Fourth in series: The Sermon on the Mount
So we're in a series on Jesus’ sermon on the mount; two weeks ago Kyle brought us to the place where Jesus explains his desire to bring to people... what today scientists and researchers have helped us to understand as psychological and emotional health, and what the great mystics of religion throughout the ages have helped us to understand as spiritual health — Because just having a spirituality, a faith, a belief in God doesn’t actually tell us much about a person… the real question is: is that spirituality/faith/belief healthy? Jesus told his followers to judge a tree by its fruit… does our spirituality/faith/belief lead to good fruit?
This is quite an offer - spiritual, psychological, and emotional health, fruit in our lives Whether we’re talking about Jesus’ 1st century Mediterranean world or today! This is the higher-level needs of every human being ever… after our basic needs of food, shelter, safety, this is what makes life feel worth living (or not feel that way)
Today, we come to Jesus’ “you have heard it said... but I say…” statements He’s just been talking to his Jewish audience about the Law of their ancestors, Ancient Israel (which we have today in the Old Testament… the 10 Commandments would be the most well known part of this) Jesus saw the Law as a forerunner to him -- in the same line as his desire to bring spiritual, psychological, emotional health to people And he critiques the religious elite of his day, the Pharisees, for their approach to the Law which is bringing just the opposite of spiritual, psychological, and emotional health The Pharisees presented themselves as “the people obeying God and the Law” And lorded that over the masses, laying heavy burdens on people, citing the Law as their reasoning
So, consider Jesus’ position for a minute with me He sees this abuse of power by the Pharisees And he’s in the middle of what’s already been an inspiring speech explaining to his audience of mostly Jewish common people that: God is NOT far from them and close only to the Pharisees, as they claim God cares for you, is invested in you and your future, and wants to be in your life so he can bring you spiritual, psychological, and emotional health (PAUSE) What might we expect Jesus to say if we knew he was about to make a bunch of statements in the form of “you have heard it said… but I say…”? I think we’d expect him to say: “you have heard it said that the bar is this high to connect with God, but I say that bar is absurd… the bar is actually down here.” Right?
Here’s the shocking thing: What Jesus actually does in these statements is take some of the most well-known guidelines from the Law and re-interprets them so they are impossible to pass… So no one (not even the Pharisees) can say “I hit that benchmark” Like, the first one is: You have heard it said 'murderers are subject to judgment,' But I say, ‘even being angry leaves you subject to judgment' We might be able to say we didn’t murder someone this week… great job on not murdering! But can we honestly say we weren’t ever angry with someone this week? So what the heck is Jesus doing? Doesn't he realize that his task was super simple? Didn't he just make his mission to help his audience harder? (PAUSE)
What I want us to be able to see before we read and unpack these is: The reason Jesus does this (because it’s actually brilliant) But I also want us to see what is NOT the reason Jesus does this (because Jesus’ words here can be easy to misinterpret) Jesus’ tone and goal here should NOT be interpreted as: to chastise, or to be strict or severe toward the masses of people in his audience He's not trying to beat the Pharisees at their game
The reason is: Jesus’ re-interpretation of the Law to be impossible to pass is actually the perfect way to publicly critique the Pharisees Because it got to the core problem in their approach to the Law: They’d convinced themselves that, unlike everyone else, they were getting a passing grade, and that made them obedient
Actually, that’s a misunderstanding of obedience. Obedience, on Biblical terms, starts not with compliance or a passing grade; it starts with humility. Baked into the Law from the start was a whole, detailed system - the sacrificial system - designed to account for the fact that of course no one will ever be able to comply or get a passing grade all the time. That’s assumed! “Obeying” has to mean something other than always earning a passing grade. Obeying the Law meant to let yourself be humbled by it To increasingly learn to approach life knowing you need help and input you can’t give yourself The Pharisees may have complied with the Law stricter than anyone, They followed the rules. Stayed in line. Were above reproach. Pointed the finger at others so the Boss knew they were doing it right. But, even so, they were not obeying the Law, because they weren’t letting it make them humble… they were puffing themselves up So Jesus says, alright, then I’ll just make the Law literally impossible to comply with, and then your only option will be humility
And that's why Jesus’ tone here toward the masses must NOT be interpreted as chastising, but as empowering He's leveling an uneven playing field for them by bringing the Pharisees down off their high horses Brilliant, right? More brilliant than our idea!
