Posts Tagged ‘wages of sin’

Are You Serious 2-16-14

Today’s sermon came from Matthew 5:21-37. This marks another continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. In this passage, which is admittedly a difficult teaching, I tackle the harsh reality of sin in our lives, and that the hope we find in Christ is knowing that, though the wages of sin is death, through Christ God creates new life out of death.

You can listen to the sermon here.

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
How many of you out there are the oldest sibling? (pause) Okay…who are the middle kids out there? (pause) Alright, and now who are the youngest in their families? (pause) Ok…now I know who I’m working with.
I’ve heard it said in many different situations, that the oldest kid always has it the hardest…that with each additional child the parents get a little more laid back…or perhaps they mellow out more…or maybe they are just that much more exhausted, and lack the energy to get too worked up over things.
Regardless of the cause…older siblings…would you agree that you had it the hardest in your family growing up? (pause) It’s probably true.  I, being the baby of my family, definitely reaped the benefits of the ground work laid down by my older brother and sister.  There is one particular story that my sister tells…constantly…that offers evidence to this notion. Now, I don’t remember this happening, but in my defense I was probably only about 3 when it happened…so I’ll give my sister the benefit of the doubt that it is a real story.  The three of us were in the back seat of the car…acting up as young kids tend to do. We were actually getting very close to being home…only about a quarter of a mile away from our driveway when the constant noise and ruckus got my dad to the breaking point, and he pulled the car over.
Now my sister swears up one side and down the other than both she and my brother got hauled out of the car for a spanking…and it certainly may have happened…when we earned it, we would get a swat, and I certainly earned my fair share of swats over the years…but this time around, allegedly I jumped over the seat crying to mom that I didn’t want to get a spanking…and ALLEGEDLY…according to my sister…I didn’t get one that day even though…ALLEGEDLY…I was the main instigator in all the back seat commotion.
Considering that I was too young to remember the incident in question, I guess we’ll never know if the punishment fit the crime…or as the case may be, if the lack of punishment was a great injustice.
But thinking along these lines brings us into the midst of our Gospel lesson for today. Jesus continues in his mountain top sermon…and if you were here last week, the gospel lesson ended with the statement “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Now certainly that particular statement must have come as a shock to those listening to Jesus that day. After all, the scribes and the Pharisees were the epitome of righteousness. They knew the law inside and out…backwards and forwards…if there was anyone who should be capable of righteousness through their actions, it’s the scribes and the Pharisees…but Jesus tells us that we’re supposed to top them if we want any chance of heaven.
I don’t know about you…but I hear that and I think to myself…WHAT?  REALLY?  Great…now how am I going to pull that off? (pause) Well, that’s where Jesus goes in today’s lesson. Many scholars call this particular portion of Matthew’s gospel the antithesis…because at face value…Jesus really seems like he’s raining down judgment…the very thing that we’ve grown accustomed to thinking Jesus was against.  Jesus is the expression of God’s love right? He came to save us because he loves us right?  So how can he be advocating for us to achieve our own righteousness? I don’t get it!!!
But that seems to be exactly what he’s saying here doesn’t it…and even stranger than that…is the unexpected progression between the sin and the punishment…did anyone notice that?
In the confirmation class, we spent the last several weeks discussing the 10 commandments…and a couple of weeks back…the students and the adults who were present got great joy in the fact that I had a momentary brain lapse and couldn’t remember that the fifth commandment is Thou shall not kill…I’ll admit it…I blanked…but I think we would all agree that murder is pretty major on the sin scale isn’t it? Even those who do not express belief in Christ or associate themselves with the teachings of the Bible would agree that murder is a huge moral no-no.
So perhaps its fitting that Jesus starts off this little rant with murder…You have heard it said in ancient times You shall not murder…and as I picture the scene I imagine all the people there hearing Jesus saying that…and nodding their heads…Yes Jesus, we know that…don’t murder…and Jesus continues that those who commit murder are liable to judgment…and we cue the nodding heads again. (pause)
Okay…so we’ve got murder…this morally reprehensible notion…and the punishment for it…well, we don’t really know…only that its judgment…Okay…so murder gets us judged. (pause) But now here’s where it gets a little coo-coo…Jesus says “But I tell you that if you are angry with a brother or sister you are liable to judgment.” WHAT!!!! Getting peeved with someone else earns us the same punishment as killing them? Really? REALLY? (pause) I’m guessing Jesus really has everyone’s attention at this point…because that can’t be right can it? Well, what else does he have to say?
