Glimpses of the Kin-Dom: Week 5
I pray you enjoy this message and God speaks to you through it. To listen to this message you can hear it on the Beech Grove United Methodist Church Podcast (podcast releases Monday mornings), or by clicking here.*
Also every week I offer sermon notes as an opportunity for folks in my congregation to have something to take with them for reflection on the sermon or to help in sharing with others. Check them out here!
*Note: Sermon audio does not match the manuscript…sometimes the Spirit moves
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment, and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council, and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. 31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you: Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one. — Matthew 5:21-37 NRSVue
At The Heart of the Kin-Dom
As we have undertaken this task of observing and taking in these glimpses of the kin-dom from scripture, we have done so with an eye on our own contemporary experience of it as well. As Christians, we believe that the Word of God, that is Jesus Christ, is revealed through scripture. However, the Word does not end with scripture, and therefore it is important for us to understand the role that God’s Word plays in our modern lives. Through interpretation, experience, and the history of the church we learn more about God, as more is unpacked about who God is.
As we glimpse the Kin-dom of God in the here and now, we see something that feels fractured and painful. For many, they see the sins of many as tarnishing the image of who God truly is, and this sense of legalism has arisen to overtake the church and how we interact with one another. Many others, see the sins and evils of the world as the tarnishing of the kin-dom and laying down a seemingly less rigid system of righteousness.
However, within both of these is an understanding of trying to get at what is at the heart of the Kin-dom of God. Remember what I have preached a couple of times now; righteousness is about relationships. Yes, there is a part in which we recognize that it is being in “right relationship,” but for our thought; who determines what is right, and in that understanding who gets to determine who is not doing it right?
This is where this legalism play comes into the scene, and we begin to wrestle with how “The Law” is lived and understood through faith. However, what if I told you that at the heart of these glimpses of the kin-dom rest in our nature of community together, and our actions within it?
I am sure this does not sound new to anyone. I am sure if you made a sound-cloud of my sermons (that is those images of all the words with the bigger ones representing words used more regularly than the smaller ones), “community” would probably be the biggest word on there…well maybe GRACE would be bigger, but it is more important haha.
Why the Law?
So if the kin-dom is about community, why in this moment of the Sermon on the Mount (a sermon meant to be about God’s kin-dom) does Jesus talk about matters of the law?
This is meant to be one seamless sermon, (at least the way that Matthew records it) and is done this way to present this coherent theme within Jesus’ teaching ministry.
So then, doing what we are doing in taking out several verses and trying to look at them in the context of those handfuls or more verses would be like taking out a few sentences of my sermon, and trying to identify my entire theology off of them without the context of my greater ministry as a pastor.
Let’s back up and see where Jesus starts with the law:
Last week: We heard that Jesus is coming to fulfill the law, not abolish it. Jesus also attaches this manner of law and prophecy to righteousness1 (both of these play a role as we move forward). Unfortunately for this series, this is the last piece of the Sermon on the Mount that we will hear about/read. As we comb through these calls and consider them in the context of much of the rest of this sermon, we can see that Jesus has moved to his overarching point of teaching.
I think most of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, can be summed up in context by two verses, though looking and diving deep into the contextual nuances help us to understand these deeper.
The first is the “Golden Rule” as we call it in Matthew 7:12:
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” 2
As Jesus is wrapping up the sermon with a parable:
“Everyone, then, who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”3
What does this mean for this body of scripture we are looking at today?
“You have heard…But I say…”
Well, first of all, Jesus is NOT rewriting the law. We read Jesus saying, “You have heard…But I say…” Most scholars agree that this is done not in a way to rewrite the law, but to emphasize the intention of the law as we understand it in relation to how our relationship with God is expressed. Almost done in a way to take a jab at the nature of legalism that existed in these times, and to also help folks understand what was at the spiritual heart of “the law.”
Diving deeper into each of these imperatives (which by the way we only are looking at 4…Jesus has 2 more before the end of chapter 5 that deal with legal matters), what is the next step (beyond “the law”) Jesus takes?
The imperative to not murder becomes a call to temper one’s anger. The imperative against adultery becomes that against lust as well. The imperative against divorce becomes akin to adultery. Lastly (for the passage for this message), the imperative against going back on an oath, becomes one against the very nature of oaths, to begin with.
