A Sermon for Series A 6th Sunday after the Epiphany 2017 “What an awesome God we have”

Old Testament Lesson  Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Second Lesson  1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Gospel Lesson  Matthew 5:21-37

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the gospel lesson just read.  [Matt. 5:21-37]

Reflecting on these verses, Jerome, one of the early church fathers, said, “The law is summed up in the gospel.”  And certainly, when Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, he summarizes them all by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  The law is summed up in the gospel.

But why would Jesus select the particular commandments he does in the lesson today?  Why would he choose these laws, out of the ten, to use as examples of the gospel approach to ‘the Law’?  Was it simply by chance that he chose murder, adultery, divorce, and false witness to make his point; or was he teaching something specific?

Remember the context of these verses.  They come in the middle of Jesus’ great teaching we call the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus just finished telling the crowd that because they were ‘in him’, ‘in Christ,’ they’d be blessed to be in the kingdom of heaven.  They’d be comforted.  They’d inherit the earth. They’d be satisfied with righteousness and they’d receive mercy.  They’d see God and be called sons of God.  And he told them they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  What an awesome God we have.

Next he teaches them the gospel response to “You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not divorce; and you shall not swear falsely.  What a strange Segway from one part of the sermon to the next; from heaping blessing upon blessing, to a lecture on these heinous sins. What’s going on?  It’s not like Jesus to be so random, or to switch his focus so abruptly.  So it’s worth considering what might be going on here.

In his introduction to this teaching, our Lord and Savior, Jesus; our protector and defender, speaks to us with a true sense of urgency.  He says: “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.”

We interpret the old Law so simply, so narrowly, but that’s not what God ever intended us, his children, to do.  So, Jesus lets us know his full intention; and quickly, because he knows his days are numbered.

He laid down the Law at Sinai; but even though he told his people not to murder, they killed the prophets who spoke truth to a people that didn’t want to hear it.  And he knew, soon, they’d be doing the same to him.

Their anger will lead to murder.  Their hateful thoughts will become hateful deeds and their anger, their hate, their mockery, will bring Jesus to the cross.  His message to the crowds that day, and to you and me today, is to repent of our anger before it gets the best of us.  Repent, walk the other way, and reconcile with God and with one another.

But if the crowds, and us, are to repent, to reconcile with our brothers and sisters, we must first return to God.  When we sin, when we reject God’s will in favor of our own, are we not lusting after those things we desire?  Are we not committing adultery, leaving our relationship with God to establish a relationship with another?

Just as we’re to remain faithful to our wives and husbands, so we’re to remain faithful to God.  When what we see with our eye leads us to contemplate things that we know are wrong, to desire to hold what we know is not ours to hold; it doesn’t take long for us to act on those thoughts and, with our hand, to grab hold of that which is forbidden.

No wonder our Lord says, “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.  

And finally, because we have returned to God, we live a new life; and Christ tells us, and the crowds, what it means to live ‘in Christ.’  Whereas Israel had paid lip service to God, telling the world that they were God’s people while they were really worshipping false gods, and sacrificing to those gods; they were living a lie.  Not only did they swear falsely in God’s name, saying they belonged to him; their very lives were a testimony of false witness.  They were living a lie.

Israel had rejected the true God, and now, even as Jesus spoke to the crowd, the leaders of Israel rejected him, finding no need to listen to his warnings, his teachings.  They lived the lie of self-justification, being self-righteous and finding no use for God’s merciful salvation.

We do the same when we do righteous works in order to show God our worthiness; when we follow our own will instead of his will, because we’re sure our works are so wonderful they’ll please him, maybe even give us special standing with him; and when we do this, we live a lie.

Thanks be to God that he’s steadfast in his love for us.  His mercy endures forever.  His Holy Spirit dwells in us despite our sinning, despite our frequent ‘living lies;’ despite the fact that people see those lies; and those lies damage God’s reputation in the world.

The Spirit works again and again to bring us from sin to repentance, every time that we sin; and through the Spirit’s work, we receive the forgiveness that’s waiting for us, the abundant, never ending mercy of God who gives us his law to teach us how to please him and to bring his law to fulfillment through the gospel.

What an awesome God we have.  He forbids our anger toward our brothers and sisters, knowing that our unrighteous anger would injure them; and yet in his righteous anger toward our sin, he injures his Son; he sacrifices his Son, pouring out his wrath on him, not us.

What an awesome God we have.  He forbids us to have other gods; he forbids us to commit adultery, and he forbids us to lust; but when we let our eyes close to him and we look at whatever our thoughts desire, committing adultery against him, he doesn’t sever our relationship.  He remains married to us; despite our unfaithfulness to him.  He remains our God.

What an awesome God we have.  He insists we live authentic lives, true to him; honest lives that shine his light into the world, that give the world flavor like salt; but when we stumble he doesn’t punish us.  He forgives us for the sake of his Son, he heals us with his own body and blood, and he reminds us that we’re his own.  What an awesome God we have.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle