Sermon: February 12, 2023

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“Murder—Adultery—Divorce—Oh My!”

21 “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.’ 22 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. 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. 25 “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. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 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. 30 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. 31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 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. 33 “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.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. Matthew 5:21-37

If you’ve been here over the past few weeks, you will remember that Jesus started out this sermon, or lecture, by blessing the poor—the hungry—the weak—those who mourn and those who are persecuted, and He was preaching to a cross section of society.
Last week He called His listeners the “Salt of the Earth” and the “Light of the World.” Remember? Lofty titles for some that were in attendance. And He thinks the same of us as well!

This week Jesus turns up the heat just a little—He ratchets up our responsibility. He had made His listeners comfortable, but with today’s message some may claim that He’s gone from preaching to meddling. He begins with, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago.” But then clarifies, “But I tell you.”

When Jesus said, “But I tell you,” He wasn’t doing away with the law or adding His own beliefs. We miss the intent of God’s Word when we read the rules for living without trying to understand why He made them. Far more than getting us to keep dos and don’ts, God wants to transform our hearts.

We are no longer bound in a literal sense to follow the many regulations of the Old Testament—Jesus fulfills them all in His perfect life of absolute obedience to the will of God.

He begins by telling us that not only shall we not murder, one of those top ten on the list of Moses; we shouldn’t even be angry with a brother or a sister.

Picking out a couple of the easier of the Ten Commandments, Jesus lovingly but firmly presses those who haven’t murdered anybody to ponder their hidden anger—which is a kind of killing of the other person. And killing yourself! Isn’t anger the toxicity that feels like it’s venting itself on the other guy or gal but only eats away at you?

Now, I am in no way an expert on rattlesnakes, but I read somewhere this week that if you corner a rattlesnake, and there again, not something I would recommend, the rattlesnake will bite itself. Essentially, the rattlesnake takes its own life. Anger turned inward.

I heard about a man with a terrible temper who played a round of golf with his pastor. After missing three straight putts on the edge of the cup the man exploded. “I missed!” he screamed. “How could I miss?” With that he heaved his putter into a nearby lake, kicked a wheel on the golf cart and hit a tree with his fist.

His pastor was shocked. “I have never seen such a terrible display of anger,” he said to the poor guy. “Don’t you know that God doesn’t like us when we are angry? You better watch out. I have heard that there are angels whose one assignment is to search out people who express their anger so ferociously and to send a lightening bolt from heaven to burn them to a crisp.”

The guy was embarrassed, and he behaved better for a few holes. But on the last three holes his putter failed him again. When the last putt veered off to the right just in front of the hole he went berserk. “How could I miss?” He broke his club across his knee and threw it as far as he could (this is starting to sound like one of my rounds of golf). He kicked up several large clumps of dirt on the edge of the green and once more duked it out with a tree. All of a sudden, the sky grew dark—there was a clap of thunder and an awesome burst of lightening—and the pastor was burned to a crisp! An eerie silence filled the golf course. All that could be heard was a voice from heaven: “I missed! How could I miss?”
If you were to ask the average American, “Have you ever murdered anyone they would emphatically say ‘No!’” But here is the shocker. Jesus would say, “Not so fast there grasshopper!” The Lord is showing us that murder is not only an act but is an attitude. In fact, before one becomes a murderer with the hands, he first becomes a murderer in the heart.

Jesus goes on to say that whoever says to a brother or sister, “You fool,” shall be guilty enough to go into a fiery hell. Haven’t we all been guilty of calling a newscaster, TV personality, or a sports player a fool?

He even says that if you bring an offering to the altar but have a problem with someone you need to first make amends and then come back to make your offering. He’s talking about reconciliation, not only to our brothers and sisters but to anyone we may have offended. (Wesley – Do No Harm)

Imagine this scenario:

You get up early Sunday morning.
Take your shower.
Put on your Sunday best.
Come to Church.
Park your car.
Walk inside.
Sit down and begin to focus on the Lord.
You sing the hymns.
You pray the prayers.
You start to listen to the Word of God.

But sometime during the service, someone flashes across your mind. It’s not just some nameless or faceless person. But it’s a face with a name. It’s either someone you have offended or someone who has offended you. The Lord brings that person to your attention. He pulls that face up on your memory screen. It becomes the screen saver of the monitor of your heart, and you can’t forget it. All of a sudden, worship goes out the door. Your focus is on that person—not on the worship service—not on God. This is exactly what Jesus is talking about!