Ok, let's read Jesus’ “You have heard it said… but I say” statements one at a time. I won't read every word aloud for the sake of time, but the whole text is in your program (except I’m going to skip one of the statements to save it for our next talk)
As we do, remember:
Don't let yourself feel overwhelmed by the “impossible-ness” of these. That would miss their point Instead ask yourself, “how might this helpfully humble me?” And, “how might that improve my spiritual, psychological, and emotional well-being?" For each one I’ll leave us with a practical suggestion for your week And my pastor’s encouragement to you all is to give one or two or all of these a shot, best you can And see if Jesus backs his promises up: see if you do experience improved health spiritually, psychologically, emotionally I think Jesus will back his promise up; that’s why I’m up here speaking semi-confidently, But don’t take my word for it… you need to experience this for yourself if there’s anything to what I’m saying Think of this as “A crash course in humility from Jesus”
For the first one, we’re going to play a quick round of MadLibs - I need one modern term we would use to harshly express anger at someone — I’ll take the first semi-appropriate one I hear one of you shout out… go!
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. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court...
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge...
My suggestion here is: Try to notice when you’re angry A real marker of health is learning the ability to recognize our anger when it’s happening Instead of just being angry and acting out of that space without realizing it The examples given by Jesus here are informative: Our use of terms of contempt… When the other week I told my wife the story of the guy in traffic who gave me the finger (not because I did anything wrong but because he was mildly inconvenienced) and I referred to the guy with a term of contempt (which I shall not repeat here)... That’s NOT just because he was awful to me and my telling of the story was totally an involuntary instinct… It’s also because I was angry - there is a real piece for me to own in that… And when I took that ownership, it lessened the impact on me of being treated that way. I was no longer replaying it in my mind, imagining witty retorts I could have yelled out the window Or Jesus’s other example is when we feel at odds in a personal relationship I remember a time a little while back when I was feeling angry at Kyle… Yes, Kyle and I hurt each other and get mad at each other. We are longtime friends, and we are also co-workers so conflict happens Kyle and I had asked a mutual friend to help us work through a disagreement we were having and while I’m sharing my side of the disagreement, our mutual friend asks me: “Do you realize that you’re angry right now? Like your voice is raised, and your body language is really intense" I was not in touch with that! But immediately I became in touch with that. I could feel that I was angry. I'm tense all over! And that helped me realize better what was actually going on in me. So try to notice when you’re angry
Jesus goes on:
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell...
Here’s my quick reminder before continuing: Jesus is NOT John Lithgow from Footloose; he is NOT chastising his listeners for all of their salacious dancing… Jesus’ purpose here is so much more than that, so stay with me…
I wonder if you’ve ever been connected (or even loosely connected) to a relationship that ended in adultery, infidelity, or one spouse leaving another believing happiness to be elsewhere (and, should it be the case that you were more than connected; you were in just such a relationship, I’m so sorry to have to bring up painful memories for you here) It’s been more than a few times in my life thus far that I’ve gotten such news about a couple I knew… And it often seems to be a couple that presents like a model relationship Every one of these times, as I’ve ended up taking some time to pray through my disappointment and sadness, I've felt Jesus direct my thoughts the exact same way Directed away from thoughts like “surely there must have been signs of cracks… what have I been missing?” And toward thoughts like: “maybe there were no cracks I failed to see, maybe this was at one point a model relationship, but you know what… none of us are ever so far removed” That exact same phrase I’ve felt like Jesus brings me back to each of these times "none of us are ever so far removed” It’s never felt condemning It’s just seemed to me that Jesus wants to warn me against the danger of responding to a failed relationship in my circles with “thank God I’m not like that” or “thank God Keziah and I aren’t like that" That seems to be Jesus’ drive here as he levels the playing field on something likely some his listeners would have had first-hand experience with There is no such thing as good people who will have successful marriages and bad people who will have failed marriages No one just wakes up one day and cheats on their spouse... we step there slowly… and none of us are so far removed from taking those slow steps So my suggestion for us here is: If you are married or hope to someday be married, commit to doing your relationship in community Other people should be aware of the biggest, hardest things going on with you two… not just the two of you… This doesn’t mean sharing with everyone or gossiping about your partner… Of course we want to be wise about this. I’m talking a small number of people... who, number one, you both trust (so, for example, Keziah has given me an okay to talk with Kyle about her and my relationship) and number two, who aren’t going to add fuel to any of your fires (so, even if Keziah gives me the okay to talk with Kyle, if his response to me whenever I share something about Keziah’s and my relationship is “what is wrong with her?!”, that’s not helping) Doing your relationship in community is a gift you will give to yourselves. It is humbling, yes, to be vulnerable with others, but you will experience more connection if you do this Both with those you’re sharing your lives with and with your partner And you will protect against big, hard things getting out of hand Lastly, along these lines, don't be afraid of counseling! Relationship counseling with a good counselor is amazingly helpful. We can speak from personal experience. If this is something you’d appreciate, Brown Line keeps a list of some of our trusted counseling resources, and you can reach out to us at any time to get that list.
