HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Deuteronomy 30:15-20
EPISTLE LESSON: Matthew 5:21-37
SERMON: “God’s Kingdom Ethics-Part 1”
Rules of grammar
Rules for playing sports and games like baseball, football, basketball, Golf Monopoly, Hearts, Solitaire, Bridge, and Euchre’
Rules for the Internet
Rules of the Road
Rules in school, at home, at the office
As babies one of the first words we learn is “no” as mom and dad try to teach us not to touch a hot stove or eat the food that’s in the dog’s dish.
Google “rules” and you may discover a site called 1001 Rules for my unborn son, which includes life rules like this from Babe Ruth: Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games or one of my favorites, “Never underestimate the power of taking out the trash without being asked.”
A few more good rules include:
Never turn down a breath mint.
If you need to explain a joke, it probably isn’t very funny.
Don’t play the ace when you can win with the king.
Stay in your seat until the credits have rolled.
When entrusted with a secret, keep it.
Return a borrowed car with a full tank of gas.
We are such a people of rules that we elect people and pay them big salaries to write more rules for us, and then we hire people to make sure that we obey the rules and to discipline us when we don’t.
The scribes and Pharisees knew the law backward and forward, and, as the self-appointed legal conscience of Israel, they were bound and determined to make sure everyone obeyed the law to the letter. The scribes acted as lawyers for the Law of Moses, and the Pharisees believed that God's kingdom would come only when the people of Israel all obeyed that law perfectly.
We have speed limit laws that require that we not drive faster on 131 than 70 miles per hour. Many drivers figure that if they don’t go any faster than 74 or 75, don’t change lanes too much to get around those who are going the speed limit and don’t hang in the left lane for too long, they can probably get away with driving over the limit. The Pharisee on the road would tell you, “The Law says “70,” drive “70.” There’s a reason behind the law that has to do with safety and saving lives. There’s a probability factor of someone driving 100+ miles per hour, weaving in and out between other cars is likely to cause an accident, perhaps even kill someone. There’s a probability factor that if you drive at the lawful 70 mph on icy roads, you’ll likely cause an accident. That’s why we have laws about safe speed for conditions.
How many times have we heard people say that Jesus died for our sins and that the Law no longer applies? In reality, in his commentary on the Law, Jesus took it to its roots, the radical love of God for the well-being of God’s people. He didn’t dismiss the Law, he tightened it up.
The first in today’s reading comes from the “Big Ten,” The sixth commandment says, “Thou shalt not murder.” Jesus’ commentary says, 21 “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.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”
Murder obviously destroys a person, does great harm to their family and loved ones, and is something to be avoided at all costs. Jesus takes the commandment to the spirit behind it, ruling out a deadly anger that dehumanizes the object of our anger, and in fact dehumanizes the person who holds such anger. Every time we decide to allow anger to smolder inside of us, we become less than fully human, less than the people God created us to be. Instead of merely avoiding murder, we should embrace reconciliation. It's the difference between following the rule and engaging a relationship -- the difference between avoiding doing something with the hands and doing something with the heart.
In a similar way Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” That’s a pretty strong statement! Jesus calls us not to just avoid breaking the law, but to avoid objectifying and dehumanizing people for our own pleasure. Jesus calls us to a standard that recognizes that God’s ethics call us to faithfulness in our relationships.
Next the Lord further tightens the law in his teaching about divorce. We live in a “no-fault” divorce state that isn’t too very different from the law in that time that allowed a man to simply give his wife a certificate of divorce and that was that. Sadly there are faith communities that take this teaching to justify turning their back on divorced men and women. God does not hate divorced people. If God hates divorce it’s because faithfulness, community and love are strong building blocks for society. If God hates divorce it’s because God knows how much pain it causes to those who are involved. The only exception Jesus allowed was sexual immorality. Do we teach that a person is required to stay in a marriage where they are physically or emotionally abused or where children are endangered? No. In this diverse congregation, we will have different understandings of what constitutes appropriate biblical grounds for divorce, but Jesus’ point here is that it is a serious matter that affects not only the couple involved, all of society and that once again it isn’t just about the letter of the Law but of focusing on our relationships with God and others.
Finally in today’s passage, there’s the law about making vows – promises. This one also has roots in the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not bear false witness. Under Jewish law (as in the law courts today), swearing something under oath by sealing it with something like the phrase "so help me, God" is common. If you swear an oath in court, then what you say has to be true or you are a violating the law. The implication, then, is that when one is not under oath, one may not have to be as truthful in what one says. Jesus takes the law and goes to its root. We shouldn't just be truthful under oath, we should be truthful all the time. Telling the truth is the basis of community. Lies and falsehoods tear a community apart (vv.
Looking toward the Promised Land that he will never enter, Moses implores his people to act as God would have them. "Choose life," he says. They will not only determine their own fate according to their faithfulness. The lives of future generations depend on their decisions. Choosing obedience to God's commandments is the single most important choice they will ever make. Faithfulness is absolutely a matter of life and death -- life lived in the midst of God's promises, or death through gradual cultural decay and extinction.
God’s rules are given not to subject us earthlings to the whims of a petty God, but to protect us and make life better. We can obey the rules enough to not get caught, or we can seek to live by the spirit of God’s love and compassion. Are there human-made bad rules that should probably be broken and discarded. I’m sure. In Gods Kingdom ethics, for our well-being and for the benefit society we have a blueprint for faithful, compassionate, loving living.
Now God knows our weakness, our inability to keep the Law and this is why he sent his only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. In Christ we receive forgiveness for the times we fall short and a promise of life in his eternal kingdom. But Jesus establishes here that his followers are more than people who refrain from infidelity, murdering and being truthful only when it's convenient or required. The people of God's world follow an ethical program that requires a purity of intention beyond anything the people had previously been taught. In God’s Kingdom ethics our deeds come from clean hands and a pure heart.
1 Bob Kaylor, Homiletics, 2-16-2014