Karen Hollis | February 12, 2023
Sermon on the Mount
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 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.
For the past few weeks we’ve been reading through what we call the Sermon on the Mount, beginning with the Beatitudes 2 weeks ago, salt and light last week, and today, Jesus’ own take on selections from the 10 commandments . . . which I trust has already caught your attention . . . we’re going to dig right in, but first let’s pray . . .
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be reflections of your word to us today, in Christ’s name we pray. Amen
I think Jesus is being hyperbolic. By exaggerating his point, he grabs people’s attention and hopefully gets them and gets us to think again about a set of rules (the 10 commandments) that were put in place long ago to shape human behaviour within challenging circumstances.
The stories of scripture and examples used in them are all included for a reason – biblical literature is well crafted. So the specific examples in this section are probably there because they were big issues at the time that obviously caused a lot of trauma and destabilized communities.
Jesus prefaces this section of his sermon with his teaching about salt and light, which we heard last week. He told us that we ARE salt and light . . . it’s not an aspiration, it is reality . . . and I invited us to think about this through the week in the context of our own lives. I invited us to think about the ways we interact with the world around us. As I’m sure we all know, with this gift from God comes great responsibility – we have the freedom to use it as we choose, and our choices matter, not just to us, but to those around us, to our community, and to the constantly unfolding kindom of God around us. I like using the word kin-dom rather than kingdom, because it’s about kin, it’s about all our relations, it’s about the love of God that supports our collective thriving, and the ways we engage with that love to make the kindom real for people.
When Jesus begins his ministry, he not only proclaims that God’s love is showing up in a new way and a new world is emerging out of that love . . . he teaches people what it takes to bring it to life and sustain it. In the words of one theologian, “Jesus preaches a love that asks for more than what some had come to understand of love - and of what we commonly understand of love today. To find peace in life that is full of oppressive forces, to learn how to live justly, and to live well together means practicing love that moves beyond following the laws and cultural norms of what is acceptable or even good.”1
Jesus learned from infancy what it meant to live the commandments God gave to Moses for the Israelites and their descendants. Amy Jill Levine notes that when Jesus becomes the teacher, he offers . . . “not the antithesis but the intensification” of common interpretations of the Torah.2 He not only affirms that the listed behaviours are problematic . . . he encourages those listening not focus in on behaviours themselves, but the dynamics inside of us that develop into action.
Jesus knows first-hand what it is to be human. He knows about powerful emotions, he knows about the complexity of family and community, he knows how difficult it can be to support one’s family, he knows the importance of healing and reconciliation for a people to thrive. He teaches through his words and actions how a healthy society grows out of individual contributions, like our individual choices, the development of our character, and our relationship with God. With God’s help, healthy communities begin with individuals, they begin with us. In this context, it’s interesting to me that Jesus spends so much time healing individuals. Among the many factors that motivate human behaviour, I think our brokenness is a major one and it’s largely unconscious. So what does Jesus do? He sits with people, he is present with them, he hears their stories, listens to their pain. Instead of using his finely tuned intuitive skills to just give people what they need, he asks, “what would you like me to do for you?” He gets them engaged in their own process of healing, and then transforms the source of their pain so they can live again. He does this, knowing that this person’s healing may indeed interrupt cycles of violence and support the healing of everyone in their sphere of influence. Wholeness supports the reconciliation and health of others. When Jesus preaches self-awareness and offers healing to crowds of people, he is offering resources needed to make the kindom a reality.
These gifts from Jesus don’t mean we aren’t going to feel or encounter challenging dynamics through the course of life. Jesus challenges his hearers to think about what response looks like in God’s kindom.
Perhaps the kindom of God is a place where when we are angry, we listen to what our anger is telling us . . . whether it is righteous or unrighteous. Perhaps in the kindom of God our emotions, our pain, our regrets are teachers.3 They teach us what is important to us and where we need healing.
I shared with some of you a few weeks ago that one of my ecumenical projects was to support the ministry of a Vineyard church in Vancouver. During our time there, James and I were able to participate in a curriculum created for churches, called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Before participating, I wouldn’t have drawn explicit connections between my spiritual and emotional health . . . but it quickly made a lot of sense. I would broadly define spirituality as one’s relationship with God. This is different from our ministries or serving in Christ’s name. Our ministries often flow out of our relationship with God, but the relationship itself is even more foundational to our lives. One example of emotionally healthy spirituality is acknowledging challenging feelings in us. When we acknowledge these feelings – with appropriate support and context – we also give God access to them . . . we give God’s love the ability to reach these places and offer healing and companionship. We proclaim that God initiates relationship, that God is always seeking us out . . . and our part is opening to that love and allowing it to work in us. Our work is individual, but I invite you to look around . . . we do it together. We walk this journey in service of our collective healing and in service of a world that is whole. Thanks be to God.
1 enfleshed, Feb 16, 2020
2 enfleshed, Feb 16, 2020
3 Enfleshed, Feb 16, 2020