Telling God’s Story with Our Lives

Matthew 5: 27 – 37

You have heard that it was said, looks at  ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 

Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’  But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 

And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or “no, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

How will we choose to live?

There is no more important question. 

Victor Frankl, holocaust survivor and author, wrote in one of my favorite quotes of all time…

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Now Frankl was talking about those who had no choice but to simply survive the atrocities of the day.   But I have found his words helpful for living normal day to day life.  One corollary to choosing you attitude is you always have the choice to choose the story you will tell of your life. 

Here’s an example.  You see in the newsletter that our church is being recognized by the District 8 councilman, Al Austin, on Thursday.  One way, my cynical self, would tell this story is that by giving us recognition he is getting us to come to his meeting.  Another way to tell the story is he has noticed that we are indeed a star of District 8, we sure are a large land holder, and Councilman Austin wants us to be part of the future of the city.  And, still another way to tell the story is, in the past few months people have taken notice of this Christian Church because of the love people experience through food pantry conversations, our outreach through the gym, our worship, and your pastor attending a few meetings to join forces with others in addressing the struggles our community faces. 

All are true.  But which speaks most to who we are and who we want to become? 

Jesus’ challenge to us is to choose to live a story that tells others of our experience of the love and power of God.   We see the response to Jesus’ challenge in the way Matthew, writing out of his community of faith, chooses to tell Jesus’ words. 

Matthew places a pattern upon Jesus’ words:  You have heard it said…but I tell you.

You won’t find the verbal pattern in the other gospels.  So along with Jesus we hear the intent of the community of faith.  You have heard it said…but Jesus has more to say. 

Then Matthew turns to particularly challenging issues of his day. 

You’ve heard it said that it is unlawful to commit adultery…but Jesus says anyone who looks at a woman with lust in his heart has already done so.

Some of you may think this doesn’t apply to you.  You’re single or just not interested in women.  But, Bob Arthur’s translation doesn’t let anyone off the hook.  He translates the Greek word “moicheia,” not as adultery, but as a broken promise. 

27.  You heard that it was said, ‘You will not break a promise.’

28.  But I tell you that everyone who, when looking at a woman to long for her, already broke a promise with her in his heart….

You can read his full argument in his book, the Sex Texts.  But, if you simply look more closely at the word adultery you will also see it points to a larger meaning.  According to the Webster’s Dictionary, to adulterate means to debase by adding inferior materials or elements; to use cheaper, inferior, or less desirable goods in the production or marketing of ….

To commit adultery, or to adulterate, is to replace something God made to be holy, love expressed in a physical union between two people, with inferior motivations, cheaper desires, and less desirable goods.  In so doing, you do damage to God’s promise.

It’s like giving people a box of candy with the label of Godiva, taking those for yourself, and replacing them with Whitman chocolates.  You’ve changed it so that the contents no longer match the label.

And Jesus goes further, when you find yourself lusting, desiring one who has not been given to you, you do damage to her in your heart….

This scripture can sound so harsh.  Not even Gloria Steinem would bring about a law suit based on someone’s inward thoughts. 

Here’s where it is important for you to understand, Christians have always believed Jesus calls us to a very high standard, not by rules or law but by his speaking to us even now. 

Divorce is also a result of a broken promise.

But Jesus goes further than just saying “don’t divorce.”  He says if someone should marry a divorced woman he has done her wrong.  To marry someone who has been booted out of her house is to become complicit in the divorce–is to allow the discarding of a woman to be an option—to take on another’s responsibility. 

Notice too, there is also an understanding that, at times, divorce is necessary.  When the use or abuse of someone is to satisfy another’s desire, the promise of love has been broken.  The Greek word used in the scripture is porneia out of which Pornography is born. 

Again Bob’s translation: 

31.  Now it has been said, ‘Whoever should divorce his wife, he must give her a certificate of divorce.’

32.  But I tell you that everyone who is divorcing his wife, except for an assertion of selfish manipulation, is causing her to experience a broken promise, and whoever should marry her who has been divorced is breaking a promise.

Again you can see how the community of faith allows Jesus to speak to them about the very issues of the day.  There are times when divorce is necessary…there is an exception. 

Laws do not and cannot cover every circumstance. 

There was a discussion on the radio about legislating our use of mobile devices while driving.  Apparently a man used his phone when he had come to a stop in a traffic jam.  He looked at his map app to get around the traffic.  As he did, a traffic patrol officer saw him, pulled him over, and gave him a ticket which was struck down in a higher court.  A former judge who sat for traffic court called in and said you can’t legislate for everything that distracts a driver…he’s seen someone come before the court who was distracted by their parakeet being on the driver’s wheel.  There’s no law on the books for that one!  Instead the way you should decide which one to pull over is by how they are driving. 

Scripture reveals to us a community of faith seeking, by the way they move, to reveal God’s working in and through them.  They read scripture, took heart the words and stories of Jesus, and committed them both into prayer, seeking to understand God’s will. 

Scripture reveals how deeply, carefully, prayerfully the community of faith took on the issues of the day…how they took time to hear Jesus’ voice speaking to them, a voice of compassion, a voice that calls us reveal, with our lives, the love and power of God. 

The last part of our scripture talks about oath making. 

Jesus says:

Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’  But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 

And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or “no, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

Summarized…stop swearing or making oaths to anyone but God.  Any promise we, as God’s children make, reflect not upon heaven or the earth or Jerusalem…they reflect upon our God.  People will see how we are driving and they will determine whether or not they want to be anywhere near us…or the one who we say we seek to please. 

Oh, we can tell many stories with our lives.  But as Christians…the story we choose to tell with our lives becomes, in the view of others, God’s story.  Choose well the story you tell because it is not just your honor that’s at stake but God’s.