Jesus Ups The Ante / Matthew 5:21–32 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday February 16th 2020 / Season Of Epiphany / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday February 16th 2020: Season of Epiphany / Matthew 5:21–32 “Jesus Ups The Ante"
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. The Pastor from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church had a wise observation the other day while our local pastors gathered for our monthly meeting. He basically said if a congregation makes some passages of the Bible off limits for public reading, teaching and preaching they are not being faithful to God’s Word or to the one who gave that word to them. It would be a massive failure to censor the Bible from people’s ears from the Lectern or Pulpit or Service itself out of fear that it might cause offence. This wise comment came as a result of another denomination apologizing for God’s Word. You see this other church body, this different denomination, posted a verse from Scripture on Social media from 1 John chapter 1, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” The response came quickly when members of that same church body, this different denomination started to say things like, "Please consider the racial implications of what you are saying here. There is no darkness in him- really??? I assume exclusion (from God) is not your intent, but that is the impact. Please apologize and remove this post." Clearly they are not understanding what this passage from the Bible is truly about they have become so “woke,” so “hip” so "with it," to the radical thinking of the day, in the worst possible way, that they refuse to understand the actual definition of words and have begun to read into them political ideas and external issues not present in what is recorded in God’s Word. They twist the word “darkness” around making it about the colour of a person’s skin when that is not what the text actually means or says: The Bible is contrasting light with the absence of light making an analogy between them to say that God is good. St. John is saying that the nature of God towards us is that “[He] is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” This passage is not about what the skin colour of the children of God looks like. What did this Church body, this different denomination do? Did they take it as an opportunity to teach about what the passage really means? No they apologized saying they had “made a mistake” by posting it.
All of this is to make the point that each of us from time to will come across passages in the Bible that will be challenging to us personally. And every pastor and congregation may be tempted to gloss over, avoid or even fail in reading certain passages out of fear or a misplaced sense of justice. Our Gospel reading today has a couple of hard things in it. They are all words preached by Jesus by the way, and at different times and in different places Jesus’ words might not come across in such a challenging way. It might be easier today to preach about anger or lust, two worthy worthwhile topics to preach on as we are all tempted in these ways during our life in this World; the harder passage, the passage that some might be tempted to cut out, skip over, or gloss over is that part where Jesus says to you, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
In Jesus’ day, or perhaps I should say in the day Jesus first preached this when it was first recorded for you and I, “the common presumption in society was that divorce was not that big of a deal, and that the important matter was just to carry out the divorce in the right way.” Many people think of it this way today too, they “think that the goal is how to divorce and then ‘still be friends,’ or have an ‘amicable divorce,’ or realize that neither one of us really was to blame,” perhaps if there are children to figure out how to raise them apart yet still as friends, basically to downplay or present this deeply sad and painful estate of divorce as something normal and perhaps even better than marriage itself.
Let’s for a moment think about what Jesus says about divorce in the context of when He first preached it and then let’s think about it again as it applies to our lives right now. First when Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. What Jesus is doing, and He does the same for murder, is that He says to them ‘you have considered this sin in too narrow a way, it’s easy to keep if the bar is set low enough to walk over, but that is not where the bar is actually set murder is also anger, adultery is also lust.’ Effectively Jesus is raising the ante. If it were a game of poker Jesus is saying “I see your ‘murder’ and I’ll raise you ‘anger,’ I see your ‘adultery’ and I’ll raise you ‘lust.’” Interestingly most people see lust and anger as smaller things than adultery and lust and this is the point Jesus is saying these are in fact the same sins if you remain in your anger someone might die, if you remain in your lust adultery may follow because they are not different to God one is not less than the other, they are all sins. What do we hear in the epistle of James? James Jesus’ disciple says, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For He, [that is God], who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” With His preaching Jesus raises the ante on what the people considered sin, what we sometimes consider sin, and He calls their bluff, calls your bluff because like them you have no cards in your hand to beat His royal flush. We fold or we lay our cards on the table only to lose against the truth of God’s Word.
When it comes to divorce then Jesus is saying to them and to us, when you think of this as normal, acceptable, as no big deal, when you point and say ‘look they did it over there,’ ‘everyone is doing it,’ ‘it’s not the big deal that it used to be,’ ‘as long as you do it right then it’s ok,’ Jesus is saying you are not taking it seriously enough, you are not seeing it for what it is, you are trying to make it small and manageable when it is actually a bigger deal and more harmful than you think. Jesus is raising the ante so that you will in wisdom fold and not go through with it when you don’t have to. The world makes it easy; Jesus reminds you that there is nothing easy about this. This by the way is Jesus being gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love towards you.
