This sermon was preached on February 16, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:
1 Corinthians 3: 1-9
Matthew 5: 21-37
Children’s sermon: Gather the children up front. Have a simple puzzle for the children to put together. I have a puzzle here and I’m wondering if we can put this together. (Have one piece that doesn’t fit.) These are a lot of pieces and it looks like this one doesn’t fit. Sometimes our lives are like that. We have all of these pieces of our lives that seem to go together and they make sense and then we get an odd piece that we just don’t know what to do with and it we try and try and make it fit, and we get mad, frustrated and worry that there is something wrong with us that we can’t make this piece fit the way we want to. Well, our bible story is like that today. We just read pieces of what we call the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount-Jesus was teaching the people about God like we teach each other about God here each Sunday and anytime we get together. Jesus’ sermon was much longer than what I try and talk and it seems like he was talking about a lot of different things, which I try not to do, but you know…the Sermon started two weeks ago with the Beatitudes, then last week we had salt and light-both really nice things to think about. Well, this week we get more pieces of the sermon and they don’t seem to fit the rest of it! Jesus is talking about some hard things that we don’t like to think about like anger and hurting each other and lying to each other. Do you ever get angry? Have you ever tried to convince someone that a lie was the truth? Have you ever hurt someone’s feelings or made someone lose something? Yeah, we’ve all done those things-all of us! And Jesus knows it. Jesus knows that there are pieces of our lives that we don’t like, that don’t fit, that we don’t like to talk about, that make us feel bad about ourselves. But here’s the thing: Jesus loves every piece of you. All of them-the ones that fit and the ones that we think don’t fit. With God, all of our pieces fit together to create a picture of God’s love to share with everyone we meet. Here’s the piece that fits….Jesus says when we can admit to hard stuff and deal with it, we all fit together better. Here’s a puzzle piece for you to take home to remind you that Jesus loves every piece of you. Let’s pray:
I don’t know about you, but there are pieces of my life and of myself that I just don’t know what to do with. Pieces that are disjointed, incongruent, don’t fit for some reason or another. I’m a complex human that way, I guess. Such when I was a teacher I could have all the patience in the world with the children in my classroom and then I would come home and wasn’t always as patient with my own! Incongruent pieces of me.
We continue through the Sermon on the Mount today and we get these four seemingly random pieces of discussion from Jesus. The scholarly term for this section of the sermon on the mount that starts here in verse 21 and goes to the end of chapter 5: is the “antitheses.” Jesus says, “you’ve heard it said…but I say to you.” And it might seem that Jesus is overruling the law but if we look deeper that is not really what’s going on. Jesus is being antithetical but not to God’s law-Jesus is being antithetical to human hardness and sin-which is anything that separates us from God and each other. Jesus deals head on with the pieces of how our lives together that make us uncomfortable, cause us to squirm and make us wonder if we just should have read the psalm today and been done.
But our lives don’t work that way. We don’t get to pick the pieces of our lives that we like, are comfortable with, can easily explain and make fit. Jesus names pieces that we would prefer to be not named, to be hidden and brushed aside. Jesus says: hey maybe you might notice that big hole in your life where you can’t quite get anything to fit into. Well, God has something to say about that hole.
Jesus wants us to live together, all the different pieces of us, as one, in wholeness, unity and love. This means reshaping our piece to fit with our neighbors. Anger, adultery, divorce and swearing oaths are as relevant today as they were 2000 years ago. When we are angry with someone, it’s akin to murder Jesus says. Anger kills any chance of relationship, of working together, of love growing, of God’s people as salt and light for the world. If you know truly angry people, people who walk around angry about everything and everyone in their lives-then you know someone who is in hell. It’s not a place where God sends us in the afterlife, it’s a place we create for ourselves when we separate ourselves from God and each other. When we choose to not see people created in God’s divine image, we have decided that our judgment is the only one that matters. Humility to ask forgiveness, Jesus says, is the antidote to anger and to build relationships. Jesus takes the pieces of us that lean toward anger and soften our hearts to our siblings in Christ.
And then there are pieces of humanity that have haunted us since the first people knew that they were unclothed, and Jesus wants to free us from that history. Adultery and divorce are about more than just an action: it’s our understanding of how we are connected and how we care for each other. In Jesus day and if we’re honest we still live in remnants of this, women were property. Women were objects and women caused men to do things-men had no responsibility or accountability when it came to adultery and divorce. In adultery, women were scapegoats. Jesus does a radical move and says that men have responsibility and accountability over their actions, women aren’t the issue, perhaps the piece that is missing is that women should be seen as created in God’s image and are beloved with value, agency and dignity. People aren’t to be used, they are to be cherished as God cherishes us.
In matters of divorce, women had no voice or agency, either. Mosaic law allowed for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all-from dinner was burned to they didn’t produce any sons-and women had no recourse. And women couldn’t divorce their husbands no matter how unhealthy and abusive the situation might be. The reality was that if a woman didn’t have a husband, she had nothing, literally. No place to live, no security, no protection. Often the woman’s family wouldn’t take her back in and the most common result was that she was destitute and many resorted to prostitution, which is adultery: we see the cycle. And still today there is a negative economic reality to divorce. Jesus reveals that the law was affirming that relationships matter, that we are to care for one another, and we don’t discard someone casually in order to just be with someone else. Now, I want to be clear, there are healthy, good and important reasons for marriages to end and Jesus isn’t saying that staying married is what matters. Divorce is a reality, as relationships are hard, complex and messy. What Jesus is turning upside down is that the law was never to support any human social patterns, such as patriarchy and misogyny, that harm, denigrate and devalue any piece of the body of Christ. Jesus reveals that God’s will is for those who are vulnerable to be centered as an important and equal piece of God’s kingdom.
The more our words, thoughts and actions fit together the better. We shouldn’t need to swear an oath for people to know that what we say is what we mean. Lies and manipulations don’t fit in God’s kingdom. God’s words and actions are clear, congruent and lovingly true and this is what we should strive for as well. Not for ourselves but so that our neighbor knows that we can be trusted with their well-being, that we aren’t looking out only for ourselves. We handle our anger with humility, we don’t use people for our own gain, or treat them as objects, or discard them thoughtlessly and we walk the walk we talk.
Jesus takes all these hard pieces of our lives and helps us to put them together, not individually but as a community to be a part of God’s p-e-a-c-e. When we can trust all the hard pieces of our lives to God, we then will live in God’s peace that passes all understanding. When we join our pieces together, we live into God’s bigger picture: God’s desire for wholeness, love, care, mercy and hope for all people and for creation. God names us blessed, salt and light and as integral pieces in God’s mission and work here on earth to bring about the kingdom where no one is separated from God’s love, where people know their value and are treated with dignity and worth and where we all, creatures and creation fit together in peace. Thanks be to God.