February 16, 2014 - Matthew 5.21-37

Yes…But, part 1

Matthew 5:21-37

February 16, 2014

 

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.’ 22But 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. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come 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. 26Truly 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.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If 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. 30And 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.’ 32But 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.’ 34But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

 

They make it look so easy, don’t they?  I am referring to the athletes at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  They twist, spin, skate, ski, fly and shoot with such mastery that they make it look easy.  And it is easy – until you try it for yourself and end up flat on your face.  It is not easy, but with sufficient practice, it can look that way.

There is another group of people that make it look easy.  But these are not athletes to which I am referring.  There are two kinds of Christians that make living as a Christian look easy.  The first type is like an Olympic level athlete.  Through years of diligent practice and training, prayer and study and living a life of love, these Christians make following Christ look easy.  And our lives are better for their presence with us.

Then there is the other group.  They don’t make it look easy by what they do they just talk about it like its easy so much that everyone gets the impression that its easy.  Following Jesus: There’s no easy button for that.  These people that do this – that try to make following Jesus easy when it’s not - are called “church folk.”  Sometimes they look a lot like me, or maybe you.  I think we are all guilty of it from time to time.  We know better and we ought to be honest.

We have a tendancy to forget what we are called to do, how we are called to live.  Ray Stevens once asked the question in a song:

Woke up this morning turned on the TV set.
This man was preaching at me, layin’ on the charm,
Selling me salvation while they sang “Amazing Grace,”
Asking me for money, when he had all the signs of wealth,
I almost wrote a check out, yeah, then I asked myself,
If he came back tomorrow, well there’s something I’d like to know.
Could you tell me, would Jesus wear a Rolex on his television show?[1]

 

Everyone would follow Jesus if we all got a Rolex for doing it.  But that is not what this following Jesus thing is about.  In fact, following Jesus is about the most extreme thing a person can do. 

I was watching the athletes yesterday performing in events that used to be called “Extreme” sports.  Then I went to the grocery store and saw several bags of chips with “Extreme” flavor.  Then I went to a taco place and got some “extreme tacos” in their drive through.  Then I went home and had some extreme discomfort in my belly and spent an extremely long time in the bathroom regretting my decision.  Extreme is a really marketable term in our culture today.   SO WHY IN THE WORLD ARE CHURCHES WATERING DOWN THE GOSPEL IN ORDER TO MAKE IT MORE MARKETABLE?  Following Jesus is the most extreme adrenaline rush you can get.  I mean really following Jesus and loving the unloved and befriending the friendless.  We are called to an extreme thing folks.

It is not easier to be a Christian in this world.  But it is better.  Our lives are better.  Not even mentioning the whole “eternal life” part of it, which is a real benefit, our lives become filled with love and joy – if we don’t try and find a short cut.

You may have heard it said, “Christianity makes sense. Your life will go better if you sign on with Jesus.” But I say to you that if you listen to Jesus, try to take his demands seriously, then you may find that he complexifies and complicates your life. Take today’s gospel for instance.

Just as Moses had to go up a mountain to receive the commands of God, so Jesus ascends a mountain to give new commandments of God. And the thing that impresses us in listening to Jesus’ words here in chapter 5 is that they are new. 

The righteousness that Jesus teaches may not be so “new.” It is the Mosaic righteousness intensified and underscored, in which Jesus again and again repeats some stricture from the Mosaic law, already tough enough to fulfill as it is, and intensifies it, makes it even more demanding.

The righteousness commended by Jesus is more than just conventional common sense. Common wisdom is insufficient to comprehend the higher, more demanding way of Jesus. Jesus’ teaching overturns our commonly held notions of what’s right and what’s wrong, calling us to a more demanding way, a way closer to the will of God.

Presumably, many of the people who heard Jesus’ sermon that day thought they were righteous and good – until they heard Jesus speak about righteousness and goodness! So much of our lives is based upon the illusion that we are in control of our lives, that we have things well in hand – until some mystery intrudes into our lives and we are forced to see the true insecurity of our lives.[2]
 

We are all taught stuff.  What stuff are you being taught?  Who teaches you? Whose disciple are you? Honestly. One thing is sure: You are somebody’s disciple. There are not exceptions to this rule, for human beings are just the kind of creatures that have to learn and keep learning from others how to live. Aristotle remarked that we owe more to our teachers than to our parents, for though our parents gave us life, our teachers taught us the good life.[3]

 

Though Jesus is connected to what has gone before, Jesus is clear that his teaching is also in tension, even in conflict with, the inherited morality of Torah. Jesus’ repeated antitheses: “You have heard that it was said . . .but I say to you . . . ” underscore that Jesus is teaching a new kind of righteousness.

