February 2, 2020 (Columbiana Only)
Rev. Fritz Nelson
Text: Matthew 5:21-32
Whew! One week, one reading, just a handful of verses and we’ve got murder, anger, insults, lust and adultery, divorce, more adultery and a promise to burn in the hell of fire unless we rip out our eyes and cut off our hands.
This – this – is the pure Jesus, the authentic Jesus, the hard Jesus. The Jesus whose disciples were known to moan, if all this is true “who then can be saved?” The Jesus who then answered: “For you humans it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” As we stand convicted by scripture we stand assured of grace. Grace for those of us who get angry, grace for those of us who lust, grace for those of us who have divorced, or gotten remarried, even grace for those who murder or commit adultery.
With this assurance of divine grace we can dive into the authentic Jesus, his rule, his ethic for our life together as disciples of Jesus Christ. As we dive in we’ll be focusing on two overarching points. The first, which we’re going to take up in a few weeks, is how we, both individually and collectively as the church of Jesus Christ, have chosen to blatantly ignore many of these most central of teachings.
The second, which we’ll be focusing upon today, is the reoccurring refrain: “You have heard it said … But I say to you …” You have heard it said do not murder, but I say to you anger, even hurling insults, is just as bad as murder. You have heard it said adultery is bad, but I say to you even looking at another with lust is just as bad as adultery. You have heard it said divorce is permissible, but I say to you divorce leads to adultery which, let me remind you is, like murder, a sin whose biblically prescribed punishment is death.
A few weeks ago Elisabeth and I went to see the incredible murder mystery of a movie Knives Out starring Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas and a host of others. In the movie the world-famous, best-selling mystery writer Harlan Thromby is found dead the evening of his 85th birthday. The police rule suicide. But the mysteriously hired consulting detective senses murder. So which is it? Suicide or murder? And if murder who, in the writer’s totally dysfunctional, everyone has a motive, family did it? The trailer will give you a taste:
Jesus begins his sermon on the mount with a series of blessings:
- Blessed are the poor in spirit
- Blessed are those who mourn
- Blessed are the meek
- Blessed are those who struggle for salvation
- Blessed are the merciful
- Blessed are the pure in heart
- Blessed are the peacemakers
- Blessed are those who are persecuted because of me
We’ll spend more time with these in a couple of weeks, but just by hearing them again we can begin to see Jesus’ vision of an upside down world, a world where healthy relationships, a world where support for – love for – your neighbor becomes more virtuous than strength and control. And while murder might be the crime written into the legal code, hatred, spreading insults rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors because festering hatred, hurling insults corrode the structure of community and family.
Just from the trailer you can sense the complete dysfunction of Harlan Thromby’s family in Knives Out. It doesn’t really matter if one of them killed their patriarch because any of them could have killed their patriarch. For that matter they could all kill each other. Husbands cheat on wives. Grandchildren lie to each other. Every word, every breath, every movement becomes part of a chess game of manipulation and control with the goal of cornering the family wealth. What may have once been a loving, caring family has become a toxic stew of hatred and bitterness. Even before murder is committed they are already dead.
The Thromby family in Knives Out may be extreme but I’m sure for some in the theater it hit a little close to home. Our families, our workplaces, our communities, our churches, our political systems all too often become toxic cesspools of human miss-relation. Anger may or may not lead to murder, but even if it doesn’t it leaves behind a trail of poisonous corrosion. Lust may or may not lead to adultery, but it too rips at the fabric of society and wretches apart human relationships. The slope is slippery. It’s steep. An emotional affair may not strictly constitute adultery but it certainly can wreck a marriage. And the line from lust to sexual harassment, abuse, assault, trafficking, murder and suicide runs as straight as Western Reserve Road between the Five Points traffic circle and North Benton.
The sins of murder, and adultery, both require devaluing our sister, brother, neighbor and turning them into the other, the non-person, an empty object to be used, abused, discarded. Someone who is not our neighbor. Someone who does not need to be loved. But the devaluing starts long before the crime.
You have heard it said … But I say to you …
In the middle of the Thromby family stands Marta. Kind, gentle, caring Marta – Harlan’s nurse, caregiver, only friend, total confidant. She is the poor. She is the meek. She is the merciful. She is the pure. She is the one who tries to make peace. She becomes the persecuted – but now I’m giving away too much of the plot.
While clearly seeing the family for what it is, Marta cares deeply about all of them. She understands true value, true life, lies in true relationships. To love your neighbor as yourself is to value your neighbor as yourself, to value your neighbor as a person shaped, formed, given breath and embraced as a child of God. So in a world defined by power and control Marta chooses a different ethic, a different way of life, a way mirroring the way of Jesus. Jesus calls to bless instead of use, to value instead of commodify, to heal rather than to wound, to love rather than to hate, to seek humility as opposed to power. And, in a world where the powerful cross lines without consequence, Jesus calls us to recognize the slippery slopes and seek to remain on holy ground. Knowing God’s grace awaits us when we fall.