Sermon on Matthew 5:38-48 2-20-11

Sermon on Matthew 5:38-48

February 20, 2011

Kenneth Taglauer


The Passage
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
[English Standard Version]
For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” [1 Corinthians 3.19-20]

In the Name of Christ + Jesus our Lord
There is a shakiness to the world’s life in these days which is frazzling people’s minds and frightening their hearts. We are anxious about the major shifts that are occurring in the world’s economies as well as in their political systems. We look at the denominations within the Lord’s Church and we wonder about the worldly ways of thinking and doing which have been introduced to thousands of parishes in the last generation or so.
In the middle of such wonder, anxiety and shakiness, it is a relief to come into the Lord’s presence on this Sunday so his Life can arch over and undergird our own lives.

In this Epiphany season where we are privileged to observe the impact of our Lord’s Incarnation on this world’s life and the people who are born into it, we may question that it is a relief to come into the Lord’s presence today. Through the two examples of retaliation and love of our enemies, it appears that the Lord is not relieving us, but is intensifying the pressures we already experience as his baptized people!

In the earlier sections of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we saw our understanding deepen as Jesus warns his listeners about relaxing the Lord’s commands. Jesus also tells us that if our ability to go no further in our commitment to the Lord God than that already achieved by the scribes and Pharisees, then we will never get into his kingdom!

There is an initial bewilderment when we see Jesus describing how we are to handle retaliation and the love of our enemies. He does not permit us to retaliate, implying his baptized people are to function as doormat for the world’s people! He insists that we love our enemies, limiting the satisfaction we experience when we are able to push others to the side and calling on us to do something that just does not make sense!
Like the other Sundays which have journeyed through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we wonder what Jesus is trying to do to us with these two examples – relieve us or intensify us? We find a significant clue when Jesus urges his followers to be perfect, imitating the perfection of his Father.

Stressing the initial English meaning of “perfect” implies that everything done by us is our responsibility and it should be done very well. When you consider the details of Jesus’ two examples, you have to quickly conclude that such realities are impossible for us to achieve. We may be able to exercise those details occasionally, but it is extremely difficult to exercise them fully.
Stressing the original Greek meaning of “perfect” implies completion. There is only one Person in this world who can fully complete any reality – our Lord and our God! The completeness of that reality is seen most visibly in the dying and rising of Jesus Christ. We are brought into that completion through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Such completion is then exercised daily through our Lord’s Forgiveness, a reality that undergirds Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Thus, similar to the previous sections of Jesus’ Sermon, Jesus is rescuing those of us who consider ourselves to be experts in the Life and Ways of the Father. The details of these two examples show our Lord meeting all our attempts to relax or accommodate the commands given by the Father to his rescued people. The drive to relax and accommodate flows from the life given us by the world at birth.
We see that in matters of retaliation. The Lord God had created his people to be in a full relationship with him and one another, a relationship that was unmarred and unbroken. With the collapse into sin, however, that reality quickly changed with disastrous consequences. Driven by the desire to have everything revolving around the self, people naturally took advantage of others by determining what was in it for them. If it was necessary, they would strike out and hurt others. In the face of all this, it became very important to have and develop retaliation skills because that was the only way to protect one’s self. As we did that, though, the Lord’s intent for our relationship with him and one another easily slid into the background.

We also see the Lord’s Life and Ways being crowded out when it comes to the love of one’s enemies. In the Lord’s original scheme enmity did not exist. There the relationships were shot through with a rich and unceasing love that ran out from the Lord. The presence, power and pressure of sin’s realities, however, quickly changed the original scheme. It soon developed that love was shared (in a fitful way) only with friends. Running parallel to that was the emergence of hatred against one’s enemies. As we participated in those developments, though, the Lord’s intent for our relationship with him and one another easily faded into background.
What Jesus is doing with these two examples in today’s Gospel is crowding the Life and Ways of his Father back into picture, rescuing us who believe (because of our births into the world’s life) that we are experts in his Life and Ways.

We were not baptized so we can retaliate against one another whenever a situation calls for it. Instead we were baptized so we can absorb the demands of others while struggling to reflect the Lord’s Life to them.
We were not baptized so we can unleash our hatred against our enemies. Instead we were baptized so that the rich love of the Father, impacting us steadily from the Scriptures and the Sacraments of Baptism, Forgiveness and Supper can pass through and between us to all the people with whom we come into contact.
We were baptized so that our new lives would be completed in the Life of the Father. Because of Jesus’ dying and rising, they are completed. It is not our striving that accomplishes this reality. It is the Forgiveness pouring into our lives which causes this completion to happen.

This is why, in the middle of the wonder, anxiety and shakiness of this world’s life, it is such a relief to come into the Lord’s presence this Sunday so his Life can arch over and undergird our own lives!
Now may the peace of the Lord God, which is beyond all understanding, keep our hearts
and minds through Christ + Jesus our Lord.

A sermon by by Carl A. Voges

Leave a Comment