We are in the Sermon on the Mount again this morning where Jesus is describing what becoming a disciple is all about. So far we’ve looked at the beatitudes. Jesus begins by pronouncing the happiness on those who are in deep need and those who are working to make the world better. The sermon begins with blessing, the word that God is turned toward you to smile upon your and give you grace.
Because of the transforming power of God’s blessings those who live into the blessing are blessings themselves. They are light and salt to the world. By the difference they bring enables others to see, and they preserve and bring out the true flavor of creation. They are not like the world and, compared to the rest of the world, they may be small, but God uses that to make a powerful difference.
Jesus then said that he did not come to cancel the law God had given through Moses, but Jesus says, “I have come to bring them to their true goal.”
Paul contrasts law and grace. He says we are not saved by keeping the law, as if we could add up enough tokens to pay our way to heaven. We are saved by God’s grace. That is we are saved because God wants to save us even before we are much worth anything.
But this distinction can be taken the wrong way, and it often is. Saved by grace doesn’t mean it matters nothing at all how I live. Our healing begins with God loving us enough to claim us, forgive and help us. It is completed when we respond by loving God enough to put aside all that is mean or low or selfish and seek to live a life pleasing to God. Really can’t separate accepting the love of God and seriously attempting to stay in the way of the Lord.
It is wrong to set up law as oppressive and repressive whereas grace is liberating and anything goes. Law and grace are like two sides of one coin.
The law is simply Gods’ way of caring enough about how our life goes that he gives us the instruction manual.
I suffer, as I know some other guys do– and yes more guys than gals suffer from this– I suffer from an instinct to see if I can put something new together without looking at the manual. I am getting better, after some time consuming mistakes. But in life a lot of folks just try to wing it and make it up as they go along. And that may work a lot of the time, but sometimes folks can get into big trouble.
Moses tells the people today I have put before you life and death. I have told you what expands life, what establishes life on surer footing, and what will undercut your future. Choose life.
That is grace.
The thing about it is sometimes we manage to misinterpret instructions. Especially if the gizmo was made in China and the person translating the instructions was not especially good at English.
Someone found this upfront apology in such instructions : –
“Our arrangement in content to the user’s manual is overall and easily understood. We think it is reliable that it is correct that the information was offered in the manual and try hard to avoid the artificial fault, but the mistake that will unavoidably be found in printing, if causes some careless mistakes, please forgive more!”
Sometimes the instructions are right there in front of us, but we don’t get what they are about.
Jesus in the reading today lifts the hood three on commands and explores their function. He gets to the heart of them. “Don’t kill” “Don’t commit adultery” and “Don’t bear false witness”
Each command starts with something that could be observed by folks around you. Murder, adultery, false oaths–do these things and they might be found out.
But Jesus traces each of them back to something that has gone amiss on the inside in a person’s heart. Lastly Jesus gives a strategy for transforming ourselves into people who keep the commandment from the heart.
Let’s look at them again.
“You have heard it said “do not murder” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
The way I understand it Jesus is saying that “ murder” comes from being put-out with someone. It is the overflow of a cycle of frustration with someone. So really keeping this command mean more than not pulling the trigger. You have to deal with anger impulses.
Getting angry is just a bodily reflex. Having that reflex is not the problem. Where you go from there is the issue. Jesus says if anyone caught up in ongoing anger (participle “angering”) is in the wrong place. Anyone who speaks with contempt to their brother or sister. Anyone who says “Racca”. If you tell someone to go shoot themself or get lost or stop breathing– that kind of verbal assault, that kind of attitude is faced toward the same thing a murder is about. That kind of speech and attitude has no place in someone who earnestly wants to do God’s will.
So Jesus takes a command and then traces the trajectory back to the kind of stuff in the heart that paves way for murder and command includes that heart stuff.
Jesus in fact gives no command not to be angry or not to call anyone a
- In the Greek of the New Testament, “Being Angry” in Matthew 5:22 is
not a command, but a participle, an ongoing action. It is a diagnosis of a
vicious cycle that we often get stuck in: being angry, insulting one another.
It is simply realistic: we do get angry, we do insult one another, and it does
lead to trouble. (Stassen and Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, 134.)
The third thing Jesus does is to offer what David Gushee calls a “transforming initiative” The disciple begins to practice a new response, a new reflex.
