Sin and Forgiveness

Matthew 5:21-37

Law of murder

21 “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. 23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift. 25 Be sure to make friends quickly with your opponents while you are with them on the way to court. Otherwise, they will haul you before the judge, the judge will turn you over to the officer of the court, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I say to you in all seriousness that you won’t get out of there until you’ve paid the very last penny.

Law of adultery

27 “You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery. 28 But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart. 29 And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body go into hell.

Law of divorce

31 “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a divorce certificate.’ 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual unfaithfulness forces her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Law of solemn pledges

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago: Don’t make a false solemn pledge, but you should follow through on what you have pledged to the Lord. 34 But I say to you that you must not pledge at all. You must not pledge by heaven, because it’s God’s throne. 35 You must not pledge by the earth, because it’s God’s footstool. You must not pledge by Jerusalem, because it’s the city of the great king. 36 And you must not pledge by your head, because you can’t turn one hair white or black. 37 Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

One of the comments that was made about my sermons was that I should talk more about sin.  As I reflected on this observation I recognized that talking about sin is not something that I am necessarily comfortable with or inclined to do.  I don’t like talking about sin because it makes other people feel guilty (and who wants that) and it makes me feel guilty too, because like everyone else, I am not without my own sins.

Today’s text makes it hard to avoid talking about sin.  Jesus makes it clear in stark terms the importance for us to confront rather than avoid issues of sin.  It might not make us feel good.  It might not give us an immediate lift, but it is good for us in the long term.  Talking about sin is kind of like eating our vegetables.  We do not have to like it, but we need to do it.

We live in a society that both cheapens sin and cheapens grace.  We have made it easy to sin and diminished our prohibitions around sin.  At the same time, we have diminished grace.  We have stressed the free nature of God’s grace, but in doing so have minimized the need for our own accountability.

It is easy to blame this on the new generation that has come along.  Things did not use to be like this back in the old days.  While that is true, I think it does an injustice to the new generation that we are blaming.  Shifting values is not something new.  In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus seems equally critical of the shifting values around things like divorce that are occurring, not today, but 2,000 years ago.  This new generation is not the first one to think and act differently than their parents and grandparents.  I do not think we are so much on a downward morale slide, but rather an on-going cycle of change from one generation to the next as our focus and our passions shift.

Unfortunately, our shifting views can easily distract us from the heart and soul of the laws.  We lose our focus on their purpose and instead get caught up in the lawyering.  We see a command like “thou shall not murder” and we start the hair-splitting.  We define what is meant by murder and then we redefine what is meant by murder.  Over and over we draw and redraw the lines.  We decry the previous generations lax views around killing or we lament the new generation and their changing definitions of murder.  In the end, we miss the point.  We spend so much time worrying about what is meant by murder that we forget the reason for the law in the first place.  We do not just need to stop murders, we need to stop the brokenness that causes the murders in the first place.

Sin starts when we think of people as having less value than they do.  Sin is able to keep going because we often minimize the damage it is doing to us.  We set ourselves up for harm when we fail to recognize the real cost of the damage we are doing.  There is real harm that is caused if I attack someone, but there is also harm caused in my soul if I get to the point that I am willing to attack someone, even if I never do it.  We cannot forget this danger.

Jesus advocates some draconian measures when it comes to avoiding sin.  He talks about chopping off hands for example.  This would be an instance where I can only hope that he is being figurative rather than literal.  I think that what he wants is for us to recognize the damaging effects sin can have and take the steps needed to prevent further harm.  There are times medically when it makes sense to lose a part of the body to save the rest of the body.  We need to remember that to prevent further damage we might need to cut out parts of our lives as well.

When we talk about sin it is easy to focus on our actions.  We come up with lists of things we can and cannot do and then we seek to fulfill them.  “Do not commit adultery” becomes “Do not look at people with lust.”  We then go out and try and live into those expectations and the fact of the matter is we fail.  We fail not because of any actions we take, but we fail because we continue to treat the laws as things that are to be followed and sin as a sign of our failure.  Sin is the separation that comes between us and God and between us and our neighbors.  It does not happen because of what we do or do not do.  It happens when we do not respect God and do not respect each other, and that is something that happens in our hearts.

The good news we have is God’s grace.  We are going to sin.  We are going to fail to love God and we are going to fail to love our neighbors.  When we do, we need to remember that God still loves us.  We can see that love in Jesus, who walked among us, who taught us how to live, and who died so that we might know God’s grace.  That grace is available to us, but first we need to acknowledge our failings that put us need of it.

Questions to Ponder:

What do you think of when you think of sin?

What part of sin do you struggle with the most?

When is a time you have gone and asked forgiveness of someone else?

Prayer:

God of grace and God of glory, bless us once more with your loving presence.  We all struggle to follow you God.  We all struggle to not sin in our thoughts and our deeds.  Help us to avoid sin when we can and help us to know your grace when we fail.  Amen