the book, title, and publisher.
In this broad sweep from retribution to light on a hilltop, to righteousness that goes beyond the law's elite to being perfect, it is important to see Jesus as the hinge-pin. What went on before in the Old Testament and what is carried on in the New Testament has its locus in Christ. With his coming, we entered a new age. The kingdom of God, here and now, is about more than just obedience to the law. It's about obedience to Christ, who ushered in the new age of the kingdom. Christ came to fulfill the Old Testament law and take it to new heights in the Beatitudes.
Points to consider:
- Jesus was not undermining Old Testament laws of justice but rather suggesting that our righteousness exceed the law and be greater than that of the religious leaders:
— The one who would be spit upon and insulted to his face, without saying a word, here encourages his disciples to turn the other cheek.
— The one who owned nothing more than the clothes on his back, clothes which, at his trial, were stripped to expose his nakedness, entreats his disciples to bear the shame of an evil person's greed.
— The one who would be forced by soldiers to carry his cross for what must have seemed like miles, pleads with his disciples to go the extra mile, even under the humiliation of being conscripted like a slave to do the bidding of the Roman authorities.
- Such behavior fits with God's nature but not human nature. So how can we do what Jesus requires of us? By bringing the Father's plan to completion. By having the same character that
God exercises in redeeming his world. God is completing a work begun in Christ, and he's doing it in us, his followers.
- We are "history's most luminous reality" (Frederick Bruner, Matthew, p. 161). So instead of hiding us under a basket, God stands us on a table where we are able to benefit all those around through our good works. There is no other way that anyone will know anything about God except that we reflect him.
"Let your light shine so people may see your good works and praise your Father in heaven" (5:20).
In response to the message and before intercession, invite one or two members of the congregation to testify about where they have been able to let their light shine or where they are struggling to let their light shine.
Prayer of Confession
Ruler of all that is and is to be, sensitize our sight, that we may see what really is and understand what ought to be. We confess that often we see only what we want to see. We complain about our vacations when thousands are cold and poverty-stricken. We speak of equal rights and justice for all but do not share the struggle for overcoming prejudice of race or nationality. We create technology but fail to control it. We enjoy the company of lively people but don't reach their loneliness.
You have given us life, O God, but we have not lived. You have called us to sing your song, and instead we have sung the message of the world. But here and now we admit our willfulness, we acknowledge our denial of your life, and we ask your forgiveness. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
- from Prayers from Riverside, Ernest T. Campbell. New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1983
Assurance of Pardon
What confidence do we have that we are forgiven?
That without any ability to make ourselves right before God,
Out of sheer grace,
God grants us perfect satisfaction.
He credits us with righteousness and the holiness of Christ.
It is as if we had never sinned nor been sinners,
As if we had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for us.
This we accept with a believing heart as a gift from God.
—Based on Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 60
"Not for Tongues of Heaven's Angels" (1 Cor. 13) PH 531
"Fount of Love, Our Savior God" PsH 564, sung to DIX
"This Little Light of Mine" (gospel version, The United Methodist Hymnal 585)
"Bring Forth the Kingdom" SFL 154
"Creator Spirit, by Whose Aid" PsH 425
"God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending" PH 422
"Our Cities Cry to You, O God" PH 437
WEEK FOUR: MANY ARE CALLED, BUT FEW ARE CHOSEN
Text: Matthew 22:1-14; Revelation 19:7-8
Call to Worship (from Psalm 68)
Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing to the glory of his name; offer him glory and praise!
Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled.
You who hear prayer, to you all people will come.
You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.
Those living far away fear your wonders. Where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy.
Praise the Lord, all the earth. I will praise his name forever.
Let's say a couple was married last year. The usual vows were recited in a once-in-a-Iifetime event. Tears were shed, bouquets thrown, jokes told, skits endured, and all sealed with numerous kisses.
Now, a year later, with the once-fresh flowers losing their color and a piece of cake frozen in the refrigerator, the joy of getting manied has faded, and the marriage vows seem frozen in time. After only one year, both the husband and wife feel cheated out of a love that doesn't envy, grow angry, or keep a record of wrong. Sadly, this couple came into the privilege of marriage and made many vows but did not carry them out.
This gospel reading is about privilege and responsibility. But it's less about the privilege of coming into the kingdom of heaven than about carrying out the responsibilities of being chosen.
Points to consider:
- The misclad lad in the Matthew passage wasn't a gate-crasher. Unlike everyone else, he didn't take seriously the privilege of being present at the joyful feast of life. Wearing the robe is giving evidence that we persist in the faith and take Christ's invitation to salvation seriously.
- The Revelation passage calls the robe "good deeds" done by the redeemed who persist to the end. So Matthew is calling his fellow Jews to a new life that is characterized by good deeds. To return to the marriage analogy, it takes a decision to get married, but it takes active commitment to stay married.
- Good deeds give evidence that we are wearing robes of righteousness:
— If you feel like Christianity comes off as nothing more than a social club, put on the robe of Christ and visit a local shelter/soup kitchen. Be reminded that class made no difference to Jesus.
— If you find yourself torn on the matter of immigration and deportation, put on a robe of brotherliness and volunteer to teach an English as a Second Language class.
— If you feel like you're in a dead-end job, suit up and put your hands to work constructing low-income housing.
— If you feel there's got to be more to life than 9 to 5, put on a garment of patient endurance and commit some vacation time to service project or disaster relief.
— If you think Christianity doesn't make much of a difference in people's lives, dress yourself in celebration and worship with a church plant of new Christians.
— If you think the gospel isn't making much of an impact in the world, put on the whole armor of God and work with foreign missionaries for a summer or a year.
These are just a few "robing" opportunities that let us persist in the kingdom of God. They help us celebrate the joy of our salvation.
Link to Service
Gather information about service projects and volunteer organizations in your area and at large. Have material on display for people to take away. In Canada, contact ServiceLink for local or distant, short- or long-term projects.
"Clothe Yourself, My Soul, with Gladness" PsH 305
"Lord, Whose Love in Humble Service" PsH 603, PH 427
"Sent by the Lord" SFL 249
"Let Me Be Your Servant, Jesus" SFL 244
"Christ for the World We Sing" RL 422, TH 447
Blessing (pom 1 Thessalonians 5)
Go in peace, be very courageous, hold on to what is good, do not return evil for evil, strengthen the faint-hearted, support the weak, help the afflicted, honor all people, love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit; and the grace of the Lord Jesus be with you always. Amen.