Even continuing beyond verse 37 (where the scripture for this message ends) we see an imperative against retaliation that Jesus takes a step further and an almost full submission against those who would take their own anger on you. The last imperative in chapter 5 sums much of this up as we have the imperative that we must hate our enemies, where Jesus calls us to LOVE ALL PERSONS.
WE EMBODY THE LAW
Because this becomes the underlying nature to which Jesus is speaking into the law. Remember last week that Jesus talks about, not the literal letter of the law as it was understood in a legalistic sense, but Jesus embodies the nature of the law that God has passed down to the Israelites. I think we can all look at many of the laws in the Hebrew Scriptures, and even the ones that Jesus lifts up here, and see a reasoning for their upholding, but to merely uphold the law to not murder often forgets that murder is merely the final step in a process of hatred toward another person in the kin-dom of God.
As just one example this idea helps us understand what Jesus is getting at when he dives deeper into some of these laws. He is not literally saying that when it comes to lust that we should tear out our eye and throw it away, or cut off a member of our body. No, Jesus is calling folks to consider that the manner they exist in the community is meant to build the body up not tear it down. So if for some reason you are having trouble with lust, maybe instead of telling someone that they have to change their lifestyle, why don’t you change the way you engage in a community?
Jesus does not say “if your eye causes you to sin, go tell what has caused you to sin to dress more modestly.” Jesus wants us to understand that we need to take responsibility for how we engage in the community.
All of this comes back to the community and the role that we play in our lives together.
The Kin-Dom is about coming together for the betterment of our lives together. It is coming together under the great and merciful love of God and living into that love in our every action. When we gather together as a community we are reminded in that way that we are salt and light that we are purposeful and visible. If our word cannot be trusted or we are struggling in our most devoted relationships then how can we expect others to look and view our community, our Savior/Lord, our God as something that loves or offers to them the great abundance of grace we have truly received?
These verses are not about the law, though we want them to be because we like control, and we like to control others. No, these verses are about relationships with one another, and with all creation around us. A creation and world that God has already poured their love over in the very act of creation itself. In the manner of grace that is shed upon every human whether they believe in God or not. These verses call us to a manner of intentional living that calls us to think of our own actions within the greater context of the community.
We can ask ourselves questions like:
Do I have anger towards someone in my community?
Do I have lust toward someone?
Have I fractured relationships with persons I love because of my actions?
Does my word have meaning behind it?
Have I let others down?
Have I lashed out at others in retaliation?
Yes, I love my neighbor but do I love my enemy?
When we ask those questions we must also ask, what needs to change in my heart to mend these wrongs?
REMEMBER: Jesus doesn’t want to rewrite “the Law,” Jesus wants the intention of the law to be made whole. Because in the intention of the law, we learn that each one of us has a role to play (and friends it is not as a judge). We are not the ones meant to offer judgment because we “THINK” others have fractured their relationship with God.
No, we bring to the community what we hope the community can be. We bring a presence that hopefully lifts the community up. We bring a presence of hope, trust, respect, and love, and none of that is predicated on how we ourselves are treated.
My mind thinks of the sit-ins during the civil rights era. Black persons would organize sit-ins in the “white section” of restaurants and they instructed those participating to not retaliate. If you were hit or beaten you sat there. If you were arrested you did not resist. No, the society they hoped to build was one where their race was respected and trusted, and that meant in the face of their very real and present enemy and evil they offered respect and love that was wholly undeserved.
Our living of the kin-dom here on earth:
It lies within our ability to live into the promised hope of it as well. So, we live as kin-dom people, guided by kin-dom values, because we recognize the role we play as bringing forth promised kin-dom as well. If Jesus is Lord then it should impact how we view and live in the world.
Jesus is calling persons to consider the role they play, just as he did when he named God’s followers the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The question is how will we live.
You have heard it said that the Law is the ultimate authority of God, but I say that Jesus is the ultimate authority. You have heard it said that you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not divorce, you shall not swear falsely, you should get your due when you are wrong, and you shall hate your enemies.
But I say, in the name of our Lord Christ, that you should not think in the world of absolutes in which you force others to lose their own image. Rather you should honor the community. Reveal within yourself the image of God, and in doing so be salt and light for the kin-dom in your everyday lives. By this, they will know you are God’s child, and they themselves may desire to recognize God’s grace in their lives.
Reference: Matthew 5:17-20
Quote from: Matthew 7:12 NRSVue
Quote from: Matt. 7:24 NRSVue