“Don’t Second Guess the Work of the Lord”                                  February 23, 2014

Leviticus 19:1&2, 9 through 18; Matthew 5:38 through 48        Stephens City UMC

Slide 1

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


I.                   Law can be a good thing. Slide 2

A.    It can protect people’s rights.

1.     It can order society rather than allowing chaos.

2.     It can provide clarity as to what is right and what is wrong.

B.     However, it can also be used to protect vested interests.

1.     It can hinder change that is needed.

2.     It can negatively control and manipulate.

II.                 Jesus said Slide 3 that he had not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17)

A.    In our Gospel lesson for today Jesus does that and much more and the passage begins with how his followers were to react in some situations where others misused the law on them.

B.     His first set of instructions was “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek turn the other also.” (Matthew 5:39)

1.     Here he was talking to slaves or others of low social standing. Slide 4,

2.     Masters were known to become upset with their slave or indentured servant and physically hit them.

3.     If you were a person of high social status you would not treat a slave or an indentured servant as your equal and your awareness of that difference between you would extend to any punishment you rendered.

4.     Now say you got in an argument with someone of the same social status as you and the argument came to blows so that you decided to slap the other person, then you would hit them with an open palm. Slide 5

5.     Your action would convey that you were very angry with them but (and I know this sounds strange) by hitting them with an open palm you conveyed that you respected them for being the same high social status as you.

6.     Now, if you were to strike your slave or your indentured servant, you would not want to convey that you respected them or elevate them to a higher status, so therefore, you would strike them with the back of your hand. Slide 6

7.     Thus you not only physically hit them, but mentally and emotionally and I would say spiritually, belittled them, so you covered a lot of ground with one simple act.

8.     Thus the backhand slap was an insult, and a form of dominance (John Petty @ http://progressiveinvolvement.com) which humiliated and the other person couldn’t do anything about it.

9.     Or at least that was thought until Jesus came along and he said that if someone backhands you then turn to them the other cheek.

10.             In fact, hold your head up high and tilt it toward them so it will be easier for them to strike you again.

11.             Why? Because when the strike you again they will have to use an open palm and do all that weird stuff that indicates that you are their equal.

12.             I dare you to hit me again and thus convey that I have the dignity of a full human being.

13.             As Clint Eastwood said, “Make my day.” Slide 7

C.     Another situation involved a lawsuit Slide 8 where the judgment went against you and the judicial system decided that you were to give them your shirt (as if a rich person needs another shirt), but the person wanted more than that, they wanted your coat as well because some people just can’t have enough possessions.

1.     For a poor person this could be a serious problem because coats were often used as collateral for a loan (see Deuteronomy 24:10 through 13) but the coat was to be returned by nightfall so the person could sleep in it, otherwise they had nothing to sleep in because they had no clothing.

2.     What’s really going on here is that Jesus is describing a situation where a destitute peasant is being sued for everything, even their underwear.

3.     Jesus is saying (and we can all blush now) if you are sued for even your underwear, give it to them.

4.     That’s because nakedness was considered shameful in the ancient world, and if you viewed a naked person then you were shamed.

5.     So by giving your “coat” you would be confronting the person doing this to you and the whole oppressive system.

6.     OK, I’ll just expose myself and you and this whole lousy oppressive and dehumanizing system to shock you and everybody else into moving on from the ways of the world to the ways of the Kingdom of God. (John Petty, http://progressiveinvolvement.com)

D.    The third situation mentioned by Jesus was where a Roman soldier could by law force a Hebrew to carry his gear for one mile. Slide 9

1.     This was called angereia and was used to make Simon of Cyrene carry the cross of Jesus.

2.     Carrying things for Roman soldiers was widely resented so the Roman authorities knew if this law got abused it could sow seeds for a revolt which they definitely didn’t want.

