A sermon preached for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
February 12, 2023
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Readings: Matthew 5:21-37
Whenever you read a gospel passage like the one we have today, you can feel the room go tense and the words just hang in the air until they crash to the floor in a big heap. So let’s name that tension and sense of discomfort. Jesus is talking about divorce, and it makes some of us, if not all of us, uncomfortable. Some of us have been divorced. We all know people—people we love and cherish—who have been divorced. Jesus is not flexible on the idea of divorce, but we know that divorces happen in our world. Relationships end for all kinds of reasons, many of them good and even holy reasons. I’m the child of divorce, and I thank God that my mother finally found the courage to leave an abusive relationship behind.
There are good reasons for divorce and bad reasons for divorce. We all know that. But here’s something else I know: Regardless of whether the reason is good or bad, I’ve seen God, time and time again, take that painful event in someone’s life and redeem it for good. New life can flourish where we once thought it impossible. God meets us where we are.
Let’s try to get past that initial reaction and get to the heart of what Jesus is saying. Jesus is giving his Sermon on the Mount, teaching his disciples how to live as Christ-followers in this messy and fallen world. Today’s passage is in that vein. Jesus takes the Law of Moses and he expands it. He’s challenging his followers not to approach their lives in God as a legal checklist, but as a relationship. And in the process, he’s knocking them back on their heels.
To those who say they are living according to the Law, those good religious folk, those who have it all figured out, those who are so sure that they are right and those other people are wrong, those in church Sunday after Sunday, Jesus asks, are you sure? You may not have murdered, but have you ever had hatred in your heart for your brother or sister? That gets you into trouble, too. You may not have ever committed adultery. But have you ever looked with lust on someone else, treating them as an object for sexual gratification? It’s the same thing as adultery. What Jesus is saying is we need to get over ourselves, come off our soapbox, understand we’re all on the hook—we are all sinners in need of the grace of God.
If you’re thinking this is an impossible standard and there’s no way you can live up to it, you would be right. In a few verses Jesus will tell us to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. It’s impossible, and that is precisely the point! We are going to fall—because we’re all fallen humans. We are going to sin, but with God’s help we repent and return to the Lord. And by the way, when we see a brother or sister fall down, we don’t push them over again, proclaiming “look how bad they are!” No, we help them up, and we go to Jesus together, as sinners.
In returning to God, time and time again, we find that God is always there waiting for us. In repenting, over and over again, we find that God is always ready to forgive. In asking for grace, day after day, we find that God is always generous. And even in our failures, even when we fail to meet the ideal, we find redemption. We know that’s not only true for us, but true for all people. That’s what we as the Church are about.
So if no one has said it to you before: Welcome to the club. Welcome to the club of the broken, the club of the beaten down, the club of people who are trying their best but don’t get it right. Welcome to a communion, not of angels, not even of saints, but of sinners. The truth is, we don’t have it all figured out. You and I, we’re no better than anyone else. We’re all just trying to live this life as best as we can, and guess what, we all fail at it, day after day. We all need the grace of God today just as much as we did when we started out. For as Martin Luther would remind us, while we may be justified by grace and marked as Christ’s own forever, we are all still sinners this side of glory.
This church is not a social club where we exchange pleasantries and pretend everything is perfect. No, this church is made up of imperfect people still trying to figure things out. This church is a place where real healing happens to hurting people–a club for the broken. We’re a place where imperfect people come together to try to live as Jesus calls us to live, knowing we won’t live up to that impossible standard, but also knowing that there’s enough grace to catch us whenever we fall. We’re a group of people who fall down, but who know that Jesus will always be there to pick us up, and that we will always have a home with our God of endless love.
So if you’re a sinner, welcome. I am, too. If you’ve been a Christian five minutes or fifty years, or even if you’re not so sure about this faith thing, welcome. If you’re tired and can’t go on, welcome. If you have some hatred in your heart you need to let go of, welcome. If you’ve been divorced 10 times or married 50 years or never been married, welcome. If you have hatred in your heart and you need to offer forgiveness, but you can’t yet–my friend, I’ve been there. Welcome. Whoever you are and wherever you are on your pilgrimage of faith, welcome. Welcome to the club of the broken. You’ll find healing here.
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