Sunday, February 16th, 2014 – Sermon on Matthew 5:21-37 and Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Matthew 5:21-37

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder’; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 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. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 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. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 27 “You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 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. 30 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. 31 “It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 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. 33 “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.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be “Yes, Yes’ or “No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

 

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

So. We kind of have our work cut out for us today, don’t we? We have some heavy lifting to do. Last week in the sermon on the mount, Jesus says to his disciples, and to us, “You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world.” Now, salt and light are necessary for life to flourish on this earth. So for Jesus to say, “You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world” is to say, “You are crucial for the flourishing of life. You are the givers of life.” I mean, it is like a Valentine from God. God is saying, “The earth cannot live without you.” If this is true, it means you have power. Remember, we learned in the creation story that God has shared power with creation. With you. What you do matters in this life. And you are partners with God in it.

But then Jesus immediately follows those words up with today’s text. What are we going to do with this reading? With just three simple sayings, Jesus has pretty much cornered all of us. Jesus says, “If you are angry with your brother or your sister, you will be judged. If you men even look at a woman lustfully, you’ve already committed adultery with her in your heart, and therefore you should tear out your eyes.” And then particularly personal one, “Anyone who divorces his wife has caused her to commit adultery. Anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” In the words of one of our congregation members, we all should be tearing out our eyes. We should all be chopping off our limbs. Suddenly, I am not feeling very salty. I’m not feeling like the little night-light that Jesus says I am.

Perhaps it might help for us to pay attention to where Jesus is speaking these hard words. It is the Sermon on the Mount. In Luke, Jesus speaks these famous words on a plain. A flat land. But not in Matthew. In Matthew, he is has climbed a mountain, much like Moses climbed Mount Sinai to get receive the 10 Commandments. And Matthew’s original readers would have thought of just that – Moses. In fact listen to Jesus’ words again, ” You have heard it said you shall not murder…you have heard it said you shall not commit adultery…you shall not swear falsely…” Jesus is referencing the 10 Commandments. While standing on a mountain.

To anyone listening, the connection would be clear – Jesus is like the new Moses. Jesus is delivering a revised edition of the 10 commandments.

So, if Jesus is like a new Moses in the gospel of Matthew, perhaps having a better understanding of Moses will help us to have a better understanding of what Jesus is saying here. And isn’t it convenient that in our Deuteronomy text, Moses is giving his final sermon.

The Israelites are just about to enter the promised land, but Moses can’t go in. It is the end of his road. And he knows that. So these words in Deuteronomy are his final words for his people. It is like there is 10 seconds left in the game, the team has taken their last time out, and this is it. One last chance for him to teach his people. And listen to the words Moses speaks – I have set before you life and death. Choose life.

You’ve seen it in magazines` or on Facebook, things like – 7 steps to Financial Freedom, or 5 steps to a better marriage, or 9 steps to being more productive at work. Well this is Moses’ steps for better decision making. It is a simple one step process – choose life. Choose life. You have two choices before you – choose the one that brings and celebrates life, not the one that drains life. Not the one that brings death. Whatever choice you are making, ask yourself – does this give me life? Or does this seem to take life?

Now, this isn’t morality 101. This isn’t about doing what’s good and doing what’s bad. This is about a way of life. One of my professors in seminary uses this terminology in raising his children. Rather than talking about what is right and what is wrong behavior, they talk about what brings life and brings death. And so, all the time they are talking about what is life-giving and what is life-taking. What brings life and what brings death. Well, one day, his son, Owen, was riding his bike and he fell down and skinned his knee pretty good. When his dad got to him and ask if he was okay, Owen said, “Yeah, but death really got me this time.”

It’s not about morality – being good or bad. It’s about a way of life. Moses says, I’ve set before you life and death. Choose life. This is Moses summary of God’s law: choose life.

So, if Moses summarizes God’s law as choosing life, now lets take this back to Jesus’ words for us today. If Jesus is the new Moses, then perhaps at the heart of Jesus’ words is choosing life. And Jesus does what he always does so well, he expands the law and makes it more personal by making it about our relationships. He is saying, “Yes, you shall not murder, but also tend to your anger. Your anger. Your hurtful words. They’re killing people. They’re ruining your relationships.” He saying, “Don’t live an angry life. Because it is like living a murderous life. It’s like being dead rather than being alive.” Jesus says the same thing about lust.  To be clear, “lust is not the same thing as feeling desire and pleasure in your body. Lust is when desire becomes compulsion. Lust is not the blossoming of love and respect into pleasure and celebration in the human body. Lust is when you would destroy a relationship in order to get (it).[1] So Jesus is saying, “Don’t look at someone as the vehicle to fulfill your own pleasure. Don’t dehumanize them.” And with divorce, in that context, divorce meant terrible, terrible things for the wife and the children. So Jesus made it more difficult for divorce to happen, for the sake of life for all. We live in a different context today. And today, sometimes the best way for life for all to flourish is for there to be a divorce. Please know, I do not think Jesus is condemning modern-day divorce. He is simply asking that our decisions as disciples of Jesus be oriented around what brings about the flourishing of life to our relationships.

Look again at what Jesus says at the beginning of the text. For Jesus, it is more important for you to reconcile your relationship with your brother or your sister than it is for you to go to worship. Jesus is saying that if the offering plate is coming around, and you realize that you have some unresolved issues with any family or friends (and maybe they are sitting right next to you), then you ought to leave worship in order to resolve the issue rather than remain unreconciled. Why else do we pass the peace right before the offering if not to be in loving relationship with one another before we make any offering to God. Your relationship with your brother or your family is directly related to your relationship with God. What Jesus is saying is life flourishes when we strive for reconciliation. We know this. If our relationships, with it is family or friends, is out of sync, a part of us feels dead.

Are you in a life situation that is taking away life? Is it making your life better or is it making it worse? Sometimes we try to live by the law of the land and often the law of the land is – look out for yourself. Get even. If someone hurts you, hurt them back. But that is not God’s law. God’s law is that of loving relationships. God’s law is about choosing that which brings about more and more life in you.

And sometimes choosing life doesn’t mean choosing what is best for your life, but what is best for future lives. Sometimes choosing life means risking your life. That what Jesus did. Jesus risked life for the sake of life. Jesus was killed for loving too much. Jesus chose life by being willing to die for love.

Sometime we have to choose for the sake of future lives. When the Native American tribe from Northwest Wisconsin, called the Ojibwe,  decides to makes any decision, it has been said that they always consider what the impact of the decision will be 7 generations in the future. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all made decisions that ways. It just might be closer to God’s way.

So if we can choose life or death, it means we have a choice. We are partners with God in bring about life in this earth. And it means we can have a pulse and not really be living. Let me say it again, you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. And now, if we are going to accept that, to believe that we are indeed salt and light the light of the earth, it will change the way we live our life, for the sake of other people’s lives. You have before you two paths. Choose life. Amen.

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