In this sermon, based on Matthew 5:21-37, I explore a portion of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus reveals the depth of sin. It results in broken relationships, yet we are reminded to be reconciled.
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Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
This past Tuesday evening, the adult Bible Study gathered downstairs and spent about an hour discussing the 4th chapter of Romans. Now within that chapter, the Apostle Paul focuses quite heavily on the example of the Old Testament figure Abraham…and how he stands as an example of faith…Abraham fits this bill because for years he believed the promise of God, that he would have many descendants…even while he remained childless, until finally God makes good on the promise and Abraham has his beloved son.
I didn’t share this thought during Bible Study…but I was reminded of an old comedy routine…one that focuses in on this very idea. For God came upon Abraham and asked Abraham do you love me…and Abraham said YES! And God said GOOD…now go in the kitchen…get a knife…and kill your own kid. And Abraham responded….Ummm, let me see if I got this….Could I not merely punch the lad to show my devotion? (pause)
It’s a bit cheesy, I realize that…but its interesting to consider that God asked for a pretty extreme display of faith…and all jokes aside, that situation happened back in Genesis. But coming all the way around, I thought this same sort of idea was on display here within our gospel lesson today…a situation where the punishment really seems to defy the severity of the crime. Where the result seems pretty extreme. (pause)
Admittedly, today’s story may seem like a bit of a broken record…like something we just heard…and rightly so. We’ve been here in Matthew chapter 5 for 3 weeks in a row…and if you were here last week you might remember that our lesson ended with the same verse that I started on today. Its going to continue as well…and next week we’ll finish up chapter 5…and admittedly it will sound like more of the same.
And the ongoing theme…that which started off last week and continues right on through this week’s portion of the chapter…the law…only here Jesus seems to be explore the depths…and how the presence of sin in our reality goes far deeper than we realize.
Because that’s what the broken law is right? Sin? The failure to live out our day to day lives in a way that God approves of…in the way dictated so many centuries ago through the 10 commandments and the rest of the law…the “procedures” that God’s chosen people were supposed to follow, first of all to live in harmony with God and with each other…and then…if and when the law was broken…the procedure to go about atoning for it…the sacrifices to make, the prayers to pray.
Sound familiar? That’s what I talked about last week…and that Jesus raises up the example of the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees to make that point…but sometimes, Jesus’ audience can be a little slow on the uptake right? And its not enough for him to make the point once…but he needs to dive a little deeper…bringing in things that they would understand….and that’s precisely what’s going on here today.
Think for a moment, that you are a Jewish person…just living out your day to day life…and this traveling Rabbi comes around and starts quoting your cultural rules your way…you’d pick up on it right away wouldn’t you.
You’ve heard it said to those in ancient times…you shall not commit murder…and those who commit murder will be liable to judgment. (pause) Well duh. That’s a no brainer Jesus…its right there in the 10 commandments…we don’t have to dig very deep to find that one do we?
And that’s true…we don’t need to dig very deep in our day in age either do we? Murder is bad…I don’t think anyone would disagree with us, whether they claim to be a Christian or Jewish or any other religious standing. Murder is morally horrible…so of course you’re liable to judgment.
But here’s where it gets tricky…because Jesus starts to take things deeper than face value. Because if you get angry with your brother or sister, you’re liable to judgment…and if you go one step farther and insult them, you’re liable to the council…and if you call them a fool, you’re liable to the fires of hell. (pause)
Is it just me…or does that seem to be going the wrong direction in terms of the severity of the offense? It would seem, based on the escalation of judgment for murder all the way up to burning in hell for calling someone a fool…is that logical? Does it make any sense at all? (pause)
But maybe that’s the point…because maybe sin doesn’t make any sense…but if we are trying to make heads or tails of it, let’s take just a look at the rest of the examples that Jesus offers us today. Come to terms with your accuser or risk jail. Don’t commit adultery…good at face value, but apparently a lingering look at someone is just as damaging…and divorce is bad all around, regardless of what the law has to say about it…and then he wraps up this part with making oaths and not sticking to them… (pause)
Now of course, there are some other statements in there too…but when it gets right down to it…isn’t each one of those situations telling of a relationship that is in the very least damaged…and in the extreme is utterly destroyed? It seems so…and if we get right down to brass-tax, it seems to me that this is what sin does. It damages relationships.
Can’t we boil it all down to that…sin hurts…and it doesn’t matter who is the recipient of it…it doesn’t matter who is on the receiving end…because in the end…sin destroys. God made paradise, and he put two people in it who existed in unbroken harmony both together and with God…and then sin destroyed that…and we are still living the very same situation now…with our actions, with our words, with our intentions…we are flawed and the result is fractures in the relationships we have with those around us…and whether we realize it or not with God.
The 10 commandments weren’t just a batch of rules handed down by some cosmic policeman, but they were instructions for how to honor God and those around us…to exist within good relationship…and humanity has broken them, over and over again…and this all serves to support the very same statement that I made last week…I may sound like a broken record, but the truth is that we can’t do it.
The righteousness…which is simply being “right with God” is not possible out of anything we do or don’t do…and no batch of rules to follow…procedures to go through when the commandments are broken are going to atone for that. Righteousness through works of the law does…not…work. (pause)
And so, once again, as we heard last week…Jesus came to fulfill the law on our behalf. We can’t do it…so through the life death and resurrection of Christ God does it for us….its done…completed…fulfilled…period.
And you know what, that’s good news…that while we were sinners Christ died for us…and because of this, even if we don’t understand how or why…its done…and we are able to live in the freedom that Christ has given us…freedom from having to accomplish enough, or avoid enough…freedom to be back in relationship both with God and with each other.
But here’s the part where I get all Lutheran on you…and I throw out something that Martin Luther was found of saying. We are, at the same time, saints and sinners…we are forgiven of the sin that entangles us, and yet we are not perfect and we feel the effects of sin and brokenness…and of course, of broken relationship all the time.
Now maybe those of us sitting here in this room realize this…or maybe we don’t. Maybe we recognize that this is why we share in the brief order of confession and forgiveness every single week…because we need to continue to hear the words of forgiveness offered back to us…because even though we are saved…even though we are redeemed, we are still broken…and our relationships suffer…and being a follower of Christ does not excuse us from that…in fact it has the tendency make us more aware of it…and Jesus addresses that very thing today.
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 at the altar and god…first be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come and offer your gift.
Jesus wasn’t just talking to his Jewish audience who would go to the altar bearing a lamb to sacrifice…he was talking to us…knowing full well that we gather here in worship as forgiven people…and yet people who still harm one another…and as nice and civil as our congregation is…guess what people…we still hurt each other. I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it…and I’m pretty sure that I’ve done it.
The gospel might seem like a broken record at times, repeating itself over and over again. Maybe there are times when my sermons sound like the same thing…maybe there are times when the scripture seems to be saying the same thing…and you know…its probably true, because regardless of the changing circumstances, the gospel doesn’t change. While we were sinners, Christ died for us. (Pause) And now, even if we are forgiven of sin, we are still called to reconcile ourselves to one another when our brokenness rears up and harms another.
And you know…there’s actually an old custom that’s built into traditional liturgy…and while we don’t do it here overly often, its probably something we should do…its called the passing of the peace…or the sharing of the peace….and while in many places it has morphed into a chance to shake hands and say good morning to each other, it should actually look like what Jesus describes today. Being reconciled to those we have wronged.
And so now, rather than doing my normal wrap up of saying amen and walking out to sit down before the organ fires up with the hymn of the day, I’m going to invite you to rise… (let them stand up)
May the peace of the Lord we be with you (and also with you). Let us share a sign of God’s peace with one another.