Epiphany 6, 2023
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
February 12, 2023
Deuteronomy 30:15-20, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, Matthew 5:21-37

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            Today’s Gospel reading is a continuation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus opens with the beatitudes; blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, blessed are those who mourn and seven more.  He declares that you are salt and light to the world, and that He is not abolishing the law, but fulfilling it.  Then, Jesus begins to address how to live as salt and light in the world. The first three issues he addresses are murder, adultery and divorce. 

            Now, it is pretty easy to keep the commandments as long as you think only of the strictest letter of the law, keep open lots of loopholes, and are able to adjust the commands as needed.  You shall not murder?  I can do that.  As long as I can still hate people and tell them what I think about them, and punch them in the nose if they make me mad.  As long as I don’t actually kill someone it is all good.  And if need be, I can even redefine murder and call it women’s health care or medical assistance in dying.  As long as you redefine killing properly, then it’s not murder and you are keeping the commandment.

            Do not commit adultery.  No problem.  As long as I don’t actually go all the way with someone else.  I can stare, I can gawk.  Just because I am reading the menu doesn’t mean that I am going to order.  I can joke.  I can be crude.  I can indulge my fantasies online.  I can go to a gentlemen’s club.  I can flirt with that lady from work.  And what if I do give in and cheat -- a little,  it’s no big deal.  Everyone is doing it.

            Do not get divorced.  Well, let me tell you.  There are a lot of good reasons why divorce is necessary.  Sometimes it just isn’t going to work and I deserve to be happy.

            It is easy to keep the commandments – as long as you get to define what they mean.  But here, on the hillside near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus declares what He means about murder, adultery and divorce. 

Matthew 5:21–22 (ESV)  21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; …”

            Matthew 5:27–28 (ESV) 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” 

            Matthew 5:31–32 (ESV) 31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” 

            Jesus, the Son of God, God in flesh, is making authoritative declarations.  Jesus declares these truths and unfortunately our reaction is too likely to say, “I hear what Jesus is saying… but….what about this situation or that situation?” We immediately look for loopholes and excuses and justifications and redefinitions to be able to justify ourselves. What about righteous anger?  What if I cannot help my lustful thoughts?  What if a divorce is just necessary?

We hear Jesus’ statements and we want to come up with loopholes and excuses. We want to redefine what Jesus is saying to make it easier on us.  Our sinful nature wants to demand of Jesus -- “Who are you to try to tell me what to do?!?”  “Who are you to try to tell me what to do?!?”  And this gets us to the root of the matter.  Satan wants you to distrust God and trust yourself.  Satan wants you to take charge so that you can be like God.  Satan wants you to decide for yourself how you should live. 

            Autonomy is a hallmark of our secular society. It's all about me, me, me; mine, mine, mine, my, my, my, my choice, my life, my body.  You might think that our atheistic culture doesn't realize who these statements really come from, but then, this last weekend, some cultural elites showed us their cards.  

            When I was in high school there was lots of talk about satanic influences in music.  It was said that if you played Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven backwards on a turntable it would say, “Here’s to my sweet Satan.”  It really wasn’t very clear.  Was it real, was it not.  Was the music satanic?

            Last Sunday, at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards, there was no rumors of secret backmasking but rather a full on celebration of Satan.  Two men who say they are not men presented a theatrical homage to the Evil One with a song called, “Unholy,” complete with red lights and flames and cages and erotic dancers and Sam Smith dressed as Satan himself. 

            Before the event Sam Smith tweeted, “This is going to be a special Grammys,” to which CBS, which broadcasted the Grammys responded, “You can say that again.  We are ready to worship!”

            I guess the Grammys did not want there to be any confusion about who they worship.  But the thing is that they don’t worship Satan.  Satanists do not worship Satan.  Satanists don’t believe in the Evil One. 

            Blanche Barton, a former Church of Satan high priestess, said on Wisconsin Public Radio about Satan worship, “The idea of worshiping Satan is ridiculous. We worship ourselves first and foremost, and we use the Satanic as a metaphor for calling forth the powers within ourselves that we find enriching or enlivening. Satan has always been a metaphor of defiance, fortitude against all odds and self-determination in whatever guises he is represented.”

            This is the root of the battle for the souls of the world; for your soul.  There is the fear, love and trust in God alone, and there is worship of self. 

Do not rewrite God’s commands to fit your earthly life because you do not belong to the world.  God has rewritten your status.  He has washed you in the blood of Jesus and declared you to be His child, perfect and holy, blessed for eternity. 

            Your self-worshipping, old Adam demands of Jesus, “Who are you to tell me what to do?!?”  But your faithful, new creation, baptized child of God, new Adam is mortified.  Not only have your broken God’s commands but you have been tempted to worship yourself and set yourself up as god.  Listening to Jesus teach, you know that you are broken. You have not lived up to Jesus’ instructions.  You have been angry, you’ve been lustful, you have looked at marriage as something of your own design that you can control.  You have failed to live up to Jesus’ standard.  And you know that God is God and you are not and you have broken God’s commands.  You are not good enough.  You are spiritually bankrupt.  

            But remember…Jesus is God…His word is authoritative.  What did He say at the beginning of the Sermon?  “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Jesus comes for those who are not good enough.  Jesus dies for those who are spiritually bankrupt.  You are a baptized child of God born again of water and the Spirit.  You are a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.  You live under the reign of God.  Jesus is your Lord and Master.

            Do not rewrite God’s commands to fit your earthly life because you do not belong to the world.  God has rewritten your status.  He has washed you in the blood of Jesus and declared you to be His child, perfect and holy, blessed for eternity. 

You know who Jesus is.  Jesus is Lord.  Jesus is your Lord.  When Jesus speaks, don’t say anything, just listen to Him.  At Jesus’ Transfiguration God the Father says, Matthew 17:5 (ESV) 5 …“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 

Listen to Jesus.  Silently meditate on His words knowing it is the Word of God.  Jesus calls you, a broken sinner, to live a holy life in a broken world because He has forgiven you all your sins, washed you clean, and given you the Kingdom of Heaven. 

            This is a hard lesson.  These are difficult teachings.  These show your sin.  You will not be able to perfectly follow Jesus’ teaching.  So, confess your sins, but do not change the teaching.  Live out your “poor in spirit” life listening to Jesus.  Matthew 5:3 (ESV) 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Amen.