A digital version of this week’s worship bulletin and sermon.

Gathering

PRELUDE

THANKSGIVING for BAPTISM

GATHERING SONG                      “Holy Spirit, Ever Dwelling”                     red book # 582

GREETING

CANTICLE of PRAISE                                                                                           page 149 (set 4)

PRAYER of the DAY

 Word

DEUTERONOMY 30:15-20

PSALM 119:1-8

1 CORINTHIANS 3:1-9

MATTHEW 5:21-37

SERMON                                                                                                     Pastor Chris Halverson

There is no safe side.

There was once a village, and at its center was a maze, and in that maze was a monster, vicious and cruel, death dealing to an extreme. But the villagers said to themselves, “stay on the safe side of the maze, and you’ll be all right.”

But it seemed the monster could navigate the maze and get in and get out.

So, the villagers built a wall around the perimeter of the maze, to be on the safe side, and told their children, “just stay on the safe side of the wall and you’ll be all right.”

But then the village’s sheep started disappearing, people started seeing a monstrous thing in the shadows.

They realized there was no safe side.

There is no safe side.

Let us pray.

 

We often point to the Pharisees as misguided in their religious endeavor—that there is something, maybe even sinister, in what they do.

But there isn’t, what they are attempting is actually quite egalitarian and faithful. Unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees wished Judaism to be practiced beyond the temple and by all Jews, not just some of them. They wish to make the sometimes esoteric and confusing commands in scripture practical, user friendly even.

They do this through a variety of methods of interpreting scripture—one of them is to create a hedge around the Torah… that is a wall around the Law. They want to make very sure that you don’t accidently break one of God’s commandments; they do this by adding a little to them.

For example it is written in Exodus and Deuteronomy, “Do not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”

This command takes seriously familial ties, even in the animal kingdom—that such an action would be cruel.

And the Pharisees, in order to ensure this command isn’t broken by accident, create a hedge around it. They say, “In order to make sure that doesn’t happen, don’t eat, cook, or sell any mixture of meat and milk.”

Essentially, they create clear guidelines for following the Commands of God. This isn’t a bad thing —it’s practical, it allows you to function on a day-to-day basis in the world as a religious person.

They are, however, also saying, to a certain extent “stay on the safe side and you’ll be all right.”

 

And in today’s society we do this kind of thing too—maybe a little more informally, and maybe we don’t want to admit it, but we do it.

We say:

“Well, I go to church once a month.”

“Well, I don’t cheat on my taxes or my husband.”

“Well, I snow blow my neighbor’s sidewalk and send money to March of Dimes.”

I must be on the safe side.

Yet,  “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

So in contrast to this safe side type of hedge, Jesus creates a different type of hedge around the commands of God.

He widens it and deepens it.

It goes from “thou shall not murder” to “don’t be angry or even murmur that someone’s acting a fool.”

It goes from “thou shall not commit adultery,” to “don’t divorce or lust.”

It goes from “thou shall not bear false witness,” to “don’t swear on anything, instead be so trustworthy that yes and no is enough.”

 

And it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the second one of these—Jesus’ commands about Divorce. After all I know there are folk who are divorced and this commandment hurts.

In fact, I would venture to say the 2nd or 3rd largest religious group in town in divorced Catholics.

So, with that reality in mind, let’s be clear about what’s going on. Jesus is entering a debate about where the wall of Torah is. One side said the Law allowed for divorce for any reason—including the burning of a meal—that’s not rhetoric, that’s the actual stated position Jesus is arguing against

the other said only in cases of unfaithfulness.

In a world in which women were disadvantaged in many ways, to be able to be dismissed so casually, is unconscionable.

It doesn’t fit into Jesus’ blessing of the disinherited, the beatitudes which he begins the Sermon on the Mount, from which we are reading today.

Divorcing a woman over burnt toast is not the way the meek are blessed.

 

And that’s the center of Jesus’ way of putting a hedge around the Torah, a wall around the commandments. He does so to protect the vulnerable:

The poor in spirit.

The mourning ones and the meek.

Those hungering for justice and those practicing mercy.

The pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted.

He throws open his interpretation of the Law wide enough to protect us all.

Protect us, from Anger, Lust, and Lies.

 

Yet, at the same time, he puts this hedge out so wide that it leaves no safe haven.

It makes us all vulnerable—

The woman making an offering has to consider not only her own anger, but also the anger of those she’s offended.

The man looking with lust and losing an eye or arm, becomes as vulnerable as the woman he was objectifying.

Those who speak must be very careful with their words, for it is by their truthfulness alone that their statements will be judged.

 

Jesus heightens the ethical requirements of the Law to such an extreme that it isn’t a fence to hide behind—not a safe place for self-justification.

No, it strips us bare and forces us into ongoing examination of our actions.

It insists upon an introspective and mature faith that goes beyond a To Do List

to a faith with a bedrock of trustworthy relationships—trusting God and being trustworthy to others,

We can’t rest assured and say, “I’ve not murdered anyone today.”

No, we have to examine our anger, the intentions of our heart, and the consequences of our actions.

There is no safe side.

There is no safe side, no barrier we can erect, to hide from the fact that we are sinners in need of a savior.

And thank God we have one in Jesus Christ our Lord.

One day a Builder came to the village, and volunteered to create a barrier for the sheep and the children, so that the Monster would be kept at bay, and they would be safe.

The village rejoiced and it was built, so sturdy that they knew the children and animals would be safe.

 

Then the Builder offered to create a trap for the monster, and as bait to catch the Monster he offered himself—the Builder was the bait for the Monster.

That night he sat in his trap, and dusk came down. He could hear the Monster claw at the walls where the vulnerable were, but it could not break the barriers.

Then it entered his trap, rushing at him… and the trap was tripped, a net came down over the monster, and scooped it up

 

… and the monster was revealed—it was the villagers themselves.

The Monster was the people, their anger, lust, and lies driving them to do things they could not imagine they were capable of.

And then in the light of day, the Builder unsprung his trap,

Releasing them all from the Monster,

Saving them from the Monster.

HYMN of the DAY                     “Oh, That the Lord Would Guide My Ways”                 red book # 772

APOSTLES CREED

PRAYERS of INTERCESSION

PEACE                                                        

Meal

OFFERING

OFFERTORY ANTHEM                                        “Holy, Holy”

GREAT THANKSGIVING

LORD’S PRAYER

COMMUNION SONGS

Also, “Let There Be Peace On Earth”, red book # 879, red book # 661

Sending

BLESSING

ANNOUNCEMENTS

SENDING SONG                     “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name!”                   red book # 634

DISMISSAL

POSTLUDE

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