This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Lord’s Day 40
Sermon prepared by Rev. Nicolaas Cornelisse, Ottawa, Ontario
Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Murder is the focus of our attention in this message. "You shall not murder," God says to us in the sixth commandment. The Hebrew word "ratzach" does not mean kill, but murder. Well, I can skip that one you might say. We distance ourselves from Cain’s act of murdering his own brother. We could spend a lot of time speaking about abortion and euthanasia. Those are important issues for us. We could talk about the genocide, ethnic cleansing atrocities, terrorism. However, anger, any form of hatred is murder, Jesus said in the Scripture passage that we read.
In this commandment God warns us of the danger of words, spoken or thought, looks, gestures against people. Words spoken in anger, thought in anger, belittling looks, gestures can harm, destroy. They can kill spirits and relationships. Sometimes they can lead to someone's death. Lately we have read about teenagers taking their own lives because they had been harassed and bullied by peers. Someone can be teased and discriminated against because of his small size. Low self esteem can cause his life to fell apart and end in death. Unresolved anger can break hearts, destroy marriages, lives, and split churches.
All people are created in God’s image and are precious. Therefore each attack, be it physical or verbal abuse or unresolved anger in our hearts is an attack on God as well. God takes that very seriously.
There is righteous anger. Jesus was angry at the people who defiled the temple by turning it into a market place. He was angry at the deceit of the Pharisees. We must be angry at injustice, at abuse. We could agree with the people in Great Britain who were very angry that lingerie for 9 year-old girls is being marketed. One sure way to encourage child abuse!
But, on the whole most of our anger is unrighteous, sinful. We usually get angry because we are hurt personally, arrogant, jealous, our toes have been stepped on. In the passage that we read from Matthew 5:21, 22, Jesus takes away the distinction between what we tend to characterize as ‘big and little’ expressions of anger. Not many of us will be arrested for murdering our spouses, brothers, sisters, for acts of terrorism. We won’t be cuffed and placed before a human judge. We would not dream of using weapons of mass destruction. However, all forms of sinful anger place us before God, the judge.
Listen to Jesus. "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago. Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment" (Matthew 5:21). The expression, "You have heard that it was said" refers to the way that Jewish scholars had interpreted God’s word, in distinction from ‘what was written’. In this case Jesus quotes the tradition concerning the sixth commandment, namely that if you murdered you would be arrested, and brought before the judge.
Nothing wrong with that. Sounds biblical. But that is as far as the leaders went with this commandment. What they meant was, "Avoid getting arrested and do, or say anything you want". As long as you stay out of the civil courts, you are OK.
Jesus conveys that here in three sentences. All three say about the same thing. He uses parallelism. Three times, means this is important. Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment, God’s judgment. You don't get arrested for that, but you do stand before God. Anyone who says to his brother, "Raca", meaning as much as, "dough head, jerk" is answerable to the Sanhedrin. The word "Sanhedrin" is confusing, since that was the Jewish civil tribunal. The word in the original can mean simply, "judgment, tribunal". In this instance God’s tribunal. And anyone who says "You fool" will be in danger of the fire of hell. Jesus does not mean to say that the last one — calling one a fool is worse. We are inclined to think that because of the threat of hell. Standing before God’s judgment seat in each of the other examples means that the punishment of hell is a possibility. Serious stuff! Serious stuff about which we tend to shrug our shoulders and walk on.
God hates name calling, gossiping, insulting someone, grudges, abusive looks or gestures as much as murder! Our doctrines say it this way in Heidelberg Catechism, Answer 106: "By forbidding murder God teaches us that he hates the root of murder: envy, hatred, anger, vindictiveness." What God hates is under his judgment. It deserves hell. It is sin. Jesus went to the cross for that. We will be called to account for every careless word on Judgment Day. (Matthew 12:36).
We must not interpret the forgiveness of all of our sins, and the complete payment of Christ for us in such a way that we do not take him seriously when he warns us about our words, gestures and looks. Do these words of Jesus frighten us, brothers and sisters? They should — realizing that we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ .
The new kid, Jillian, on the block. Others ignore her, turn their back, whisper. All conversation stops when she comes closer.... It happens, at our Christian schools, at our own local church. Always emphasizing the negative, the wrong, criticizing. gossiping — it destroys lives and reputations. It’s like burglary when no one is at home. There is an old rabbinical story about a man who spread gossip about his rabbi. He confesses his sin to the rabbi, who agrees to forgive him, but first assigns him a task of taking a feather pillow to the top of a windy hill and releasing all the feathers. The man is relieved that his forgiveness will come with such a simple act of contrition and fulfills the tasks. When he returns to the rabbi anxious for his forgiveness, the rabbi assigns him just one more task. He tells him to go back and retrieve all the feathers. The man is aghast, proclaiming the impossibility of such a task. The rabbi explains that each feather represents someone who has heard the false gossip and has formed an opinion of the victim of the gossip. How can one repair that damage? Before you repeat a story, ask yourself, Is it true? Is it fair? Is it necessary? When you publicly embarrass someone — the speaker, your spouse, anyone — that's like armed robbery. The words used are like bullets aimed at the heart.
