Monday, February 13, 2017

Sermon for Epiphany 6: "Shot to the Heart"

+ 6th Sunday after the Epiphany – February 12th, 2017 +
Series A: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.



When we hear the account of Jesus’ baptism for us in the Jordan River or when he overcame Satan’s temptations in the wilderness on our behalf, it’s easy to give a full throated “Praise to you, O Christ” when the pastor announces: “this is the Gospel of our Lord.”

But some days, like today, it’s not so easy. “When Jesus says “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better to lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” it seems a little awkward when we say, “thanks be to God!”

And to be honest, when I looked at the Gospel reading for today I thought about preaching on the OT or Epistle reading. I even thought about making up a good excuse so Vicar Toma could preach on this text instead.

But isn’t that exactly how our sinful nature works. Avoid our sin at all costs. Make excuses. Shift the blame. In other words, to justify ourselves.

Jesus’ words are difficult to hear. Jesus doesn’t give us a spoon full of sugar to help the Law go down. Using three of the ten commandments – the 5th (you shall not commit murder), the 6th (you shall not commit adultery), and the 8th (you shall not bear false witness) – Jesus goes right for the heart of these commandments – our sinful heart.

The heart, in Scripture’s way of speaking, isn’t the romantic Valentine hearts, but the spiritual heart, our inmost being as the Psalms say. 

The problem with our sinful heart isn’t just that we do bad things, but that we are corrupted by Sin in every thought, word, and deed. It’s not just our eyes, hands or mouths that commit sin. As Jesus says, it’s a matter of the heart. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 

Jesus calls us to be pure of heart. But he doesn’t have us look at our own heart to find righteousness or purity. Jesus preaches the Law this way to drive us to despair of our sinful heart and find in him the righteousness, the purity, and the new heart that we need.

First, Jesus goes to the 5th Commandment.

5th Commandment: You shall not murder.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.

 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 

When we hear this commandment the little Pharisee within goes on the defense. “Oh, that’s easy. I’ve never strangled, stabbed, or shot anyone. My record is clean…not a fight since the playground back in the day. I’m a pretty good guy.”

“but I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

We may not be on the FBI’s most wanted list, but how perfect is your love for others? Have you been selfish, quarrelsome, or angry? Ever rolled your eyes at someone in a church meeting or muttered some kind of insult quietly or in your mind? Ever been angry with someone in your family or your family in Christ? Ever left a conversation thinking to yourself, that could’ve gone better, what a jerk I was? How about those grudges we like to cuddle like teddy bears? We may appear innocent before the eyes of the world, but in the court of God’s law, each of us is a convicted murderer.

Jesus is right, hell fire is what we deserve. But it’s not what we get. Instead, Jesus keeps the 5th commandment for you. Jesus became the murder in your place Barabbas the murderer was let go. Jesus suffers innocently for us and we go free.

Next, Jesus moves to the 6th commandment.

6th commandment: You shall not commit adultery.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in all we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.

 You’ve heard it said, “Do not commit adultery,”. And again, the expert Pharisee within objects. “Ah, ok. I’ve got that one covered too. I’m a faithful spouse. I come home on time. I take care of my family.”

 “But I say to you…“Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” 

Like Jesus said with the Pharisees and the crowds who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. There wasn’t a man or woman in the crowd at Jesus’ sermon on the Mount who hadn’t broken this commandment too. We’re no different. The 6th Commandment isn’t just about God’s gift of sex reserved for marriage. It’s not just physical affairs that break the 6th commandment, but also the affairs of our hearts. As the old song goes…just one look, that’s all it took. Guilty as charged. Each one of us.

Jesus is right. It would be better to cut out our wandering eyes and amputate our sinful hands if that could save us, but it won’t. So, Jesus kept the 6th commandment for you too. He gave his hands, feet, side, head, and whole body over to punishment and death to keep you from being thrown into hell. He put himself through hell on the cross so that you would never be cut off or thrown outside of his grace.

Lastly, Jesus goes to the 8th commandment.

8th commandment: You shall not bear false testimony against your neighbor.
What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

 Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’

It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking we’ve kept this commandment too. “Oh sure, I’ve told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

 “but I say to you.” Don’t swear at all – by heaven, by the earth, by the hairs of your head. Let what you say simply be yes or no, anything more than this comes from evil.
Jesus isn’t talking about all oaths here. There are plenty of good oaths you make: pastors and congregations make an oath in the ordination rite; husband and wife make an oath in their marriage vows; whenever you sign a document saying you are really who you say you are, you make an oath not to commit perjury, and so on. Jesus even testified under oath before Pilate that he is the Christ.

Jesus is preaching against the elaborate ranking of oaths that had been made up by the Pharisees that allowed them to (by their own determination of course) keep some oaths while others you could let slide. Once again, it’s a matter of the heart.

So, Jesus instructs us to simply let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no”. Words matter. What we say matters. Truth is, we’re all liars in our sinful hearts. We’re well-trained in the art of half-truths and alternate facts.

Thankfully, Jesus keeps this commandment for us too. Jesus bore the mockery of false witness and lies for you. Jesus took all our lies and false oaths to the cross with him and declared, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Jesus, the Truth of God in human flesh, became the liar for you, to fill you with his word of truth.

It’s true, Jesus calls us to have a pure heart. And the pure heart God requires, Jesus gives you. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Just as our physical heart is our most important organ, supplying blood to the body, so too, the blood of Christ shed on the cross supplies life to our spiritual heart. And the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. Jesus’ heart was pierced on the cross to give you a new, clean heart.

And Christ’s blood shed on the cross is the same blood you receive in Holy Communion that you may remain clean and pure in Jesus.

Christ’s blood gives you a righteousness that exceeds the Scribes and Pharisees.

Christ’s blood blots out every sin of ours – the big outward ones and the even bigger inward ones of the heart.

Christ’s blood has paid for every murder and harsh word, every affair and divorce and every look that was a little too long, every perjury, and promise we broke. Though our hearts are corrupt, Jesus declares you pure in heart.

And though our sinful heart continues to sin, our new heart loves our neighbor, honors our spouse, and treats others with honesty and integrity. Because, the same Holy Spirit that cleanses our heart from all sin continues to produce good works in us too.

And by the Holy Spirit, we can say, “thanks be to God” or “praise to you O Christ,” even when God’s Word is hard to understand. For the clean, pure, righteous heart God requires, he gives to each of us in Jesus.


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.