Last week, we talked about a little place on the southwest side of Jerusalem… does anyone remember what that ugly and awful place was called?
Ghenna is a trash dump… it is a valley of garbage… it is a place for filth and waste… a place to burn and destroy the refuse of our lives…
And this smelly, disgusting, ugly, awful place is translated in our modern bibles as “hell.”
We spent all of last Sunday talking about ghenna so that we could prepare ourselves for a conversation today. Because that word – ghenna – shows up three times in our passage this morning. One third of all the times Jesus uses the world we now think of as “hell” show up right here.
So let’s dive in, shall we?
And let’s start by getting out the trusty whiteboard and doing some brainstorming…
We are going to assume… although that might be a dangerous thing… let’s assume that none of us wants to live in ghenna – in the garbage dump – in hellish conditions… is it alright if I start with that assumption?
That leads to a question… What kind of a community do you want to live in?
|Photo by: Jon Wisbey|
What makes this community liveable… what makes it desireable… is that love is the center of each of these relationships.
I believe that this ideal is based on what we find right here in our scriptures for this week… it’s based in the summary of the law we find in Deuteronomy and in Matthew… love God with everything that you are and love your neighbor as yourself.
We know, somewhere deep inside of us that this is what we should strive for.
We know, that this is how we were made.
And, we know, that this is where we are headed…
This is the Kingdom of God. Love. Trust. Forgiveness. Honesty. Faithfulness. No more tears, no more pain.
But the question is… how do we get there?
As Jesus walked and talked and lived among us, everything that he did pointed to this reality. As he spoke with people he told them that the Kingdom of heaven was already here… that we have glimpses of this reality… but it is not yet fully here.
And we look around us and know that to be true.
There is death and murder. There is violence and anger. There is lust and revenge and envy everywhere.
It isn’t fully here yet.
I know that.
You know that.
Jesus knew that.
But right here, in this sermon to the people, he refused to let the people off the hook. In this section, Jesus tackles some of the toughest situations we face in our relationships and in the scriptures: murder, adultery, divorce, oaths and promises, revenge…
All of those things that turn this reality into a garbage dump.
In each and every single one of these verses, Jesus challenges us.
Not once does he give us an easy out.
Not once does he justify our actions.
Not once does he say we can ignore the wisdom of earlier days.
No. In every single one of these verses, Jesus takes a simple law and makes it harder.
Don’t just restrain yourself from killing that person… Jesus says – don’t even be mad at them
You’ve been told not to commit adultery, but I say to you – don’t even look at someone who isn’t your spouse with lust.
Divorce has become as simple as writing a letter when the spark has gone – but I say to you unless your spouse has broken the fundamentals of the covenant, and committed adultery, don’t give up on your relationship… and even then give it another try.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t make oaths that are more than just yes and no.
Don’t seek your own revenge but love your enemies, pray for those who seek to destroy you. Turn the other cheek.
And he ends this whole section by saying what I think are the hardest two words in all of scripture: Be perfect.
What?! Be perfect? How do we do that? How can we get there?
There are two main theories about what Jesus is trying to do here.
The first, is that Jesus takes the old testament law and turns it into SUPER law… that to be Christian really requires more morality, more legalism, more demands. To be Christian, you just have to follow all of these new laws, along with the old ones. There certainly are brothers and sisters out there who do just this… who make perfection and holiness and morality the substance of their very being and heap law upon law upon law.
The second main way of understanding these passages is that Jesus makes the law so hard that we can’t live up to it. We can’t do it. All of us have anger in our heart. All of us think our brothers and sisters and idiots sometimes, all of us break promises. This second perspective teaches us that we are utterly helpless when it comes to the law and therefore, we need Jesus to save us from our own downfall. And we all know folks out there, brothers and sisters in Christ who help us to hold our lives up against the law, see our failings, and our guilt and our shame. In this perspective, the law convicts us… but in many ways, the law ceases to matter. As long as we have Jesus to save us, it doesn’t matter if we make mistakes.
I’ve never been a black and white girl. I’m not a fan of either/or choices. So, I want to share with you today a third option… a both/and.
And so what I see happening here in the sermon on the mount is that Jesus is challenging us to be perfect.
He’s telling us we can’t do it, and telling us we need to do it all at the same time.
He’s pointing to this future Kingdom reality and he’s inviting us to live in that reality now.
He knows we are helpless to do it, but he wants us to try.
Jackie has been working with addicts as a part of his new ministry with the CMA. As we talked about these passages in Sunday School last week, he reminded us that the goal of recovery groups is to help you become clean and sober. It is a community of folks who are all seeking the same end goal. Life and life abundant. Perfection. Love.
At the start of the journey, a life of sobriety is almost unimagineable. It isn’t who they are. But they know where they are going. They know who they are seeking to be. And so they try.
Maybe the church needs to be a little bit more like a recovery group. We need to be a group of people, banded together, helping one another get over our addiction to sin and death, and trying to live into this whiteboard reality.
And in order to do so, we have to start letting go of some of the garbage in our lives. We have to throw it out… because in the end, it just won’t do in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus calls us in each of these situations to love. Not mushy gushy love – but real, genuine, difficult, honest love. Love that forgives wrong. Love that seeks peace. Love that refuses to fight back with violence and hatred. Love that is strong enough to overcome.
How do we do that? How is it possible?
Last year, a friend gave me this album and in particular this song – Forgiveness – spoke to me.
I want to share it with you today, because it speaks to the heart of what Jesus asks us to do….
Is it easy? No.
Will we get it right on the first try? No.
Are we supposed to try anyways? Yes.
Again, and again and again.
We are supposed to try to live our lives here in the Kingdom… and not out on the garbage dump.
Live into the Kingdom of heaven… where love is our first and not our second impulse.
Where forgiveness is our first and not our second impulse.
Where relationships and not rules determine our actions.
You can go ahead and throw your past and your mistakes and the failings of yesterday on the trash heap. The question is… how do you want to live today? And are you going to let Jesus Christ help you to do it?