Next, we are warned about the perils of adultery—another from the top ten of Moses. But even if we have lusted for another adultery has occurred. One of my seminary professors called this the Jimmy Carter syndrome. Do you remember his Playboy magazine interview when he was President?
Jesus was speaking figuratively, of course, when He talks of plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand. A significant application would be that of cutting off a close friendship that was leading to sin, or a loved vocation which was proving to be a source of temptation or a barrier between you and God.
Our law courts address themselves to the act—such as murder—which is the end of the process. Jesus seems to be concerned with the thought and the motives that begin the process.

Being divorced myself and being married to someone who is divorced I have always struggled a bit with the next part of Jesus’ sermon. But I believe that if Jesus were married to my ex-wife or after I was forced to deal with Connie’s ex-husband, I think He would say to us, “You’re good.” And in the words of Forest Gump, “That’s all I’m going to say about that.”

I think what Jesus wants us to understand is the seriousness of marriage. During His time and even yet today divorce was too easy, all the man needed to do was give his wife a certificate and send them on their way. I believe that Jesus is saying we shouldn’t want a divorce just because the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence. (The same cow fertilizing on this side of the fence is fertilizing on the other side of the fence as well)

I’ve never heard anyone say this in my pre-marital counseling but I have shared that I believe there are many folks today who go into their marriage with the idea of, “Well, if it doesn’t work out we can always get a divorce.”

Listen to how the Message Bible says it: “Remember the Scripture that says, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him do it legally, giving her divorce papers and her legal rights?’ Too many of you are using that as a cover for selfishness and whim, pretending to be righteous just because you are ‘legal.’ Please no more pretending.” And it goes on to say: “You can’t use legal cover to mask a moral failure.”

And finally, Jesus says we shouldn’t swear—not by heaven (the throne of God), or by earth (God’s footstool), or Jerusalem (God’s city), or our head—because we can’t make our hair white or black. Our “Yes” must be a yes and our “No” a no. To swear or make an oath is a token of the loss of truthfulness. If lying had not become a habit, there would be no need for an oath. We shouldn’t need to swear by an oath but simply tell the truth.

I heard about a preacher who concluded his sermon one Sunday by telling the congregation to read the 17th chapter of Mark before the next Sunday. The next Sunday he asked for a show of hands of all who read the 17th chapter of Mark and nearly every hand went up. The pastor then announced that there is no 17th chapter of Mark. We must not lie because our lies lead others to lie. Let your yes be a yes and your no a no!

Many believe that Jesus said these things knowing full well that no human being could ever do any of this—in order to show us what miserable, weak sinners we are—in order to rip out of our hands any presumption of righteousness and drive us into the hands of a loving and compassionate God. To help us understand the unimaginable love that God has for us!

If any thought, “Well, I may not be a saint, but I’ve never committed adultery,” then when this preacher Jesus get through with them—telling us that to even think impure thoughts is as bad as committing impure thoughts—well, we all look like sinners.

Most of us are content if we can just avoid bad things. But Jesus raises the bar. He demands that we attempt to make our feelings—our inward disposition—match His way.

Author Max Lucado has a friend named Buckner Fanning. Buckner was a marine in World War II and stationed in Nagasaki three weeks after the dropping of the atomic bomb. None of us can imagine the destruction that Buckner saw there but one day as he walked through the rubble, he found an oasis of grace. While patrolling the streets he came upon a sign that bore an English phrase: Methodist Church. He noted the location and resolved to return the next Sunday morning.

When he returned, he found fifteen or so Japanese setting up chairs and removing debris. When the uniformed American entered, they all stopped and turned.

Buckner only knew one word in Japanese = “Brother,” and he heard it that day. They welcomed him as a friend. They could have easily been angry with him—they could have wanted to kill him—instead they welcomed him to worship with them and shared Holy Communion with him.

God didn’t create us for sin but for salvation. We have been created for eternal communion with God. Jesus died to justify sinners to God—but He also died and lived—taught and acted in order to make us right with God once and for all.

Jesus, in this Sermon on the Mount invites us to imagine ourselves not only as victims of our passions and urges but rather as victors—with His help. By the loving grace of God, we can do better.

In our United Methodist Hymnal there is a hymn written in 1787 whose author is unknown. The first verse reads like the writer is speaking to God but the final four verses the tables are turned and God is speaking to His people. The last verse goes like this: “The soul that on Jesus still leans for repose, I will not, I will not desert to its foes; that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no, never, no never forsake.”

Thanks be to God!

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