The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany; Year A (2/16/2014)

Texts:Deuteronomy 30:15-20 or Sirach 15:15-20 Psalm 119:1-8 (1) 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 St. Matthew 5:21-37

Prayer of the Day
: O God, strength of all who hope in you, because we are weak mortals we accomplish nothing good without you. Help us to see and understand the things we ought to do, and give us grace and power to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

5:21 [Jesus said,] “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 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. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 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. 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.’ 28 But 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. 30 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.

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 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.

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.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 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 one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

St. Matthew 5:21-37 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

You Have Heard It Said

In this section of the “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus speaks out against displays of anger, insulting speech and name-calling.

Clearly he never had access to the internet.

He goes on to warn against lust, divorce and oaths. These are hard words for believers. Honestly: they are even harder words for preachers. It is well documented that preachers find these words challenging because there are members of our own congregations who have signed divorce decrees for grounds other than unchastity. (And who wants to make them feel even worse about the pain they have experienced — or are experiencing?) It is less well documented that preachers are intimidated because they have members who have displayed anger, have insulted others and called them names, have fallen to lustful thoughts and have made oaths that they shouldn’t have made. (“Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone…”)

From time to time I used to ask a friend of mine, a Pastor in Arizona, what he was preaching on. His stock answer was: “I’m preaching about sin… and I’m against it.” We get a pretty clear picture in this text of some of the things Jesus is against. We also get a pretty clear picture in this text of some of the things Jesus promotes.

Before making our gift at the altar (hoping to please God), Jesus instructs us to be reconciled with the one we have offended (which is more likely to please God). And when we are speaking, no matter how adamant we are, remember that plain, honest speech will serve us and our community far better than extravagant claims backed up with passionate oaths.

What would it be like to live in a context where a commitment to reconciliation and plain, honest speech were the hallmarks of a shared vision for a life together in community?

In this week’s Gospel lesson, Jesus is speaking out in opposition to a legalistic understanding of God’s role in our lives. There were those in his day who knew that God had established laws against such acts as murder and adultery, divorce and false witness. Yet they created loopholes (see St. Mark 19:7-8) and clever interpretations that prevented these laws from laying hold of their hearts and calling them into new life.

Jesus has higher hopes for us than that. He envisions a world where enemies don’t stay enemies, but seek common ground and work together for the good of all. He envisions a world where marriages are strong and families are secure, allowing adults and children to live in peace and joy. He invites us to inhabit this world together. He invites us to be blessed by these signs of his kingdom breaking into this world.

Of course, he has no illusions that we will always get it right. For that he is willing to suffer and die, so that we might be reconciled to God. But in this word, he commends a better way of life to us. A way of life in which we become God’s blessing to one another. A way of life in which God’s design becomes our reality. How will we live this out together?

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How does St. Matthew 19:7-8 help us better understand these words of Jesus?
  2. Why does Jesus seem to promote reconciliation above (or before) generosity?
  3. Of what value was a stable family life in the first century world?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I received the gift of reconciliation (forgiveness) from someone?
  2. When have I felt comforted and strengthened by the life I share with my family?
  3. How might I promote these values with my words and actions?