Old Testament Readings
The Glories of God’s Law
1 Happy are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord.
2 Happy are those who keep his decrees,
who seek him with their whole heart,
3 who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways.
4 You have commanded your precepts
to be kept diligently.
5 O that my ways may be steadfast
in keeping your statutes!
6 Then I shall not be put to shame,
having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
7 I will praise you with an upright heart,
when I learn your righteous ordinances.
8 I will observe your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me.
New Testament Reading
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 (Gehenna). 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 (Gehenna).
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 unchastity, 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.
The past couple of weeks we’ve been talking about the ethos, or the characteristics that we may have that lead us towards blessing. This morning, our gospel and psalm text continues that theme of blessing, or even happiness in some passages.
When we read the gospel passage, we may think, “wow, this is hard, how can anyone not sin?”. The point is that Jesus is using rabbinic tradition to drive home a point. “You’ve heard it said long ago…” In other words, this is what you’ve always been told, but let’s get to the heart of the issue. You can make technical changes, try not to do outward actions that are wrong or wicked, but where’s your heart?
Jesus is telling us that the principles or ethos of being an active participant in the Kingdom of God is more about who we are at our core. There are some strong statements, it’s not just an act of going to your friends or enemies and asking them for forgiveness before the sun goes down, but it’s an action of vulnerability that is necessary for your growth as a human being. If you don’t, you become bitter, you build up walls within yourself. You separate yourself from the blessing of potential relationship.
Plus, it’s more than just the action. It’s a statement about being. How many times has someone come to you to “clear the air”, but inevitably as they “confront” you or ask for forgiveness, it seems to be more about a sense of them not giving up control, not being vulnerable, but trying to prove a point or somehow save face? Jesus says that when our hearts towards out brothers and sister are not right, or we put them down, or hold something against them, then that will tear at us. Thinking ourselves as superior to others leads us towards a kind of death. As I understand scripture, those kinds of actions can lead us to a hellish existence…yet, we have opportunity to look deep within and to allow God’s love to dig deeper in our lives bringing growth, change, and maturity.
Essentially, this whole passage about treating your brother and sister in a wrong way, adultery, murder, divorce, or swearing or really symptoms of how we’ve lived fragmented lives. Jesus is calling us towards living a better way, that we have grace to move to some better places of “being”. This. “being” is meant to be our whole selves…whatever we have done or not done, is not as important as who we are becoming. Who we are is deeper than life circumstances. Are we willing to listen and see God’s grace deep within our lives and in the lives of those around us?
In scripture, the motif of having ears to hear and eyes to see are actions that God does for us. In Psalm 40:6, it says that God has opened up our ears. In Hebrew, the translation is literally “digging out our ear”. God digs deep within us, into our very core being to speak to us God’s love. In that passage, it says that God does not desire sacrifice or offerings, we cannot earn God’s love, but there is still work on our part…we have to have our ears dug out…and that can be painful. We have to risk being vulnerable, letting go of the way we’ve done things or found our being, we have to go to others and ask for their forgiveness, yield to one another, and pray for ears to be dug deep within our souls.
When I was at the Abbey a few years ago, I had this phrase of “digging deeper” running through my head and heart. Really, it’s been in my thinking for quite a while. There is so much anxiety around me and in me at times. Things in my family, some things here at church, personal events the past few years, and then the anxiety in the world and our country. Even though I often don’t show anxiety outwardly, it can affect me internally and take away some of the blessing. Having said that, anxiety can also be used as a gift for all of us to “dig deeper” and to have God dig out our ears to hear words of encouragement.
Encouraging words such as “you are loved”, “you are not alone, I am with you”, “you are in the midst of amazing growth”, “love your friends…and your enemies”, “stand, sit, walk in the flow of love that moves into the deeper parts of who you are and those around you”. As we dig deeper into God’s belief in us, we find that the anxiety is turned into resolve and growth
Pslam 42 says that “deep calls into deep”, the depth of God calling into the depths of who we are and vice versa. God calls us into deeper consciousness and awareness of God’s relational flow…God is digging deeper into us. God demonstrates to us that God’s creative imagination gave us life, that our identity is not what others may say, but our identity is wrapped up in the Christ who has identified with us in humanity in Jesus. The flow of God’s love and presence through God’s Spirit binds us to Jesus and to each other…gives us awareness of the blessing and happiness of walking with God as it says in our Psalm 119 passage this morning…and to live deeper lives of honoring and loving…we can’t do that on our own, we need each other…and, even deeper, we need to cultivate an understanding and awareness of Jesus’ carrying us and forgiving us and simply loving us towards being the people we’ve always wanted to be.