Laity Lectionary Blogging – MT 5:21-37

Matthew 5:21-37

Murder, adultery, divorce, and swearing. How many lectionary preachers are dodging this text this Sunday?

Part of the challenge of this text is that after you have read it, what more do you say?

John Wesley wrote 13 sermons about the Sermon on the Mount, but he skipped over these verses. Perhaps he thought there was little to say beyond what the text so plainly says.

Of course, my reaction is not to shout, “Amen,” at least not in every case. My reaction is to look for wiggle room. When I preached on Jesus’ teaching about divorce – to a congregation full of divorced people – I wriggled like a worm on a hook.

And maybe that is the point.

Mystery has a certain cozy charm. It leaves us lots of room for us to make our own meaning and gives us soft boundaries that we can stretch and pull to fit us. The words of Jesus here have no such fluidity.

Our mistake is thinking that these laws are laid down for us to follow by force of our own willpower and goodness. They are not. We know, and Jesus certainly knows, that we cannot do these things. Anger, lust, promise breaking, lying, and boasting all come too easily for us.

Only the holy can do this. Only the mature, the complete, the perfect in love can live by the laws of the Sermon on the Mount. But we are called to that kind of holiness. We are called to take steps toward it today. The road is before us. The door has been opened.

Some preachers and many Christians avoid the great challenge of the Sermon on the Mount by saying the perfection it describes is not meant for this life, but the next. Only a few extraordinary Christians that we call saints ever embody such a life. For “the saved” this is a description of the life to come, not the life we live.

But Jesus no where indicates that in his sermon. Nowhere does he say not to worry about anything he says because none of us can do it. Indeed, as he says elsewhere, with us it is not possible, but with God all things are possible.

By Jesus – by the grace of God – we are called to be a holy people. We are called to be people whose anger gives way to reconciliation. We are called to be people who do not lust after another. We are called to be people who keep the vows we make to each other. We are called to be people who speak the truth.

Not by our own power or goodness, but by the grace of God.

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