Matthew 5:17-20; Psalm
February 9, 2020
Praise the Lord! Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.
Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever.
They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.
It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice.
For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered for ever.
They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord.
Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.
The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away;
the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.
Our New Testament text for today is a challenging passage.
We find Jesus’ comments about fulfilling the law and commandments right in the midst
of his Sermon on the Mount,
just following the Beatitudes and the part about letting your light shine,
and just before a whole section when Jesus comments on specific laws.
Next week, Alex will tackle some of Jesus’ words about specific laws,
when Jesus said, “you have heard it said, but I say”,
about commandments such as anger, adultery, and bearing false witness.
This week, we hear Jesus speak about the importance of obeying God’s commandments.
Hear the Word of God from Matthew 5:17-20
‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter,
will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least
of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven;
but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
The heart of Christianity is to follow Jesus, to trust in the One we call Lord and Savior.
“Jesus was what we should be. He served his Father with complete trust and unwavering obedience.
He loved all kinds of people and accepted their love.
In constant dependence upon the Holy Spirit, Jesus allowed no temptation or threat
to keep him from loving God with his whole being and his neighbor as himself.
We recognize in Jesus what God created us to be.
He exposes our failure to live as he lived.
He demonstrates the new humanity God promises to give us through him.”
These words hail from A Declaration of Faith, adopted by our denomination in 1977.
The declaration was written in part by my former professor at Columbia Theological Seminary,
Shirley Guthrie, who often taught in our Sunday School classes here at the church.
What does it mean for our lives that Jesus was the human being we are all meant to be?
How might we also embody the intention of the law and commandments
by seeking to live in right relationship with God and neighbor in all of life?
What does it mean for us that sometimes Jesus did not follow the letter of the law,
like when he healed someone on the Sabbath, but that he embodied the spirit of the law –
the love of God and love for neighbor – at all times?
At least in part it means that we seek every day to live by the Golden Rule.
Jesus not only taught but lived: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Many would prefer to follow the Silver Rule, which would say,
“do not do unto others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you.”
This Silver Rule is not terrible, but it is certainly not Christian.
Others do not seem to have any rule of life at all, and seem to just do as they please.
When Jesus said “your righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees”,
he got people’s attention. The Scribes and Pharisees were righteous folks.
They carefully obeyed the letter of the law in everything that they did.
They were known as upstanding citizens, persons you could trust to do the right thing.
Unless your righteousness exceeds theirs, Jesus says,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus showed us that, if we want to participate in his coming kingdom, his way of life,
we must not only seek to follow the letter of the law, as did the “righteous ones”,
but also seek to follow the spirit of the law, being proactive in our love of God and neighbor.
In God’s coming kingdom, we do not simply avoid temptation or evil,
but we respond proactively to the needs of those around us.
Jesus said, I have not come to abolish all those laws that are difficult to follow;
I have come to fulfill them.
I have not come to lower the standards of behavior, but to raise the bar of expectation.
I have not come to make life easier for you or to make your life more prosperous or healthy;
I have come to offer you new life in me, life abundant, life eternal.
Sometimes this new life will mean laying down your current life
and taking up a cross to bear for my sake and the sake of a world in need.
The well-being of ourselves as individuals, and of our churches, and even of our nation, over time,
will be directly related to how we are seeking or not to fulfill the commandments of God.
If anyone tells you it doesn’t really matter what you do or how you live,
if anyone tells you that if can get away with it, go ahead and do it…that person is not your friend.
If someone else tells you that it does matter what you do,
and that you will always be blessed if you do the right thing,
that God will make you rich and you’ll never get really sick if you follow Jesus…
that person might be a friend, but they are also clueless.
If a third person tells you that, yes, it does matter how you live,
that living in right relationship with God and others is a worthy goal,
and that the well-being of our bodies and souls is connected to that goal,
AND if they tell you that living rightly will not always mean that life will go well for you…
that person is telling you the truth.
Just because you do good does not mean that life will go well for you.
We are mere human beings, after all,
and we are susceptible to all the pitfalls and dangers of being mere creatures on earth.
Even so, God created us good, and God holds good intentions for you and for me,
not only in the life to come, but here and now, on God’s good, green earth.
On Thursday morning, we had a brief time of memorial at the Threshold Ministry for an older gentleman
named Darryl Weaver, who broke many of the stereotypes of those who are homeless.
Darryl was a well-read individual, well-educated. He was a good conversationalist.
But Darryl was not young nor was he in good health, and this past Monday at the Sycamore House,
when Darryl collapsed from a heart attack, he did not survive.
During our time of remembrance of Darryl who had reached the end of his earthly life,
19 year old Korbin stood to speak.
Korbin told the room that, thanks to Threshold and the encouragement of others,
he was in a much better place now.
He confessed that he had done some things in his young life that he should not have done.
He confessed that he did not like the person that he had been.
He then apologized to the entire room, especially to anyone whom he had mistreated or ignored.
With his Willy’s Restaurant outfit on, smiling and ready to go to work,
Korbin looks like a different person than the down and out young man I met just a few weeks ago.
As we honored Darryl in his death and prayed to God together,
Korbin affirmed for all the guests at Threshold on Thursday that their individual lives matter,
that how they live each day matters.
He affirmed that we are all known and appreciated by someone,
that there is someone out there who cares, and that God will provide hope and a future for all of us.
As we baptize Octavia, we will all be encouraged to remember our own baptism,
to remember our own welcome and adoption into the family of faith.
Baptism with water reminds us that, by God’s grace,
we are invited to die to sin, and be made alive together with Christ.
The water symbolizes washing away that which is not good,
and entering a new life, a life as part of God’s Church, cleansed, renewed,
set free from a past we cannot change and open to a future in which we can be changed.
This future in which we can be changed has much to do with following Jesus
by seeking to embody God’s basic commandments –
first and foremost, loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength,
and second, proactively loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
I will close with words from a prophet that Jesus often quoted, the prophet Isaiah.
In the prophecy of Isaiah 58:6-11, we hear the distant rumblings of a different sort of kingdom,
a new way of being human, that Jesus would eventually usher in.
Hear the Word of God:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
As we extend ourselves in love, the promise is not necessarily that all will be well,
but that when you cry out for help, God will say, Here I am.
The promise is not that life will be easy and well-fed and prosperous,
but that God will be with you, and will make your light shine, and make any gloom dissipate.
The promise is not that all your wants will be fulfilled, but that God will satisfy your needs
and make you strong, so that your life will be like a watered garden, feeding everyone around you,
and that your love will be like a never-ending spring of water,
quenching the thirst of all whom you know.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church