6 Epiphany Year A // February 12, 2023 // St. Paul Random Lake // Matthew 5:27-32
Matters of the Heart
Let us pray. Forgive us, Lord, when we abuse the gift of sexuality, when we hurt each other and destroying relationships. Bring us your healing and grace. Amen.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 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. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 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. 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. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
“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.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 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 one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
Few of us can say can say we have never had lustful thoughts or desires. Sexuality in itself is a wonderful gift from God, but there are wrong and improper ways of expressing it. The root of all sin is a failure to love and trust God above all things paired with failure to love our neighbors as ourselves. When one looks at other people only as objects for lust and desire and minimize their worth as individuals, it comes as a result of one’s sinfulness. When one uses and abuses another sexually, when relationships are broken and destroyed, it comes as a result of human sinfulness.
Society tends to say that anything that happens in the privacy of one’s bedroom is okay. Often sexual relations are treated as casually as shaking hands. Our bodies are our own and so we ought to be able to take or leave sex as we see fit. Of course, that is based on an assumption that there are only one person’s feelings. Desires and expectations involved, which is never the case. When sex is promiscuous or casual, it multiplies the opportunity for heartache, hurt feelings and misunderstandings.
Our gospel for today is a part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This section of the sermon includes some of the hardest sayings of Scripture. JESUS REALLY GETS TOUGH ON SIN—not just those related to sexuality, but also in other areas of life.
In the gospels we see that Jesus was accepting of all kinds of people including adulterers and prostitutes. However, even as he loved sinners unconditionally, Jesus did not condone sinful behavior. In fact. As we see in today’s gospel. Jesus took the ancient laws a step further. If anything, he was stricter than those who went before him.
If a person were to take the 6th Commandment at face value they could pat themselves on the back and say: “I’ve never had sex with anyone but my spouse.” Jesus offers an interpretation that goes deeper than the physical act of adultery. Jesus said that anyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart? Can you honestly say that you’ve never had lustful feelings toward someone you shouldn’t? No one is exempt. Jesus reminds us that sin is not just a matter of what we do with our bodies. Sin is a matter of the heart.
Not that sexual desire in itself is a bad thing. It is a good and beautiful gift. God created us to be sexual beings. Yet, a gift intended to bring joy to life may also make life more complicated. From the garden of Eden, men and women were created to be partners and companions for one another. The word that is traditionally translated “a helper fir for him” or “help meet” in Hebrew literally means “a helper who is Face-to-face” which would be better translated “a helper to be his partner.” It is only due to the Fall into sin that the woman is told the man will rule over her. God did not intend that humans should regard each other only as sexual objects and not as whole people.
Jesus takes such “sins of the heart” very seriously. He said that “It is better to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand than to allow these parts to lead us astray. Jesus calls us to radical obedience as he pushes the Commandments to the extreme in his sermon. At the same time, Jesus knows the inner conflict we all endure, the bondage to sin from which he has set us free so in the end we are all driven to God’s merciful arms.
As the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7: “For I do not know the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do…Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!”
We live in an age where we might think there is nothing to be rescued from. Who needs the freedom Christ has to offer when we live in an age of sexual freedom? Aren’t we free to be with whomever we want whenever we want? What kind of freedom is that in the end? Freedom to catch STDs, freedom to hurt others and be hurt by differing expectations, freedom to use others and be used. Finally, sexual freedom as the world views it isn’t freedom at all, but bondage.
What about the freedom to get a divorce if a marriage doesn’t work out? Isn’t Jesus’ statement on divorce and adultery just plain outdated? Again. What Jesus is saying in the Sermon on the Mount is that divorce is much more than a piece of paper allowed by Jewish law—it is a matter of the heart.
Few people I have ever talked to who are divorced would talk about it as freedom. The death of a relationship can be a painful, gut-wrenching experience. Often there are more than two people who get hurt. It can be devastating for kids to shuttled back and forth or to feel unloved by one or both parents whether real or imagined.
In many cases, the pain of a divorce may be even greater than that of a spouse’s death. It is very often the lesser of evils. The freedom to divorce is not real freedom at all, but bondage. It is a concession to our human sinfulness. Divorce is not the way God intended it to be, but we live in a world that is tarnished by sin.
God intended sex to be between two committed people in a marriage relationship. Unfortunately, due to our human sinfulness it doesn’t always work that way. Broken relationship happen as a result of sin.
God’ law is not meant for us to point fingers at others, but to help sinful humans to get along in peace and harmony with our neighbors. When the Pharisees brought a woman caught in the act of adultery to Jesus, he reminded them all that none of them could cast the first stone. In other words, the law accuses all of us and makes us aware of our sinfulness and need for Christ.
Yet, there is no sin too great for God to forgive. Whatever your sins may be, sexual or otherwise, God’s loving arms are always open. In Christ, God’s mercy and grace are there for you so you are a new person. God promises strength in your struggles and healing in your failures.
In this time of more sexual freedom, traditional Christian marriage may seem to be restrictive or confining. It is true that that even the healthiest of marriages are in need of forgiveness in matters of the heart. Yet, God did not tintend marriage to be a ball and chain. In many ways, the best of marriages give us a glimpse of freedom as God intended it to be—the freedom of being loved and accepted just as you are, the freedom to be vulnerable and be yourself, of sharing hopes and fears, joys and sorrows. It is the freedom of knowing fully and being fully known.
Of course, no marriage is perfect, and we don’t all experience marriages in the same way. Some people are single by choice, others have not found the right person, still others may be widowed or divorced. We all need to love and be loved and accepted by others. As Christians we are called to be sensitive to others’ needs for care and support. Within the family of God, we can experience to a different degree glimpses of being accepted and loved by God.
Finally, whether we are married or single, male or female or some other gender identity, we are all sinners and failures in matters of the heart. It is only in Christ that we are truly free to be wholly and fully the people God intended us to be. Jesus said if an eye or a hand cause us to sin, we should get rid of it. Jesus sacrificed not just an eye or a hand, but his whole life to break the hold of sin over us. Jesus loves us, in spite of our sinfulness, in spite of our failure to live up to God’s commands and offers us forgiveness and a fresh start. Jesus delivers us from the body of death—the cycle of sin which continually kills us day after day. For those of us who are in bondage to sin, he promises real freedom, the freedom of a new life in him. AMEN.