Divorce, Anger, Lust, and Fake News

Epiphany 6A – Divorce, Anger, Lust, and Fake News

February 12, 2017

Matthew 5:21-37

 

This is what I want you to hear this morning:

We are God’s people because God says so.

Period.

 

This is a tough gospel reading because I think many of us

May hear some ‘trigger’ words in it:

Divorce, lust, anger, swearing

 

And then when Jesus talks about the ‘hell of fire;’

and tearing an eye out,

it gets rather uncomfortable.

 

So hear it again:

We are God’s people because God says so.

Period.

 

So how do we make sense of this passage

(and more of the same that we’ll hear next week)?

One of my pastor colleagues said this week

That in passages like this, he privately sometimes thinks that Matthew (the gospel writer) actually believed we are saved by works – by following the commandments – and not by grace.

 

So I’ll share a third time what another colleague shared:

We are God’s people because God says so.

Period.

 

Nothing will take away from that.

Not divorce, not lust, not anger, not swearing.

 

And yet…and yet…Jesus seems to know that there are certain ways of living,

that are more helpful than others;

that are more loving than others.

We’re not at risk of losing our salvation,

or God’s connection with us if we don’t follow them.

But we are at risk of not living into who we are called to be

and our connection with God, when we don’t follow them.

 

Jesus has called us into relationship with him

And relationship with each other.

When we don’t follow the instructions he gives us for example here in Matthew,

We harm those relationships.

That’s what Jesus is concerned about.

He’s not worried about us in isolation….

He’s worried about us and our role in the world.

 

I don’t know how many of you follow the NY Times best seller lists..

It seems that at least one or two self-help books are always

in the top ten nonfiction best-seller lists…

 

A popular one from a few years ago was called “Your Best Life Now.”

Self-improvement is not all that biblical, though.

A book more in line with biblical teaching would more likely be called,

“Your Neighbor’s Best Life Now.”[i]

 

The commandments – the 613 in the Old Testament

and the ones that Jesus expands upon here in the Sermon on the Mount

are ways of living that help us live in community

and seek “Your Neighbor’s Best Life Now.”

 

The commandments are given as a gift.

Jews clearly undersand the commandments as gifts not burdens.

When a  Jewish teenager turns 13 and has a bar or bat mitzvah

there is a big celebration

Because they’re now old enough to follow the commandments –

To know the joy  in living as God intends.

 

Sure, in the end we know we cannot and we will not do all of what God would like of us –

Nevertheless, We are God’s people because God says so.

Period.

 

So back to these 4 commandments Jesus talks about.

 

First – anger.

Jesus reminds the crowd that one of the 10 Commandments is,

“You shall not murder…”

But then Jesus adds, but I say to you,

If you want to live well in community;

If you want “Your Neighbor’s best life now,”

Think about your anger.

Think about the grudges you hold.

 

Before you come to worship,

Before you show your piety by putting something in the offering plate,

Reconcile with the people you need to reconcile with.

 

In this digital age,

It’s easier than ever to hurt someone with our anger.

We hit reply without thinking;

Or post an insult on a FB page

Without really thinking about how that will be received on the other end.

 

Most of us are fragile human beings.

We get hurt – by comments or accusations.

Jesus reminds us – You shall not murder –

Things spoken or written in anger can kill.

They can kill literally as we know the stories of teens

Taking their lives as a result of online bullying.

But words of anger directed at a person can kill their spirit.

 

If we truly want ‘our neighbor’s best life now,’

We will find healthy ways to work with our anger;

And practice forgiveness.

 

Perhaps we will be surprised by joy in following the commandments.

 

The second one Jesus talks about in these verses is “You shall not commit adultery.”

And then Jesus says, but even if you look at someone with lust in your heart,

You have already committed adultery.

 

It doesn’t quite seem fair, right?

We can’t control feelings, we can’t make feelings…they just are.

 

But the book is not “Your Best Life Now,”

It’s “Your Neighbor’s Best Life Now.”

When men or women are seen as objects for our own gratification,

We’re really not seeking the best for them.

 

And there are times when we place ourselves in situations

that we could probably predict will make us crave, covet something for ourselves that isn’t ours –

lusting after things is more than after sex, of course.

 

CS Lewis once parodied this verse saying,

He that but looketh on a plate of ham and eggs to lust after it, 

hath already committed breakfast with it in his heart.

Maybe Jesus is calling us to make better choices on the places we go or the webpages we look at…

If not for the sake of ourselves, then for the sake of others.

 

And then Jesus talks about divorce.

The laws about divorce in the Old Testament are patriarchal – pure and simple.

A man could divorce his wife simply by writing on a piece of paper:

“I divorce her.”

 

In Deuteronomy we hear that a man can divorce his wife

Because he dislikes her…so he writes on a note “I divorce her”

And she is put away – utterly put away.

 

The woman has no options.

She can’t remarry.

She has no more dowry.

She’s consigned to a life of poverty depending on the kindness of her family who is not at all obligated to take her in again.

 

A friend of mine from the Middle East talked about places in which those rules are still practiced.

She said many women will never leave the house

Unless they are wearing all their jewelry – all the gold they can –

Because they know that upon a word from their husbands,

They can be divorced – sent away immediately – with only what they have on their backs.

 

When Jesus talks of divorce,

This is the kind of divorce he knows about.

And so he defends the woman – who is powerless –

And says ‘ no divorce’ – except for unchastity.

 

The word unchastity can mean many things.

Over the years, others have used this passage to say that no matter what –

Jesus forbids divorce.

 

But men and women in abusive relationships are not meant to be together.

It unfaithful – unchaste – for a man or woman to verbally or physical abuse another.

I have rejoiced at times when a partner has had the courage to ask for a divorce.

 

The commandments are meant to help us seek

‘our neighbor’s best life.’

 

The last commandment Jesus talks about in this passage is the 8th

You shall not bear false witness….fake news is in in the Bible!

And there’s a command against it.

 

But once again Jesus says,…yet there’s more…

I say to you, ‘be people of your word;

Have integrity in what you say;

Yes means yes and no means no.

 

 

Anger, divorce, lust, oaths….

Jesus says there is a way – a better way to live –

A better way to live with your neighbor.

 

Listen to these commandments not with guilt,

But with joy that Jesus cares about our life in community

And points us to ways of living that will bring joy not just to us – but to our neighbor as well.

 

And know, when you mess up,

You are still God’s beloved.

We are God’s people because God says so.

Period.

 

Amen.

[i] http://www.davidlose.net/2017/02/epiphany-6a-on-love-and-law/

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