3.     Jesus knew that so when he instructs his followers to go a second mile he is setting up a funny scene where the soldier doesn’t want to get in trouble with his superiors so here he is on the side of the road playing tug of war with a Hebrew peasant trying to get his backpack back without causing such a commotion that the Sergeant came over. 

4.     What Jesus is doing here is the basis for the martial arts where you take the energy of your opponent and turn it against them.

5.     By so doing there is a shift as to who has the upper hand so there is a wonderful and powerful reversal and much in this world needs to be reversed. (Petty, http://progressiveinvolvement.com)

E.     There is a great truth that is woven through these three situations and that is that there is no justice for any of us unless there is justice for all of us. Slide 10

1.     The law is not to be used in a one sided sort of way.

2.     When applying the law it is to be fair and beneficial for the sake of individuals and the wider society.

3.     Everyone needs to realize that there is only one side because we are all children of God. (Marci Auld Glass, www.marciglass.com)

4.     It’s why on Wednesday nights as part of the LOGOS program we take a few minutes to shake hands and say to one another, “John, Sally, you are a child of God and I will treat you that way.”

5.     Everyone is made in the image of God and therefore he/she is God’s child, but not everyone realizes that which is why we have to evangelize and be in mission to help some to come to that realization.

6.     On the other hand, some of us don’t want to admit that another person is a child of God and therefore I have to treat you as my equal as illustrated in the three situations we talked about earlier.

7.     And there is a liberating blessing Slide 11 when one realizes that they have been condescending and controlling of another.

8.     To be set free of such behavior is grace and that grace is needed because one has actually transcribed God’s law.

III.              So now things are coming together on this matter of Jesus coming not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  Slide 12

A.    Jesus more than acknowledged that it had been his observation that people and societies misused the law, but he called for a higher application of the law.

1.     The last portion of our Gospel lesson for today informs us that we are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.

2.     Now that’s a tall order!

3.     As the New American Standard Bible translate this verse: Slide 13 “Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.” (Matthew 5:48)

4.     Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message, is even blunter “In a word, what I’m saying is Grow up. You are kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-centered identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

B.     This is a high standard Jesus is setting.

1.     Sometimes we dismiss it out-of-hand because we view it as impossible so we don’t even begin to try.

2.     Well, shame on us.

3.     Lutheran pastor, Julia Seymour, has commented, “It is as though we can’t win the marathon, so we’re not willing to try the one-mile walk or the 5K.”Slide 14

4.     We understand that we’re not the great photographer Ansel Adams so we don’t even try to take a picture at a birthday party. (Seymour, http://lutheranjulia.blogspot.com) Slide 15

5.     Hey, effort matters Slide 16 and God accomplishes what God wants to accomplish through us by us putting out some effort.

6.     Yes, it is God’s accomplishment, but what He expects out of us is a response and some action.

7.     Where we mess up is that we allow whatever fear we have about getting after it to stop us and hold us back. Slide 17

C.     The truth is that that is a denial of grace and again as Julia Seymour has put it “There is no failure of grace. There is only growth.” (Seymour, http://lutheranjulia.blogspot.com)

1.     Fine, you are not perfect and you misuse the law Slide 18 and fail to fulfill the law but God is sanctifying you with His grace to make you perfect and that’s His decision, not yours.

2.     “Are you greater than God? Are you greater than God’s effort in you?” (Seymour, http://lutheranjulia.blogspot.com)

3.     Let me ask you to do something – take your pulse, go ahead take your pulse.

4.     You find it? Good, because that means you are alive and if you are alive then God’s Holy Spirit is at work and you Slide 19 are in the process of being sanctified and made perfect in love.

5.     That work will go faster and smoother if you’ll get involved Slide 20 but that is God’s purpose for you and in Jesus Christ He’s giving it His best effort.

6.     So as you leave here Slide 21 and you contemplate your response to what you’ve heard this morning about what God is doing in you and in others and in our world, don’t second guess the work of the Lord. (Seymour, http://lutheranjulia.blog.com)