Series: Sermon on the Mount
Title: He said, “What?”
June 10, 2018
Rev. Sandy Johnson
Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen
Great things have been accomplished in this world, not because of extraordinary people, although that is certainly helpful, but because of great leaders who provided the inspiration and motivation to achieve things greater than themselves. When we are inspired we can do nearly anything, we can achieve the seemingly impossible.
In 1960 our country was falling behind in the space race. The Russians were miles ahead in putting a man in space and it seemed impossible that we would ever catch up. When John Kennedy became president, he made it a top priority to be the first to land a man on the moon. In his famous speech on September 12, 1962 he did his best to persuade the American people to support the Apollo Program.
In this historic speech, delivered to a crowd of more than 40,000, Kennedy spoke with “a sense of urgency and destiny, and emphasized the freedom enjoyed by Americans to choose their destiny rather to have it chosen for them.”
“We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”
Do you remember that pep talk? What about Yoda’s in The Empire Strikes Back, when he told Luke Skywalker, “Do or not do. There is no try!” Or Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society when he challenges his students to think outside of the box, to make the most of every day: Carpe Diem, he said, Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
Finally, do you remember the pep talk given by Scottish nationalist William Wallace as portrayed by Mel Gibson in Braveheart, where “frothing at the mouth in indignation he demands his men look at the big picture and asks, “And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!”
A good speech or pep talk can not only help us win an epic battle, but it can help us win football games, promote social change, unite a team or organization and it can also inspire a crowd to greatness. Most great pep talks require the speaker to challenge the listeners to believe things they have never believed before – going into space, being inspired to greatness, to win when the odds are against us. Things that make us ask, “He said, what??”
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is just such a pep talk. It is inspirational, instructional and challenging. In this teaching, Jesus “invites people to envision and enter into a way of living that is different from the world around them.” Last week we saw that in the Beatitudes and this week isn’t any less challenging. Jesus gets down to the crux of what he expects of his followers, as children of God.
The scripture today from Matthew 5 is sometimes called the “hard sayings of Jesus.” Hard because they are counter to what had been previously taught. Difficult because Jesus takes the status quo, the Ten Commandments and raises the expectations. The “Law” was the standard and Jesus was teaching his disciples, that we must be better, we must go further, we must not stop at simply following a rule or a commandment, we must look into our hearts and consider whether our hearts are in line with God or not.
Being compared to salt or light doesn’t seem that outlandish, although the threat of being thrown out for losing our commitment is a bit tough. Where’s the grace we ask? Jesus expects us to keep the faith, to light the path for those who are in darkness. Then he speaks about anger and compares it to murder. “He said, What??”
He said that being angry with a sister or brother or having unresolved issues will be as detrimental to us as if we had committed murder. Jesus knew that what was in our hearts was important, it is a window into our soul. Jesus wants us to be reconciled to one another, not to harbor ill feelings, but to resolve differences and demonstrate love to one another.
Then Jesus gets super personal, he gets into our heads and says that if we even look at someone with lust we have pretty much committed adultery! I am all for noticing a handsome person and I’d be lying if I said hadn’t gone down that rabbit hole of appreciating a gorgeous man. But Jesus is telling us here that we must demonstrate complete self-control. “He said, What??”
Could it be that Jesus knew what would distract us from our ministries, distract us from our jobs and families? Distract us from the calling he has placed on our lives? If we are continuously being pulled into sin, Jesus says, we must do drastic things to correct ourselves – Cut out our eye or cut off our hand! Again, God knows what’s in our hearts. Simply keeping ourselves “pure” physically but letting our minds wander into sin causes the same result of sinfulness in our soul, whether we have acted out a sex act or not.
Jesus continues the tough teaching, moving on to divorce. The teachings here, on divorce are contrary to our current laws and traditions. Many of us in the room have experienced divorce and the devastation that follows. Divorce can be granted for “no fault.” Simply put we can choose we don’t want to be married any longer and voila it’s done! D-I-V-O-R-C-E!
Scripture says different. Jesus says that the only grounds for divorce is unfaithfulness.
“He said, What?”
Jesus was reminding those within earshot of the original meaning of marriage; that two should become one. It grieves God when we break our covenant with him.
“I swear to God!” Oh way, verse 38-42 says we aren’t to make oaths to the Lord, no pinky promises. “He said, What?” The key verse is verse 37, “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” We are to be people of our word, we must be known for truth telling. Truth matters. If we are always being truthful then there is no need to swear oaths. I swear to God!
I always wonder when people think they have to say, I’m telling the truth! Or ask, “do you want me to be honest?” Well, as opposed to what? Being dishonest? I guess that may mean that sometimes they aren’t, and they want to check with us to be sure we really want to know the truth! Something I learned years ago is that the truth always comes to the surface. That’s just a little extra tidbit that you can take with you.
Now we move onto “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. If anyone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other also.” “He said, What?” Really?! You mean I can’t retaliate? If someone messes with me I can’t get them back? I’m supposed to demonstrate grace, rather than vengeance? Jesus calls us to respond to others with love not hate, to overcome evil with grace. He never said it would be easy, but it is what is required of us as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Which leads me to the last set of teachings this week. We are taught by Jesus to love our enemies, not just those who are loveable. “He said, What?” This is the essence of the teachings of Jesus. God is love and we are filled with God, therefore we must demonstrate love to all, not just those we like, those we’re “friends” with on Facebook. We are to become like Jesus and love the tax collector, the sinner, the demoniac, the leprous man, and the prostitute.
We all have people in our lives that we don’t care for much, hopefully they’re not in the room or live with you! I pray that none of us are harboring hate for someone, but when we look at those who have done us wrong, we have to evaluate ourselves in light of Jesus’ teaching…am I able to express love or am I stuck with feelings of hate in my heart?
I want to be clear here, demonstrating love for someone who is an enemy doesn’t mean you allow them to take advantage of you. It simple means you won’t let your own anger and hatred rule you. This is about what we are holding onto in our own hearts, it is not about an enemy. It is liberating to be able to pray for an enemy, someone who has done you wrong and know that in God’s perfect timing the wrong will be righted and while you are waiting you can develop a heart at peace because you’ve handed the problem over to God. Pray for your enemies and those who persecute you, it’ll mess with their head.
I’m sure many of us are squirming in our seats about at least one of these hard lessons, many of us have said, “He said, What?” over and over again. But before you throw in the towel and decide that being a Christian is just too difficult, I remind you that because Jesus came to this planet and taught us these crucial lessons, he provides a way for us to pick ourselves up when we fall down. Jesus death on the cross paves the way for our salvation and for our slate to be washed clean. When we don’t measure up, Jesus picks us up. When we do the worst, the very thing we promised not to, Jesus wipes away the tears and offers us grace and forgiveness, because we came to him, asking with a sincere heart to be forgiven.
Let’s take this lesson for what it is, a pep talk that can inspire us to greatness, that can make us better than we are, one that if we truly did the things Jesus asked, would transform our world. Kindness, love and forgiveness would reign and one person at a time would come to realize that being a Christian is the way to live this life. Being a follower of Jesus Christ means something relevant and real. They would truly be able to know that we are Christian because of the love we demonstrate to our neighbors and to the world.
Let us pray: Gracious God, in this quiet moment before we leave this place, encourage us to recommit to your ways, to the ways Jesus taught us in our scripture today. Give us the courage to take the high road, to be better, to go farther and to respond in kindness and love to everyone we know, friend and enemy alike. Alone we would fail, so we ask you to guide us today. Thank you, God, for answering our prayer. Amen.