Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:21–37, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Jesus is preaching. He has a lot to say. And what we hear him say is not always easy to hear. We'd rather Jesus be "Jesus meek and mild" rather than Jesus confronting our sin. Here we have it, Jesus speaking clearly and straightforward about what we are to do and not do. It comes as a part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Last week we heard how it opened. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are you. Jesus is describing the life of faith. Those who have a relationship to God through faith in Jesus Christ are indeed blessed. That compels us to live in a certain way. And that's what he's talking about here. He's pointing to the part of the commandments that describe our relationship to each other. He saying "since you have a relationship with God through the forgiveness of sins, the First Commandment is set in place, so live out your life keeping the others." Sometimes we Lutherans get the idea that God doesn't care if we keep the Commandments are not. Jesus is very clear. Because of all that he has done for us, his life, death, and resurrection, we are to keep the Commandments. And more than that, it's not a matter of keeping them on the outside, for the sake of those who see us, but we are to keep the commandments in the heart.
According to Jesus, murder is more than just causing the death of another person. It is murder to insult someone. The commandment is broken in the heart, long before blood is actually shed. You are to have a relationship with other people that does not cause them pain. If you live your life respecting other people, as the commandment calls for, your relationships will be so much better. The idea of not letting the sun go down on your anger is not only good advice, but it's living according to the commandment. Your sins have been forgiven. That forgiveness should flow out to the people around you. Do not hurt or harm your neighbor in his body but help and support him in every physical need. That's Luther's description of what Jesus is saying here. You are a blood bought child of God. You have a responsibility to live according to God's commandments. That responsibility means to live in a way that is respectful to your neighbor and doesn't cause him harm. So important are your relationships with other people, that when they are broken, when you are in conflict with other people, your relationship with God is affected. Don't pretend that your relationship with God is not affected, if your relationship with your brother isn't set straight. Make every attempt to reconcile yourself to your brothers and sisters.
It is also important, according to Jesus, that we keep our relationships between men and women in proper perspective. Breaking the commandment on adultery is also done long before physical contact. Jesus said that the sin that begins in the heart is acted out in the eye and hand. The danger is there long before. In fact, it is not your eye or your hand that causes you to sin, but your heart. Plucking out your eye or removing your hand won't prevent sin. If you could remove sin that easily it would be best to walk around without a hand or an eye and avoid sin. But you are to be that serious about sexual sin. You are a blood bought child of God. You have a responsibility to live according to God's commandments. That responsibility means to live in a way that doesn't turn other people into objects of lustful desire.
Marriage between a man and a woman is entirely sacred, according to God. It is a holy estate. From the very beginning God made man and woman to be joined together for a lifetime. The purpose is companionship and the extending of God's kingdom through children. Husband and wife are to bring their children up in the way of the Lord. They are to teach their children the Commandments. And encourage them to follow. Divorce is nothing other than the breaking apart what God intended to be permanent. A man and woman locked together for a lifetime. A man locked together with a woman watching out for her best interest with everything he has. A woman locked together with a man watching out for his best interest with everything she has. A man and a woman raising children, watching out for their children's best interest with everything they have. There is nothing in divorce that promotes a man's best interest or woman's or a child's. Divorce is always against God's will for people. You are a blood bought child of God. You have a responsibility to live according to God's commandments. That means supporting families in such a way that divorce is unthinkable. So says Jesus.
These are things we would rather not hear Jesus say. We like our sin. We like our flexible morality. Maybe you have heard your hearts say things like this: God forgives me so I can diss my neighbor. My neighbor is such a jerk God doesn't mean I have to reconcile myself to him, surely. That guy doesn't care about anyone but himself, he doesn't deserve forgiveness. God forgives me so my roving eye is just an appreciation of the female form. Besides if men wouldn't dress that way, women wouldn't look at them that way. No one is really hurt by those pictures in the magazine. The models are willing. They make a good living. God wants me to be happy. And I can't be happy unless I get my divorce. These are all lies from the chief liar. Sin begins in the heart. It's in my heart. It's in your heart. It makes it impossible to live the way that God requires. And Jesus makes no bones about it. It is sin in the heart that is deserving of hell.
And so just as Jesus instructs us on what to do, the law accuses us. Whenever we hear the law we see how woefully short we fall. Whenever we hear the law we see God's demand for perfection. When we seek God's demand for perfection we see only the punishment that we deserve. You and I deserve eternal punishment in hell for our sin. It is a breaking of the Commandments. Not just any one particular commandment, but all of them. Commandments 2 through 10 are seated in the 1st. We do not treat our neighbors as Jesus would have us do because we do not love the Lord our God with all our heart or soul or mind.
But, believe it or not, there is good news in Jesus demands. When the law is set before our hearts and we see our sin, when we have nowhere else to turn, there's only Jesus left. When the burden of sin comes down on us we crawl to the cross holdout our hands and ask Jesus to take it from us. This is faith. This is repentance. Seeing sin and knowing where to take our sin. Seeing sin and clinging to Jesus on the cross for our forgiveness. Jesus describes the things that we should do. We see that he is the one who did them perfectly. On the cross Jesus gladly takes our sin. And from the cross we receive his perfect life. It is an exchange that is given to us by God's declaration of forgiveness. Our punishment is satisfied. And our good works come from the life of Jesus. So the things we should not have done are forgotten in the cross. And the things we should do are remembered in the life of Jesus.
And so the demands that Jesus makes in the law are our joy to accomplish. When we are angry with our neighbor, we remember God's anger over our sin was hung on Jesus on the cross. When we are reluctant to reconcile with our neighbor we remember God's reconciliation of us through Jesus on the cross. When our eyes see the things which turn our hearts away from God, we remember Jesus was forsaken by God for us on the cross. We turn our hearts back toward God because of Jesus. When the world tells us divorce is a good solution, we remember our relationship to God has been restored by Jesus on the cross. And we can faithfully and strongly proclaim God's plan for sexuality and marriage. The power to do these things does not come from our hearts. The power to do these things does not come from the proclamation of the law. Instead, it is the gospel, the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus Christ, that drives us to do all that Jesus commands. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.