“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. – Matt 5:27-32
How many of you just thought that to yourself: Uh-oh?
I did too.
Yes, this is not the easiest Gospel to hear on a Sunday morning, let alone to preach about.
But if we claim to be Bible-Christians – and make no mistake, we are – then we can't dodge it.
If we claim to follow Christ, we can't pick and choose which bits of his Holy Word we want to listen to, and which bits we want to discard. We don't have that option. God has given every word, every stroke of every letter – as we heard last week – to us, for us to listen to and obey.
And one of the wonderful things about the Living God, is that, since he made us, he knows exactly what we're made of. He knows, that our sexuality and our sexual desires, are an enormous part of what it means to be a human being. And God is not prudish. As we hear loud and clear in the Gospel reading, he is happy to confront this issue head on, in modest, but plain and unambiguous language. And he does this, because one of the great dangers of being a Christian, is that we might take our Faith, and compartmentalize it over here in this part of our brain, and fail to recognize the importance it has over every area of our lives, especially over our bodily lives.
It was the great mistake of the early Corinthian church, that they thought their Christian faith meant that they could do whatever they wanted with their bodies. They obviously failed to hear or to heed Jesus' teaching of Matthew chapter 5!
And this teaching Jesus has given us, it's especially important amidst our own sexually confused age. How many of you think that in our present time, as a culture, we're pretty confused about issues of sex and sexuality, and what's right and wrong? [[[show of hands]]]
If you didn't raise your hand, you must not have watched any Television in the last 20 years.
Right – we all can tell that our age is messed up, but how do we know what's actually true in these matters? Can we just trust our own gut feeling??
No, of course not. That's what got us into this mess in the first place – people thinking that we can trust our feelings when it comes to sexuality. It feels fine, therefore it must be ok. No, for all of us, Christian or non – our feelings cannot be the standard by which the rightness of something is judged.
So what is? Well, this is why the Lord has given us his Holy Word. So that we can have his authoritative teaching on everything that matters when it comes to living our human lives in a godly way. And the teachings of Jesus that we have here in chapter 5, these aren't suggestions, or ideals, these are commands. Even the setting clues us in to the gravity of what is being said here. This passage is from what we call the 'Sermon on the Mount', right? Because Jesus went up onto a mountain to deliver this teaching.
Let me ask you: When was another time in the bible, where a great man of God went up onto a mountain and delivered landmark teaching? Moses, right? On Mount Sinai! With the 10 commandments! Can you see the connection? Jesus has gone up on a mountain, to communicate that this is serious stuff that he is about to deliver.
But unlike Moses, who had to get tablets of stone from God, to deliver the Old Law, Jesus delivers this new Law from his own lips, because he is himself God the Son. And the structure of Jesus' sermon almost goes point for point down the list of 10 commandments: Murder, Adultery, Taking the Lord's name in vain, etc. But while its based on the old teaching, what Jesus teaches us is also something entirely new.
Did you catch the phrase Jesus uses over and over again in this sermon? “You have heard that it was said... …but I say to you.”
“You have heard that it was said... …but I say to you.”
Jesus takes the Law that Moses gave, and intensifies and deepens it in every way. By comparison with the Law of Jesus, the Law of Moses is a piece of cake to keep.
Moses only said, 'thou shalt not murder.' Ok, no big deal, I'll do my best not to kill someone this week.
Jesus tells us, that in God's sight, if in your anger you lash out verbally at someone else, that this is tantamount to murder, and a deed worthy of the punishment of eternal hell.
Moses only said, 'don't wrong your neighbor', Jesus tells us that we actively need to pursue reconciliation with our neighbor. He flips it around to make it an active command, and not just a passive one.
And then he turns to adultery.
Moses said, 'just don't do it', Jesus says, 'Don't even look at a woman in a lustful way – because if you do that, you have committed adultery, inwardly.'
This is serious.
I don't need a show of hands then for how many of you, by Jesus' criteria, are adulterers. All of us are.
This is really serious. Jesus isn't bluffing. He isn't exaggerating for effect.
God sees our hearts – and more often than not, the only reason our inner-desires don't get manifest in our bodies is because of restraints he has graciously put in our way to keep us from doing so. But think what would happen if you were on a desert island, and no one would ever find out what happened – and then you see who we all really are: Dirty sinners. Adulterers.
So, just to spell it out, if this applies even to a lustful glance, how much moreso to the whole variety of sexual sins that we are prone to, of thought and deed, through magazines, books, TV, the Internet, to any manner of unfaithfulness in the flesh.
And when Jesus says that its better to tear out your own eye, than to keep on sinning with both eyes, and enter into hell with them. He's not exaggerating. Hell IS worse than losing an eye. Way worse. Far from exaggerating, Jesus is actually under-stating the case.
Now, I'm taking the time to unpack this candid teaching of our Lord about sex and sexual desire, because this is an issue of CENTRAL importance to us, as Christians. As long as there is sexual sin in our lives, we cannot expect to be making growth in any other area. If we spend all kinds of time trying to understand the higher things of God, or even pursuing this or that virtue, if we haven't first become obedient with our bodies, with our sexuality, then we're just kidding ourselves, and will get no where.
Because our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and if we're giving them over to any form of lust, which our Lord tells us is adultery, then that's the spiritual disease that first needs to be cured, if we want our smaller spiritual ailments to be attended to.
And please don't think I'm talking down to you here from some priestly vantage. I've shared with you before, and I'll share it again – I myself, in the past, for many years drowned in sexual sin. What I am describing to you is built on the sad scars of my own past disobedience to our God.
