Sermon on the Mount Series - Sermon #4 - Adultery and Divorce
Rev. April S Blaine - Given on Sunday, August 18, 2013
Well, it is very good to be home. We’ve been on vacation for the past two weeks, visiting family… and I don’t know about you, but as much as I enjoy this time away. The getting there and the returning always seems just a bit harder than it should be. The week that we were preparing to leave, it seemed as if everything was piling up in ways that we couldn’t have planned or prepared for. Lots of unexpected things at work, an enormous grant application, and then on Tuesday… Marcus was kicked out of daycare.
That’s right. At the ripe age of 3 years old, my husband and I were told that my son was simply more than they could handle and that we would need to find a new place.
So, I have to admit I was a bit embarrassed and frustrated by the timing, but I wasn’t entirely shocked. For the previous couple of weeks – something had been off. He had been increasingly frustrated and irritated, he had been hitting other kids for no reasons and had spent his nap times screaming so that none of the other kids could sleep. Our daycare provider was new at this – she didn’t have a lot of experience working with more “strongwilled” children. She had tried traditional rewards and punishments to try to teach him that his behavior was not appropriate, but they simply didn’t work. The truth was – it seemed evident that Marcus KNEW that what he was doing was wrong, but something was going on inside him that was preventing him from controlling his behavior when he got frustrated. The hitting and the screaming – they were just outward signs of an inward struggle.
So, here we are studying the sermon on the mount.
Jesus is speaking to a crowd of ordinary people about what it means to live in God’s kingdom, what it will mean to really follow the teachings of Jesus and to create the kind of community that reflects it.
He has proclaimed to them – that they are blessed – every one of them – because the kingdom of God is available to them.
And he has said that they are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world – as they reveal this kingdom to the rest of the world.
And now – Jesus has been getting to the nitty gritty – how are you actually going to become the kind of people who are living as the salt of the earth and the light of the world – how must we live and behave and function in the world?
And so Jesus begins to show them and reveal to them the kind of life they must live if they are to be these kinds of people –
And he does this with a very specific tactic –
by lifting up what’s been taught to them in the past – the laws that they were so familiar with - and then opens them up in radical new ways to get to the heart of how they are actually called to live these commandments out…
“You have heard it said – do not murder.”
But I say to you – do not be angry…
“You have heard it said, do not commit adultery.
But I say to you…”
It turns out that Jesus knew a little something about 3 year olds and 30 year olds and 80 year olds.
Regardless of our age, we all know – that our day to day lives – the things we do every day - that our actions do not emerge from nothing. They reveal what is in the heart.
And so – if we want to live in the world in a way that’s different – if we want to change the actions – the things we see on the outside -
It is the inner life of the soul that we must aim to transform.
And so as Jesus begins his teaching about HOW we are actually going to be the kind of people who are shining the light of the kingdom to all we meet –
It begins with eliminating a heart of anger and contempt – Pastor Lucy talked about this last week –
Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. He knows that the action of murder begins well before the act… that it takes root in our inner spirits – when we begin to see others as objects and not as humans. When we stop seeing the heart of the Beatitudes – that everyone is blessed.
And Jesus suggests a way to be in the world – where we value people and value relationships at such a level that our hearts are instead seeking reconciliation – even when we have been hurt and wronged. Where we value people at such a level that our main goal is to find the way of peace and forgiveness.
And then he moves into today’s passage – building off of this idea and saying –
You have heard it said – do not commit adultery
Now, at the time - adultery was defined as – a married woman has sex with a man who is not her husband. Both are guilty. Blame was typically on woman.
But I say to you – anyone who looks at a woman with lust – has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Again Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. Not just the action, but the internal place where this action comes from.
The word Lust in greek is a literal combination of two words – “EpiThymeo”
It’s translated – epi - at, by, before – and thymeo - passion, heat, and anger forthwith boiling up, an inflaming wine that drives the person mad or kills him with its strength.
So, lust seems to be when our passion and our desire for someone is mixed with our anger. And Jesus has just told us that anger begins when we stop seeing a person as fully human. When we stop seeing them as blessed, when we start seeing them as an object.
In this case for our own enjoyment.
When I was in college, the popular television show was Friends – a comedy about a set of friends in their late 20’s living and working in New York.
