16 February 2014
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
West Walworth: Zion and East Rochester United Methodist Churches
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But 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. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come 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. Truly I tell 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 lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If 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. And 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.
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But 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.
“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.’ But I say to you, Do not swear 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 swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
Before diving in to the Gospel,
perhaps it would be good to orient ourselves.
Today is the third of four Sundays following the Epiphany
focused on the Sermon on the Mount
from the Gospel of Matthew.
The first Sunday was on the Beatitudes.
Beatitudes begin with Jesus teaching crowds on a hill
“Blessed are the …”
Beatitudes are lofty, wonderful, and generalized.
They are good news
to the poor,
and the mourning;
exactly the people in Jesus’ audience.
I think most of us can agree:
the blessings of Jesus are good.
Second was the message last Sunday about salt and light,
Jesus’ statement that he comes to fulfill the law and the prophets.
Be the light
through which the Gospel
- the Good News of Jesus Christ -
might shine upon the world.
Be the salt of the world
that gives flavor,
gives depth of meaning and understanding
to the grace of God.
Salt and light;
it’s a good meat and potatoes Gospel diet
that strengthens and encourages just about everyone.
What’s not to like?
Today is the first of the final two Sundays
on the Sermon on the Mount
that cover the antitheses of Jesus.
Antitheses is a literary term which means:
two opposites that are introduced in the same sentence for contrasting effect.
There are six antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount
following Jesus’ statement
that he comes
not to replace the law,
but to fulfill the law;
Six statements that begin: “You have heard that it was said,”
then each are advanced by Jesus saying, “But I say to you …”
This morning we cover four:
Anger, Adultery, Divorce, and Swearing an Oath.
Next Sunday we will finish with Jesus’ antitheses
about Retaliation and Love for Enemies.
Jesus is narrowing,
making his own mark
on the requirements of the law.
He is schinsing up the belt,
making the obligation
for righteous living more constrained
for those who would follow him.
If there was a feeling of liberal entitlement in the Beatitudes,
hearing Jesus say that he comes to fulfill the law
probably gave many in the crowd
a severe case of chest pains.
Anyone who suggest that
Jesus was more weighted to grace than law
is not well read in the Gospel of Matthew.
Like every Rabbi teaching in Jewish tradition
Jesus is instructing his disciples,
and those who might become his disciples,
in his interpretation of the law.
For a thousand years
Rabbis had been adding their interpretation
to the unchanging laws of Jewish tradition:
There are ten commandments.
In addition, there is the Lord’s command
to love God
and love your neighbor.
This makes 12 essential, foundational laws at the heart of Judaism,
the historical faith of Jesus
and all of us in the Judeo/Christian tradition.
The additional 613 laws found in Old Testament, Hebrew texts,
called the Mitzvot,
constitute Rabbinical contextual laws.
each from their unique school of thought,
and according to the Rabbis who taught them,
would interpret the 12 essential Jewish laws
in their own historical and cultural context,
thus creating new laws.
it says in Deuteronomy 22:29 that
“the rapist must marry his victim if she is unwed.”
This, obviously is a contextual law based on
“thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14)
In Leviticus 19:28 it says
“not to tattoo the skin.”
This is a contextual law based on Exodus 20:4-6,
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.”
I like to think that there are 613 ways to make
Biblical literalists crazy;
people who believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God.
Foundational laws were indisputable.
Contextual laws were open for interpretation at the time of Jesus
and this is exactly what Jesus was doing
in his Sermon on the Mount this morning.
By the way,
we’ve been creating contextual laws
based on foundational laws
ever since the time of Jesus.
You may be familiar with the Magna Carta?
or the U.S. Constitution?
I’ve brought you on this educational journey
through Hebrew tradition and law
for a purpose:
That is, to ask the question,
What are the principles at the center of the law?
When we see
There are other ways to view the law
we can join Jesus with
an invitation to reimagine what God can be.
fresh and energized.
At the core of the first antitheses
is the issue of unreconciled relationships.
Before you leave your gift at the altar,
or put your check in the plate,
go and reconcile your broken relationship with your sister or brother.
Come to terms with your accuser
before you get to court,
settle your differences,
stop your quarreling.
This is good advice
the Apostle Paul could use in his letters
to the church quarreling and at each other's throats in Corinth
and good advice
we can use to build our church stronger today.
There is the famous Jimmy Carter antitheses:
don’t look on another with lust.
Which is to say,
don’t objectify others,
don’t label others,
don’t treat other people as commodities to be traded
or opportunities for your own advancement.
Jesus is sticking his flag and claiming the moral high ground
when it comes to adultery and fidelity,
making the statement that
exploitation will not be tolerated and
the wellbeing of our neighbors is our responsibility.
Jesus has expectations for a life of integrity.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,
my mother was often to say.
Adulterous lifestyles destroy relationships, families, neighbors.
Swearing oaths complicates and obfuscates
what should be a
look in the eye,
a shake of a hand,
and a simple yes or no.
Word should mean word.
It appears to me
that Jesus believes
law gives a sense of identity and relationships.
We are called more than simply to follow Jesus.
We are called to behavior that glorifies God,
not that detracts from God.
If people look at us and scoff at our hypocrisy
then we haven’t been living up to
the law Jesus teaches here in his Sermon on the Mount.
This weakens the church and undermines Christ.
If people look upon our behavior and say,
“now there is a Christ like person”
then we are behaving in a way that is pleasing to our Lord.
Our behavior must be for the benefit of others.
It is about relationships.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
Jesus earlier proclaimed.
You’re dying of thirst.
You have to drink.
With equivalent passion
Jesus is calling us to be righteous towards others.
Righteousness begins with
Making peace with our neighbors.
It has been good for me to learn and experience
here in East Rochester
the liturgical tradition of passing the peace.
I'm aware of the history of passing the peace.
It is just that this is the first parish I've served
that actually practices this tradition every Sunday.
Passing the peace is all about making reconciliation with one another.
Passing the peace drains all the energy out of
the grudges we carry,
the hurts we stubbornly nurture,
the scores we hope one day to avenge.
Passing the peace
gives each of us the opportunity
to transform our words
into complete, and utter transformation.
Following Jesus means we live according to the way he interprets the law.
Following Jesus means we adjust our behavior accordingly and lead lives of Christian integrity.
Following Jesus means we are responsible for our neighbor,
whether we are angry with them,
hurt by them,
doing business with them,
or if we've married their son or daughter.
If our neighbor is hungry,
If they are in prison,
If they mourn,
If we are we have broken from our neighbor,
Love your neighbor.
Keep it simple.