July 14, 2019 | “Sermon on the Mount: You Have Heard/But I Say” • Matthew 5:21-30


Matthew 5.21-30 (NIV)

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.


Bill McCracken sent me a joke last week … it was about a husband and a wife who were on a cross country road trip. 

They stopped for lunch at a restaurant near the highway. They rested. They ate. Eventually, the couple got back in their car and continued on their way. They had been driving for forty minutes or so, when the wife realized she had left her glasses on the table in the restaurant. The husband was frustrated they needed to go back. He grew even more annoyed when they had to keep driving further and further to find a spot where they could turn around. He was so mad. He had all kinds of choice things to say about being responsible and taking care of important stuff. He gave his wife more and more grief. He steamed and fumed the whole 40 minutes back to the restaurant.

His wife was so relieved when they finally got to the restaurant. As soon as the car stopped she opened her door and stepped out on a mission to find her glasses as quickly as she could. 

As she walked away her husband hollered – “While you are in there you might as well get my hat and credit card!”

Last week we talked about righteousness … about living in a life-giving and thriving relationship with God and with the people around us. I defined righteousness as a really good thing that happens when our lives are in congruence … when our internal lives (thoughts, convictions, self-awareness) and external lives (words, and actions) all line up. 

I think it is safe to say that guy was not living in congruence.

I think it is also safe to say that I have a lot more in common with that guy than I would like to admit … the kingdom righteousness Jesus calls us to can be really difficult to put into practice.

In the passage Dave read for us, Jesus takes commandments from Old Testament law and internalizes them – Jesus addresses the inward condition of the heart that is revealed in these actions. There is a pattern that develops through this part of Jesus’ lesson. Jesus begins each portion saying something along the lines of, “You have heard that it was said … Do not murder; do not commit adultery ….” Then Jesus sharpens and internalizes the commands – “You have heard this, but I tell  you…”

As Christians, as disciples of Christ, the way we treat each other matters. Our relationships with fellow disciples inside the church are one of the biggest places where these values of the kingdom of God are expressed.

This morning I want to focus on the first part of our passage – the part where Jesus sharpens the commandment against murder. 

A person could do all kinds of mean, awful, and hard-hearted things and never technically murder a person. To Jesus, not killing just isn’t enough. Jesus wants more. Jesus wants his followers to love their neighbors. Jesus points out ways the anger and contempt and judgement that can take root in our hearts can keep us from loving our neighbors.


Murder, anger, contempt, to Jesus, all of these have serious consequences. 

The way we treat each other matters.

Jesus goes on to give us a really intense, almost cartoonish, picture of how important our relationships are. He says,

 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

NT Wright, a really interesting Bible scholar writes,

… This is very striking – reconciliation takes precedence even over worship. Jesus imagines someone getting all the way into the Temple courtyard, buying a sacrificial animal on the way, and suddenly remembering (as well one might, when approaching the presence of the loving and holy God) some relationship that has gone wrong. The scene then becomes almost comic. It takes about three days to get back to Galilee, where most of Jesus’ hearers lived. He cannot seriously have imagined an anxious worshipper leaving a live animal sitting there in the Temple courts for a week while they scurried back home, apologized to the offended person, and then returned to Jerusalem. As so often in his teaching, he seems to be exaggerating to make the point. The point is that you must live, day by day, in such a way that when you come to worship there is no anger between you and your neighbor, your sister, your brother. Impossible? Jesus implies that it isn’t, now that he is here to show the way (Mt. for Everyone, Pt 1, p. 44).

“Reconciliation takes precedence even over worship.”

That is a powerful claim. 

But, I think, it makes sense. 

For Presbyterians, our Book of Confessions guides us as we study and interpret Scripture and it helps us to understand “who and what the church is, what the church believes, and what the church resolves to do.” Listen to this paragraph from the Confession of 1967 that has to do with relationships and the mission of the church.

“The church disperses to serve God wherever its members are, at work or play, in private or in the life of society. Their prayer and Bible study are part of the church’s worship and theological reflection. Their witness is the church’s evangelism. Their daily action in the world is the church in mission to the world. The quality of their relation with other persons is the measure of the church’s fidelity.”

That is a challenging and convicting statement … the health of our relationships reveal the church’s faithfulness, reveal the measure of our loyalty to Christ. 

That can sound really uncomfortable. 

(This is probably a good time to remind everyone that I understand sermons as something that can start and support conversations … so if this sounds weird to you keep wrestling with it … read the passage … talk to people … talk to me)

It is naive to think Christian’s won’t ever hurt each other or step on each other’s toes. We are human. Christians are people who realize and admit we don’t have our act together, we fall short, and we hurt other people. (Every week, at the beginning of our worship we confess together that we are people who need God’s forgiveness and grace.) 

God is working in us. God is transforming our hearts and our character. We should be changing. We should be growing, but we will never completely arrive while we are here on earth.

Hopefully it won’t be intentional, but as we live together sooner or later we will probably hurt each other. We will offend each other. We will disagree with each other. We will bump elbows and step on toes, but it is how we face and how we work through these conflicts that is our witness to God’s goodness and love.

To some of this may sound great. 

To some of us this may stir pain.

I think this can be good news to both of those experiences. Relationships between people can get really complicated. Especially when you think about all the ways our lives overlap. The work and energy it takes to be in relationship matter. When we feel run over or hurt … that is not what God wants … God’s heart even breaks with us. Sometimes we have done everything we can do and it doesn’t seem to make any difference … maybe we just need to trust that this isn’t how God wants things to be … get to a safe place … and trust that God is big and God is working … and we can rest with a clear conscious knowing we did what God asked of us and relationships are a two way street.

Staying engaged with each other. Respecting and caring for each other. Working through difficult situations and strained relationships. 

Humbling ourselves and asking for forgiveness. Humbling ourselves and offering forgiveness. All this matters … 

How we live in relationship with each other displays the work that God is doing inside of us.