Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Sermon / Homily on Matthew 5:21-26

If God Were Truly In Charge

by John Jewell

"Why does it have to be like this?"

The woman's grief was heavy -- thick. You could feel it as she spoke through her tears. We were walking away from the graveside of her 25 year old son who had been killed in a hunting accident. Her eldest daughter had been killed by a drunk driver two years earlier. The remaining daughter had moved back home with her two young children a month earlier when her husband disappeared with his new found "soul mate". With a large mortgage and no employment, she had no choice but to move back home with her mother.

Is it any wonder she asked, "Why does it have to be like this?"

Certainly you -- or someone very close to you has asked the same question in one form or another. Why is there anger -- and cheating -- and violence -- and hatred? And how about stupidity? Drunk driving is just plain stupid! Why do people have to die because other people are so stupid as to attempt control of a 2000 pound missile while incapacitated?

The answer to why things are the way they are is rather amazing. The reason things are the way they are is that God made the incredible decision to place something as precious as human life into the hands of humans!

As pastors, we hear the woman's question in this form, "Why couldn't an all powerful God have created a perfect world without all this pain and anguish?"

The answer to that, of course, is, "God did create a perfect world. The problem is -- if you read the bible, the perfect world which was created lasted for about two and a half pages."


Because God made the unthinkable decision to place the world and human life into the hands of humans!

Stay with me now. Here's the key to understanding why things are the way they are and how they can be the way God wants them to be. "God has placed the world and human life into the hands of humans so that they might place them back into the hands of God!"

If God were truly in charge, if we could embrace the love of God for us -- and love God back -- and extend that love to others -- the world would be a different place. Idealistic? Yes! Radical? Absolutely! Possible? It might not look like it, but God really does break through in surrendered, committed, individual lives here and there. And when that happens there is at least a temporary outbreak of the kingdom of God!

And you know something people -- perhaps we need God to fill our hearts with courage and expectation so that we can embrace the fact that Jesus Christ has indeed called us to a radical way of living! If we will allow ourselves to be confronted by the Spirit of God in the words of Jesus in the reading from Matthew, we can discover that when broken hearted people ask, "Why does it have to be this way?" we can honestly answer, "It doesn't !" But... there is a certain transformation that needs to take place if we are to "get there from here" as they say. Our scripture readings point to three factors that can help. We might talk about these three factors in terms of:
1) Beyond the Law - Hitting the Wall,
2) Loving God Means Life, and
3) Grace for the Power to Change.

1. Beyond the Law - Hitting the Wall

In Jesus day, a good, religious, God fearing person, would do all they could to keep the law of Moses and even the interpretation of those laws by rabbis which were held in high regard. The Pharisees almost made a profession of strict law keeping. They felt that if everyone would strictly observe religious law, the world would be a better place. And as true as that sentiment might be -- it simply didn't work! Jesus, on more than one occasion, pointed out that the law keepers of his day usually missed the point of God's law. In fact, Mark tells us Jesus became angry at a group of Pharisees who were more concerned about the details of law keeping than they were about the hurt and anguish of a crippled man as he writes, "He {Jesus} looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart..." [Mark 3:5]

In the reading from Matthew, Jesus says in effect, "Look... do you think the Pharisees and scribes take the law seriously... that they are religious? Let me tell you something, you've got to do way better then the Pharisees and all the outwardly religious folks you know or you will never know what it is like to live in a world where God is truly in charge!"

Then he launched into six examples of how he wanted his followers to do better than the Pharisees. Six examples that would leave them standing speechless! And if we listen closely, they will leave us speechless. Listen:

1. "Call someone a fool and you'll go to hell!"
2. "If you look at a woman with lust in your heart, you've committed adultery... you would be better off to rip out your eye!"
3. "The ancients allowed men to divorce -- I say, NO DIVORCE!"
4. "Don't take any oaths -- you shouldn't have to -- if you love God, your word is good!"
5. "Forget about getting even with people, if someone hits you on the right cheek -- offer him the other cheek!"
6. "If this isn't sinking in, try this -- love your enemies and pray for those who use you!"

