Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Text: Matthew 5:20-37
 I warn you – unless you obey God better than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees do, you can't enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all! (verse 20)

Fulfilled by Jesus

Every night Grandpa (from the Barossa Valley but now long gone to his heavenly home) listened to the news on the radio with religious fervour, and much to Granny’s disgust, sucked on his pipe.  As he sat with his ear to the radio, puffs of smoke wafted overhead – the more smoke you saw, you knew the news was not to Grandpa’s liking.  When the news was finished, Grandpa, clicked off the radio with an urgent flurry and launched forth about the wickedness of the world to anyone who wasn't quick enough to get away.

He had just heard the latest report on the criminal activities of those who should be “locked up and the key thrown away” and “the shenanigans of the politicians”, as he used to say, and then after he had his say about the day’s events and righted the world’s wrongs, Grandpa would say with a sigh (and those out of sight would mouth the words because he said the same thing every time – no-one would dare mimic him in view), “Ach, die guten alten Tage.  Leben war einfacher.”  (“The good ol’ days. Life was simpler)”.  And with that Grandpa would take a slurping suck on his pipe and go into deep thought.  Everyone who had the misfortune to be trapped in the room quietly crept away.

Is this what is happening in today’s Gospel reading?  Is Jesus harking back to the good old days when rules were rules?  Everyone knew what the right thing was to do.  There were no shades of gray.  Everything was black and white like you find in the Old Testament books of the Law.

Jesus says, “I assure you, until heaven and earth disappear, even the smallest detail of God's law will remain until its purpose is achieved” (Matthew 5:18 NLT).

Jesus points to the Pharisees who were experts when it came to carrying out the rules.  They had rules to stop them from breaking the rules.  They knew the difference between right and wrong.  Many became martyrs under foreign rule rather than break the Sabbath regulations.

Jesus said, I warn you – unless you obey God better than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees do, you can't enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all” (Matthew 5:20 NLT).

Jesus is holding up the obedience of the Pharisees as a benchmark.  The Pharisees were up there with the best when it came to obedience.  Unless you can outdo the obedience of the Pharisees you can’t enter the kingdom of heaven”.  But who can do that?  This is too hard!  Is it possible to really keep God’s law to the standard he requires?

Then Jesus really goes crazy.  He says,
Get angry with anyone, that’s murder.  Call him a fool, and you'll go to hell.
Look at another person lustfully, that's adultery of the heart.
Remarry after wrongfully divorcing your marriage partner, that’s adultery.

Don't use God’s name carelessly making vows and breaking them.
It’s easy to get back at someone. Give way to a gentler and forgiving approach. Love your enemies.
Don’t hold a grudge. Always, without excuse, make reconciliation your chief aim.

That’s just plain crazy!  One minute Jesus is saying that we have to show greater obedience than the Pharisees if we want to get into the Kingdom of heaven and the next minute he raises the bar so high with his radical interpretation of the rules. 
He says, “Don’t murder anyone”, but adds, “Anyone who gets angry or calls someone a worthless fool breaks this commandment”.
He doesn’t just say, “Don’t commit adultery” but says, “Anyone who looks at another person in the wrong sort of way is guilty of disobedience”.
Jesus says, “Don’t get revenge instead love those who hate your guts”.

Maybe you’ve never thought of yourself as a murderer, a hater, an adulterer, as vengeful but after Jesus has finished this part of the Sermon on the Mount, we all look really grubby. 

I wouldn’t blame anyone at this point if they switched off, mentally making a note, “That’s just what I thought.  Christianity is all about keeping rules and if that’s the case I’m not interested.” 

To tell you the truth I wouldn’t be interested either.  There is nothing more soul destroying, dull and boring as simply following rules.  Jesus is talking about a lot more than blind obedience to rules. 

