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"You have heard it said..."

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Psalm 119:1-8

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Matthew 5:21-37

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

January 1, 2023

“You have heard it said…”

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

  • Holy Week and Maundy Thursday

  • Forgiveness and I power is a gift from Jesus is a gift from God to help live in community

Being in community with one another is not an easy thing. Think about your marriage…is is always easy to love your spouse? Except me of course. I am just a rainbow full of sunshine and happy thoughts… It is why marriages sometimes fail. It’s why God only makes three commandments dealing with humanity’s interaction with God and seven commandments dealing with our interactions with each other. It is why Jesus spends the majority of his sermon on the mount not talking about who is blessed, but how we are to treat one another.

The Sermon on the Mount, what we have been looking at for the last few weeks in worship, is the foundation on which Matthew bases his entire gospel. Matthew’s gospel is really a manual on how we should treat one another as disciples. The bottom layers of that brick foundation is the Beatitudes, which will be important to remember come this fall when it seems like Jesus is dropping the microphone every time he speaks. The next layers have been these important lessons Jesus has shared this week and last. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Jesus knows that the single greatest enemy for the church, is not going to be the devil, is going to be ourselves because of our “total inability,” “righteous incapability,” “radical corruption,” “moral inability”, our total depravity to sin. Sometimes we are harder on ourselves than the devil is on us. As a result of the fall of humanity (Genesis 3:6) every part of our mind, will, emotions and flesh—has been corrupted by sin. In other words, sin affects all areas of our being including who we are and what we do. It penetrates to the very core of our being so that everything is tainted by sin and “…all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” before a holy God.

And for a time, the way God dealt with humanity’s total depravity was through the law. But the law never could redeem us. It simply identified where we have fallen and offered only punishment. What happened when you cross that line and broke the law?

But I never killed anyone so I am good. But for us Christian, especially us Lutherans, sin is committed through thought, word and deed. We are not only guilty for the things we have done but the things we have not done. The only way then, from the Christian perspective, to receive redemption is through Jesus Christ. By his death on the cross and faithfulness to God’s will and through the waters of baptism, we receive justification. You are made right with God, but that justification does not take away our total depravity. Justification only fixes the part that separates us from God, i.e. it offers forgiveness, pardon and remission of our sin.

As Christians, we are called to live differently despite total depravity. Despite the fact that we all daily fall short of the glory of God through our total depravity, we do what nobody else does: We offer forgiveness to one another. And there are times when offer forgives to someone is hard or impossible. No parent should ever be expected to offer forgiveness to someone who killed their child. No abuser should ever expect their victim to forgive them for the wrong they have committed. Jesus gave his church a great deal of power that day when he preached. He gave his followers the ability to offer forgiveness to each other. There is a great deal of power that a victim can wield when he or she forgives their attacker. Forgiveness gives the victim the power. The victim holds the power. Forgiveness gives us the power to take away the power of sin. So with that power, how are we then at wielding that power, at offering grace? For a denomination that finds our roots in justification and grace-filled theology, how are we at showing grace? Are we known for grace around town?

You know, I think when God created the garden, God never intended us to know death, murder, adulterous behavior, distrust, or any of the things we face each day. That was all brought about the day our ancestors (both of them) at the fruit. Jesus says it very clearly, “you have heard it said…” where he quotes the law but then he quickly adds “but I say…” where he talks about forgiveness.

One of things we need to be about is forgiveness. I have long heard from non-church people who say, “the church is filled with a bunch of hypocrites…” and our response is typically to say, “Yeah, but there is always room for one more…” What if, instead, we look at what is at the heart of that phrase. Why do some non-church people feel that way? Is it because they have been a part of a community that didn’t offer forgiveness? I think that might be answer. Who wants to be in a Christian community that doesn’t offer forgiveness when a member or a leader doesn’t offer forgiveness or isn’t forgiven themselves for something they had done? I think that might be at the heart of why so many don’t want to come back. They feel like they will be judge and never feel the forgiveness they crave.

Nobody else in the world forgives like Jesus and we, as the church, are called be that agent of forgiveness today. And I am not saying that this is strictly a Zion problem and I know one sermon is not going to make a difference in how we live. But as we think about our future and where God is leading us, where does our work of forgiving sins fit into that? That is the question that I wish to leave you with this week to ponder…where does our work of forgiving one another fit into our missional work of sharing Christ Love, growing in faith, and serving others?

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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