Well, he says that anyone who goes as far as insulting another person is now liable to the council…not just that they’ll get judged, but they’ll be judged by the highest human authority in the Jewish culture…the religious council…well holy cow…this is starting to get serious…what else is he going to drop on us?
If you say you fool then you are liable to the fires of hell. ARE YOU SERIOUS!?! Calling someone foolish earns us a ticket to hell? Come on Jesus, I’m all for treating others as we wish to be treated but sometimes people are stupid…we can’t tell them that? (pause) Well, I guess not…but it makes me wonder…does the punishment really fit the crime?
Truly…this is a hard teaching…once again we see Jesus utterly turning reality on its ear…because everyone knew the law…just as we know the law today…and we do don’t we. We know what’s good to do and what isn’t…but just knowing the law isn’t good enough…and Jesus is showing us why in this passage…but he doesn’t limit it to murder and anger and insults.
Jesus goes on into some more detail, and then he tackles a subject that probably makes a squirm in our seats just a little bit…adultery…and all the different things that go into it. Because as we see…sin isn’t limited to the physical act is it?  We see that with Jesus words on anger and insults…and now we see it hear with how we look at another person…or how we think about another person…and jeepers, who didn’t get a little bit uncomfortable when Jesus told us that we should pluck out our eyes and throw them away if they make us sin.  This whole anti-sin thing is getting pretty serious isn’t it.
But Jesus goes on from there too and he starts hinting at something that hits close to home for a lot of people in today’s society…the issue of divorce…and when its okay…and when its not okay…and the consequences of it…and how the whole thing pretty much boils itself down to being right there on par with adultery itself…and we hear him talk about how divorce pretty much lends itself to breaking another one of the big 10.
And I’m guessing that doesn’t sit well with a lot of people…people in general and likely some of you sitting out there today…because the stats don’t lie. More than 50% of 1st marriages…divorce…more than 60% of second marriages…and the number keeps going up…and perhaps as you sit here in church…a place that is supposed to be open and welcoming…and non judgmental…and you hear Jesus himself say things like this…and you hear me talking about it pretty bluntly…and maybe it hurts…I’m guessing it does…and while I’m so very sorrow to be hammering on this point…I don’t deny that which Jesus is implying here…sin is painful…and the aspects of life that dable in and around sin are messy…and they hurt…and while I also believe that there are marriages out there that can and should end…and are likely the best thing in the world for everyone involved…that doesn’t make the notion of divorce a good thing. (pause)
And so let’s call it what it is…divorce is a death…it marks the death of a marriage…the death of a relationship…the death of a family as it once was…just as much as anger and insults mark the death of any relationship as it was before…the apostle Paul tells us in the book of Romans that the wages of sin is death…and it would seem here today, that Jesus agrees. (pause)
I stand up here before you today…saying these things…and hating the fact that I’m saying them…hating the pain that I might be causing some of you sitting out there today…and in all honesty hating the fact that the Bible even records these words of Jesus…the one who came to love us…and I find myself asking that same question Are You Serious?
And in the midst of asking that question I wonder where we find good news…where do we find the gospel in the midst of this passage that in the very least stings…and on the opposite end of the spectrum, I fear may cause some of you to walk out of worship not wanting to come back again. (pause) Where do we find the gospel in the midst of pain and death?
We find the gospel when we see Jesus hanging on the cross…and in the midst of his pain…and in the midst of his death he utters the words “Father Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And then he dies…but then three days later he comes back…we are people of the resurrection…because we believe that while sin and death are very real…and they are very painful…and they are a present reality…we also believe that sin and death doesn’t get the last word…God does…and God proclaims life…life found in the resurrection of Jesus…a resurrection that we share…because in our baptism we join with Jesus in a death like his and by doing so we also join together with him in a resurrection like his…and in the case of our lives…when we experience these painful realities…we must cling to the hope of the resurrection…that God can and does create new life out of death. (pause)
And so today…we do not deny the reality of sin in our reality, nor do we deny its reality within our own existence…rather, we embrace it…we admit to it…and then we turn our attention to the cross of Christ where he said IT IS FINISHED!!!! And we cling to the hope we find when that stone was rolled away and death lost it’s power over the world.  Let us cling to that today. Amen.