These are dangerous readings we have today. From Deuteronomy, we have death and curses for those who do not love God and keep the commandments. From the Psalmist, we get a glimpse of praise for loving God and keeping the commandments. From Paul, we get the idea that no matter who we are, no matter how hard we try, we will always fall short somehow. It is true of every community from Paul’s time to ours. Then this Gospel reading: You have heard…but I say… is the common refrain here. The topics are serious and Jesus is raising the bar – setting the standards even higher.
You have heard the commandment about Murder; but I say do not judge or be angry. Reconcile.
You have heard the commandment about Adultery; but I say do not even lust.
You have heard the commandment about Divorce; but I say do not treat each other as less than.
You have heard the commandment about Swearing False Oaths; but I say keep your vows to God.
Jesus takes simple commandments and calls us to higher standards. It is really easy for me not to murder someone – most days – but it is much harder not to hold a grudge or do the hard work of forgiveness. It is really easy for me not to commit adultery, but it is much harder not to engage a little wee fantasy now and again, or check out a titillating website. Did you know that addiction to internet porn is now a leading reason that couples seek marriage counseling?
That single part of the reading today, about already committing a sin in my heart if I just think it, is why I am no longer Southern Baptist. That particular phrase was used so much – over and over again – when I was a teenager that I decided that if I was going to be judged for it, I might as well have the fun! It was beside the point that unmarried teens cannot commit adultery.
And that’s how these readings are dangerous. We can fall into despair because we will never completely measure up. We all have something less than pure light in our hearts as we approach the altar rail, in spite of our best intentions. We cannot even think fast enough to stop our monkey minds from jumping to a thought that is less then helpful. Falling into despair – why even bother to try – is a reasonable human response to these readings.
Here is the Good News. It is part of the larger story – not necessarily part of today’s readings. It is why we need all of the books of the Bible, all of the seasons of the church year. There is another way. Instead of choosing to fall into Despair, we as Christians can choose to fall into Grace. There is is: “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” “I will with God’s help” We repeat it at every Baptism – all of us – several times a year. We do not have to fall into Despair, we may instead fall into Grace.
Jesus sets these high standards and then sets the path for our salvation. You have heard it said that this is all hopeless – there is no way we can measure up; but I say we are forgiven and saved through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who sets the bar high and then helps us when we are too weak to clear it. Amen.
Audio for the sermon may be found on the right sidebar PodBean player.