Sunday, July 16, 2023

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity - Mt 5:20-26


Trinity 6

                                                                                       Mt 5:20-26



          It was an amazing story – almost too good to be true.  In 2003 the nineteen year old Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford University to found the company Theranos.  Holmes had an aversion to needles growing up, and her idea was to develop a machine that could run a whole series of tests using a very small amount of blood.

          It was an attractive concept and Homes proved to be very persuasive as she was able to raise more than $700 million dollars from venture capitalists and investors.  Her Silicon Valley located company went public and at its peak in 2014 the company was valued at $10 billion dollars.  Because of her stock in the company, Holmes was personally worth $4.5 billion dollars.  She was lauded as a genius entrepreneur and for almost a decade was a media darling.

          There is a saying that is often applied to the practice of Silicon Valley companies: “Fake it until you make it.”  Companies make claims about what they will do in order to raise investment in the hopes that eventually they really will be able to deliver. 

          It turned out that this is literally what Holmes and Theranos were doing.  Their machine did not work, and they were faking results in order to give the impression that it did.  The company might have been valued at $10 billion, but the reality was that it was worth nothing.

          In 2015 the whole scheme was exposed and by 2018 the company had shut down.  Holmes went from being worth billions of dollars to being worth nothing.  Worse yet, she was found guilty of wire fraud and was sentenced to eleven years in a Federal Prison Camp.

          Holmes appeared to be worth a fortune, but in reality she was worth nothing.  In our Gospel lesson today we hear about the Pharisees.  They appear to possess great righteousness. But we learn that because it is not based in Jesus, their righteousness is really worth nothing.

          Our text this morning is found in our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus has begun the sermon by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  The poor in spirit are those who humbly acknowledge their spiritual status.  They are those who know their sin and confess it before God.

          You are the poor in spirit.  You just confessed this at the beginning of the Divine Service.  You said that you are a poor, miserable sinner who confesses all your sins. You acknowledged before God that you deserve nothing but his present and eternal punishment.  You admitted that you have nothing to bring to God – you have not merit that you can offer before him.

          Jesus says you are poor in spirit.  But the good news is that he says that you are blessed because the kingdom of heaven is yours. The “kingdom of heaven” is a Jewish way of saying “kingdom of God.”  It describes the reign of God that that arrived in Jesus.  Our Lord began his ministry by declaring, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

          Jesus said that in his person the reign of God had arrived. It had arrived and Jesus was the means by which God would defeat sin and death.  Jesus brought God’s reign as died on the cross.  He said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  By his sacrifice Jesus received God’s judgment against our sin.  Dead and buried in a tomb, he rose on the third day in order to defeat death.

          You are poor in spirit. But Jesus says that you are blessed because the kingdom of heaven is yours. Baptized into Jesus’ death you have received God’s saving reign and belong to him.  Only in Jesus is this forgiveness and salvation possible.

          This truth helps us to understand our Lord’s statement at the beginning of our text: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  The beginning of the sermon has already taught us that entering the kingdom of heaven is not about what we do.  It is in fact a gift that is provided in Christ, not something that is earned by achieving a certain level of righteousness.

          Now the Pharisees certainly appeared to be righteous.  They lived according to an understanding of the Torah which in some ways went over and beyond. They required that rules intended for priests be followed by ordinary Jews.  They followed this tradition of the elders and they presented themselves as being pious. 

          However, Jesus will say later about the Pharisees, “They do all their deeds to be seen by others.”  We get a picture of what this looked like in the next chapter.  Jesus says about prayer, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

          The Pharisees wanted to appear righteous before others.  They wanted this to give them status.  But Jesus says that in fact their righteousness is worth nothing.  It is worth nothing because they are rejecting Jesus who is the only true source of righteousness.

          Our Lord says, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  The good news is that the way a person has more righteousness than the Pharisees is by having more Jesus than the Pharisees.  Faith in Jesus the crucified and risen Lord provides the righteousness that counts before God.  Baptized believers already have the reign of God now. They possess it now and because they do they know that death has been defeated.  Nothing can take the kingdom of heaven away from them.

          You have received the reign of God in Christ Jesus.  This means that we now listen to our Lord as he teaches us about how to live as God’s children.  Jesus says in our text, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’”  In this and five others that follow, our Lord takes up teaching that was common at his time. 

          The meaning here seems quite straightforward. Murder should be punished.  Yet then Jesus says, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Our Lord teaches us that anger is the source of murder, and that the presence of anger breaks the Fifth Commandment.  This commandment is not only about physical harm done to our neighbor. Instead, anger in our heart brings God’s judgment. 

Now we want to hold onto anger.  We like to speak about “righteous anger.”  Because we have been wronged, we think that we have the right to be angry.  But Jesus teaches us something very different.  He says that anger brings God’s judgment.

Our anger always get twisted up with sin.  James warns us, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”  Our anger is sinful and does not produce what God considers to be righteous.  It only generates more sin.

Our response to anger is to turn away from it rather than seeking to kindle it.  Paul told the Ephesians, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”  We cannot view anger as a good thing in our life.  We are fallen people and so incidents will cause the feeling of anger.  But when this occurs we cannot give in to this feeling by embracing and nurturing it.

Instead of anger, Jesus teaches us to be reconciled.  Our Lord says in our text, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

Reconciliation sometimes requires us to confess where we have sinned.  It also means that we must forgive those who have wronged us.  How can we do this?  Here we return the manner in which Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  You are forgiven because the kingdom of heaven is yours. This means that now you share this forgiveness with others. The Holy Spirit who had worked faith in you leads and enables you to forgive as you continue to receive forgiveness through the Means of Grace.

This is true of our dealings with all people.  But it is especially true of the Christians who gather in this place. It is true of your family and friends here at Good Shepherd. 

We gather here every Sunday to receive the true body and blood of Christ given and shed for us.  In the Sacrament of the Altar we receive the forgiveness that Jesus won for us on the cross.  Jesus gives his body and blood to you, and to everyone else who communes.  In doing so he unites us as the Body of Christ.  He joins us together in the Sacrament of Unity.

Anger and division cannot be present at the Sacrament.  You cannot refuse to forgive another; you cannot refuse to be reconciled to another even as you commune with him or her at the altar. Instead, our Lord says that we are to be reconciled. We are to forgive one another so that we can commune together as the forgiven people of God.  We are forgiven people who forgive because we have received the saving reign of God in Christ Jesus.

In our text today we learn that our righteousness must exceed the Pharisees in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.  At first this sounds like an impossible task.  But the Pharisee’s righteousness was not based on Jesus.  What we need is not more of our own righteousness, but more Jesus.

The good news is that you have already received this through baptism and faith. The kingdom of heaven is yours in Christ Jesus.  You have forgiveness and the assurance of eternal life with God.  Because this is so we resist the urge to give in to anger.  Instead, we forgive and seek to be reconciled with others.      





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