Input sound file: Audio 02 25 2018
as you’ve heard me say and will probably hear me say all the way through this season, to repent means that we change our thinking. It is a changing of your mind. It’s not feeling bad about what you’ve done. It’s changing how you see things, so you see them the way that God sees them. And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes his people through this series of lessons that is designed to change the way they think. And we’re coming up on one right here today. Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Verse 18, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot will pass from the law until all is accomplished. “Whoever then,” Jesus says, verse 19, “relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven, for I tell you that, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, who were very proud of how righteous they were, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus did not come to tell us that there are no rules. Jesus did not come to tell us that anything goes. But Jesus did try to change the way we think about the rules so that we are more able to keep them in a way that would please God.
We do not fulfill the commandments by doing away with them. There are some churches, there are some pastors, there are some theologians that, if you go to them, they will want to tell you that Jesus fulfilled all the law on the cross so now you and I don’t have to. They will try to find some way for Jesus, saying that he came to fulfill the law to take the place of us actually having to do anything. But I think if we take the words of Jesus literally, he’s trying to change the way we think. “All of the commandments are still there,” he said, but there’s another place to where he said this. He was asked, “What is the great commandment?” and he said, “You need to love the Lord, your God, with all. All your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your body, everything your body does, everything you own, every place you have influence. God comes first.” Oh, and then there’s your neighbor as yourself. You notice the trinity here? You’re not supposed to love your neighbor more than you love yourself, you’re not supposed to be one of these always sacrificing people who get bullied and take advantage of, nor are you supposed to be self-centered with no concern for anybody else around you and how they feel and how they live. There needs to be a balance there. Jesus said, “These three summarize all the commandments.” Let’s take a look at where that comes from because as you can imagine, this is very important. Matthew 22. See, it’s all those chapters later. One of them, a lawyer, asks him a question. “Teacher, what’s the great commandment?” And Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind.” In Luke, it says, “With all your strength.” This is the great and first commandment, and God needs to have the priority, and the second is like it. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” And here’s the point: if you get these three right, you will have done what God wants you to do with all the others, and we ought to be able to remember these three. In fact, it wasn’t that hard to remember. You know the tablets where the 10 Commandments were inscribed? You know that in Hebrew, the 10 Commandments are called the Decalogue, that they are literally in Hebrew not 10 sentences but they are 10 words? And as human beings trying to find ways to get out of them, all the commentaries on what one word meant got longer and longer and longer because it’s human nature for us to try to create loopholes. Here’s the nice thing about this one. There’s no loopholes. If you want to obey all the commandments, you will love God with all and you will find a balance between yourself and the neighbor. Last Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, Kim and I were in Chicago so that I could go to a class about what is known as Bowen family systems. It’s a branch of psychology, psychiatry, and what it basically says is that if you can get it right in your relationships with other people, your personal problems will disappear, that when you counsel or try to help someone, what you need to do is help them in the context of their relationships. And there’s eight different concepts of Bowen theory, and we would be here for eight weeks if we talked about them now, so I do want to tell you about one. It’s called triangling, and if Larry Hebrin didn’t mind, he’s always my go-to person to ask if he would volunteer. Would you stand up and take me by the hand? And I appreciate your help so much. One of the ideas behind Bowen theory is any relationship between two human beings is unstable because they tend to push and pull on each other, and they get frustrated, and they get emotional. Kind of hard to believe you and I would be like that, right? And what Bowen theory says is in order to stabilize the frustration there, the individuals will reach out to a third person or, in other words, create a triangle in order to achieve some stability. So for example if I’m really frustrated with you, I might come over here and tell your son how irritating you are [laughter]. And you see, now I have a triangle because if know what you’re doing, you shouldn’t say to me, “Have you told my dad this [laughter],” okay? And you might reach out to Patsy, except you can’t because I got that hand. And she might tell you to calm down, “You know he’s just a pastor [laughter],” okay? Thank you very much. But what we do is we try to reach out in other directions. And if I’m upset with my best friend, I’ll reach out to my spouse. If I’m upset with my spouse, I’ll reach out to my best friend. If I’m upset with everybody, I’ll go talk to some bartender somewhere. That’ll help a lot [laughter]. I’ve never been a bartender, but I’ll bet you they would tell you they do this all day long. But here’s the point of the scripture we’re going to talk about. When there’s garbage between you and somebody else, and it doesn’t matter which side has the most garbage and whether it’s garbage between you and somebody else, it’s natural not to deal with the person you have the problem with, but it’s natural to avoid them and find some way to avoid it. Oh, by the way, what do men do between football season and baseball season to avoid dealing with things [laughter]? Because you can triangle with a sport or a hobby. You can triangle with your job, “Well, if I’m not getting along with people at home, I’ll just go to work and never come home.” You can triangle with things.
