Over the past few weeks, we have been working our way through the Sermon on the Mount. Two weeks ago, we focused on the Beatitudes – statements where Jesus surprised his hearers to say that God loves people the world considers weak. Last week, we focused on Jesus’ call for us to be evangelists – to go out into the world and mix in with people who don’t follow Christianity and share the light of Christ with them. Today, we turn to the next segment of the sermon, where Jesus invites his people to live out the love commandment. Hear Jesus’ words as they are found in Matthew chapter 5 verses twenty-one through thirty-seven:

Proclamation of the Scripture                        Matthew 5:21-37  

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 

leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 

Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 

And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 

But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 

or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 

And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 

All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Here ends this reading of the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Message                              From the Heart    

            Today’s reading from the Sermon on the Mount contains statements that seem harsh on the surface. Sometimes Jesus made extreme statements and gave exaggerated instructions to make his point, but didn’t expect to be taken literally… Jesus was not followed by a band of one-eyed pirates, so we know his disciples, regular men who may have glanced at a woman once or twice in their lives, were not gouging out their eyes.  Instead, Jesus used his words to encourage his followers to be conscious of how they treated other people and to live with their faith in the forefront of their lives.

            Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is all about love.  Each of the statements and teachings we read today are about relations between human beings, not with religious rituals that consider our relations with God. Jesus’ words emphasize the second part of the Greatest Commandment: We are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

In the section of the sermon when Jesus tells his followers to not act with anger and to reconcile with people to whom they are estranged,  Jesus was affirming that Love Shows No Hostility.  So, we shouldn’t kill other people, we shouldn’t hold grudges, we shouldn’t use hateful words when we talk to other people, and we should reconcile with people to whom we are in disagreements with. Realistically, we know that often we can’t instantaneously repair broken relationships, it takes hard work and time, but when we love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves, that love is true and is not tainted with hostility.

In the next portion of the sermon, Jesus talks about committing adultery. In that time period, adultery was considered a violation of a husband’s exclusive right to his wife – at that time women were considered their husband’s property.  Women were often considered the offending party when they were raped or when men sexually harassed them.  Jesus instructed his followers to not be lustful and in reaction to lust, to cut off our hands and gouge out our eyes. Jesus was exaggerating. In these statements, Jesus is blaming men for their lust and for their violation of women, not blaming women for tempting men. Jesus’ point is that Love is not Predatory. When we love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves, we don’t treat our neighbors as objects we can seize at will.

            The next section of Jesus’s sermon is about marriage. Jesus wants us to keep Love in Marriage. In the Torah of ancient Israel, men could divorce their wives for any reason they wanted. The wife was considered her husband’s property. The husband did not have to go to court or to religious authorities to receive a divorce, he just had to tell her and witnesses they were divorced. Divorces were easy for men to obtain and therefore their developed a lax attitude towards marriage.

            In the first century, divorce was a terrible outcome for women. If their husbands divorced them, and women had no immediate family to turn to, women would become destitute. Jesus wanted men to love their wives and take responsibility for them. If you love your wife as much as you love yourself, you won’t condemn her to a life of misery and will remain married to her.

            In the 21st century, women in our country are no longer considered the property of their husbands. We don’t believe God wants people to remain in unhappy, abusive marriages. Women have a lot more options for self-sufficiency now than we did in the first century. But, God still wants us to work towards having loving marriages where we are kind and loyal to our spouses.

            The final portion of the Sermon on the Mount we read today is focused on our need to be honest. Jesus’ wanted us to understand that Love is Unconditionally Truthful. Jesus wants his followers to be true to their word. When we love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, we don’t lie to them. We are truthful and authentic.

            Sometimes Jesus used extreme examples to get people’s attention. Sometimes, shocking people wakes us up and we are ready to listen in a new way. Jesus was all about love. He wanted us to love other people, to love our neighbors, as much as we love ourselves. Love is kind, not hostile. Love is generous, not predatory. Love is truthful, not deceptive. Love is supposed to be present in the most important relationships of our lives. We benefit by being people of love. Let us live out Jesus’ teachings and love one another.