One of the characters was Joey, an aspiring actor and not the brightest bulb in the box. Joey had a lot of female friends and he was actually a very kind at heart person – when he saw a friend in need – he would often say – “Hey, how are you doing?” But Joey was also very interested in meeting new ladies, and especially with having sex with new ladies – and when he saw a woman he was interested in, he had a line he would say,
“How you doin?”
When our interest, appreciation, desire for someone begins to treat them as an object – when we look at them as a potential hook up or eye candy, or an opportunity to express our own unfulfilled fantasy - then we have gone down a path that is harmful to them and also harmful to us and our community.
The next passage on divorce builds exactly on this –
The historical precedence was that a man could divorce his wife for any reason at all. As long as he gave the proper paperwork.
But Jesus says –
“But I tell you – anyone who divorces his wife for any other reason than her unfaithfulness – forces her to commit adultery.”
Now it’s important to remember that wives were understood at the time as a part of a man’s property. They WERE objects.
There were 3 main things that could happen for a woman who was divorced from her husband. She could find shelter at the mercy of a family member – often having to take the role of a servant to earn her keep, she could re-marry but as “tainted goods” and often be treated as a slave by her new husband, or she could become a prostitute.
So let’s be clear that in both of these passages – Jesus is doing a couple of things – and both of them are pretty extraordinary.
First of all – Jesus - stands against the status quo of society that treated women or any member of the community like objects, that blamed them for their own beauty, and that forced them into lives of abuse or exploitation.
Now it’s interesting to me that people have often read this passage and taught that this passage prevents people from re-marrying. As if Jesus
We are SERIOUSLY missing the point when we read these passages as if Jesus is setting down new laws.
He is actually mocking the laws that exist and exposing them for how unable they are to create the kind of just and loving community that God intended.
Cut off your hand, gouge out your eye – but even if you did those things – if you didn’t address the heart of the matter – this way of treating each other as objects – then it wouldn’t have addressed the real issue.
And as he lifts this up – he emphasizes the real issue.
YOU are made for relationships, intimate relationships where neither person is treated as an object. Where you are looked at and honored as a blessed child of God. Where you are valued and loved.
Your sexuality, your desires and your passions are intended as a gift that creates the kind of relationships and intimacy that God intended.
A few years back, I was hosting a prayer walk at the church where I was serving – where there are stations around the room to invite people to pray. On one particular night, I had the middle school youth go through. At one of the stations, the purpose was to celebrate things that God has given us. One of the young men wrote – dirtbikes, friends, family, and in capital letters - GIRLS.
And I had to smile because the reality is that what he wrote is SO true.
Sexuality is a gift. It IS something to celebrate. God gave us one another for beautiful things and to celebrate each other. We botch it up a lot, but it is a GIFT.
So this passage is NOT saying that Sex is bad. Or even that thinking about sex is bad.
Passion and Desire alone are not the problem.
Jesus is lifting up the kind of loving relationships that we were made for -
We are created for the kind of loving relationships with one another that are devoid of anger and greed and lust.
We are created for the kind of relationships that value the beauty of who we are as WHOLE people. We are created for relationships that honor the blessedness that is found in each of us.
And that appreciate that in one another.
In a community where people do not have hearts of anger or lust – where they are honoring and valuing one another from a place of love.
Divorce will be rare.
Our sexuality is a gift – and we are called to use it in ways that honor each other as blessed.
But this is hard.
You saw the images today – we are bombarded with them all the time.
When I was away – I was relaxing with my family watching reruns of sitcoms and I was blown away at how often sex was a part of the story line – most often in ways that objectified both people involved.
And so its hard.
And there is a place deep within us – a place that many of us don’t ever share with others – because if they did – they wouldn’t believe what we had been thinking…
And so – as my mind wanders and considers things – my prayer this week has been
Show me where the lie is.
Reveal it to me.
And fill my heart instead with love.
So wherever you find yourself this week – in class, or at work, watching a movie, or on the web.
May you ask for eyes to see – the lies and a heart that can be open to the kind of love that will set us all free.
Change my heart.
Our actions don’t come from nowhere –
So change me from within so that I might reflect your kingdom