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2/12/23 Sermon

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Matthew 5:21-37 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment, and 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. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at another with lust has already committed adultery with them in their heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces their spouse, let them give a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces their spouse, except on the ground of sexual immorality, causes them to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced person commits adultery.

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you: Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

A word of caution about our scripture. The church has been known to abuse this text, and some Christians still read it in a way that does not honor the Jewish faith but demeans and degrades it.

The words repeated in this scripture from Matthew are, “You have heard it said---but I say to you.”

Catholic scholar Richard Rohr writes, “Historically, Christians have said that the whole Bible was to be interpreted ‘in the light of Jesus,’ but we understood that in a self-serving way, falsely believing that Christianity supplanted Judaism and thus made it irrelevant and merely an ‘old’ testament. We went so far as to assume that Moses and Isaiah were warm-up acts for Jesus. That is not honest, not true, and not even fair to Jesus. He built on their wisdom rather than thinking ‘They are pointing to me!’ We must make that clear mental switch. (Center for Action and Contemplation, Daily meditation for Feb. 9, 2023)

To be clear – When Jesus was teaching, he was teaching the Jewish scriptures. He was not teaching Christianity. There was no Christianity. That shift was not made until sometime after his death.

This teaching that Matthew has placed on the lips of Jesus is not meant to take away from the Hebrew Scriptures, not to diminish the Hebrew Scriptures or the Hebrew people; it is to re-frame the scriptures as lived and taught by Jesus.

This morning we view this scripture through the dual lenses of Jesus and Racial Justice, not side by side lenses, but overlayed one atop the other.

The overall theme of these verses that Vicky read for us this morning is reconciliation. Reconciling broken relationships with God, with others, with ourselves.

These broken relationships cited in the scripture, that of murder, adultery, divorce, and oath keeping all exist on a continuum. Matthew is citing the broken end of the continuum, but one typically does not arrive there in one giant step but in many small steps.

You have heard it said… but I say to you. Yes, murder is a sinful act against God and against good, and against humanity. But also, beware the many tiny steps that have the potential to lead there. Be aware of your anger. Make peace with those around you as soon as you are aware of ill feelings and animosities. Yes, adultery and divorce goes against the loving and whole relationships God wants for us. But also, beware the slippery path that leads to broken and unhealthy relationships. Be aware of how you treat others. Take responsibility for your feelings. Do not project blame outward when you would be better gazing inward for clarity and direction. And finally, our oaths are important. When you say yes, mean yes. When you say no, mean no. Keeping one’s word is fundamental to faithful living, fundamental to right relationships. Above all else, keeping God’s laws take precedent over any human-made laws.

All this is important in the everyday, overall sense. And this week our UCC denomination has asked us to focus our light on the everyday presence of racial injustices. It is time we reconcile ourselves to our pasts so that we can ensure all of our futures.

Through this text we shine our light on the injustices of murder and inhumane treatment of our black and brown and indigenous siblings. Through this text our light exposes how as a nation, we have repeatedly dishonored our black and brown and indigenous siblings. First by saying no to their existence, then by saying yes, but failing to make good on our yes. We have said, “yes, but” in regard to the education of generations of United States citizens when we created the false dichotomy of separate but equal. We have said “yes, but” in regard to our criminal justice and prison systems, applying separate but unequal measures of upholding the law.

What would “yes, yes” look like for the underserved populations among us? What would it look like to make good on the promises that our country was founded upon so that we do not have underprivileged people?

Paraphrasing the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., we will be reconciled to all people when freedom rings in our voting booths, when freedom rings in our institutions of learning, when freedom rings in our elected offices on every level, from our small-town governments to our nation’s capital.

We will be saying “yes, yes” when all of God’s children live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

We know what is right. How do we get there? One of my family’s favorite restaurants in my hometown in Wisconsin has these words framed above the entrance to the main dining room. “You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips.”

One place to start is to broaden our own circles of care. We can make concerted efforts to befriend and learn from people that have different skin tones than us. Find black and brown and indigenous voices that we can trust – and then listen to what they have to say about their experiences – even when their truth hurts us. Their truth is already hurting them.

Here is a short list of some people that I turn to for a perspective that is different than my own.

Debie Thomas, born in India, raised in the United States, is a seeker, an explorer, a believer, and a doubter. She wrote weekly blog posts for Journey with Jesus for over a decade. She is a Director of Christian Education at her church in California. She published a book in 2022 titled, “Into the Mess & Other Jesus Stories,” which I highly recommend.

William Barber II, during 30 years of pastoral ministry, led the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, established Repairers of the Breach to train communities in moral movement building, and co-anchored the revival of the Poor People’s Campaign. He most recently became the founding director of the Center for Public Theology & Public Policy at Yale Divinity School.

Sherri Mitchell, author of “Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change,” is an activist, a lawyer, a Mainer. I hope that some of you will read her book with me.

These three people help broaden my view and challenge my assumptions. And of course, there are others that I read or listen to. Who do you recommend? Together we will learn. Together we listen and learn from the voices of the oppressed, because their lives depend on it. Together we will bring needed change, because our lives depend on it. Together we will disrupt the status quo – even though that means disrupting our comfort, so that others may have enough. Enough food, shelter, health care, education, all of which are simply basic necessities.

In Matthew’s text this morning, Jesus is reframing the ancient scriptures. You have heard it said… but I say… Jesus taught that what has been said and what has been written, “are to be read through the lens of inclusivity, mercy, and justice.” (Richard Rohr)

When we commit to inclusivity, mercy, and justice our yes will be yes and our no will be no. When we commit to inclusivity, mercy, and justice we will be honoring all people as full and equal members of society, as God intended. When we commit to inclusivity, mercy, and justice we will preach with our lives. Yes, yes.


Rev. TJ Mack – February 12, 2023

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