“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 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.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. - Matthew 5:21-37
The Christian life, the life found in Jesus Christ is not about a grading system. It is not about waking up in the morning and saying to yourself, I am going to try really, really hard to be very, very good today. It is not about you supposing there is a set of standards that you need to meet in order to graduate. There isn’t a MCA test, or an ACT, to show your proficiency. Until we get that through our heads, all the talk we make of who is Christian, what is a Christian virtue, or how we can be better Christians is pointless. Because until those standards are wiped away. Until we are brought to our knees to find that the only standard we have is the one we murdered on a cross, but he rose from the grave, then all other parts of this Christian life are meaningless, because they don’t need Jesus in the end.
As a musician, I am always fascinated by what lies behind a piece of music. What is the story? What brought the songwriter to say things in that way? What portion of their life was this song written in that led to such despair or joy? I may be the only one but it causes me to dig deep. Songs are personal things, with more behind them than what we give them credit for.
I love The Frames. They’re a band from Ireland. The second most popular, I believe, behind U2 of course. Glen Hansard wrote a song called Fitzcarraldo that is based on a movie about a man who wished to pull a ship over a mountain. The idea of the impossible. And Glen writes this line:
Even the good stars can fall from grace and falter, lose their faith, and slide
But I can't get an ocean that's deep enough for my day...
Glen always wishes to struggle with the ugly side of humanity while trying to find some hope. Here speaking of how often we falter and fall and yet, he says of himself - There is not a body of water around deep enough for me to slide back into as that ship that is being pulled over a mountain. Something deeper than the outward things. Deeper than the things we can touch, but there being this weight to them. The weight of a soul. The weight of a story. The weight of the immensity of an ego, or the weight of sin. Something beyond just words or notes.
Gathered as one text, Moses in Deuteronomy, Paul to the Corinthians, and here Jesus continuing his sermon, we dig into that deepness. That weight of something beyond what we see - the fleshiness of things, the touchable, the cut and dry. That’s what we see, but Jesus takes us beyond what might be the substance to get to the nitty-gritty, what lies behind the surface, the story behind the song so to speak.
You have heard it said…
We always hear things said. We always want to stand up with whatever we are used to. We definitely don’t want to have anything added to our own expectations, but Jesus has no similar ideology.
You have heard it said – Do not murder, but I say to you if anyone is angry with their brother or sister shall be liable to judgement. No more black and white, but Christ digs into the deeper story. The fact that hate is the basis for murder should not come as a surprise, but Jesus wants to tell us that this hate, which may not lead to murder is sinful as well. Calling someone an idiot or moron and meaning it. The pride and self-centeredness that gets attached to that becomes the voiced belittling. Tearing someone down to raise ourselves up. Trampling upon them. Saying – I am better. I know better. I am at least not you.
Christ takes it further than a death and says it is attached to our worship. Having a grievance between siblings in Jesus, how can our worship be right? It’s the reason we share the peace before we have our offering in the liturgy. It forces you to be put into a position to look someone in the face that you are quarreling with, whom you will join at this table with, to hear of and receive the forgiveness of sins. It forces us to think that what we bring before us here are the gifts God has given us and the sin that we wish to give to Jesus.
You have heard it said – do not commit adultery, but I say to you that if lust dwells in your heart, then you have already done it. Sounds a little old fashioned. It gets a little personal. The depths of the heart. Not even actions. Thoughts. Not spoken. The fear though is the objectifying. It is the grass-is-always-greener syndrome. Always a better, more up-to-date version. Neglecting the one we already have.
This isn’t a place for what ifs, though. This isn’t a place for judgements of others actions or thinking you are better because you haven’t done this or that. It’s a place for us to realize the sinfulness of so many of our relationships. The fact that at the time these words were first spoken, husbands could decide they were displeased with their wives for one reason or another and give them a certificate that says – see ya. This calling out of Jesus explodes relationships. Saying that unless unfaithfulness is the reason, do not be unfaithful. Echoing Solomon in Proverbs – Rejoice in the wife of your youth, be exhilarated always by her love. Liberating women to give them equal footing amongst men. Giving more weight to the vows of marriage with the hopes that nothing would get in the way. Dredging the deepest places of the soul to shine a light on the reality that regardless of how we may think this doesn’t apply to us. It does. Not to give value to our judgements, but to drive us to the mercy of Christ. To the fountain and blessings of God that come through Jesus.
Because we have to remember at all times what I tried to have you see in last week’s text. All of this expansion of the commandments – anger/hate is murder, lust is adultery, make your yes, yes; and your no, no; is not to be left by themselves. It is a time to remember, I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Remember that? Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and Scribes, you will not see the Kingdom of God. Remember that? Do you remember what I said last week?
Jesus Christ is the place where hate goes to die. Where anger, whether justified or not is put to death. Where lust, where desire for what we don’t have, where our unjust relationships and our speckled past get executed in the death of Jesus. Because for every hateful thing we may say of someone, Jesus stands as one to acquit them. We call someone stupid and a moron, and Jesus says beloved Child of God. We devalue our relationships by thinking we deserve better or different, but Jesus says – you have me.
We spend so much of our time looking through the lens of what a Christian looks like, hoping to come up with something we measure up to, or box people in – into this Christian box. If you fall out of the box, well you must not be a Christian. Thinking the job is to stay in the box, when it’s not. Because the reality of our understanding as Lutherans of the Christian is that we hate the box. We want to get as far from the box as possible. Our humanity, the sinner in us, wants to not only avoid any sort of judgement on us, but wants to make sure that every superficial judgement that can be made of another is as plain as day. The sinner is always looking to save himself. To prop himself up. To always say I am better than…
Hate becoming the eruption of emotions in any way to demean another.
Lust becoming the eruption of desire to say that the gifts of God, even my beloved, are not good enough.
What it is that we hate of another is a sin for which Christ died. The unfaithfulness of our relationships becomes the place where Christ becomes faithful. No longer can we squeak by with – Well at least I never killed anyone. He wants us to see the enormity of the situation. The God’s-eye view of our broken mortality. And then to allow us to do what Luther said – If you are a preacher of Grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we have to sin. This life in not the dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says, we look for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
We like that sin boldly part, and we should. But Christ wants to blow up our sin, make it as big as possible so you can know how big he is. How deep our sin goes so we can know how deep he goes. How distasteful our lives can be to know the sweetness of life given to us in the sacraments. New birth in Christ, and new life in the supper.
Right now there are 2-3 of our young people begging for first communion, not being able to wait to taste the redemption and feast on the forgiveness. I keep telling them that it will come. Maundy Thursday. A time of ritual. Because ritual is important. Important to remember the importance of the sacrifice of Christ for you and the devouring he did of all your sin. Important enough to wait for.
The call is not to forget this work of Christ and how it pertains to our regular life. To know that our attempts to follow the commandments and word of God are not to make ourselves better or to show ourselves off, but to help turn people to the glory of God. To the glory of the cross. To give us the privilege to speak of how horrid our sin is, and how amazing our Savior is. You have heard it said do better, but I say to you – feast on Christ. Or else the journey becomes too long for your soul to handle. Too many requirements when Christ waits for you. Amen