This is a special week because we are joined by Rev. Robin Lunn, Executive Director of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, an organization committed to the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of the church. We are privileged to be a part of AWAB and privileged to have Robin join us. Once again, the lectionary provides us with a lot to think about in Matthew 5.21-37, so I’m glad Robin is along side to help unravel this text’s gospel of inclusion.
Our passage continues Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, a passage that presents some challenges, especially for a progressive congregation like Church in the Cliff. For us, the challenge is in honestly engaging a text that has been used to reinforce heteronormative ideas of family. When Jesus speaks of adultery and divorce, he assumes that a marriage is between one man and one woman. Worse, he assumes that the man is in control of whether the marriage might continue and only the woman’s virtue and faithfulness is in question. The result is a text that can be used to keep women in oppressive situations while requiring little of men. But that’s a pretty narrow view of the text.
As we have seen in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew is quite careful about what he includes and where it is placed. Remember, Jesus has just finished talking about the importance of the law as a guide to justice. Specifically, he says that the righteousness – the practice of justice-making – of the disciples is to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, the religious bigwigs of the day. Now Jesus describes how that works. For Matthew’s Jesus, increasing one’s righteousness is aligning inner thoughts with outer actions.
The Gospel of Matthew uses the term “hypocrites” thirteen times, far more than any other Gospel. Each time, his target is the religious elite. His charge was not that they did not follow the law, but that they didn’t care about the people of God. They used the law to exclude people from life in God – “for you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven (23.13)” – and kept the law without practicing justice – “for you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, compassion, and faith (23.23).” The small things consumed them, became their religion, while forgetting that the whole point is to love one another and bring about justice. There is an inner reality of concern for the well-being of others that becomes an outer reality of justice.
When Jesus says that being angry with a person receives judgment just like murdering a person will and looking at a woman is the same as committing adultery, we probably hear that as something like “all sins are the same” or “even our thoughts are sinful.” This kind of guilt is precisely what can keep people away from life in God. We are taught that we are unworthy of love and that weighs us down. We become bitter and angry and depressed and we transmit that onto others or destroy ourselves.
God’s option, however, is to transform us, to console us in our pain, to quench our thirst for justice, to make us children of God. We don’t stop feeling angry, but we transform that anger into reconciliation and justice. Our desire does not stop, but is purified in the fire of judgment – not the judgment of damnation, but discernment that turns us toward the call of justice. As disciples, we are called to faithfulness. That faith starts inside, by being the persons that God made us to be. We become who we have always been in the dreams of God and so can simply let our yes be yes and our no be no. Faith like that moves mountains.
Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we continue to talk about the law and the ways we engage it for justice. And help us welcome Robin as she preaches the gospel of inclusion!
Grace & Peace,