So, this morning, if this is all a little close to home – Good! – it's supposed to be. But your not alone. And there is help. Help in Jesus. And help in his Church. But we have to come clean about our problems, first admitting it to ourselves, then bringing it to God, and for lasting change, seeking advice from a Christian who has found the way out of this most addictive set of sins.
Ok. So, after speaking about Lust generally, Jesus then goes on to talk about divorce, and by clear implication re-marriage.
Now, before we unpack this scripture, I want to be clear, that, like everything else in this Gospel and in this Sermon, this is uncomfortable to talk about. I know many of you here have a first-spouse still living, and have gotten divorced, and are presently remarried. So I know that, as a parish, there's some skin in the game here.
Now, before we even look at the text, I want you to do a little thought experiment with me:
Think about the present crisis in the Church regarding Gay marriage. Many priests and pastors around the country, now think that the Church has been wrong all along, and that actually we SHOULD celebrate Gay marriage in the Church. It was in fact this very issue that was the straw that broke the camel's back, leading our own leaders to break away from the Episcopal Church, to form the Anglican Church in North America, of which we are now a part.
Now, imagine right now, that you are teenager in one of these churches that is pro Gay marriage – you would be told, and you would no doubt whole-heartedly believe, that Gay marriage was no problemo for a Christian. You'd be just fine with it. In fact, I am certain that in 30 years time, it will be hard for many – not all, but many – Christians in America to even remember that there once was a time when Gay marriage WASN'T celebrated in the Church. For many churches it will absolutely become the new normal as it is now in our culture.
Now, sitting here as we do right now, we can see that this situation is disastrous! And that what is needed is a clear look at the Church's historic interpretation of the Scriptures, to correct the error. And, for nearly 2000 years, the Church, based on the bible, said that it's a sin to do homosexual acts, and that's all we need to know.
Well, take this insight, and let's look at the case of remarriage after divorce.
From the very beginning, and for 1500 years, the Church understood Jesus' teaching about divorce to mean that it was impossible for a Christian to remarry. As St. Paul says in 1st Corinthians chapter 7, if you get divorced, there are two options: Be reconciled to your spouse, or, if that's not possible, stay single for the rest of your life.
And this is nothing more than the plain meaning of Jesus' words in our Gospel this morning, right?
Verse 32: “Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
Since a Christian should not be living in a state of adultery, remarriage after a divorce, according to Jesus, is not an option.
But then, starting a couple hundred years ago, this teaching started to get tampered with, culminating in the 20th century where remarriage was fully permitted in almost all cases. And that's the normal state of things for us, now isn't it.
In fact, countless pastors and priests around this country will tell you, the Church was wrong for 1500 years, the Bible doesn't mean what it sounds like it means, and they'll explain it away.
In fact, the plain teaching on this point feels rather harsh and unfair. And I agree, it does feel that way.
But as we have already established this morning – what we feel does not dictate what is or isn't right when it comes to sexuality.
The only true guide is God's holy word.
And what does his word say? whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. And the Gospel of Mark makes it clear that this isn't just for men, but women too – marrying a divorced man is the same thing. Mark chapter 10: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
This is HARD teaching to hear today. It's hard to teach it. But again, we can't just ignore these verses.
So what are we to do with them, this morning:
Well, for those of you who are still in your first marriage, let this be a reminder to keep sticking with it. And let me remind you of everything else our Lord says about sexual purity, and so when it comes to adultery, we are ALL guilty, so there's no moral high-ground to be standing on, judging others. Our own sins are more then we could ever deal with ourselves.
But for those of you presently in a second or even a third marriage, in the least this teaching certainly raises a lot of questions. My challenge to those of you in this situation, is first to read through this scripture in Matthew 5, and also Mark 10, a few times this week. And then to look at all the other scriptures that speak about divorce and remarriage. And see if I am not telling the truth here. I know that undoubtably you've heard other priest and pastors say otherwise than I have taught this morning, so, with two competing teachings, I encourage you to figure it out for yourself. Ask the Lord to show you, what the truth is, and what it means for you.
The Biblically-faithful, traditional church, has spelled out quite clearly, that obedience to the Scriptures for those who have been remarried, means abstaining from the marital act. That is, abstaining from sex altogether.
If this just sounds ludicrous to you, that's understandable. But don't make any decisions one way or another without consulting the Scripture. And if you really want to dig into what the Scripture challenges us to this morning, I invite you to come talk with me about these things, during the week. The Sermon is the time for the general, universal truth. But the particular application of God's Truth, in each of our own lives, that can be better worked out over tea or coffee, in your home or at my office, so please, if these scriptures trouble you even a little bit – come and talk to me.
And you should already know by now that I am of course not here to judge, not here to preach my own ideas, but you called me here to be your priest, and a priest is charged with presenting the plain word of God, and that is all that I am intending to do this morning. The rest is up to you and Him.
So, circling back around then, to the general challenge of these verses, for ALL of us this morning:
We are all of us, adulterers, like the woman in the Gospel caught in adultery, and like her, liable to be punished by death. But what do we learn from that great Gospel story in John chapter 8? The Lord forgives. The Lord is merciful. He does not give us the punishment we deserve, having taken that upon himself on the cross. But in his mercy, after offering forgiveness, he does say, 'Go and sin no more.'
So, whatever version of sexual sin you find yourself recently engaged in. Stop it. Go, and sin no more. And for all sins past – bring them to the Lord. Confess them when we confess. Receive his forgiveness. And drink from the healing waters of his mercy. We cannot fix ourselves – only he can make us well. And only then if we run to him in prayer, so let's do that together right now:
[[[Prayer for forgiveness, for the breaking of chains of addiction, for purity]]]