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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Walking In Christ’s Ways

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany


“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.


“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.


“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.


“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.


“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.


“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 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 even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Matthew 5:21-37


In today’s Gospel lesson we heard Jesus say, “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”


In our scripture lesson, Jesus teaches on issues of forgiveness and reconciliation, genuine relationships between men and women, marriage, and solemn promises. In each case Jesus paints a picture of what a true community in God’s Kingdom looks like, in contrast to merely keeping the letter of the law.


First we’ll look at forgiveness and reconciliation.


The Law teaches that we should not commit murder. There’s nothing particularly pious or impressive about this commandment as most human societies advocate this value. It’s clearly a minimum standard for human communities. Clearly the killing of others is not a Christian virtue, but churches and communities that truly embody God’s Kingdom don’t stop at the abolition of murder. Jesus extends the commandment about murder to all breaking of relationships between people caused by anger or tensions. In fact, according to Jesus, it’s more important to work toward forgiveness and reconciliation than it is to offer gifts and sacrifices to God.


Churches and communities that embody love refuse to fracture due to a lack of forgiveness. They assume that the one who causes the division – not the victim – will begin the work of reconciliation. What a remarkable community that would be where members love each other enough to sense when they have caused tension or a broken relationship and then act to amend it. Mother Teresa’s advice to families echoes Jesus’ words: “We must make our homes centers of compassion and forgive endlessly.”


Next we’ll look at genuine relationships between men and women.


The battle between men and women has raged for time unknown. In the realm of sexuality, the modern Western world has found itself in endless cycles of innuendo and lust in its marketing, clothing, entertainment, and interpersonal relationships. Sex is everywhere!


Jesus’ words about adultery, and lust in one’s mind, have also driven some to live like monks and nuns to avoid sexual sin. But at its heart, Jesus is attempting to say something profoundly beautiful about the possibilities of relationships between men and women. His Church is to be less about serving as sexual watchdogs and more about promoting healthy relationships of mutual brotherly and sisterly love between members.


A Church of God’s vision is one in which men and women can mix without worrying about being turned into the object of someone’s lust. It must be a safe place for people who have been exploited sexually to come for healing and hope. It must be a place where both the beautiful and the scorned can interact and serve together, and where young men and women can learn of their value and worth apart from their sex appeal, or lack of it.


Marriage and divorce is the next topic.


Marriage has fallen on hard times in our world. Lifelong partnerships seem to be less and less common. More and more church members have experienced the pain of divorce in their own relationships, in those of their parents or children, or in those of close friends.


Jesus’ teaching on divorce is not to heap guilt on those who have suffered through one. Instead, He is lifting up healthy, committed marriages as elementary principles for His Body, the Church. The Church of God’s vision supports families and offers love and support to those broken by fractured relationships.


And then Jesus, in our Gospel lesson, speaks about solemn promises.


Communities, including churches, are forged on relationships of trust, where members keep their word and fulfill their promises. Jesus is not speaking against oaths, but rather is affirming the necessity of truthfulness and faithfulness as the glue that holds a loving church – or any group for that matter – together. Jesus’ alternative to our “sue everyone” society is one in which a person’s “yes” really means “yes” and a person’s “no” really means “no.” People crave authenticity in relationships and business transactions – and how about government programs? There’s no need for “legalese” language or small-print disclaimers in the Church of God’s vision.


The Church – the Body of Christ – is the hope of the world. It exists to share the Good News of Jesus Christ – the forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life. And it also exists to share Jesus’ teachings on living, which first requires the Church to live according to His will. This we learn from His written Word, the Holy Scriptures. In today’s lesson He spoke of four areas. We need to be faithful in reading our Bibles to know what His will is for us in all areas of our lives.


May God help us to be a congregation that is closer to the Church of God’s vision.


Amen

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