Next, Jesus says:
31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
So, I want to be clear, this is actually not as much about divorce as it is about power. I mean, yes it is about divorce, but the thing Jesus is challenging most here is power. This certificate of divorce thing Jesus mentions was a tool of power for men in a hyper-patriarchal society to... abandon a woman they were married to and avoid the loss of societal status or take advantage of a woman they weren't married to and avoid the loss of societal status. In Jesus’ time (and really in every culture for all of time), 100% of the time these situations left women and their children destitute Because men have power and privilege, and women do not The only way out of poverty would be for another man to decide to marry the woman… which itself is a cruel, disempowering system Now thankfully, today in our culture, a man who abandons a woman he is married to or takes advantage of a woman he isn't married to might rightfully experience a great deal of loss of status societally. But he also might not We are further along in addressing systemic patriarchy than the 1st century Mediterranean world, but we are far from done. My suggestion here for us is to try to take part in a societal move toward humility: Try to have eyes for and go out of your way for a single mom this week
The next statement is the one I’m going to save for our next talk, so that brings us to the final one:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well…
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven...
As modern city-people living modern city-lives, who are likely removed (at least by a degree or two) from any violent conflict (although not necessarily for all of us here)… Our personal desires for revenge probably live in a relationship… a co-worker or a supervisor or extended family member we wish would get their comeuppance Our enemies very likely have to do with politics, socio-economic inequity maybe? Or maybe something more personal to you — a trauma you’ve experienced? This one really feels like it’s impossible to pass, yes? Turn the other cheek after being slapped?! Pray for those who persecute you?! My suggestion here is: Forgive someone today (during our prayer time) Whether someone who has personally wronged you, or someone distant that you nonetheless feel wronged by In some cases, you might have experienced real, true evil at the hands of someone else… Be assured, forgiveness does not require you to excuse evil… Jesus would never ask you to do that Forgiveness, rather, allows you to trust justice to Jesus, who promises to be a good judge It is an internal thing for you that will lighten your load Enacting justice is too great a burden for any person to carry
Behind all this is Jesus’ promise we started with -- A promise of a spirituality that feels healthy, of an emotional & psychological state that feels healthy… a promise that our life will bear fruit As we talked about for the Ancient Israelites with the Law... it is the same with Jesus, To obey him is to let him make you humble Jesus told his followers: “my burden is light and my yoke is easy" What if that is what the defining feature of the spiritual life is meant to be? Not someone who is a traffic cop for religious compliance But someone who feels and exudes humility And is at peace with themselves, flaws and all, as a result
In a moment I want to pray for us, and after we’re in that space of prayer, we have two ways for you to engage
First, today’s band is going to lead us in a time of song… Something spiritual communities have done for centuries to slow down from the pace of life and encounter God at an emotional level. Engage in whatever way feels best to you: Singing along or just sitting back letting the music hit you.
Second, we will have a prayer team in the middle section of the theater If you’re feeling something going on internally, or you came in today with a physical or emotional or circumstantial need… We want to encourage you to ask for someone on our prayer team to pray with you Powerful things often happen in our prayer times on Sundays. Our prayer team are trained, safe folks; no one is going to make you feel uncomfortable or give you unasked for advice, and everything you share is confidential.
Stand with me, if you would, and I’ll pray...