Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Deeper than the Law

March 1, 2015
Matthew 5:17-48

Wasn’t that a lot of scripture to try to absorb at once?  During the season of Lent, we will hear all of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  So imagine that you are sitting on a hillside in Galilee, listening to Jesus describe what life in the Kingdom of God is like.  Jesus is painting a picture, not arguing points.  Jesus honors the commandments, but honestly, the law is inadequate in the Kingdom of God.  So while Jesus upholds the commandments, he teaches us how to deepen our commitment to living Kingdom values in such a way that the spirit of the law is fulfilled.  We know the saying, “You can’t legislate morality.”  One can be a scrupulously law abiding citizen and be completely selfish, or rude, or judgmental, or un-neighborly, or all of the above.  Living only by the law can help to keep us orderly, but it will not make us happy.  It will not make the community prosper.  It will not care for our neighbor or creation.  

So how should we live?  By attending to the things that precede the necessity for the law. 

What underlies murder?  Anger.  If we can understand how destructive our anger is, we don’t have to worry about a law prohibiting murder.  But let’s go deeper than anger.  What underlies anger?  Often it’s a lack of respect or consideration.  The contempt behind words like “stupid” or “fool” does damage not only to the person with who hears those words, but also the one who speaks them.  That contempt damages our souls.  But if I can make respect and consideration for the other person my aim, my goal in life, I can work at negotiating win-win solutions, avoid angry confrontations, and the community is richer and more peaceful.  Right?  This isn’t rocket science.

If I take care of my marriage, I don’t have to worry about divorce.  That’s easy to say, but it’s true.  I tell couples who are preparing to marry that intimacy doesn’t begin in the bedroom, it starts in the morning with the way that we share our lives with one another.  If I share details of my life, my thoughts and dreams, my hopes and fears with someone other than my partner, without sharing those things with my partner, whether I share with a man or a woman, I have become intimate outside my relationship and started down a path that can lead to divorce.  If I don’t have the time or interest to hear my partner’s thoughts and dreams, hopes and fears, I endanger my relationship.  We don’t have to worry about adultery if we are tending our relationship with attention and love.  

We don’t have to take our neighbor to court or worry about being sued if we learn how to be peacemakers.  If we seek to understand the needs and concerns of our neighbor, we can settle our differences out of court and avoid court costs, fines, and settlements.  If I can rethink protecting my rights to discovering ways for both of us, even all of us, to live together in peace, we’ve all won.  If I can love my neighbor enough to want him or her to be as happy and as fulfilled as I am, then I don’t have worry about the law.  Freedom comes not from protecting rights, but from genuinely caring about the well-being of our neighbor.  It is even possible under the rule of an occupying force to be people of peace through non-violence.  

If we only act out of self-interest, nothing changes.  We will continue to live with violence in our neighborhoods, a staggering divorce rate, young people disinclined to marry, overwhelmed courts and prison systems, and continuous war.  Someone has to act differently.  Someone has to take the risk of going deeper than the law to create a community out of concern for the well-being of our neighbors here and abroad.  I’m going to say something that I hope you can hear, because I believe it’s true.  The Church always critiques its culture.  Just as Jesus critiqued his culture and called it to recommitment to the basics of the commandments—to love God and neighbor, he calls us to critique our culture. 

The American ideal of individualism and its idolization of freedom have created violence in our neighborhoods, a staggering divorce rate, young people disinclined to marry, overwhelmed courts and prison systems, and continuous war.  And our hubris keeps us from seeing that those values of individualism and personal freedom are the very things that are harming us.  Jesus teaches us that we have to care about the other person as much as we care about ourselves in order to be free, that we are dependent on one another to live in peace—we are dependent on one another to have the abundant life that God wills for all of creation.  We’re in this together.  The law can only set some boundaries.  Unless we can live better than the law, deeper than the law, we will not get to experience life as God intended.  If we want the abundant life that Jesus talks about, if we want to live in the beloved community, the Kingdom of God here and now, then we need to live and work at a deeper level which is characterized by love, compassion, awareness, respect, intimacy, generosity, vulnerability, peace, and justice.  I’m not saying it’s easy to live these values.  I am saying that it’s the only way to secure a future for us and for our children and grandchildren, for all the children of the world.  It’s long past time we try God’s way of living in community.

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