Scripture- Matthew 5:21-37
The Sermon on the Mount for me is one of the most difficult sets of scripture to speak about. I say thing because I am fairly confident that among the verses I have failed the God that I love more than anything multiple times. I would venture to say that as I read these sixteen verses we have each cringed just a bit, because Jesus does not sugar coat his words instead He is about as straight forward as one can be. We could spend an entire month on these verses, contemplating and reflecting on them not only on Sunday morning but every morning, afternoon, and evening without really getting a thorough explanation. Each paragraph has a wealth of words riding on the very breath of God that cut deeply into our souls like a sharp cold wind piercing through our winter attire.
I stand knowing that the moment I begin to speak I am the greatest hypocrite when it comes to living these words out. I stand yet I know that there is something that we each need to hear. The number one reason so many people turn their backs on the church and the community dedicated to encouraging a relationship with God is because so many people with in the community are hypocrites. We scoff at this statement saying cliché things like where else should they be trying to lessen the sting of such harsh words. The reason people reject God in many cases are because the people. The odd thing is the number one reason people often begin their journey with God is also because of people. People that have taken the time to build a friendship with them, people that have met them at the level they were at and then walked with them as they struggled to come to term with the love of God.
We could look at these sixteen verses and pick out the sin and hypocritical aspects of our lives or could just acknowledge that we each have fallen short and at this moment realize that we need to turn, to repent, to run the other direction from certain activities we participate in because those activities are grieving the Spirit of God that is wooing our souls at this very moment.
Today instead of focusing on the singularity of these spiritual debilitating activities, I would like us to look deeper at how each of these are connected, and what the root of the issue is. Anger, murder, adultery, dishonesty, divorce each has a root in the exploitation or dehumanization of other. Each of these sins are centered on an unhealthy and prideful self that is focused on lifting oneself higher instead of blessing the community around them.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times…” Jesus begins with the basic laws of the Mosaic Laws. It was said… this term does not mean that they have had everything wrong, but that they have not gone deep enough. Murder is the taking of a life. This has been interpreted in various ways because taking a life very serious. This one command has been translated as murder or killing which has vast differences in interpretation. One term, kill, is very broad covering the unintentional taking of life, death due to battle, abortion, revenge, or even the rendering of justice. Where the other, murder, is more directed to the intention taking of a life by the hands of another. It was said… there are vast interpretations to this command against killing, which is why in ancient times as the Hebrew people began to settle into the land of promise they established cities of refuge. These cities were set aside to protect individual from the vengeful retaliation of others in case of unintentional death. Why were cities like these established? I would venture to say they were established to protect the life. When a society is bent on repaying death with death, blow with blow, wrong with wrong we lose our humanity. We become locked in a never-ending cycle of retaliation and revenge those on the opposing side are no longer seen as brothers or equals but instead as lesser beings, not quite as human as us.
There is a grave danger when we fail to see the humanity in others. Women in most cultures have been seen as lower than men as a result they have been mistreated, often they were seen as the highest valued livestock. Then among women in these cases there were the wives and the concubines that also had greater and lesser status, one being greater than the other and valued more, while each being dehumanized. This dehumanization is the root of the slave trade of history as well as in current times, yes there are still slave today, more slaves than there where in the darkest days of American history. It is estimated that there are 27 million people today living in slavery. A slave is person that has been dehumanized in the eyes of others and since they are less than human people can justify the exploitation of their life.
This cycle of exploitation begins with misplaced anger. Anger is a dangerous emotion. Anger if not held in check can build into hatred. Hatred then can lead into actions that are based not on truth but emotional opinions meant to exploit and dehumanize others. But Jesus was angry, we quickly say to ourselves, so surely it is not all bad. I agree, emotions are not wrong; it is what we allow our emotions to do that cause us to lose sight of God and enter into the darkness of sin. Jesus was angry with the venders in the temple, he was angry because these venders were exploiting others in the name of God; they were taking advantage of a situation for their own gain. They saw the people coming to worship not as humans but as a means to their own financial gain. Jesus had a righteous anger, an emotional response with the goal to humanize the exploited.
Our anger is not always held in check, our anger is not always experienced in disciplined manner. Sadly some of the most undisciplined exhibitions of raw emotions are performed among those that claim to love. The people today neglect church because often those in church dehumanize and exploit those around them. It is hard to see at times, because we have become so accustomed to our own actions, we have justified our actions to such a degree that we are no better then the Pharisees whom Jesus called whitewashed tombs of bones. We focus on our own agenda, we hold grudges, we neglect apologies and we do so because we were right. The problem is that being right in an argument has no value unless we honor the humanity of those around us.
