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Epiphany 6A Sermon
Matthew 5:21-37;
refer to Deuteronomy 30:15-20
February
16, 2020

 

Sermon Archives
 

 

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Matthew 5:21-37

‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; 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.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Our first reading is an excerpt from the end of the book of Deuteronomy – commonly regarded as the farewell speech from Moses to the Israelites before he dies and they enter the Promised Land; Our Gospel is another excerpt from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount at the beginning of his life and ministry. Both Moses and Jesus are basically encouraging us to do the same thing: to Choose life, and to walk in God’s ways. Sounds easy, but as you heard Jesus’ words, it really isn’t. Speaking personally, I am trying to choose life, to walk with God in all things and honestly, sometimes I am successful at it, and sometimes I am not. I suspect that you could say the exact same thing.

Right now I am a bit obsessed with the idea of walking. Most of you know that I am in the beginning stage of training to walk a half-marathon in the fall. As part of that I am walking at least an hour a day – going between three and a quarter and three and a third miles each time – and doing this 6 days a week. I have discovered that I do need to give my aging muscles at least one day a week to recover. By my calculations I have walked a little over a hundred miles since January 6 when I started. When the weather starts to warm up, I plan to add more opportunities to walk outside in addition to the treadmill at the gym – even walking to and from the church occasionally. I have never been a runner, but I can walk with the best of them.

When I noticed the word, “walk” twice in our scripture for this morning – once in the passage from Deuteronomy as an illustration for choosing life and being blessed, and once in the Psalm where a life of following God’s commandments is likened to a life of walking in God’s ways – I immediately started thinking about this new addition to my lifestyle for the last month and a half or so. There are obvious ways to think about walking with God as an illustration of the Christian life, and even though Jesus doesn’t mention the word, “walk” specifically, I truly believe that this is what he is calling all of us to in his challenging sermon this morning.

I mentioned at the beginning that we can all claim that we are trying to choose life and walk with God to some success or another. I may have misled you a little with that statement, because even though I may do better or worse at choosing life with my thoughts, words and deeds, the gift and promise that makes it all possible is the presence and availability of God to walk with us in the first place. Thanks to God’s presence beginning at my baptism and at every step I take, I know that I am always walking with God. I could never count each step or judge which one was straighter, truer, better or worse than any other, but the presence of Jesus in my life is what blesses those steps – those thoughts, words and deeds – and uses all of them to love, encourage, and even correct me in my life’s walk.

Jesus’ surprisingly challenging words in our Gospel reading catch our attention with their hyperbole; lest we think that he is calling us to a life of free license to do away with the law, Jesus is intensifying the law’s effects upon our lives as children of God. He is inviting us to see the law in a new way. It is not a list of rules to be followed in order to be blessed. None of us can do this perfectly, and the first question that we have is, “just how far can I go to get away with still following this commandment?” I have never murdered anyone in my life, so I must be perfect in my adherence to the fifth commandment. I have, though, called someone a fool … or as Martin Luther puts it, I have endangered and harmed my neighbors in many ways, and even worse, I have not always helped and supported them in all of life’s needs! I have never committed adultery, but I fear that all of us could join Jimmy Carter in confessing that some people have caught our attention in a way that has created lust in our hearts! On the surface Jesus’ warnings that there just are no loopholes in the law can seem to us to be overwhelming – that we have no hope to be loved or forgiven by God.

But I truly believe that instead of dashing our hopes by focusing on all of the ways that we misstep in our walks with God, Jesus is calling us to focus on the abiding Godly values that these commandments communicate to us. We are reminded that our neighbors bear the image of God just as each of us do – seeing and treating them as such is the first step in choosing life and walking with God. It is our response which, when we get down to it, is committing ourselves to the transformative power of God’s laws and commandments in our lives. Jesus wants us to view God’s decrees, statutes and commandments from a deeper perspective of a foundation upon which God teaches us how to love ourselves, our neighbors, and God with our whole hearts, souls, minds and strength.

This is why we begin most of our worship services with confession and forgiveness – so that we can lift those times when we chose death instead of life up to God in confidence that it is forgiven and in hopes that being forgiven, we are changed. We don’t list individual sins during this time, even though you may silently lift those to God during that 30 seconds or so of silence that we have to do that. Rather, it is a prayer for God to heal the sinfulness that is at the root of our selfish thoughts, words and deeds, so that our walk with God may be more joyful and loving.

That is also why right before the offering is collected in worship we pass the peace! Jesus commands that before you leave your offering at the altar, you be reconciled to your brother and sister. What better way of doing this than with a handshake – or a virtual handshake if you are concerned about the flu spreading – or a hug or a peace sign with the words, “The peace of the Lord be with you!” I have been in congregations where the passing of the peace lasts five minutes or so. In light of Jesus’ words, I wonder if those are friendly churches, or if there is a lot of reconciling that is going on there!!! Maybe a little of both.

As we prepare to walk out the doors of this building, I encourage you to acknowledge that you are walking with God; I also encourage you to remember the commandments as statements of God’s abiding presence and values for your life. Choose life … and when you don’t be reconciled to God and your neighbor. And above all, abide in the peace of Christ which sustains us wherever our walk takes us. Amen.