I have to admit, Matthew 5:21-37, is not the scripture I would like to choose to introduce myself to a new congregation. None-the-less, God’s sense of humor is vast and the Holy Spirit is tugging at my core to acknowledge the tension in the entirety of the lectionary. Truly I would like to preach on Deuteronomy 30:15-20. We can talk about choices, We can talk about life, and death and blessings and curses, or perhaps just refresh in the words of Paul’s letter to the 1Corinthians 3:1-9 and talk about how we are all connected through the Body of Christ, but Matthew tugs and cannot be silently pushed aside.
I think as my colleagues and I pondered over this passage, one thing was clear, this passage elicited personal reaction and reflection. It is difficult, not only because of what Jesus is requiring of us but because it is a passage that has been misused through-out generations to suppress or oppress another. For instance, should a woman stay in a marriage that is toxic and abusive? The answer is no. “But Mother,” you say, “Jesus, said, 31 “anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
I say to you, it is important to look at the societal context in which Jesus was preaching as he fulfilled the law. Marriage was used as a way for a woman to hold status and be cared for and hold a place in society. Jesus emphasized in the Sermon on the Mount that marriage and all the laws go beyond the legality or the external expression of the law, and that love and care for another and their well-being continues regardless of status, a marriage or divorce certificate; we are to care for one another as persons, as a community.
Allow me to go deeper. Who among us has not been angry? Who among us has not been hurt or wounded in such a way that we react or lash out? Of course, we have. We are human and feeling is part of the unavoidable human experience.
Jesus is setting the bar high here, why?
In my life, I have held a great privilege. In the church I was raised from, I held a key to the sanctuary. It was a beautiful sanctuary. In the morning, the sun softly lit the altar, midday it penetrated through the small stained glass windows above the chancel and at night in the dark, the moon presided over quiet contemplation. Yes, I visited often, daily for some time. Some days, I walked the aisle, felt every pew, as the presence of the Holy Spirit swept me to and from the altar. I sat, I prayed, somedays I just laid behind the altar with God as I gazed up at the dust dancing in the sunlight. Time stood still.
This place, especially at that time, was a place to wrestle with God. You see, I was a victim of a horrendous injustice, and as Jesus requires and inspires the only place I knew where to go was the altar. I was angry, I was hurt, betrayed, traumatized and sought what no person could give, a sense of peace, of wholeness, of reconciliation. My world was shattered and it would never be the same, of course, I was angry. “Forgive me, forgive them, forgive us O’God.”
As sinners, we, you and I are constantly breaking the law, in thought, word, or deed. That’s why we seek reconciliation before we feast at the table. That’s why we give the sign of Peace. We are all sinners.
So what do we do with all that?
We seek God! We seek the spirit of the living God.
We go to God. We know that we cannot go it alone. We build and deepen our relationship with God, so our relationship with each other can grow and manifest into the Glory of the Kingdom that Jesus has prepared for us. We love one another, we care for one another, we embrace one another as one body in Christ as Paul teaches, and we choose life. We choose God, we choose one another and build community and we choose to walk in love to manifest God’s good grace in each other fostering an understanding of our human flaws. this is what compassion looks like.
So, let your yes, be yes and your no be no. Mean what you say and say what you mean. When you resist evil, say NO, Satan! When you embrace forgiveness and reconciliation, say YES to God, say Yes to life, say Yes to the spirit of the living God, to each other and let go, trust, have faith and allow God and the Holy Spirit the room to dwell among us, reviving the heartbeat of the living Christ within each one of us.
Be kind and be gentle, to yourself and one another.
May our Lord, teach and guide us to always seek God first in everything we do, and may our love be filled with genuine affection, honoring the dignity of one another through the Spirit of the Living God.
Blessings, Mo. Allison+