Monday, February 17, 2014
Matthew 5: 21-37, NT pages 4 and 5 You have heard that it was said to those of ancient time, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is God’s footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one. Sermon Our first scripture lesson is one of Moses’ last speeches to the people. He addresses them before they finally enter the Promised Land, and charges them saying, obey the commandments of the Lord your God, for by these commandments, “you will live.” But, if you turn away from them, you will die. There is life on the one side and death on the other, and the thing that makes the side with life so different from the side with death is that to choose life is to choose obedience to the commandments of God. And this is a hard one to swallow today, not because our culture isn’t interested in living – I would say that our entire culture is profoundly invested in feeling alive – however it is hard for our culture to believe that a fullness of life will be found in obedience to God’s commandments because it seems from my interpretation of the perspective of 21st century North America that life is most fully to be lived, not in bland obedience, but in radical and subversive acts of rebellion. That’s what some people would say anyway. Think of those unconventional activities that people will ask you about: You’ve never been sky-diving? You’ve never eaten sushi? You’ve never been to Europe? Well, you haven’t lived. No one ever reacts that way when asking about more conventional activities: like putting on a seat belt, picking out a brown suit, or going to Sunday School. I’ve never heard anyone say, “You haven’t looked both ways before crossing the street? Well you haven’t lived.” But Moses is convinced that life is to be found in obedience to God’s commandments, and Jesus, rather than disagree or present a new list of updated and revised commandments, repeats essentially the same message and presents an even more conservative law code for us to conform to. If you thought the laws of Leviticus were difficult and if you find it hard to believe that life can be found in their commands, consider Jesus’ words: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister you will be liable to judgment.” Or “you have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery.” “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery.” “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all.” Jesus does not sand down the harsh words of Moses, he does not water them down to make them more palatable – no Jesus causes Moses’ words to be even more challenging, even more impossible, and still stands by the statement that in such commands we will find life. I find that hard to believe – because in these words I find condemnation. Certainly by these words, by having to read them before you, a responsibility that I have dreaded all week because of how challenging they are, I assure you that I know I am condemned by them having not fulfilled them by my words, my actions, and certainly not my thoughts. By these words my death, not my life, seems assured. By these words I know that I am a sinner and there can be no convincing anyone otherwise. By these words I stand before you condemned. But in condemnation – there is life. I assure you that while I will continue to strive to live up to the commandments of Moses and even the more challenging commandments of Jesus Christ, I will never measure up and I will always stand condemned – but you see – it is through a condemnation like that that life can be lived. For in confessing that you haven’t done it, then there is no more need to be defensive. In examining your behavior with honesty, then there is no more need to hide behind excuses. And there is no reason to do otherwise, for in Christ there is no more fear of condemnation for the Prince of Peace came not to condemn the world but to save it. You see – in him there is no need for self-righteousness, nor is there any need to fear those commandments or those words from scripture so strict and challenging that they may never be perfectly lived out. He does not demand obedience to the law so much as he demands a repentant heart ready to be made new by his grace and his overwhelming love. While the world will tell you to run away from shame and regret, convincing you that mistakes cannot be made right and that what has been done cannot be undone – I charge you to choose life and to believe that there is always the hope of making things right again. While the world will tell you that a failure is a blot on your reputation that cannot be recovered from and that what you can’t do you should avoid – I charge you to choose life and to try again for every day is a new opportunity to be successful and new. And while the world will tell you that sin is to be ashamed of, that you should minimize it and hide those sins of yours in the blackest shadow of your heart – I charge you to choose life and to know that in him all your sins can be washed away- if you will simply confess them you will be forgiven. Choose life today. Choose life always. Amen.