“Grow”     (From Karen Georgia Thompson’s Sermon Seeds, Feb 16, 2020)

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

Leo Tolstoy, 19th century
Matthew 5:21-37

The sermon on the Mount continues this Sunday. The last two Sunday’s we saw how the crowd was growing as Jesus sat on the mountainside (actually more of a hillside), teaching the people.

People were hungry for a message of hope. Life was tough. Its always been tough whether you lived in Jesus’ Galilee around that time, or whether you are witness to these first two decades of the 20th century.

For most of it our country has been at war. At first we all felt the pain of war but quietly it shifted away from our focus as the news-hounds moved on to more profitable hunting grounds. But we continue to pay a terrible price financially and in the form of the lives of some of the bravest and brightest of our younger people.

Our country feels like it is tearing down the middle and we live with great tension as we feel the pressure of this life and death struggle of ideas and ideologies. We are a strong people, but our own private challenges can also be overwhelming. I have the privilege of being allowed to look into the lives of some of our friends who walk around with a warm and friendly smile, but we bear huge burdens.

We too, hunger for a word of hope. A word of redemption. An assurance that our lives matter, that we make a difference. That we are indeed a blessing to others and to our community. We need to hear these things and feel them in our hearts.

What could Jesus be saying to us through his teachings on that hillside, overlooking the Sea of Galilee? Are we still part of this equation? Is God’s love still inspiring us and guiding us in 2020?

I’d like us to focus on how Jesus is presenting his wisdom to the people, and to us.

He gets into the mode of… “this is conventional belief—but I present to you a new way to look at this.

He is quoting the Law—the 10 commandments—the heart of the people’s understanding of how their lives and their faith intersect, and every time he appears to contradict the way people had interpreted the law.

They say that you should not murder, and if you do you need to be punished to the full extent, understanding that to mean; an eye for an eye! This is an approach of revenge for injustice.

But, Jesus says, before you jump on the bandwagon of judgmentalism, just understand that we are all guilty of breaking this law. Not the letter of the Law but the spirit of the Law. This Law was given not to judge murderers only. It has a much wider focus than the obvious. It also acts as a guide for us to know how we should treat one-another. It includes treating others badly.

He continues…

They say you should not commit adultery and if you did, we know that they demanded the women to be stoned to death (not the man though.) But, says Jesus, everyone commits adultery. Its not about the letter of the Law—but the spirit of the Law. No one is able to judge the other.

Then Jesus gets to a tough one for us—one that fundamentalists in their worst manifestation, still use to destroy people.

They say, all you need to divorce your wife is something scribbled down on paper and you jettison her out of your life. Cut her out with a simple note. A divorced women had no standing or appeal in society at that time. She was damaged goods and she was left penniless, doomed to a life of abject poverty.

But, says Jesus, that’s not right. She is not your property to take or discard as though she is livestock. You have no right to simply cut her out of your life and your estate. You have a life-long responsibility to care for her.

And here some Christians abuse this text to say you should never divorce.

Let’s explain.

A woman in Jesus time had very little rights. She did not even have the right to leave an abusive relationship or demand part of the husband’s estate if he cast her aside. She simply had no rights. So, men often treated women as chattel—their personal property to do with as they pleased. This is what Jesus is attacking. The brutality of deadly chauvinism and sexism.

Think for a moment of King David seeing Bathsheba and lusting for her. But she is a married woman. So he then sends her husband on a suicide mission knowing he would be killed. After this, we read that he took Bathsheba to be his wife.

He did not court her. She had no say in this matter and she was stuck in a marriage with the person who murdered her husband. That was the world in which Jesus lived, and he established a new imperative regarding the value of women, nothing more and nothing less.

It certainly was not a new law condemning two incompatible people to a lifetime of unhappiness or abuse.

Lastly, Jesus speaks about truthfulness. He is saying that your “yes” must be “yes” and your “no” must be “no”. This is not about whether you may or may not take an oath, as some suggest. This is about simple decency and the respect for truth and integrity.

We began with the hunger of the people who gathered around Jesus on that hillside, desperately listening for a word of hope. In this short “they say but I say” text we read from, Jesus is reinterpreting the established and traditional religious “laws” to speak of God’s love that is much more forgiving and much more nurturing than people have been led to believe.

We, too, hunger for hopefulness in these times. It is time to question the norms of our times. God’s love does not bind us into an entangles religious legalese that makes our lives complicated and leaves us feeling exhausted and feeling guilty.

God’s love—for that was the intent of the law, gives us guidelines on how to live our lives in harmony with others, respectful of everyone, engaged in our communities, uplifting those among us who need our support. Jesus reminds the gathered listeners that truthfulness and decency needs to our way of life.

Above all, Jesus leaves us with the lingering message so well summed up by the statement;

“There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, it ill behoves anyone one of us, to find fault with the rest of us.”

Friends, we are all loved by God. We are all valued by God. We are all forgiven for our weaknesses by God. Let us live with compassion, with truthfulness, always regarding the other with respect, and we shall not only see that our world is not all bad, but that there is so much beauty in others, even those we secretly despise.