October 7, 2007

"Being Faithful"
Scripture: Matthew 5:27-37
Sermon by Rev. Kathleen Groff
Dundee United Methodist Church

  In this Friday’s “Dear Abby” Column a person labeled “Shaken in Maryland” wrote about her discomfort around her doctor’s recent divorce. Evidently this doctor had been married for 20 years and divorced his wife to marry a much younger woman. The writer felt bad for the man’s wife and four grown kids and it affected her confidence in her doctor. Unfortunately, spouses abandoning their partner in marriage ahs become seemingly a more common occurrence these days. As some marriage relationships spiral negatively toward divorce when communication and trust break down and the forces of unchecked desires entices partners toward “something more exciting and stimulating” and violence causes harm and death, we wonder about today’s passage and its hard line on divorce and adultery. Certainly we cannot condone abusive marriages where lives of spouse and children are at stake. So we have to take a careful look at what Jesus is really telling us.   We cannot enter this passage without the preceding passages in the Sermon on the Mount. We cannot forget that the whole sermon itself begins with blessings and with the call to be light and salt to the world. It calls for an orientation in life that places God first. The question we need to ask is how do we follow Jesus in our everyday living. When we are oriented toward God, we know that all we do must be done out of our love for God and for each other. This is often more difficult to do than we realize. It’s one thing to pay lip service to doing God’s will and another to follow through with our intentions. The Apostle Paul knew this when he said that I do not do what I want to do, yet I do what I do not want to do. Jesus knew the difficulty we have trying to follow in his footsteps, so he poses some examples for us. He says if you even think lustfully about another man or woman you have already committed adultery. It’s part of our human nature to want something we can’t have, to be attracted to the possibilities that lie just over the hill or around the corner. Much of the time we can check those urges and dismiss those thought from our minds. But there are times when strong feelings and impulses will pull at us extra hard, bringing the temptations with them. If we already have difficulties in our relationships, these new feelings may entice us into action, action that will cause pan and discord, even as it initially seem to fulfill something we think we are in need of. That “harmless” little fling has consequences that at first are hidden, but begin to emerge as old relationships are damaged and begin to erode and finally end in divorce.

  The problem with this type of behavior is that it is not oriented toward God, but is directed toward ourselves and our own selfish desires. Jesus is telling us that the time to interfere with such behavior is when those initial impulses and thoughts begin. If we are to become salt and light to the world, we are to act as if God’s will for us is of prime importance. We are to be oriented toward God in all matters of our lives. And being oriented toward God means that we will treat others well, not causing harm and hurt. That’s a pretty lofty way to exist. It means being truthful and honest in all our interactions, especially with our spouses.

  So, perhaps in dealing with this passage we need to take a look at our relationships and see if they are honest, open relationships. Marriages were meant to be open and equal in sharing not only our joys, but our heartaches as well. But many of today’s marriages are based on impulse and infatuation. If good communications are not started right away in serious relationships, then trust may become an issue and some or our needs for intimacy may go unmet. But it’s not only in our marriage relationships that honesty and trust are important. Our relationship with God must be so also. There are many ways we practice deceit with God. We pray what we think God wants to hear and leave our deepest feelings of anger, pain, and doubt out of our prayers. We sometimes don’t want to admit to God that we need His guidance and help. We want to make it on our own.

  And we are enticed away from God by the pull of desire for things, for money, for toys and for entertainment. Relationship with God takes work, meaning that we must spend quality time with God, not just a Sunday morning let the pastor pray and speak for us. It means regular committing and recommitting ourselves to God. It means being willing to give up our idolatrous and adulterous ways to discover what God wants us to do in any circumstance. Like a marriage relationship, we can give in to those things that disrupt the harmony of our relationship and begin to be deceitful to ourselves and to God. Even did it in the garden when she hid from God and then blamed the serpent for making her eat the apple. And we’ve been doing it every since. The nature of sin itself is the distance it creates between ourselves and God. And if we are not intentional in maintaing that relationship we can easily find ourselves estranged from the God who loves us and sustains us through the storms of life. Even the desire to work out our problems without God, by ourselves, is a form of pride and lust to be in control.

  But, even when we find ourselves distanced from God, there is still hope for us. As in any good marriage there is always a time to say, “I’m sorry.” In our relationship with God we call it “repentance.” God wants us to be in relationship with Him and has paid a great price to get us there. But we must first acknowledge our need for God. We can’t be fully human without relationship with our Creator which is what we were made for. That relationship must take precedence over all else in our lives. That orientation toward God will guide us into how we relate to others. When we focus on God we will want to do those things that will not hurt others, and not do those things that will bring destruction to our relationships with one another.

  So, is Jesus giving us a set of rules to live by with a legal orientation, i.e. don’t divorce? Matthew take exception to this “rule” later. No, Jesus is teaching us about our orientation to God and the demands and outcomes of following that orientation. Our relationships will be much different when oriented toward and forges out of the will of God. Those little temptations in life will not have power over us. And we do become salt and light to the world in our actions and devotion to God.