And see, here’s the other thing– don’t stand up, Larry, just be right there [laughter]. We can triangle with God. God, have you seen how irritating Larry is? I need to pray for him. Poor guy. We can triangle with God as a means to avoid facing what we should face with regard to loving our neighbor as ourselves. There are some people who run away from what God wants them to do to God. And instead of doing what they’re supposed to do at home, they never leave the church because the church and their relationship with God sometimes can be a place, a refuge – no, wait, that’s not what I meant to say – a place to hide from garbage you need to pay attention to. And so we have the next part of these verses.
Now, Jesus gives them a specific example. You heard that it was said to men of old, “You shall not kill. And whoever kills, shall be liable to judgment.” But I say to you– now, this is Jesus trying to change the way they think. “I say to you– I say to you,” Jesus says, “that everyone who’s angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment. I say to you that whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council, the court, the judge. And whoever says, ‘You fool, you fool,’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.” Now, is Jesus saying that if you say to someone, “You fool that’s the same as killing them.” No. What Jesus is saying is that the person who says, “You fool,” is struggling with the same thing as the person who kills someone. It’s a difference of degree, but it’s the same problem. It’s a difference of degree, but it’s the same sin, and if you give in to your anger, if you give in to that frustration that you feel and that we all feel– everybody has a bad day. Everybody has a flat tire. If you give in to that anger, you’re struggling with the same difficulty, but see, here’s the problem. If you give in to that anger, it’ll be easy to give in to it the next time, and the next time, and sooner or later, if you have a habit of giving in to your anger, you will do something you greatly regret. I would like to tell you that every now and then, I bump into this little pocket of anger that’s inside of myself. It feels like I have stepped into a mud puddle in my Sunday best. I don’t like it, and so I try to not give into it. I try to distract myself. I ask God to help me, but if you keep giving into it, you will sow anger and then you will reap more anger. Has anybody sowed corn and gotten beans? Why do we think that if we share our feelings of anger with someone, we’re going to get lots of love back? Brothers and sisters, your field doesn’t work that way and neither does life, and this is what Jesus is trying to say. All of you people who are angry all the time but take great pride in the fact that you’ve never killed anybody, there’s no difference between you and somebody who does worse. We’re very disturbed and worried today about mass shootings. A horrible thing happened in Florida earlier this month, but do you know psychologically what’s going on there? Very often, mass shooters are injustice collectors, and they’re angry at the masses. So there’s that component where everybody doesn’t have a right to live because the mass shooter is angry at others in general. They’ve completely lost sight of a time when an individual said something and got them angry, and now they’re just full of anger for everything and everybody. And then there’s feeling of intense rage that they feel justifies them to do violence, and it’s not enough to kill one person. And this is the common thread in all of these acts is that the person deep down inside is a very angry person. What should give us great
fear is that our culture is more and more becoming a culture where people feel that if I’m angry, I’m justified in doing anything I do. That being angry is an excuse for anything because it’s not. If you sow anger, you’re going to reap more anger. Rarely does the news talk about this which is why this phrase seemed to be so valuable to me. So now Jesus gets to the point. He’s been talking about anger. By the way, I can’t go any further without saying that there are so many times on Facebook that I want to respond to some idiotic statement by saying, “You fool.” And this verse stops me cold. But here’s what Jesus said to do. You who are in the church, you who are in the church offering your gift at the altar, you who are in the church lifting up to God your devotion, your desire to do God’s will. If you’re triangling, if you’re there and you remember that your brother has something against you, Jesus says. Now by the way, don’t you think that’s just a little unfair? Because the people who have something against me, they’re all wrong. If they just saw it the right way, they wouldn’t have anything against me. All those people that are upset with me, if they would just listen to me, after five or six hours I could show them everything in all the books that show how stupid they are, and I wouldn’t have to call them a fool. So there’s no question that Jesus is being unfair. How many of us have smoke detectors in the house? How many of you, when it goes off, you take the battery out? How many of you laugh when the newlyweds said to each other, that beeping sound, that means the roast is done. No honey, that’s the smoke alarm. An alarm that is going to save your life will have false positives. It will go off before the whole house is on fire. In fact, it’ll go off before there’s a fire. It’ll go off when you’ve left something on the stove too long. You know why? You want an alarm to tell you that there could be something wrong and then you can check it out. So therefore when Jesus says, if you remember that somebody else has something against you, in this age when other people are so sensitive and irritable and politically correct, if you have that awareness, it wakes you up to take a look at what might be going on between you and that other person. Because you know something? Your house may not be on fire, and the problem may be their problem. But if you wait