the one about the one on the mountain...
February 17, 2020, 7:00 AM

Sermon from February 16, 2020

Text: Matthew 5:21-37

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, our gospel reading is a bit longer this week isn’t it? Not only is it a few more verses than we’ve been getting these past few weeks, but it also hits really close to home for many of us. Jesus speaks about those things that makes us feel uncomfortable. But, I want us to understand something, Jesus makes us uncomfortable not just to make us uncomfortable, but makes us uncomfortable because he’s willing to have difficult conversations. Within those difficult conversations he brings new hope and life to difficult topics.

There’s an old folk tale – which I believe originates in Africa – about a village at the banks of a river. The community was gathered for a meal and people began to hear the cries of an infant child coming from the water. They rushed over to the sound and realized that there was a child floating in the river. Soon, more children were seen coming down stream as they looked upriver.

The village took those children into their homes. Fed them, clothed them, educated them, cared for them. Babies continued coming down the stream and the community continued to care for them.

Eventually someone asked the question, where are the babies coming from? We need to go upstream to find out why they are being thrown in.

I think about that story as I hear Jesus speak about all these things that we hear today in our gospel reading where Jesus begins with, “You have heard it was said…”

As I talked with my colleagues about this text, we noted how difficult these words from Jesus can be. Especially in a text that seems so heavy on ‘law’ with little ‘gospel’ to be readily seen. It is difficult to find where the gospel is, when we have Jesus coming down so hard on things that are so innate to us – anger, lust, and swearing oaths.

But, what I find in the words of Jesus this morning is not just the concern with murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths, but wanting to speak about the root of those things in our life.

Jesus doesn’t want us to commit murder. He doesn’t – obviously – but, Jesus desires each of us to live into the life that he proclaims with the kingdom of heaven that is both near and far, he wants us to acknowledge the underlying aspect of that act; anger. Fear. Jealousy. Ego.

Jesus doesn’t want us to live in anger. We’ve met those people. We’ve experienced that anger within us at some point in our lives. Anger drives us to assume so much about the world around us. Anger causes us to speak in ways we normally never would. Anger leads to actions we usually regret in the future.

Jesus doesn’t want us to be in anger, but instead pushes us to be reconciled with our neighbors, our sisters and brothers, our friends, our community.

And you know what. Being reconciled with one another is tough. It’s easy to be angry. It’s easy to feed that beast with more outrageous thoughts and ideas to fuel that raging fire within us. It’s easy to add log after log to keep those embers hot. Those logs that assume that the person we are angry with is out to get us and does everything in spite of us.

We’ve all been there. We all have. Each of us has lived into that sort of irrational anger before in our life.

Yet, Jesus wants us to live a life that isn’t fed by the lies that our anger tells us about those around us. Jesus us wants us to be in community. There is goodness, love, grace, and forgiveness in community. Jesus calls us to let go of our anger. To reconcile with those around us. That anger locks us into a prison that is so difficult to get out of.

Jesus is concerned about adultery too, but, I feel he wants us to live our lives in ways that honor those whom we’ve pledged ourselves to. He gives a rather detailed metaphor of what life can be like for us. If it causes you to sin, cut it off. Better to spend life maimed in heaven, than fully abled somewhere else.

But, what I think Jesus is really getting at is that he wants us to recognize the goodness that comes from the relationships that we are in. To honor the commitments we have made to the ones we love. The recognition that Jesus desires our whole selves when it comes to living this life of faith.

Jesus doesn’t want you to tear out your eye or cut off your hand. I believe he is speaking in metaphor. In giving these wild metaphors, Jesus can help us see the drastic ways we might need to re-orient ourselves not only to one another, but to the one who has given us life.

I also want to note here, that Jesus makes a point that others don’t cause us to sin. Just because someone has dressed or presented themselves in away that catches your eye and attention, they don’t cause you to sin. You do that. I think it is rather profound this morning that we hear Jesus say – if this part of you has caused you to sin – cut it off. It places the ‘blame’ (if you will) on the person who has sinned, not on the person who they (I assume) would say, caused that person to slip into adultery. I think that is something we probably need to hear of more today than we care to admit.

We’ve heard it said not to lie or swear falsely. Jesus doesn’t want you to lie. Lying breaks trust, tears down relationships, provides false hope, undercuts the goodness that the world seeks to find in relationship with God.

Lying hurts; a lot. Making braggadocios claims about your abilities hurts others when you know you can’t live up to it.

Yes, Jesus doesn’t want us to swear falsely, but what I feel Jesus is more concerned with is living your life in truth and love. Living your life in such a way where a ‘vow’ becomes unnecessary because your daily word and life are true.

As Jesus speaks here on oaths and vows, I’m reminded of Luther talking about what a ‘good’ Christian in the workplace and market is. It is told that he said, “a good Christian cobbler (people who make shoes for others) isn’t one who puts little gold crosses and fishes on their wares, but instead makes good shoes for those around them.”

That’s the life that Jesus calls us into and invites us for. A life that sees anger is a prison, that recognizes how lust separates us from those we love, and how living truth in our daily life is more important than making vows we can never live up to.

And, as I read all these things I cannot help, but notice that each of these points requires us to shift how we view other people. How we shift to viewing and being with them in honest, respectful, and dignified ways. Where we honor one another, living into this life that God has called us towards.

So, what does all that have to say about divorce?

A loving relationship should be one that honors, cares, and respects one another. Living into the fullness that each one provides. But, it also must be mutual. I will say it every day – Jesus doesn’t desire anyone to be in a relationship or stay in a relationship that is harmful, abusive, and violent. Jesus calls us into relationships that are loving, grace-filled, and make us feel worthy – similar to how our relationship with God is loving, grace-filled, and gives us worth and life. You don’t have to stay in a relationship that is the opposite of what Jesus calls for in all relationships.

Jesus this morning begins to share what this blessed and set apart life of being salt of the earth and the light of the world just might look like. It is a life that has a different approach than the one the world has lifted up for generations.

Jesus takes what faith has taught us – good, deep faith, and invited us to dig deeper. To see ourselves in uncomfortable ways. Jesus looks at those things that are innate to us as men and women – anger, lust, lying – and change how we approach them to be reconciled with those around us. To live in faithfulness and trust with those whom we love. To live our lives centered on truth and honesty. This morning, Jesus begins to share with us what the life in the kingdom of heaven – that kingdom that is both so close, yet so far away from us – just might be like.

So, as that African folktale shares, it is right to be concerned with those babies floating downstream in the river. Care for them, love them, nurture, them. But it might be beneficial, and needed for everyone to go find out why they are being thrown in and stopping it there.

Live life that honors and cares for those around you. Those you love, those you know, those whom you interact with each and every day. This life of faith has called us to see the value and worth of each person around us – including ourselves.

God is with you in this. Always. Amen.

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