You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with your brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.Matthew 5:21-22
You have heard it said that “times they are a-changing,” and yet you have also heard it said that “there is nothing new under the sun.” You have heard it said that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and yet you have also heard it said that the old will dream the dreams of a wondrous future yet to be. You have heard it said that “love is what you make it” and yet you have also heard it said that “love never fails.”
When we come to church each Sunday, we arrive to be with our family of faith and to worship God. There we find a chance to talk about life, to think about who we are called to be in the future, and to wrestle with life’s hard questions.
But when we come on Sundays that we are studying Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, many of us might rather just skim over them and move on.
His sayings are not easy. And they call all of us out on the ways we, as humans, continue to fail each other and God ever single day.
Throughout his speech, Jesus focuses on aspects of the ancient commandments – such as murder in the passage above. Contrary to how much of the church has used these texts throughout our two-thousand-year history, Jesus was not overturning or throwing out the old laws. In fact, he is expanding them to include what God originally intended when God gave them to us.
So for example, with murder, Jesus says that not only is murder one of the worst crimes a person can commit, but anger is on the same continuum with it. Indeed, if we harbor anger in our hearts towards another person, Jesus says it is as bad as physically taking their life, for we have killed any chance of the relationship that God intended us to have with them. Or, as another wise sage said, “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.”
In this saying, Jesus is not condemning all anger. Because Jesus definitely got angry. Yet his anger came when people were getting hurt. When God’s purposed were being trampled by the greedy, the hate-filled, and the tyrants of this world.
There are times when anger is righteous. And still, if that energy is not transformed into actions that further God’s kingdom, anger will lead us down a path where it becomes self-righteousness. We will begin to break relationships for the sake of vengeance, which is never, ever acceptable.
The Sermon on the Mount forces us to rethink commandments that have been misunderstood or abused throughout human history. In each case, Jesus extends their meaning to a deeper and further level:
We are to speak truth and call out lies. We are to seek to uphold our relationships to the best of our ability, and not disavow one another for no reason. We are to learn to control our thoughts and remember to proclaim that no one is responsible for causing a sin except the one who commits it. And we are to let loose self-righteous anger so that our anger may be saved for when God’s purposes are being distorted.
The Sermon on the Mount teaches us how we are to live in relationships this world. How to live in the kingdom of Heaven. It is a life full of love and finding opportunities for reconciliation, or at least confession whenever possible.
So, we hope to see you this weekend as we consider one final passage from this famous speech before we enter into Lent in a couple of weeks. Come with open ears, for we never know how Jesus will speak to us.
Blessings, Pastor Janie