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You Have Heard It Said

Matthew 5:21-37

The Rev. Jon Roberts

16 February


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

21 “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; 26 truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny. 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. 31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33 “Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

You Have Heard It Said

The Sermon on the Mount by Henrik Olrik, 1855

You may have heard it said, you cannot be a Christian if you don’t go to Church on Sundays; But I tell you, anyone who does not attend Church every day of the week will not find rest.[1]

This is a harsh saying. What about the people who work on Sundays? What about those who are sick? What about the shut-ins? Are they less of a Christian? You have not heard me say this. The fact is, loving others is a sacrifice; tough work. How we actually commit our lives to someone, don’t always match up with how we love them. We always seem to come up short. You have often heard yourself saying , “I will love the Lord my God with all my heart, mind and soul”; but you very well know, “You have not loved your neighbor as yourself.” Any relationship, especially the one you have with God, is always up for compromise between what you say you will do and what you will actually do. Very often, we put up safeguards, just in case it doesn’t work out.

Roger, who was 19 years old, was buying an expensive bracelet, to surprise his girlfriend on Valentine's Day, at a very nice jeweler’s shop in London. The jeweler inquired, “Would you like your girlfriend's name engraved on it?” Roger thought for a moment, grinned, then answered, “No, instead engrave, ‘To my one and only love’.” The jeweler smiled and said, “Yes, sir; how very romantic of you.” Roger retorted with a glint in his eye, 'Not exactly romantic, but very practical. This way, if we break up, I can use it again.'
In the balance is an antithesis, a marriage of opposites, where life and death, good and evil, have exchanged hard fought words before being laid to rest. It's where there are ups and downs; good and bad; It's where we hear the claims of what is yours and what is mine; about things that make us feel happy; make us feel sad.

We see this place in a husband, age eighty-eight, still very, very much alive, who takes a red rose in his hand and kisses it gently, before laying the flower on his wife's casket. The marriage of sixty-four years has come to a close. It had its ups and its downs. It had its good and bad, both happy and sad. His wife died after struggling with a hard fought illness, and he stood there hoping one day for a blessed reunion. He is deep in thought, perhaps remembering a time when a reporter took notice of her before she died and interviewed her. The reporter leaned over to ask, "Ruth, tell me about your being married to Billy Graham. Did you once ever consider the big 'D' and leave him for good. He was always on the road, travelling; leaving you alone." Ruth thought long and hard and gave this response. She said, "No, but I thought about the big 'M' plenty of times.”

You have heard it said, you shall not murder, but I tell you anyone who has been married, has probably considered it. Marriage is sometimes like that. The opposites that draw us together are the very things that may sometimes threaten to tear us asunder. Our souls are in the balance, an amazing antithesis, which is married in its own right to making choices; choices that may be opposite to what we want to do in life. During such times, to whom do we rely upon? Who knows us best?

Coach Pannell's ninth grade bible class fell silent. David asked again, "Is it okay that sometimes my parents have to make me go to church?" In the hallway, one could hear the echoing footsteps of children running, but no one in the class turned to take a look. David had asked the question the rest were afraid to ask. What he was really asking was, "Does God turn away from us if we turn away from Him?" Everyone sat, dying to know the answer. Coach Pannell cleared his throat, stroked his cheek and smiled. "David," he said, making eye contact with each in the room, "do you ever not want to eat your vegetables or take the garbage out, even though you know you're supposed to?" "Of course," David replied. "How about going to the doctor or dentist, even though you know you don't want to?" David laughed. "I do that all the time!" "That's just it," Coach Pannell said. "Sometimes parents know better about what's good for you, whether it's eating right, staying healthy, or furthering your relationship with God. Right now church might not be as important to you as the other things on your schedule, but some day, thanks to your parents, you'll understand."

Over the years David thought a lot about Coach Pannell's words. On Sunday mornings when the alarm goes off, when he wants to push the snooze button and go back to sleep, he thinks about them. By hearing a message of God's grace and forgiveness, and at the closing strains of the final hymn, he doesn't regret being in church, not a bit. The grumbles are replaced by heartfelt praise. It's a habit that began on the Sundays of his childhood with his father's footsteps and his mother's voice.[2]

Sometimes it's a spouse and for others, it may be a parent or teacher, who pushes us a little; who challenge us to see what we don't want to see. They challenge us to see the real person; who we really are, and they help us choose to love ourselves by doing what is right. So what is stopping us? What separates the marriage of our strengths and weaknesses? Is it not sinfulness? Do we not feel that in our sin we have turned away from God and from that there is the question we want to ask, "Does God turn away from us?" Many in this world may not have taken a vow to love the Lord our God with all their heart, mind or soul. They may have a different view about sin.

St. Augustine of Hippo was a self-proclaimed sinner and yet he is considered one of the greatest Christian witnesses in history. For a long time, his view of sin was slanted. He said, "I still thought that it is not we who sin but some other nature that sins within us. It flattered my pride to think that I incurred no guilt and, when I did wrong, not to confess it... I preferred to excuse myself and blame this unknown thing which was in me but was not part of me. The truth, of course, was that it was all my own self, and my own impiety had divided me against myself. My sin was all the more incurable because I did not think myself a sinner." [3]

In our gospel today we hear three antitheses from Christ.[4] He uses the ancient formula, "You have heard it said from old", "But I tell you the new." Number one: You have heard it said, you should not murder, but I tell you everyone who is angry with his brother should be under the same judgment. Secondly: You have heard it said, you should not commit adultery, but I tell you anyone who looks with lust at another, just did. Thirdly: You have heard it said, you should not break a promise, you swore to keep, but I tell you anyone who simply swears to their self, just did.

How can we possibly live by this standard? Simply let your answers be a "yes" or "no.” "Yes," I will trust in you or "No," I won't. Be honest to God and rely on making a daily confession to Him. Moment by moment and hour by hour, God will show you to the way. That’s what it means by going to Church daily, welcoming Jesus every chance you can. Etch his name on your heart as he is to become your true love. Be ready to invoke His Holy Spirit into your life so you will not transfer your loyalty to another. There will be a day when there will be a holy procession, when a rose will be put into our casket and Jesus is asked if you were worth his love. Not once did he think about separation nor to persecute you.

Jesus should be our one and true love who we can find our joy and consolation. We need to be reminded of that message daily so that we can withstand the many temptations of thought, word and deed. You have heard it said that you are not a Christian unless you go to church on Sunday but I tell you, unless you spend time with Him every chance you get, you will never find rest.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] Ashley Johnson, Daily Guideposts 2007, GuidepostsBooks: NY, pp. 19-20.
[3] St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Book V, Section 10.
[4] Matthew 5:21-37

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