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Sermon: Beyond the Letter of the Law
Text: Matthew 5:21-37
Rev. Laura Brewster
Read Matthew 5:21-37. Focus Verses: 21 “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment.
Introduction. How do you envision God? How we envision God impacts our receptiveness to God’s laws. If we envision God as a wrathful being, we’re likely to view God’s laws with some element of fear and even resentment. However, if we view God as a loving parent, we may be more apt to see God’s laws in a more positive manner – as rules crafted by a caring parent for the good of his children.
Mosaic Law. God provided a myriad of laws to his people, the Israelites, through the Moses. Those laws were designed to help the Israelites keep in right relationship with God and with each other. However, someone could live according to the letter of those laws and still fall short of how God intended them to live.
Sermon on the Mount. Jesus radicalized certain existing laws during the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus began by quoting the command: “Thou shalt not kill.” Most of us recognize that as one of the commandments, and it’s a commandment we don’t typically argue with or try to circumvent. We may even like this law because there’s a certain comfort in being able to say: I may not be the best person in the world, but at least I haven’t killed anyone. The trouble is, we can avoid killing someone and still speak poorly of them and hurt their reputation, retaliate against them if they make us angry, or otherwise injure them. We can follow the letter of the law and still hurt others. So, Jesus radicalized the law.
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, ‘Don’t commit murder’, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. The word radical comes from the word “radix” and “radix” means root. And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenged his followers to live according to the root of the commandment. At the root of this commandment is to not allow anger to lead you to say things or do things that will hurt others and hurt your relationships with others. Again, the first command said we should not kill. But the radicalized command tells us that we cannot allow anger to overwhelm us in ways that leads us to hurt others and kill relationships.
Jesus then goes on to radicalize several more laws – laws dealing with adultery, divorce, and speaking truthfully. Some of what Jesus said should not be taken literally. For example, it is unlikely that Jesus literally meant for us to chop off our hands and gauge out our eyes to prevent sin. However, all can be taken radically. That is, we can indeed ask the Holy Spirit to help us live according to the root of the laws. And at the root of each is the call to live in a manner that shows care and respect for others, protects relationships and community, and reflects the will of God.