Jesus describes it this way. If you are in worship and suddenly start thinking about someone who is upset with you, leave your offering and go see if you can settle things so that person is not upset with you. You take the initiative to go to them. Do what you can to straighten out the mess between you and that brother and sister before you continue focusing on your relation to God. It is that important.
Do you see what Jesus has done? It isn’t anymore about you being upset about your neighbor –even if he is the one upset, you go try to work it out. Even if it is an enemy, someone who is suing you– do what you can to work it out.
From focusing on restraining myself from killing another person, now Jesus has me focusing on how I can create peace with those who are angry with me.
We’ve gone from talking about murder to talking about peacemaking.
it transforms the person who is angry into
an active peacemaker; it transforms the relationship from one of anger to a
peacemaking process; and it hopes to transform the enemy into a friend.
Furthermore, it participates in the way of grace that God took in Jesus
when there was enmity between God and humans: God came in Jesus to
make peace… It invites us to deliverance from the vicious cycle of anger
and insult. (Stassen & Gushee, p. 135).
Now the second command Jesus lifts up for reconsideration is “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Just as murder comes from anger, adultery comes from lust.
Lust, like anger, is a bodily response. Just as you are going to have anger, you are going to feel desire. The question is are you going to let anger take over and control you? Then you will probably kill someone or come close. If you let desire take control you probably will end up ignoring promises which make up lasting relationships.
There is one verse here that is notorious for causing trouble. “ Whoever looks on a woman with lust has committed adultery in his heart.” The KJV comes closer than some other modern translations to the literal Greek:
whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. Whoever looks at someone with the intent of lusting after her, imagining adultery with her– he has broken the commandment in his heart.
Just as Jesus does not say it is a sin to feel anger, Jesus is not saying it is a sin to notice someone is desirable. But just as it is a sin to choose to be angry it is a sin to choose to dwell on desiring someone without any regard for lawful relationship with them.
Craddock: “The point is, a woman is not a thing, a property to be coveted so as to possess, but a person to whom one relates with care and respect” (Preaching through the Christian Year A).
Jesus says that it is better to cut off a diseased limb than die of gangrene, so it would be better to pull out our eye than to let it lead us to hell.
Give up a part of us than to lose our whole life to something we would not control.
But there is another way.
That is why Jesus goes on to talk about marriage and divorce. The transforming initiative we need to take with our desires is to take marriage seriously.
The problem Jesus has with divorce is that especially in his day it was a way to indulge desires selfishly. I like someone else; I divorce you and go after them.
In Matthew 19 we have a teaching of Jesus that goes into this a little more, but the point here is that God’s intention is that our sexual drive is given free reign only within a relation in which we have promised ourselves to each other for keeps.
Sex has the potential of creating new life. And God intends for children to have a family that is dependable.
Marriage is not about me meeting my needs and when my needs are not met I am “out of here.” The proper way to go into marriage is thinking of each other’s needs and not just my own. Lust is the opposite of marriage because it is only focused on satisfying its own urges and has no lasting stake in the well-being of the other.
3.FALSE WITNESS. The commandment under this passage is “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” Don’t lie. It was common in Jesus’ day for people to indicate how seriously they wanted you to take them by the importance of what they were willing to swear by. “I swear on my dirty socks.” Not too serious.
“I swear by my grandmother’s grave.” Pretty serious.
“I swear by my sacred honor.” Staking a lot.
Jesus says don’t play poker with the truth.
Keep your cards face up. Tell it straight, don’t exaggerate or conceal or mislead. Let it be plain simple truth.
That is the initiative. Stop and think before you talk, then just tell it straight and tell it plain.
This is not a license for meanness. Tell someone something awful and then say, “but I was just telling the truth!”
A patient has a sore throat and goes to a doctor to get treatment for it.
Doctor: Your tonsils gotta come out.
Patient: I wanna second opinion.
Doctor: Okay, you’re ugly, too.
Jesus is inviting his disciples to become a community where peacemaking finds new ways to deal with anger and tension, where desire blooms within committed relationship, where the oxygen of honesty builds trust and transparency.
Here is the thing. Jesus changes the issue from how can I keep from breaking the law to a focus on right relationships with others in community. Jesus moves in each case from a focus on how individuals keep from breaking the law to how individuals can honor others and build closer community.
Transforming ourselves and our relationships we become the instruments of transforming the world. We must be the change we would see in the world.