"Is he serious?" No doubt they wondered. I can relate -- can't you? Can you imagine the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the United States (Canada, England etc.) declare that as a Christian, he was going to base his policies on Jesus' words in Matthew 5:44 "...I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..." ? He would be sent to "sick bay" and then likely given an "Honorable Discharge - Special Circumstances."

What's your reaction to Jesus' words? I have to confess that I share in some of the "jaw dropping" that must have taken place that day. But, just in case people began to look for "wiggle room", Jesus drove home the last nail.

"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

This should be sufficient to cause us to hit the wall in a spiritual sense!. This is all God wants from you. Perfection! In other words Jesus takes the discussion way beyond law keeping. We have to do much more than simply keep a few religious laws and observe a few religious practices. We are confronted with the reality that a power beyond us will have to take charge!

2. Loving God Means Life

The fact that God has placed the world and human life back into the hands of human beings sounds like a rather far fetched idea -- to say nothing of risky, but there is a central principle of relationships in this. Without the ability to choose, there can be no real love. I can love you only if there is a choice. Even God's love comes as the result of a choice. Moses explained to Israel, "The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples..." [Deut. 7:7 NASB] The lectionary reading from Deuteronomy makes it clear that to love God is to choose God and to choose to live in the ways God sets out for us. This choice is so powerful and so determinative of the outcome of our lives that Moses can say this is literally a "life and death" choice. To choose to love God is to choose life!

The most amazing "love choice" God ever made is the one almost every Christian person who has ever lived can recite, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." [John 3:16 NASB] Accordingly, the greatest choice a human being can make is to return that amazing love. Jesus says exactly that in Matthew 22:37 "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind."

In our reading from Deuteronomy, Moses said, "Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you..." [Deut. 30:19-20] It is when we choose to trust the Son that we have life instead of death. However, this love relationship with God is something we can also choose to turn away from. Moses warms the people that if they turn their hearts away from God, they will perish."

We are faced with a problem. Jesus' words are all but impossible to keep and the love for God Moses enjoins seems beyond the reach of most of us. So -- where to from here?

3. Grace for the Power to Change

How can we ever come close to honoring -- much less practicing Jesus' words? What is the power that can help us change?

Perhaps the words of Paul in the epistle reading can help. Here's a rephrasing of what he said to the Corinthian church. (And trust me... the church at Corinth was a very earthy, messed up bunch! ) "I couldn't really talk to you in spiritual terms because you are so earthbound. You are so hooked into this world that you don't 'get it' when it comes to spiritual things. We can talk all we want, but only God can really bring about spiritual growth."

In order to make any spiritual gains, we will need to be open to the fullness of the love of God in our lives.

Wait now! Don't let that slip by too quickly. Think about this with me. [Take this slowly and give a few seconds for folk to reflect on what you are saying.]

Are you aware of the depth of God's love for you? Have you allowed the fullness of the love of Christ to penetrate your soul?

It is only the deep love and grace of God that can give us the power to see the world and the people in our lives with spiritual eyes. It is the love of God that brings sufficient healing to the pain and anguish of our lives -- and allows us to let the "perfect" love of God come through our lives for others.

To be perfect -- as God is perfect, is not so much a matter of keeping the law of God as it is embracing the love of God. Once you have embraced the love of God you can let it go -- to others.

This takes us back to the woman's original question. "Why does it have to be like this?" The answer is, "It doesn't!"

If you will open your life up to the fullness of God's love for you, and if you will allow your life to be filled with love for God -- then you will gain the courage to live for God in the tiny corner of the planet that is yours. Perhaps others of us will do the same and this healing love will touch someone near by. Perhaps a few changed lives will touch other lives. And God willing -- one less person will die at the hands of a drunk driver -- and perhaps one more family will stay together. One life at a time, we can make a difference. One candle at a time, we can light the darkness.

Can you and I be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect? Certainly not -- but we can allow a perfect God more room in our imperfect lives. Then we will catch at least a glimpse of what it would be like if God were truly in charge!

See Also:

Sermons and Bible Commentaries for Seventh Sunday After Sleebo Feast

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