Hard Teachings

Scripture: Matthew 5:21-37

Let us pray:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be found consistent with the spirit of your law and your realm, O Lord our God. Amen.

Today is Camp and Conference Sunday. Most of you know that up until my stated supply preaching for you began in 2014, most of my professional ministry has been in camp and conference ministry. I began as a volunteer in our Presbytery in 1998, followed every year by work with summer camp programs in one capacity or another. Most of my work in camp and conference ministry specialized in program areas: teaching, designing, developing, implementing, and finally administrating. If there is one thing that I learned from 18 years in that field, I would have to say it is the power of camp and conference settings to bring out one’s best work; in earth care, in discipleship, in experimenting with intentional community, and in growth among people’s spiritual health and life. One thing I found most challenging was making a more permanent connection between the life of camp and the life of the local church, not to mention ordinary secular life, where the rest of the life of discipleship is lived out.

Something I learned from my last ten years at Menucha is that the power experienced in being present to God and one another was just as powerful and transformative for adults as children. Spending a week, or even a weekend, away from the daily grind to concentrate on what is most important is a discipline and a gift.

Reflecting on that now that I’ve been away from Menucha for several months brings me to something everyone has to work at: relationships-both in and out of intentional discipleship communities – whether temporary, like camp, or more permanent, like church homes and family life. In this week’s Gospel lesson, we have some of the hardest-to-deal-with core teachings in the area of relationships. They break down into four topics on the surface: reconciliation, adultery, divorce, and swearing – as in, a vow to someone or something…say for example, taking an office. On a deeper level, all four topics fit hand to glove in dealing with broken relationships.

Perhaps the best way to go about understanding today’s passage is to ask ourselves: What is God’s intention for our lives? This can be answered, from a heavenly realm perspective, “for people in relationship to live in mutual support.” [1] When fractiousness occurs, mutual support dies, and brokenness enters in.

Our first five verses for today reflect our first hard teaching on reconciliation – or, rather, what happens before reconciliation takes place: action and reaction, if you will, on a continuum of hurt and brokenness. This is as extreme as murder, the first example Jesus uses, yet as insidious as judgment of others. Note that Jesus does not abolish the law regarding murder in this text, he places it, along with anger, insult, and judgment of others upon a continuum of negative and destructive behaviors; clearly non-kingdom characteristics that all of us contend with in our own beings now and again.

The next four verses bring us our second topic, adultery. It is one that takes us down a different continuum, again based in hurt and brokenness between people. Let us recall we are asking ourselves in each of these topics, “What is God’s intention for our lives?” In this case, God’s intention is for “marriage to anticipate the mutuality of the realm…. Lust creates adultery in the heart, which undermines the mutuality of marriage.”[2] The admonitions in verses 29-30 on dismemberment are agreed upon by most scholars to be hyperbole, meaning, they “underline the importance of dealing with impulses that could lead to the destruction of community.”[3]

Verses 31-32 are tricky to deal with. It might help us to understand that the text as recorded by Matthew actually comes from the earlier Mark chapter 10 verses 10-12 text which simply forbids divorce. Matthew adds the phrase “except on the ground of unchastity.” Why? Perhaps for the simple reason that a marriage relationship can be shaped by the presence of the existence of the heavenly realm in this “here but not yet fully realized” state. Perhaps in Matthews’ community – just like communities in our own time – there must have been dynamics where some marriages were actually realm-resistant and the realm as a whole would be better served by freeing the couple to live into other relationships.

I am almost certain we can all think of examples when that has been the case in our lives or the lives of someone close to us. The cases where this has helped people unfetter their best selves and/or the best selves of their children clearly have had God at work in them. Within the realm of God’s kingdom, they then experience the strength, the growth, and the flourishing to become brighter jewels once divorce happens and the gift of grace has been extended for those to drink deeply of love the way God intended it to function, instead of the broken way it had been functioning in their case.

This brings us to our final topic, which may seem a little odd when placed next to the others under the umbrella of reconciliation between peoples. Verses 33-37, in a nutshell, lead us all to consider the grave implications – personally and for the good of the realm, of what it means to hold integrity in both private and public spheres of life, as an utmost characteristic of goodness. Simply put, those who would embody God’s realm speak truth in love.

Reconciliation, the process by which brokenness is healed into wholeness, is a ministry all are called to in God’s realm. It is a true gift of the Church we can extend to all, for in reconciliation is forgiveness, in forgiveness is mercy, in mercy is compassion, and in compassion we find the heart of God’s love.

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

[1] Allen, Ronald J. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Questions for Reflection

Today’s readings speak of blessings and curses, life and death, good relationships and those that are broken. Moreover, the texts suggest that we have a choice in these matters.

Where do you find life, and where do you not—and what role do your choices play? Where have you experienced broken relationships in your own life or in the church? How do Christ and the reign of heaven enable us to move beyond brokenness and live in mutual support?

Household Prayer: Morning

Holy God, I greet this day with thanks and the determination to choose the good.  Help me to walk with you in blessing. Let my “yes” be yes, and my “no” be no, as I share the light of Christ. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Lord Jesus, it is night, and night is for sleeping; yet, my mind is racing fast. I give thanks for the blessings this day, and then I worry—there is so much left undone. But you are with me! You calm my anxiety, fill me with peace, and help me choose the way of rest. Amen.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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