Real Christianity is 3D
3D is in. Not just movies but video games and TV's come in 3D. You can have them. I want to keep a distinction between the dimensions I live in and the ones I'm entertained in. However, when it comes to Christianity it's not real unless it's 3D.
Despite the popularity of 3D, life is portrayed and lived as if it's 2D. Movies, TV shows, and songs center on other people or on events and situations. The great crisis is a fracture in a relationship between people. The greatest problem is the outbreak of a disease or a catastrophic event. Tragedy is anything that robs you of a full, free, happy life here and now.
If the only thing you knew about life is the reality portrayed by movies, TV, or songs, you would conclude that only two dimensions exist. Crisis, tragedy, disaster is either when something goes wrong between people or something threatens physical life. All that matters is solving the problems in these two dimensions. There is no thought of a third dimension above, beyond these. It's as if our whole life is confined to a piece of paper. We can move and think only in length and width but we have no conception of height or depth.
It's not just that there is no help, no hope, no reality beyond people and things. People live their lives as if they are accountable to nothing and no one beyond the two dimensional paper on which they live. There's no greater reality beyond that which they hear and see. There's no dimension of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. There's no eternity but only the space and time in which I exist right now.
Jesus in our text tosses a grenade into our two dimensional world. You want to think in terms of only two dimensions? Fine let's do that. Let's think of our relationships with people. That dimension is the be all and end all of Hollywood and Nashville.
Here's what Jesus says: Turn the other cheek. If someone strikes you on the right, turn to him the other cheek. If someone wants to sue for your basic garment, give him your extra one too. If an official wants to press you into service for awhile, go the extra mile for him. Give to the one who asks from you. Jesus addresses private, legal, and political relationships. Right there are all the crises you could have in that dimension. Any plot line, any song you'll hear or TV show you'll watch can be placed in one of these categories. Jesus says if you want to solve your relationship problem just give in, give up, give over. O and by all means love.
Yes, love is the second grenade Jesus tosses into our two dimensional lives. And He's not talking love story love. He's talking love for the unlovable. Love for those who not only don't love you but hate you. Love beyond loving those like yourself. Never mind what would Jesus do; what would love do? In every time and place, in every situation and problem, no matter the person or the relationship what does love do? It keeps on loving.
From Luther down to our own time virtually every commentator lets these grenades thrown by Jesus explode but they dampen the explosion. Luther says, "Christ is not telling me to give what I have to any scoundrel that comes along and to deprive my family of it.He is not saying that we should give an lend to everybody but to him who begs from us,' that is, to the one who really needs it" (LW, 21, 117). One of my seminary professors says, "Naturally a Christian's duties to his family, community, or country may compel him to resist rather than to submit to injustice and insult" (Buls, Sermon Notes Series A Gospel, 41). The latest commentary on Matthew published by our Synod says Jesus words are hyperbole but that doesn't mean He is not serious (Gibbs, 302).
All of these commentators only want to hear Jesus' words in 2 dimensions. And if that is all there is, then you had better put a damper on them because they blow apart our understanding of how we relate to people and situations. And that's just it. Jesus' words are intended to blow us out of a two dimensional world. By dampening Jesus' words, the explosion is deadened and we're left in a 2D world with 3D commands.
The only person who can see this text the way Jesus does is someone not a flatlander. Flatland is an 1884 novella where the author uses a two dimensional world called Flatland to comment on the social hierarchy of the Victorian society he lived in. The author writes as a two dimensional shape. He first visits a one dimensional world and can't convince them of a second dimension. Then he is visited by three dimensional being which he can't get his head around till he visits 3D Spaceland for himself.
Only someone who lives in 3D can hear Jesus' words rightly. A better translation will help too. In His summary of how to deal with personal, legal, and political relationships Jesus doesn't command, "Do not turn away from" them. No, He says, "Be not turned away from" them. It's a passive. Something outside of you, outside of the two dimensions everyone else is living in, causes you not to turn away from an aggressor.