Let me explain.  When God created the first people, Adam and Eve, they were perfect; they lived in complete harmony with the world, with one another and with God himself.  If that perfection had continued revenge, arguments, anger, lust, lack of respect for God and for one another, wars, corruption and coronavirus wouldn’t be issues in our world. But sin has ruined all that God had created and had declared “good and perfect”.

It has been messed up and we continue to mess things up every day in the way we fail to love others, God and ourselves.  Jesus knew that our lack of goodness, righteousness and obedience would always bar us from God’s Kingdom.  Only perfect people can enter God’s Kingdom and only perfect people can enter heaven – if people brought wickedness into these places, heaven would no longer be a perfect place. God knows that we are in deep trouble.  We need more than rules, we need a righteousness, a goodness that far exceeds anything any human can achieve.

So how do we achieve that kind of perfection and goodness that will get us into God’s Kingdom?  The simple answer is – we don’t.  It’s an answer many people don’t like because they feel that their own goodness must count for something.  Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  There is no other way.

Whether we, our relatives or friends care to believe this or not, the plain truth is this – the only way into God’s Kingdom is with Jesus and the help that only he can give to meet God’s standard of perfection. 

Jesus said, “I did not come to abolish the law of Moses … No I came to fulfil it” (Matt 5:17). Jesus has fulfilled the requirements of the Law for us, he has even taken upon himself the consequences that our failure to keep the Law brings.  He died on a cross for us so that our failure to keep God's Law is swept away.  We are made new.  Our relationship with God is restored. We are called his children and heirs of eternal life. 

In Christ, our righteousness, our goodness, our perfection does surpass that of the Scribes and the Pharisees. We have the righteousness of the crucified and risen Christ. He died to make us right again with God. We are made members of the kingdom of heaven!

Jesus’ words today help us realise our failures and we fall on our knees.  We are moved to repentance, and to claiming the forgiving love of God for ourselves.

Let me add another dimension to Jesus’ words on the Sermon on the Mount. 

Jesus gave us the Sermon on the Mount to show us what it means to live as God intended us to live; to be as God created us to be.  He helps us to be like Jesus; to live the new life we have been given through being joined with Christ in our baptism. 

He is answering questions like,
“How should I regard the person who really doesn’t like me, in facts hates me?
What should I do with my own feelings of hate and anger towards another person?
How can I be calmer, show more love, be more patient and kind and helpful and self-controlled?
How can I be more aware of the temptations that suck me in?
Is looking (I’m talking sexually here) and not touching really all that wrong.  After all who am I hurting?
How can I work harder at making my marriage stronger?
In what ways can I let the light of God’s love shine through me into other people’s lives and make a difference?

Grandpa was no angel but he was clear about Jesus’ love and the part the grace of God played in his life.  He loved to tell Bible stories to the kids or quiz them about what they had learnt at Sunday School.  He was no great theologian, but he let the light of Jesus’ love shine through him in the way he lived and spoke.

Through the Sermon on the Mount Jesus guides us as people of his family, his disciples how to be different to the world and to let the light of his love and his mercy shine ever brighter through us. If you look at what Jesus says in his sermon you can see how people of the Kingdom are different and this difference is what brings light into the darkness of our community. 

Grandpa had this little phrase that sometimes he used carelessly but at other times it had great meaning.  “Durch die Gnade Gottes” – “By the grace of God”.  Someone would say, “I’m going to get that cow out of the creek”. And he would shout back, “Gnade Gottes” – which was a shortened version of “By the grace of God”. 

Grandpa was getting old and a young grandson was sitting on his knee.  They had just finished a lively chat about all sorts of things when the little boy stopped and thoughtfully said, “Grandpa, you’re really old and I really like you.  How come you’re so nice?” 
Grandpa replied, “Durch die Gnade Gottes.”
“What does that mean, Grandpa?”
“It means that Jesus has been very good to me because he loves me.  And you know what?  I reckon you’re pretty special too”.

“Durch die Gnade Gottes” Jesus is ready to change our hearts and lives so that we may be lights shining in the world around us.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

16th February 2020

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