“A Disarming Grace” 02/23/2014 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, Matthew 5:38-48

I have long been fascinated by those who make it their life work to engage the unknown and ask the big questions – what is matter made of? How did it come into being? What really is the nature of reality?

I too have been fascinated by those big questions and at one point I thought that I wanted to be physicist or an astronaut so that I could really dig into them, explore them and perhaps discover something really important from them.

I think it was my second year in college — when I barely passed an advanced math class that I realized being a brilliant physicist or an astronaut was not to be in my future. Acumen in math and science, sadly for me, are prerequisites for being a brilliant physicist or astronaut.

But I think God does have a sense of humor or at least an appreciation for irony, because I realize now that to be a person of faith is to be a physicist, astronaut – or scientist of sorts. To be a person of faith is to engage with the unknown and to explore what is hidden there in order to discover new truths.

Being a person of faith may not require prerequisites in math and science, (thank God!), but it does take, I am convinced, the same willingness to engage with mystery. Being a person of faith requires accepting that what one has known and experienced may not define what is or what is possible. It takes curiosity and the willingness to wrestle with new understandings of once accepted laws and theories that attempted to explain and govern the nature of reality. And being a person of faith takes the humility and courage to boldly go where no one has gone before (to borrow a phrase).”

But before we go any further, let us pray; May the words that I speak and the meditations of all of our hearts, help us, O God, to see more clearly and inspire us to engage more boldly the sweep of your grace in which we live and move and have our being. Amen

A couple of years ago, NOVA that PBS program ran a series entitled the “Fabric of the Cosmos”, where physicist Brian Greene took viewers on a journey through some of the latest discoveries, findings and theories in the field of Physics. I was fascinated by the series and hung on every word of what Greene said. But even though Greene did his best to explain in laymen’s terms quite complex ideas, and even though he used lots of visuals to help those of us who are untrained in his field of study see and understand what he was saying, I have to admit that I walked away from that program comprehending only a fraction of what it was he was teaching.

I mean really, what is dark matter? How can the base unit of everything be tiny, tiny vibrating strings of energy? How does mathematical probability point to the existence of multiverses – several of which may in fact be mirror copies of our own universe?

Strain as I may to take it all in, I walked away from that program with more awe than understanding.

I think that that is a bit how those who had gathered around Jesus on the hillside that day must have felt. For the several weeks now we too have been there on that hillside with the others, listening to Jesus say the most amazing things. We too have been struggling with the others to take in what not only is counterintuitive but that actually runs counter to the prevailing understandings of the day.

For what Jesus is saying, it just does not make sense.

Here is what they knew to be true. They knew what it was to barely get by, to just subsist. They knew what it felt to endure the heavy taxation of the Roman Empire and the fear of living in an occupied land. And they knew that things were not going to change at all for them unless someone more powerful that the powers that currently prevailed came along.

So when they heard about this one, this Jesus who has all the makings of a great King, they followed him hoping that he would have the power to do what needed to be done.[1]

But then Jesus starts telling them the craziest things.

Jesus tells us that if someone strikes us on the right cheek, we are to turn the other also. That if someone wants to sue us and take our coat, we are to give our cloak as well; if anyone forces us to go one mile, we are to go also the second mile.

Jesus teaches that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.”


What was he thinking? How does any of that make sense? Why live in this counterintuitive, countercultural way? This way that runs counter to how people understood how things worked? In an eye for an eye world, why in the world would one turn the other cheek?


Why? Well it only makes sense if the way they have experienced the working of the world is really not how the world is to work. Jesus is leading them and us to live out of deeper dimension of reality that is not only the building block of reality but is the most powerful dimension of it.

The opening narration in the “Fabric of the Cosmos” says “Lying just beneath everyday reality is a breathtaking world, where much of what we perceive about the universe is wrong” – that preface could very well have been the lead into Jesus’ teaching as well. For Jesus teachings in the Sermon on the Mount are all about helping us see beneath the surface of things to a deeper truth that governs the cosmos and our place in it.

Jesus is showing us, I believe, that vibrating at the heart of all that is — is what the Hebrew scripture calls Hesed, steadfast love. Hesed is the fabric of the cosmos and that holds all things together in unity.

An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth may be what we know, but there is a dimension, a fuller reality that is to be ours. Hesed runs deep and we can live into this deepness, and when we do so not only is our life richer and fuller but we also bring a disarming and transforming grace into the world.


This is in essence what Paul is telling the church in Corinth in the passage that Bart read for us today. The context is that Paul has gotten word that things are not going well in the church community. People are fighting with each other. There is much division and power plays. Paul writes to re-ground the community in the deeper reality of which he spoke when he was among them by saying “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you.” Or in other words — “Instead of fighting to build your selves up, recognize that you are already fully formed as a people together and as such the most powerful force, God’s spirit is already present and dwells among you.” It is a complete reframing of their reality, grounding them in the deeper truth that is not of their own construction but in which lays the fullness of their living.


Now, one of the things that Brian Greene in the NOVA series “the Fabric of the Universe” kept returning to is that it is fine to have a theory about something but the theory really does not do much good unless it can be tested and proven to be true. The most brilliant physicist in the world can say “All matter, at its most basic, smallest unit, is nothing more than vibrating, dancing strings of energy,” but unless we can actually see and experience those dancing strings of energy how do we really know that they are real and how do we discover what significance they may have for our living?

I think seeing and experiencing love in action was exactly what God was all about in Jesus. I think that is exactly why Jesus was and is – Jesus reveals and makes palpable this Hesed, this force of love that is the deeper dimension of reality.

For Jesus did not just say “the kingdom of heaven has drawn near” (Matt 4:17); He did not just “proclaim the good news of the kingdom (Matt 4:23)”; he did not just say “blessed are the poor, blessed are those that mourn, blessed are the meek,..” (Matt 5:1-5); he lived it. He lived the kingdom. He embodied the good news. He was flesh and blood love, blessing all those he encountered with the lived experience of hesed, of the steadfast love of God made real in his living That is why the hemoraging woman touched Jesus’ cloak and was made well. It is why blind Bartemaus called out to Jesus and had his eyes opened.

And the evidence of Hesed in our day, the evidence that together we are the temple of God and that God’s spirit dwells in us? Well it is evident when we build on the foundation that Jesus has laid in our lives. It is evident when we are moved to reach out to others in care and compassion; when we work for justice and the reparation of right relationship; when we are instruments of healing and wholeness to others and to the world; when we are able to spark hope in the deepest darkness and walk with those who dwell in deep darkness towards the light.

There is much in our world that courts a baser ways of living. It is easier when one has been hurt to wrap that hurt with hate than it is to open that hurt and to forgive. It is easier to strike back when one is struck then it is to disarm that violence by nonviolent resistance. It is easier to remain silent in the face of lies than it is to expose those lies with the word of truth.

But that is not what living is to be all about. At least not if we are to live as Jesus lived. If we are to live out of the deeper dimension of Hesed. If we are to live a fuller life of love made real in our living.

So let us dare to go where no one has gone before. No that is not right, is it? For one did go before us. Jesus went before us. So Let us dare to go where the one who truly lived went before. Let us go in the way of Jesus who shows us what living life, living hesed truly is. Amen

[1] Carla Works, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary. Wesley Theological Seminary. Washington, DC. Commentary on Matthew 5 as found on www.workingpreacher.org.