Do the words of the bible still hold true?
I am wondering if a few of you found yourself humming a tune as you read the title of my sermon today? Let me share the lyrics to the refrain of this 1970 song, by the Brotherhood of Man, “United We Stand”:
For united we stand. Divided we fall
And if our backs should ever be against the wall
We’ll be together, Together, you and I
Oh yes, this song is written in reference to a couple who are in love but I have often thought the lyrics fit the church as it is in ministry. I think Jesus would agree with these words as well. Jesus knew that there were conflicts everywhere among the people. In the homes, child against parent, parent against parent and feuds that last generations. In the community merchants cheated buyers, thieves stole what they wanted, and money was being loaned and not being paid back.
Things haven’t changed much over the last 2,000 plus years. Conflicts and arguments, financial struggles and thievery are still among us in every form. So as we read this Gospel text we need to hear how Jesus tells us to deal with all of it.
In our Gospel reading this morning from Matthew, Jesus begins by reminding us of the commandment “Don’t commit murder.” I’m pretty sure most of us can take a deep breath and think, “Oh good, Jesus isn’t talking to me this time. I haven’t murdered anyone.”
Jesus doesn’t stop there though, does He? Jesus begins the next part with “But I say…”
Jesus was always teaching the deeper meaning of the commandments. Not that He was changing the law but simply helping to make it clear. As it says just a few verses earlier in Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
Attacking a person’s character is another type of murder.
So Jesus says, “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” Wow! Now he is hitting a little closer to home. Just being angry can bring judgment? We’ve talked before about the difference between righteous anger and anger that comes out in words and opinions. In our text Jesus refers to those who call others names in anger such as Raca (meaning “idiot or good for nothing”) or calling someone a “fool.” Unfortunately, we have become so accustom to name-calling that we don’t quite understand what Jesus is saying here. Name–calling was far more serious in those days than today. People’s livelihood depended on their honor and to have someone insult them in such a way could damage their reputation. If their reputation was attacked and diminished it was as though their very lives were at stake. In those days, attacking a person’s character was seen as another type of murder.
We may not recognize it as much anymore, but in reality, when we think about the way it feels to be called a name, it is still an attack on our very being. The childhood response to a verbal attack, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me,” is not really true. Name-calling is harmful and can stick with a person for life. So Jesus is addressing this anger that attacks the very heart of a person, whether it is verbally or physically.
If you want to be cleansed of your sins, go face them first!
So now that He has our attention, how does He tell us to deal with it? Well, again we need to look at our text, from the perspective of the times. Jesus is talking to a community of Jewish people who were still bringing their sacrifices to the altar and seeking atonement for sins. He tells them “if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. If you have hurt someone, first make things right with them and then come back offer your gift.”
So if He is talking to people who are bringing sacrifices to a temple, can He be talking to us? We don’t “do sacrifices” anymore, so do we have to do what Jesus says? (Did I really just ask that question?) Let’s think this through. Jesus is talking to people who were coming to the Temple about a time when they were supposedly coming to ask for atonement. Jesus says to them, if you are really seeking atonement – forgiveness, start by acknowledging the sin or conflict and then come to the temple in humbleness to seek atonement. What Jesus is saying is, if you want to be cleansed of your sins, go face them first.
This reminds me of the little boy who was outside playing, and like any child who plays outside, he was very dirty. His mother called to him and said, “Tommy, it’s time to come in and get cleaned up for supper.” He responded, “Okay Mom, I’m coming.” With that his mother went back to preparing supper. In a few minutes she realized he had not come in and headed back to call to him and hurry him along. As she reached the backdoor she is astonished at what she sees. There in the middle of a large puddle stands Tommy grinning from ear to ear. A bit annoyed, his mother asked, “Tommy, what are you doing?” He responded with joy, “I saw all this water and thought I should get cleaned off outside so I won’t get dirt in the house!”
You have to love the way a child thinks!
So what I hear Jesus saying is, “You can’t get cleaned up if you are standing in a puddle.”
Yes, Jesus is talking to us as well. Although we no longer need to bring sacrifices to the altar, Jesus sacrificed Himself, once and for all, but we do come into this sanctuary, into the presence of God, each week to worship, to seek forgiveness and to find peace. We come as sinners wanting forgiveness, but are we truly repentant? Have we acknowledged our sins towards others? Are we truly sorry that we have created a divide between ourselves and someone else?
Notice Jesus says, If someone has something against you, by this Jesus is speaking of something that you know you did to someone and they have called you on it. You know you have hurt them but have done nothing about it. We need to settle these issues before we can truly be healed and accept forgiveness.
It is interesting that Jesus doesn’t say, “you remember you have something against someone else”. You see, all His teachings tell us not to hold offenses but to forgive them. We can settle an issue within ourselves and our thinking, by giving it to God and letting it go but when we know we have truly hurt another person, on purpose or not, we need to go to them and be reconciled.
Anger, whether expressed through name-calling or physical attacks causes dissension. Jesus knew that in order for His followers to have any impact on the world, they had to be examples of how to be united through reconciliation with each other and with Him.
To be reconciled with an enemy, means being united in Christ.
Thus, Jesus calls us to reconcile with each other – even before trying to be reconciled with Him. In Jesus words, “Settle matters quickly with your adversary…” There is no time for dissension or divisions within God’s family of believers. We must be united or as the song states, we will fall.
Jesus’ teachings from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew are not just for those who walked with Him in that society. Jesus is speaking to us today as well. We cannot, let our differences, our arguments, our hurts, divide us. If we are going to carry on Jesus ministry and tell others about how His love and forgiveness has changed our lives, we need to live like it is true. We need to stand united, not always in agreement, but reconciled with each other through Jesus Christ our Savior.
This week we are going to be celebrating the day of love – Valentines’ day. What if we make a purposeful attempt to reconcile with those we know have something against us before that day?
What if we make Valentines’ day not just about loving the people who love us but also about showing love to those who may seem like enemies?
As a Christian community, let us stand united and celebrate the love of God and share it with everyone.
Scripture readings for today: Matthew 5:21-37; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9