St Matthew 5.20-26 Trinity 6
St John's Ev LC, Victor, IA 2013.7.7
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I must admit at the outset this morning / that when this portion of the Gospels come up in the Lectionary, I feel quite ashamed and silly to preach it. Matthew, chapters 5, 6, and 7 are Jesus' own Sermon on the Mount. The task at hand is to take a portion of Jesus' own Divine Sermon and make a sermon of my own. As tempted as I have been in the past (as was the case this week, too) to just read Jesus' sermon, say “Amen” and sit down, nonetheless, you've called me to this task, and our Lord has promised His blessing upon it, / so here goes (and hopefully not “nothing”):
You get angry, don't you? Then you murder your brother. Who is it that you get angry at? You have murdered that one.
Dearly beloved, we are called by God to a righteousness that exceeds any righteousness, any goodness, any morality that is found in the world. And that shows just how screwed up we are. Just think about it: God, who made this place, who created all that exists, He would not have given His creatures some foreign or enemy righteousness or goodness, but would have transmitted His own goodness not only to the outward things of the body, but also to the inner things of the soul. And so it was: man was created in God's image, yes, even with God's own righteousness and goodness. Man's heart, mind and soul were conformed to God.
Fast forward 6000 years to today and what you have in this creation is not only different from God's righteousness, but altogether opposed to it. An enemy righteousness / has come upon us. But that's not the worst part: the enemy and foreign righteousness is also within us, even within the most outwardly righteous and good among us.
Jesus said, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” The scribes and Pharisees were the holy men of their day: the most moral, the most caring, doing great works of mercy and charity, but also the most religious, keeping all the regulations of the Law of God, and even going beyond God's regulations as if they weren't strict enough already.
If those guys weren't right and good enough, the rest of us don't have a chance. And yet, our righteousness must exceed their righteousness, if we hope to enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Of course what Christ is speaking of is a totally different kind of righteousness than that of the scribes and Pharisees. The scribes and Pharisees were outwardly / so good and pure; those outward things aren't bad, they are good, but Jesus has something else in mind: it is a righteousness of the heart, an inner goodness, a purity of the mind, heart and soul, not only of the hands and voice.
And Jesus explains what He means by giving us concrete examples. In this portion of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives nine examples, actually, and then concludes with a promise about how this kind of righteousness of the heart lays up eternal treasures in heaven rather than temporary treasures on earth.
Our sermon text for today contains just one of these concrete examples, the first of them, and perhaps the most difficult and wide-spread unrighteousness: anger.
Listen again. Jesus said:
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.”
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar,” Jesus said. What altar is that? What altar do we offer our gifts to God? Is it not the symbolic altar of incense, that is: prayer. What gifts do you have that you can offer to God? What sacrifice of yours does God really ask of you, is it not the sacrifices of a broken and contrite heart? Yes, these the Lord will not despise.
So, when you are offering your broken heart to God on the altar of your prayers, and there remember that your brother has something against you, stop your praying and go—first, before continuing your prayers, go and be reconciled with your brother.
And what might your brother have against you? How about let's just get right to the point with the worst of all sin you could commit against your brother, and not only the worst, but the first sin that one man committed against another (remember Cain and Abel): murder. Murder would be a pretty fair grievance that someone might have against you, right? Killing someone is pretty bad, that is, causing someone else's heart to stop beating. That's pretty bad; unimaginable, right? / Jesus said, “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 [as if He's God, right? Giving a new commandment, or at least redefining the old one] that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment...” Anger is murder.
Who is it that you are angry at? / Is there anyone in this room right now? Perhaps one of your family members has done something to hurt or anger you. Perhaps your friends or enemies have spoken a hurtful or untrue word against you. Are you angry? You are murdering. And if that weren't bad enough, Jesus says, “leave off with your praying,” / you aren't even fit for prayer: that's the “judgment” against you for being angry at someone. //
Or did you think that the Christian life was only an outward thing, like the scribes and Pharisees used to practice it? Who cares about the heart and soul, just so long as your body is in church on Sunday.
Repent. Change your mind. Anger / is the petty and futile attempt at keeping yourself safe. Let me explain: you get angry because someone has come and disrupted your peace; like an angry bear being wakened by someone disturbing it's winter slumber, or an angry swarm of bees, having their hive disturbed by an intruder. When someone does something to you that you think shouldn't have been done / or doesn't do something that you were expecting them to do, / then you get angry. Then you take revenge, if not outwardly with hands or voice, then inwardly with thoughts and feelings. That's murder. God hates that. Stop it. Repent.
But how? We all have a problem with anger; some worse than others. How do we correct it? // Well, let's start by listening to Jesus. Jesus said, “First, be reconciled to your brother, / and then / come and offer your gift [that is, your broken heart].”
“Be reconciled” means that you go and get your heart broken. (I bet you thought it already was broken.) But there's nothing more shattering than going to that one who “disturbed your slumber” or “took your honey” and asking them to forgive you. “I'm sorry for being angry at you, please forgive me.” And doing it not just once, but if that person is intimately connected to your life, like a husband or wife or child or mother or father or friend or boss / then you'll be repeating this over and over again, for years and years. //
Now that's brokenness of heart, and pride, and will. And that's hard. Reconciliation is hard work! Reconciliation is / what repentance looks like in the real world. Reconciliation (that is, peace and unity among brothers, not only outwardly, but first inwardly, holding no grudges, truly forgiving from the heart, and having compassion on your enemies, that is the righteous life that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, because it is is nothing other than Christ's life.
If you really want to see reconciliation and righteousness at its core, at its heart; if you truly hunger and thirst for righteousness, // [point to crucifix] then I encourage you to meditate upon that image.
By becoming man, God became our brother. He left the altar of heaven itself, and made it first priority to go / and do whatever it took to bring us back into unity and peace with Him, with God.
What you do, the hard work that you do in reconciling with one another, doing whatever you can to live in peace with one another (including confessing your own sin of anger and hatred) that work is so great (and righteous and out-of-this-world), because that is God's work, it's the reason that He became incarnate, it's the reason He created us in the first place, to have unity (or community) with us.
So, dearly beloved, be reconciled, over and over again, each of you / with every other one. Do not let anger separate any of you, which would undo the precious sacrifice of Christ among you. Instead, live at peace—first with God, then with spouse, then child and parent and out and out and out to the rest of humanity, and even with creation itself.
Can you imagine this kind of life? Not only living with a peace within your own soul and mind, / but also the peace of all relationships, / of all families, / of congregations, / of work places, / and even of whole societies!
Well, it's possible. And it does actually exist. We'll get there someday, for that is every-day living in the Kingdom of heaven, the Kingdom of Peace, where the +Prince of Peace, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit live and reign, now and ever, world without end. Amen.