Sunday, February 16, 2014

In A Relationship

Matthew 5:21-37
February 16, 2015

            According to the website, Statistics Brain, as of January 1, 2014, there are 54,250,000 single people in the United States.  Of those people, 41,250,000 have tried online dating.  In a study that came out last summer, a study that was also funded by eHarmony – one of the largest of all the online dating sites – one third of all marriages today are couples who met on-line. 
People who want to give online dating a shot have plenty of different sites to choose from.  One article that I read stated that there are as many as 2400 online dating sites.  2400.  There is a dating site for every possible interest, character trait, or quirk you can think of.  There are sites with names most of us have heard of:  eHarmony,, Zoosk, and Christian Mingle.  There’s also OurTime, for singles over 50, FarmersOnly, for, you know, farmers, OkCupid, Plenty of Fish, Black Singles, JDate – a site for Jewish singles, Luv@FirstTweet, Manhunt, Great Expectations, FindSoulmateatMyLoveWebsite, MeetAnInmate, Geek 2 Geek, and, my favorite, Soulgeek. 
            The yentas and the matchmakers that brokered marriages in centuries past are now found online.  By the looks of it, they are thriving.  They’re thriving because people of all ages, creeds, ethnicities, shapes, sizes, city dwellers and rural residents want to be in a relationship.  Even people who are not looking for romantic love want to be in some sort of relationship – friendships, partnerships, companionships.  As philosophers have termed it, humans are “social animals.”  We need connection.  We need community.  We need relationships.  They’re not just for Valentine’s Day.
            Relationships are at the core of our passage from Matthew’s gospel this morning, a passage that is found in the larger context of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Obviously Jesus is not referring to ways in which we can meet other people.  He is not referring to our relationship status updates on social media.  Instead Jesus is speaking, preaching about broken relationship. His words in this section of the sermon are known as the “antitheses” in biblical scholarship.  Each antithesis begins with Jesus saying, “You have heard that it was said …”
            “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.” 
            That’s just for anger.  I don’t believe I qualify for anger management classes, but I certainly can get angry.  If I am pushed hard enough, my temper flares.  I don’t like to think about how many times over I could be liable to the fires of hell for my anger alone.   
            Jesus makes the correlation between anger and murder.  It’s not just about the physical act of murder.  It is about what is in the very heart of a person.  It is about the anger we carry within us, even if we don’t act on it in a violent manner.  Who among us hasn’t, in a moment of anger, said, “I’m so mad at (fill in the blank) that I could kill (fill in the blank)?”  We know that it is horrendous to act upon that instinct.  Jesus says that it is equally horrendous to think it. 
            In each of these antitheses, there is also a given way to remedy or deal with the wrong that is done.  Jesus tells the disciples that if we are angry with someone, or if someone is angry with us, before we can bring our gifts to the altar, we must reconcile with that person.  We are to leave our gifts at the altar and go work it out with the person with whom we are in strife.  In our context that would mean putting off partaking of the Lord’s Supper and reconciling with the person or the people we have a broken relationship with. 
            Have we done this?  I know I haven’t.  We celebrated the Lord’s Supper last week, and I’m sure I came to the table with some anger at some person.  I’m sure I stood at this table with frustration, with unreconciled relationships.  What about you?
            Jesus doesn’t stop with anger.  He goes on to talk about lust and adultery, divorce and swearing falsely. 
            In the context of that culture and in the context of the Law itself, adultery was defined as something done only by the woman.  A married woman who had a relationship with another man was the adulterer.  This was not true for a married man.  A man could have several wives and concubines.  We have examples of this throughout scripture; starting with Abraham, the patriarch of our faith.  It was a patriarchal society, so the burden of adultery was on the woman’s shoulders, not the man’s.  That’s the way it was.  But as one commentator put it, Jesus reorients, reaffirms and radicalizes the Law of Moses  It is not just about the physical action of adultery, nor is the onus of adultery only on the woman.  If a man looks at a woman with lust, if he, in our more contemporary terms, objectifies her, then he is guilty of adultery.  It is about what is in the heart and what is in the intent, as much as it is about the physical action.