Jesus went so far as say, “… [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.” These words are spoken of not just anger but the undisciplined expression of our speech in the heat of an argument. It speaks of the exploitive nature of our language and the inability to disagree agreeably. How often we fall into the trap of our passions where we speak before we think and end up with our feet firmly planted in our mouths. How often do we fail to listen to what is being said and jump to a conclusion starting our next statement before we even hear a response? How often do we ask the wrong questions, which lead to responses that keep us from honoring and promoting the spark of God within an individual. When we fail to be disciplined in speech, when we fail to control our emotions, we will be found dehumanizing those around us, and in the process we may be quieting the very voice that God is using to direct the next step He is encouraging us to make.
Anger, adultery, divorce, murder, and our word each of these sections of this sermon delivered by Jesus revolve around honoring those around us, putting everyone on a equal status as equally human and equally loved by God. How well are we doing? Daily I catch myself failing to live up to the name I claim in Christ. I fail because often I am living in my own power. We cannot love the way God loves; we cannot honor others the way God desires us to honor in our own power. That is the essence of our sinful nature. We cannot do it because we are selfish by nature. We want the glory and honor ourselves. That is why in the story of Eden our first parents ate of the tree. They desired to be equal to God, masters of their own destiny, they wanted to be god. Immediately they began to accuse and dehumanize each other, Adam blames Eve and Eve deflects to another. “I am not the problem,” they say, “but it was this lesser being you put here.” Dehumanization.
We fail all to often. Our community, our world, is falling apart around us running from God and we blame others. The truth of it is that our world is the way it is because we allowed it. We have failed to live up to our name in Christ. We hear news reports and our responses are not in equality but dehumanized exploitive. It’s the gang’s fault, it’s the democrats or republicans, it’s Hollywood’s fault, and it is never my fault. Our schools fail because we allow them to fail. Our neighborhoods have fallen apart because we have allowed them to. We pull back blaming others when I am the problem.
This is why Jesus came. This is why Jesus was born that day in Bethlehem. This is why Jesus gave this sermon and taught His followers on the mountainside, in the fields, and on the sea. He came to meet us where we are, showing us that we have been placing the blame on others that we have been dehumanizing and exploiting everyone around us. But Jesus shows us a different path, which is a different lifestyle. He showed us that the lifestyle cannot be focused on ourselves but must be lived with God and others.
Jesus shows us that the first step, for those of us who claim to be his followers, begins in worship. God is the source of love and true wisdom, He is the breath and Father of life, and we cannot begin to change without first acknowledging and honoring the one from whom our life comes. Jesus made it His custom to worship in the meeting places of the faithful, when He entered a town He would take time to worship with the community at the synagogue, it did not matter if it was a mega synagogue or one that was nearly falling apart He worshiped because worship gives us a right view of ourselves. We are creatures created by God, here for a purpose, to be in communion with our Creator.
Jesus would also withdraw often to a desolate place away from others to pray. He would withdraw to embrace that intimate relationship of love between the creator and the creature. This is embracing the Holy Spirit, or nurturing and deepening our relationship with God. This time of prayer and embracing of the Spirit is expressing our needs, our failures, and our desires to our Lord as well as reading, studying, and meditating on scripture as we allow God to speak to us as well. It is a conversation and an intimate relationship. It is in these times where God will show us how to improve ourselves and where he will provide his strength in our weaknesses. It is during these times of prayer, where we will begin to see where we have shown dehumanizing actions and how to change our ways. It is in these times of prayer where God will direct us and when we embrace His correction He will then send us out to change the world where we are.
Jesus would then engage with the community, healing the sick, answering questions, encouraging the disciples, and teach the masses. It is through the prayer, the conversation with the Father in the Spirit, that He would then begin to serve other. He shows us that in this lifestyle, the lifestyle of the kingdom of God we too will be sent out to serve, and to live the love of Christ with others. It is in this service where we begin to rebuild our communities, reconcile the dehumanizing actions we have allowed to occur, and stop the exploitation of those deemed lesser than us. We share the love of God by feeding the hungry, giving a coat to someone that needs one, repairing the car of the single mother who trying to get to her job so she can feed her children. We live the love of Christ when we meet people where they are, not in judgment because that is a form of exploitations, but in encouragement. Encouraging them by our generosity, encouraging them by our kind words, encouraging them with our tactful teaching and urging to walk the path to Christ.
When we leave the lifestyle of exploitation and enter into this lifestyle of Christ we will begin to see the world change around us. We will begin to see men treating their wives differently, we will begin to see people living not out of anger or lust but out of generosity and respect, we will begin to see the end of exploitation and the beginnings of encouragement.
How often have I failed, how often we as Christians have failed to truly be the people God has called us to be. But Jesus is giving us an opportunity to turn it around, to rebuild the world that we have allowed to falter, to bring in the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. As we enter into this time of open worship, and holy expectancy let us allow God to examine our lives, let us repent of our failures and let us ask God for the forgiveness and strength to change, let us begin to see His kingdom come in our lives so we can encourage and honor those around us with honesty, and humility.