Legitimate reasons for divorce are much narrower than the standards set by the world and society today. Divorce for the Christian is not simply the breaking of a civil contact it is also and more importantly the breaking of a vows to each other pledged in love blessed by God. Often divorce is a quote un quote ‘cure’ which is actually worse than the quote un quote ‘disease,’ the kind of thing that solve one or two quote un quote ‘problems’ while creating a hundred more that you didn’t have before. Later in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus talks about divorce again saying to the men, “Because of your hardness of heart [your callousness] Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” What Jesus is saying both in this passage and in our passage from today is that ‘you may have don everything in a legally acceptable way in the eyes of human law but that doesn’t mean that the marriage is dissolved or divorced in the eyes of God who blessed it, you then if the divorce is not on the grounds of adultery are still married in the eyes of God and as such when you are they go off and seek another sexual partner create a situation where adultery occurs. Jesus is saying don’t do this.
As Lutherans we teach that it is unjust to prohibit the remarriage of an innocent party after divorce. We also believe in the forgiveness of sins. That said we ought never council, give permission to, gloss over, or downplay the dangers and seriousness of divorce, the pain and misery that it can cause not only for the couple but for their children, family, friends and community. For every time you have failed to warn others of the dangers, for all the times you have failed to encourage faithfulness, remember Jesus succeeded in being faithful to God’s Word, to the true teachings of the faith, to the spirit of and the realities of what His Heavenly Father holds as good and right for man and woman in marriage.
Holding firm to the Word of God and offering to genuinely help people with compassion in their time of need is not always popular, it may in fact cause division and conflict with the World and society in which we live our lives. But remember Jesus cares deeply about reconciliation, about people coming together and forgiving one another. It is even part of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Perhaps a time of separation is in order but that does not mean the couple must end up getting a divorce. There are times when people need to be encouraged, times for men to be reminded that it is theirs to sacrifice of themselves for their wives, times to remind wives that they need to grow in trust towards their husbands. And when all is broken beyond repair, we together must work to help put the pieces back together again, to make every effort, to exhaust every possible avenue and not just give up, to not give up as quickly as the world does.
Physical, verbal, mental, sexual abuse is not acceptable men must not do these things towards their wives or towards anyone and women are not to do these things towards their husbands or towards anyone either. These things must be dealt with and not swept under the carpet. No one should be encouraged to put up with those things and they may cause you to live apart. They like other sins are forgivable. But forgiven sins still come with consequences if such things are happening, even if they are forgiven, the life you share in marriage will have to change, forgiveness doesn’t mean you have a clean slate to repeat you sin over and over again. What are husbands and wives called to do? They are called to “lead a sexually pure and decent life in what [they] say and do, and husband and wife [are called to] love and honour each other.”
I thank you for listening today, for hearing God’s word, for listening to what Jesus preaches even when it is hard to hear. Is there more that could be said, yes of course, if you’d like to talk with myself or Pr. Albrecht about it please come see us. At Mount Olive we don’t apologize for God’s Word we believe teach and confess it to be true even the parts that are hard sometimes to hear. Remember for everyone who is looking for permission to get out of a marriage there are people who desperately desire to find the right person and get into marriage and for everyone who is struggling through a time of separation there are people who have strong marriages and people who are planning a wedding and marriage together, for all those who have suffered divorce God loves you, just as He loves all of these. Yes Jesus has a warning for us all today, however never forget Jesus also has compassion towards you. If you are exhausted, exasperated, at your wits end remember as a Christian your endurance is not in yourself, your strength is found in Christ Jesus, lean on Him, trust in Him, in Christ you can say, “when I am weak, then I am strong.” Consider these words from St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians in whatever your circumstances might be, he says to them and to you today as Christians, “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 1 John 1:5
 Psalm 145:8
 "Dear siblings in Christ, We have been paying very close attention to the conversation created by this post. Thank you all who have voiced your experiences and concerns regarding the language used. The verse shared here comes from last week’s lectionary readings. As themes of darkness and light will appear again in lectionary readings later in Lent, we have chosen to leave this post and its discussion here so that it can inspire deeper conversation and reflection as we prepare for the season ahead. We apologize that the language in this post has caused harm, and we recognize that this image can be a painful reminder of the harmful power dynamics, racism and inequity that exist in this church. It is our responsibility to be intentional in our use of images and language. We are committed to this work, and we are committed to learning from our mistakes."
 Matthew 1:1-11:1 Concordia Commentary, Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Concordia Publishing House 2006, Pg 296.
 James 2:10–11
 Matthew 19:8–9
 Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope , Reader’s Pocket Edition of the Book of Concord: Concordia the Lutheran Confessions, Concordia Publishing House 2005, Pg 440.
 The Fifth Petition And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.
 The Sixth Commandment You shall not commit adultery. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honour each other.
 2 Corinthians 12:10
 Colossians 3:12–15