St. Paul makes much of the fact that in Jesus we have all things. In 2 Corinthians 9:8, Paul says, "And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." In I Corinthians 3, Paul says, "All things are yours, whether the world or life or death or the present or the futureall are yours." You live in a 3rd dimension where for Jesus' sake all things belong to you. In this dimension, Jesus, the crowned prince, has changed places with you the penniless pauper. Jesus got the kicks and blows; Jesus suffered the cold and hunger, and because He clothed you in Baptism with His blood and righteousness, you are the heir apparent to literally everything.
One of my favorite stories about the gruff, tough General Patton of World War II is this. One dark night he walked past a soldier who said to him, "Hey bub you got a light?" When General Patton struck the match the flame illuminated his face. The soldier recognized him; snapped to attention, saluted Patton and apologized profusely. Patton replied, "That's okay son; just don't do that to a Second Lieutenant."
The great General Patton had enough honor, prestige, and glory that he didn't need to defend them against a soldier. A Second Lieutenant probably wouldn't think he had enough of anything and would be very jealous to defend what he did have against all would be takers. You brothers and sisters have been Baptized into a dimension where for Jesus' sake you're General Patton's.
Likewise only someone who lives in the dimension where he or she is a son of God knows what it means to be beloved. You heard at the Baptism of Jesus the Father booming from heaven that Jesus was His beloved Son. You will hear that same thing two weeks from now at the Transfiguration. Think what happens in each case. After the first announcement of beloved-ness, God the Holy Spirit casts God the Son out into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. After the second declaration of love God the Son comes down the mountain and heads for the cross where He will be stricken, smitten, and afflicted; where Isaiah says the Father will be pleased to crush Him.
God so loved the world that He gave up His one and only Son instead of the world, instead of you. The wrath of God against sin is real. His righteousness, His truthfulness, His Word of promise was at stake. If He didn't punish the sins of the world, He would compromise all of these. So He punished His Son in our place. Every blow, every slap, every ache, every agony paid for our sins. So who really is the beloved of God? Who really has so much love that his cup is running over? Who really are sons of the Father? The ones He gave up His only beloved Son for.
Live in this third dimension, where the Father's voice doesn't cease to boom from heaven. "This is My beloved son or daughter!" Live in this dimension where the heavenly Father rejoices to forgive sins. How could He not? His Son suffered so much, paid so much, gave up so much, just so sins could be sent away from sinners like you. On those days when you're children seem even more beloved to you than usual, do you have a difficult time forgiving, letting go of, not regarding their sins? It's easy isn't it? In the 3rd dimension that's how much God loves you everyday, and the love from this 3rd dimension can't but spill over into the other two.
How many people this past Valentine's Day got a card or a note or heard the one who loved them say, "You complete me!" Jesus ends our text with the promise that He completes us. Our insert translates it as a command, "Be perfect," but it's not imperative at all but future indicative. And it's not best translated as "perfect", but as we learned in the Hebrews Bible study it's best translated as "complete." So Jesus promises you, "Therefore you will be complete as your heavenly Father is complete."
Jesus comes from the 3rd dimension of the eternal God. He comes with a flesh and blood body like ours to complete us, to fulfill us, to recreate in us what our first parents lost. Jesus entered our two dimensional flatland as a 3D figure and passed His 3D-ness on to us. His Baptism made us dry, flat, foam sinners expand into 3D figures. His Absolution, the Breathe of the Spirit, inflated us flatlanders into 3D shapes. His Body and Blood bring our body and blood into a dimension where neither sins, nor Death, nor Devil can take anything away from us, and so we have all things; we are complete.
In movies sometimes, the characters of a fairy tale come out of their 2D Flatland world into the 3D world. They become real. Real Christianity is that third dimension of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, of angels and archangels, and of all the saints. Real Christianity pops into your 2D world showing it in a whole different, brighter, bigger, eternal light. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (20110220); Matthew 5: 38-48