• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Sermon - "You've Heard It Said..."

Series - Sermon on the Mount, Week 3 of 3

Preached February 16, 2020, at the 9:30 am Worship

Presbyterian Church of Chestertown


Context

This is the third week in our series on the Sermon on the Mount. As the new pastor, I wondered what to preach first, and realized, the Sermon on the Mount was where Matthew has Jesus start. So, it should be a good enough place for me to start as well.


Two weeks ago, I walked us through the opening of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes. Blessed are the “so and sos” for they shall “so and so”… We re-heard those opening statements of Jesus not as instructions, commands, negotiations - IF we are or do something, THEN God responds a certain way. That’s NOT what the beatitudes say. Instead, we heard them as descriptions of how things already are. In Jesus, God by Spirit has made a community where things already are different than we might expect. That world is already real, and isn’t fully here yet, and is coming. The beatitudes describe the way things are and will be when God’s kingdom comes and God’s will is done on earth as it is in the heavens.


Last week, Caitlan walked us into the next section of the sermon on the mount, where Jesus says we… WE are the salt of the earth, WE are the light of the world, and that we should not think he, Jesus, has come to abolish or undermine the scriptures but to reveal them and to fulfill them. Caitlan challenged us to be salty, and to shine, and to make sure all the world gets seasoned and warmed by our faith in him and our following of him.


Today, we hear the rest of the Sermon on the mount. Its three chapters. I won’t be reading all the verses. But I will lift out the repeated ways Jesus reinterprets traditional understandings of scripture and reimagines being community.


Let’s pray, and listen for the word of the Lord from…


Prayer


Scripture Matthew 5-7, selected verses

5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will also be subject to (that) judgment…

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at another lustfully has already committed adultery with them in their heart…

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces a spouse must give them a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces a spouse, except for infidelity, makes them victims of adultery…

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all…

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other as well…

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…

6 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others just to be seen by them…

when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray... to be seen by others. … when you pray, go into a room, close the door and pray … when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, who think they will be heard because of their many words…

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. … when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting…

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth… 24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the first and love the second, or you will be devoted to the second and despise the first. You cannot serve both God and money.

do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?...

do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough worries of its own…

7 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged… in the same way you judge others…

7 “Ask and it will be given; seek and you will find; knock and the doors will be opened…

in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, this sums up the Law and the Prophets…

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inside they are ferocious…

everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise person who built their house on the rock. 25 The rains came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against it; yet it did not fall…”

28 When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority but not like their teachers of the law.


This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God)


Sermon You’ve Heard it Said

The word “amazed” is not even close. The people were not just “amazed” at his teachings. That Greek word literally means, to strike or to be struck out of one’s senses. So, let’s hear it as amazed, and add to that astounded, overwhelmed, shocked, befuddled, perplexed, rattled, disturbed.


This word also can imply fear, or wonder, or joy. So, it’s probably wise of us to think about the disciples and the people overhearing Jesus teach his disciples having these various responses to the same message from him.


Some of the disciples and some of the people overhearing were amazed, excited to hear someone saying these beautiful amazing things. Perhaps they had long wondered about why religious folks are so strict, so literal, so hard-hearted and closed-minded. To hear Jesus push back against traditional understandings and interpretations of scripture, that made some excited, and they were amazed at his bravery and boldness to teach his disciples these new things in public.


Some were astounded that he risked so much. They may or may not know if Jesus is right, or if the religious leaders are right. But they did know, if Jesus talks like this, the powers that be will not be happy. They will come down on him. They will come down on anyone who starts to listen to him, follow him, or talk like him. Just sitting, listening to Jesus would be dangerous. Some of the disciples were probably afraid, and some in the crowd were probably fearful of the trouble Jesus was bringing into their community.


Still, others were shocked! They couldn’t believe this Jesus of Nazareth, a country boy would dare attempt to challenge tradition, and corrupt the minds and souls of good God-fearing people. The scriptures had been speaking consistent messages for hundreds if not thousands of years. How dare this Nazarene show up in our town and begin to say things that don’t match what we’ve always heard, read, and believed. This rebel would need to be stopped. One of his disciples later succumbs to this feeling and betrays Jesus, and many in the crowd later shout “Give us Barrabas. Crucify him.”


The disciples learning from him and the crowds overhearing him were feeling all of it. Some were getting excited, some were skeptical and fearful, and some were downright resistant.

Still, Jesus continued to speak truth from scripture about God and God’s community. As he said, he didn’t change what any of the scriptures said. He didn’t take away any words. The words they had heard were still there and still true. But, he did reveal bigger, truer meanings behind those words. The meanings of those teachings, commandments, proverbs, laws, and prophets had always been more, bigger than they had ever heard or practiced.


It was still wrong to kill. But now, it was revealed it was always equally wrong to hate or insult. We would still have neighbors and enemies. But now, it was revealed we were always called to equally love neighbor and enemy. It was still wrong to strike. But now, it was revealed it was never okay to strike back. We would still worry about things. We would still care about our clothes, and what we eat, and impressing people. We would still earn and spend money on temporary stuff. But it was revealed life was never about these things. Life was always about trust and faith in God, spending our time and resources on growing a healthy community that looked more and more like God’s community.


Jesus wasn’t breaking any old teachings. But he was taking away from his disciples the temptation to use scripture for themselves and against others. Thou shalt not kill was often interpreted to be a wall that separates us from killers. Jesus showed us killers, haters, and insulters are not separated but equally liable to God. Going to worship, doing worship a certain way, praying a certain way is not meant to impress anyone, to please ourselves, or to separate us from others who worship differently or pray differently. It is meant to re-center us and unite us with God and because we are united to God, we are also united to one another. The laws and commandments of scripture do correct us and guide us to a better life, but they are not meant to be used by us against others, as a gavel to judge others and acquit ourselves.


Whenever I or Caitlan or other guests stand here to preach, there’s probably a variety of responses to us, similar to the ones we see in today’s scripture. Some might nod in agreement. Some might tilt their head in wonder or confusion at what Joel or Caitlan are insinuating. Others might lean back and fold arms in doubt or resistance. That variety of responses to Jesus began with his first sermon, in his disciples and among the crowds. So we preachers get used to that same variety of responses to our sermons.


But I promise you this, I and (I trust) all the preachers of this church are reteaching Jesus’ lessons, that scriptures do say certain things but the meanings of those scriptures are often so much bigger and wider into our lives and into our world today than we dared imagine before.


I know I am getting closer to reading the scriptures like he did when I cannot use them for myself and against others. We are getting closer to reading scripture like he did when we cannot use them to separate us from others, to protect us from others, or to justify ourselves over and against others.


May we continue reading scripture with Jesus and one another, and find ourselves amazed, astounded, even uncomfortable, but gladly embracing the bigger, deeper truths he shows us through them. Amen.

About Me
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In 2002, I left my corporate career, and went to seminary. Since 2005, I've been serving churches, and trying to follow Jesus, and lead others in doing the same...

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