            Jesus says it is better to tear out your right eye, cut off your right hand, purposely lose bits and pieces of yourself than have your whole body thrown into hell.  Yes, Jesus was speaking in hyperbole – exaggerated, extreme speech – in order to get his point across.  But his hyperbolic language does not detract from the radical demands Jesus makes of anyone who follows him.
            Now we come to what is, for so many of us, the hardest part of this passage to hear – Jesus’ words about divorce.  At that time, divorce could only be initiated by the husband, and all he had to do to divorce his wife was write it down and hand it to her.  I’ve heard from some sources that the husband merely had to speak it three times:  I divorce you.  I divorce you.  I divorce you.  It was done.  Cause or reason for the divorce does not seem to have been a factor.  If a wife burned bread, the husband had just cause to divorce her.  That is certainly different from the causes of divorce in our context. 
            But in any context these are difficult words to hear.  For as much as people desperately want to be in relationships, those relationships often end.  Half of all marriages end in divorce, and it is no secret that I understand at a new level the pain of that statistic.  All of us have been directly or indirectly affected by divorce.  Even if we ourselves are not divorced, we know people who are.  We have family members who are divorced; friends, colleagues.  How do we hear Jesus’ words?  How do we reconcile ourselves to them? 
            In the last of the antithesis that we read today, Jesus speaks about swearing.  This is not about using bad language.  It’s not about cussin’, as we called it when I was a kid.  It is about oaths, swearing on or by something.  Growing up, a common phrase I heard was, “I swear on a stack of Bibles.”  In that sense it was to add emphasis to whatever was being promised.  Yet Jesus warns against that.  Do not swear on heaven.  Do not swear on earth.  Heaven and earth belong to God.  Do not swear on Jerusalem, that is the city of the great King.  Do not swear on something else as a way of guaranteeing you keep your promises and your oaths.  If you make a promise, keep it.  Do not swear to keep it.  Keep it.  Let your word be “yes, yes” or “no, no.”  Do not swear by something to do something, then break the promise you’ve made.  It is just one more way of breaking relationship. 
            As I said earlier, Jesus is speaking about broken relationships.  We harm one another, we break our relationships.  We break them not just in our actions, but in our thoughts.  We also must keep in mind, again, that these antitheses were not spoken by Jesus in some random conversation with his disciples.  They were spoken in the Sermon on the Mount; the sermon that began with the Beatitudes.  Blessed are …the peacemakers, the poor in spirit, the meek, the persecuted, the reviled.  In this sermon, Jesus tells those who will follow him that they are salt and light.  We are called to be salt and light to a broken world.  Relationships are broken.  People are broken.  But we are called to live righteous lives.  This doesn’t mean that we are perfect. It does not give us justification to be self-righteous or smug or self-serving.  We, the broken, are called to serve, to minister to, and to love the broken.  But wounded as we are, in following Jesus, we have been given a glimpse of the kingdom in our midst.  Even in this broken, hurting world, we can see a bit of the kingdom reflected even in the places and in the people that seem most shattered.  Our calling is not about avoiding broken relationship.  We all have them, in one way or another.  No, our calling is to work for their healing. 
            To quote the late Paul Harvey, we who know the rest of the story know that Jesus came to heal what is broken.  His birth, his life, his death, his resurrection was about restoring relationship.  His coming restored our relationship with God.  His ministry sought to restore our relationships with one another.  Jesus came for the hurting and the sick.  Jesus came for the forgotten and the oppressed.  Jesus came to bind up the broken-hearted.  Jesus came to tell the least of these that they were valued by God.  Jesus came to show us in his very being what it means, what it truly means, to be in relationship.  The very trinity we proclaim – God, three in one – is a model of relationship.  This passage, as harsh and as painful as it is, is about relationship.  That is Good News.  It is good news because it reminds us that God values us.  God values our relationships.  Broken as they are, broken as we are, we are valued by God.  We are loved by God.  That’s why we are called to restore, to reconcile, to heal what is broken; in ourselves and in the world.  God loves us, broken as we are.  That is Good News, indeed.  Let all God’s children say, “Alleluia.”  Amen.

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