You have heard it said, “It’s important to try to be compassionate and caring toward those in need, but sometimes you have to be realistic and simply go along to get along.” But I say to you that Jesus, judged from his comments in this sermon, appears to have little interest in “realism” and none in “just getting along.” Not returning evil for evil, as Jesus clearly teaches, is not very “realistic.”

You have heard it said, “Violence is wrong unless it is used in self-defense.” But I say to you that Jesus appears to advocate some higher value even than self-defense, judged by his comments in this sermon.

You have heard it said, “Religion is fine, as long as you don’t take it to the extreme, as long as you are not a fanatic.” But I say to you that the way of life Jesus appears straightforwardly to advocate in this sermon seems, well, downright “extreme.” How many ordinary folk have you known who are willing to obey Jesus in all that he demands here in this sermon?

You have heard it said that people respond best to positive messages and sermons that are affirming and supportive of them. But I say to you that in this sermon Jesus appears to attack some of our most widely affirmed practices. His intent seems to be to make us downright uncomfortable, if not angry!

You have heard it said that the main thing you ought to ask in coming to church is, “What are my deepest needs that I need met?” But I say to you in this sermon that Jesus appears not to give a rip about our needs. In fact, I daresay that if you really took seriously what Jesus demands in this part of his sermon, you would leave church with more needs than when you arrived!

You have heard it said, “The purpose of a sermon is to help make religion rational to thinking people, to present Jesus in such a way that people will see that he is the answer to their questions and the solution to their problems.” But I say to you that this Sunday Jesus seems to want to provoke even more questions and instigate even more problems.

I expect that many of us didn’t have a problem with Jesus until we came to church this morning and heard Jesus preach, “You have heard it said . . . but I say to you . . . ”

Following Jesus does not make your life easier.  But it does make it better, deeper, fuller and filled.  I would love to promise that you will be happy all the time.  But I can’t do that.  Oh, you will be happy.  But if you take Jesus seriously, if you are willing to live the extreme life of love that Jesus calls us to, some things are going to bother you.

Seeing hungry people going without food is going to bother you and it will mess up your day.  You won’t be happy about that.

Seeing homeless people going without shelter is going to bother you and it will mess up your day.  You won’t be happy about that.

Seeing sick people going without medical care is going to bother you and it will mess up your day.  You won’t be happy about that.

Seeing lost people going without someone to share the gospel with them is going to bother you and it will mess up your day.  You won’t be happy about that.

Seeing oppressed people, unloved people and people pushed to the edge of society so they are treated like garbage is going to bother you and it will mess up your day.  You won’t be happy about any of that.  (Don’t tell me that seeing other people’s sin bothers you, because unless you have taken care of all your own, don’t be forming an opinion about someone else’s sin.)

None of us should ever be happy while we see these things.  Jesus calls us to get out of our comfort zone and do something.  Our Lord asks but two things of us: Love for God and for our neighbor. We cannot ever really know whether we love God but there can be no doubt about whether we love our neighbor or not.[4] 

One of the great big problems we have as the church – and one of the reasons we are so quickly dismissed by our culture – is that we are often known more for what we are against rather than what we are for.  We need to reverse that.  I hope that our church specifically will be the kind of people that are known for what – no, WHO – we are for rather than against.

The world is overcome not through destruction, but through reconciliation. Not ideals, nor programs, nor conscience, nor duty, nor responsibility, nor virtue, but only God’s perfect love can encounter reality and overcome it. Nor is it some universal idea of love, but rather the love of God in Jesus Christ, a love genuinely lived, that does this.[5]
 

 

[1] Excerpts from “Would Jesus Wear a Rolex” by Ray Stevens

[2] Will Willimon, Pulpit Resource, February 16, 2014.

[3] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God

[4] Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle

[5] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Meditations on the Cross

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