20 Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won't know the first thing about entering the kingdom. 21 "You're familiar with the command to the ancients, 'Do not murder.' 22 I'm telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother 'idiot!' and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell 'stupid!' at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. 23 "This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, 24 abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God. 25 "Or say you're out on the street and an old enemy accosts you. Don't lose a minute. Make the first move; make things right with him. After all, if you leave the first move to him, knowing his track record, you're likely to end up in court, maybe even jail. 26 If that happens, you won't get out without a stiff fine. Matthew 5:20-26 Eugene Petersen, The MessageJesus shares some ideas of how to live rightly. His first example is: “You know Moses told you do not murder and if you do murder someone you will be judged. I tell you even if you are angry you will be judge; if you insult someone you will be judged.” Ok. I could handle the no murder thing, but don’t be angry. What about when the dishwater hasn’t been emptied, the trash is overflowing, the dog hasn’t been fed, the guitar hasn’t been practiced and your first words are: what’s for dinner. I can’t even see the sink because you didn’t do your chores. So I am supposed to be right with God. Sometimes you just want an empty sink.
Jesus knows that for most people won’t ever kill someone, but we do insult people and get angry. So how will you be right with God when you’re angry? Jesus asks us to make your relationship right with the person you are angry at before you come before God. Don’t try to bring your offering to God before you are reconciled with the person you are upset with or is upset with you. Ok. So Jesus wants us to forgive, reconcile with others before coming before God. To be in right relationship with God, to live in God’s kingdom is to learn to let go of your resentment and anger and to forgive and if you are at fault to seek forgiveness.
In my last congregation I had a person very angry at me. A person who hadn’t attended church very often and who when the anger boiled over decided now was the time to attend church. For me, a conflict avoider, this was hard. How do you speak God’s word of hope and justice with a person who is pointedly ignoring you and reading a novel in your direct line of sight? How do you speak of things of God? I would love to be able to tell you that I laid my resentment on the altar before God and sought reconciliation. But I wasn’t ready then. I did pray an awful lot during the hymns. I prayed my heart to God to make it through. I prayed to God that a word of truth would reach someone. I prayed and went home and cried. I would prepare a manuscript and be ready once again the next Sunday where I prayed. With distance I understand. With distance I am able to let go. With Jesus is forgiveness.
While he wants us to let go, to release our anger, with Jesus is forgiveness. The words sound harsh from the mouth of Jesus, but if he takes it to the extreme maybe, just maybe we will learn how to let go and let God in. I am not usually a lectionary preacher. I move in and out of the lectionary, but this Epiphany I decided to stay close to the lectionary by doing a series of sermons on the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7. This week I am spending time praying and researching Matthew 5:21-37. As I have been sitting and praying over these words I sometimes wonder at the wisdom of this decision. How do we honor the truth and difficulty of what these words asks of us, require of us. How do we live as people of the way without seeming self-righteous? How do we live in culture and yet apart from culture? These words from the Sermon on the Mount push us into radical discipleship. A discipleship that is not easy because Jesus is asking us to go farther than what is required of us. “Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won't know the first thing about entering the kingdom.” So Jesus in speaking to us is asking us to live in right relationship with God in a way that exceeds the most religious person of his day. No exactly an easy request; be more religious than the people you think are religious. How do you do that? How do you live a life so full of God?