until you think it’s your problem, you may miss a lot of fires. So Jesus is kind of going overboard here because it’s good for us to be aware that there’s a problem. If you’re praying in church and you’re aware that somebody has a problem with you, that’s something you want to look into. Now I would appreciate it if you would not take this passage literally and leave before the sermon is over, but Jesus is pointing out that this part of the triangle, the horizontal part, it’s important and you need to stop avoiding it and start dealing with it. Denial is ignoring the truth. Some of you, and I know this because I’ve been your pastor, some of you are this close to perfect. I’ll let you wonder who that is. But some of you are pretty wonderful. But there is no one of us that can say that we are righteous, that we are perfect. It is a very human characteristic for us to ignore things in our life that need cleaning up, as if by sticking your head in the sand you can avoid the truth that there’s garbage that needs to be taken out. When you avoid the truth, there’s a short-term gain but there’s long-term pain. As Mark Twain said, it’s not what you– I forget exactly what he said. It’s something like it’s not what you know that will get you in trouble, it’s what you know to be true that ain’t so. And that’s denial. You’re better off knowing the truth. Here’s an example of the truth. Don’t you love those baby kittens with the white stripes? Now I have to tell you, I had never been close to any of those baby kittens. I’ve only seen pictures of them, to be honest. But I don’t think that’s very smart. And there’s a whole lot of us in terms of the behaviors that we put up with, the things that we do. It’s like we are pretending that a problem is a baby kitten with a white stripe. If somebody has a problem with you, it’s something we should think about clearly and pray about because here’s what Jesus said. Put your relationship with God on hold. Now you know why you can do that? God will wait for you. Put your relationship with God as a second priority. Leave your gift there before the altar. It’ll be fine. You can come right back to it. Leave your gift before the altar and go. Put a higher priority first. Be reconciled to your brother, and then come back and you will find that your spiritual life with God is richer. Don’t let the garbage pile up. Go and offer peace to that person with whom you have difficulties. Now, we need to be wise. There are some people who are just plain unsafe. In fact there are some people who are dangerous. And there are some people, and I guarantee you this, if you come up to them and say, “Got a minute? I want to tell you everything bad about you that I don’t like.” Remember? They’re going to avoid you, sometimes with violence. You need to be careful in the way that you go to another person. We do not have time this morning to talk about how to go, except to say that the wisest thing to do is to pray about it. In fact, if you wanted some homework, I would say take a piece of paper and make a list of all the people who have something against you, and be sure that on that list is the name of everyone who hurts you, everyone you have something against. If you need extra sheets of paper, go right ahead. If you need to write really tiny, go right ahead. But make yourself a list. And the first way you go to be reconciled to that person you have trouble with is to pray for them. Because if it hurts you to pray for them, you know it’s doing you some good. That’s probably the safest and first way to go, and be reconciled to your brother, and come and offer you [inaudible].
So the change in thinking that Jesus wants us to have in mind is this. Following Him does not mean that we are excused to live life as worse people, but that He sets a high goal, and the standards, and says, “Please follow me, and you will find as you aim higher, life will get better. Because what’s holding you back and dragging you down is all of the garbage from the past.” And I want to tell you folks, the little children in our midst, they have no garbage. They’ve not lived long enough, most of them. But you and I have accumulated the bumps, and bruises, and scars, and hurts of many events in life. As we’re able to let them go, as we’re able to let grace happen, we will find that life blooms inside of us. Because while God wants you to make peace with the person, what you’re really doing is making peace with your own past. You’re laying aside and laying down every burden. You don’t have to carry them anymore. And there’s almost no burden that I have found more heavy to carry in life than the regrets I have for every injustice that I feel that others have done to me. It’s best for me to let that go. And I think you would be willing to do that too. Let’s pray.
Lord Jesus, when we get angry, it’s because we don’t feel safe. And sometimes, Lord, that’s not an illusion. We really aren’t safe. And there are people in the world that are nice some of the time, but some of the time, they’re not safe. And Lord, out of fear, sometimes we get angry. And then we pull back, and pull away, and that hurt and that anger doesn’t get better. But it just festers. Help us, Lord, when we come to the altar, and kneel to pray, to give the gift which is to give our life to you. To hear that you would ask us to pray for this hurt, or for that person who did that hurt, and begin the process of healing all that is broken in our hearts and lives. We ask this in Jesus’s name. Amen.
Bless be the tie that binds. All too often, the person who has hurt us may be sitting across the sanctuary from us. Revival breaks out when we begin to make peace with all these hurts. Let’s stand and remember the ties that hold us together. Let’s sing.
The photo …
This post is based on the sermon “___” from the sermon series “___”
*date*, at Kinmundy United Methodist Church.
Slides and audio for this message can be downloaded from http://www.disciplewalk.com/K_Sermons_June_2018.html
All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.