Resentment, hatred, bitterness — these are major killer of relationships. "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" ( Proverbs 15:1). The kind of anger that Jesus has in mind is resentment, brooding on being wronged or slighted. Paul has that in mind when he writes in Ephesians 4:26 not to let the sun go down on our anger. Brooding on it is like dry rot, like a cancer that spreads and spreads until it consumes us. All resentment, for whatever reasons, are forms of self gratification, and therefore sin!
What is the way out? The way out is not hiding it, burying it, pretending it is not there. It will not disappear. In the end it made Cain commit the first murder in history. Nor is the way out by screaming loudly, or punching punch bags. Or by letting it all out: The wisdom writer writes : "A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control" (Prove. 29:11). That's the modern way: "Say it as it is", "Let the chips fall where they may". How true is this for you, in your homes, your relationships?
The way out is first of all by confessing it as sin. We read in Proverbs, "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy" (28:13). That shifts the attention from what has been done to us to how we respond to it, and Jesus’ commands about that. It shifts us from being preoccupied with the other person to our selves. In our feelings too, we stand before God! And if that does not help, you should go to the other person and confess your sinful feelings. That is the only way to break resentment.
The time factor is crucial here. That is the second way to deal with resentment and grudges. Very wisely Paul instructs us not to let the sun go down on our anger. Absalom hid his anger of his sister Tamara's sexual abuse by his brother Amnion for two years, until he saw his chance and murdered him. (2 Samuel 13). In Hosea 7:6 we read: "Their hearts are like an oven; ...Their passions smolders all night; in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire". And Jesus urges us to get reconciled before we go to church if we know that someone has something against us. Note well, he does not say if you have anything against your brother. No, even when your brother has something against you. You can’t say, I have no problems with him, he does with me. All right, says Jesus, but have you done everything within your means to reconcile things? Do you love him, and have you spent a sleepless night to solve the conflict? Or do you really detest him, and you are content to let things be as they are? And if you remember it while you are in church, leave before the collection and straighten things out.
Anger in human relationships erects a barrier, not only between us and others but also between us and God. We block him and his blessings. Many marriages would prosper, and communities such as the church flourish much more if Jesus’ command were followed. And, by the way, you cannot hide resentment for very long. People think others don’t realize that you resent them, but they do, by looks, gestures, cold shoulders....
What is Scripture worth, the words of Jesus, if we refuse to let them in to correct ourselves? Confess your sins to God and each other. Yes, we are our brothers ' keepers! That was Cain's defiant question to God, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Yes, yes, yes. Jesus died for our sins of hurting and destroying each other. He died for murderers. And murderers we are!
We must cease and desist from being violent with each other. We are not helpless. God says to us, as he did to Cain, "Sin lies crouching at your door;" like a wild animal "it desires to have you, but you must master it." (Genesis 4:7) BUT YOU MUST MASTER IT! By the power of the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus.
Forgiveness is the key to reconciliation and an end to anger. "Forgive as the Lord forgave you" writes Paul in Colossians 3:13. God’s forgiveness is final, total, complete. He casts our sins into the depths of the seas and remembers them no more (Mica h 7:19), and removes them as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). When we forgive as Christ forgave us we do not say: "It was nothing". It does not mean that we will forget, but it means that we do not allow the wrong done to continue to separate us. That is a deliberate, practical decision. It also means that, although you cannot forget, you agree not to bring it up again and again. In forgiveness we relinquish the right to hold something over someone's head. And when in our minds we again begin to dwell on it, we must cast it out in the name of Jesus. We refuse to be in bondage by it any longer.
By the power of the Holy Spirit we can master these sins. So, pray, and ask God, and show by your behavior that Jesus is alive. All of us have suffered from being humiliated, shamed, put down by others. When it comes from friends and brothers and sisters in Christ, it hurts all the more. Jesus can heal those wounds. He was humiliated. Soldiers dressed him like a king, and paid mock homage. People threw insults at him while he hung on the cross, "He trusted in God, let him deliver him".
They stripped away his clothes, and he hung naked, exposed between heaven and earth. Instead of vengeance, vindictiveness, he prayed: "Father, forgive them." From the context it seems that he prayed it while the nails were being driven into his body. From the imperfect tense of that prayer it appears that he kept on praying that prayer. Healing begins with forgiveness, and then to put it into the hands of him who knows our hurts, and can heal, of him who loves us and accepts us, and values us as no one else ever can.
We are not finished if we have not hurt anyone. In Answer 107 of the Catechism we are commanded to affirm, promote the life of others, even our enemies. People are precious. Handle with love. Handle with the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the positive side of the commandment. Pray for those who hurt you, commands Jesus in Matthew 5:44-45. You cannot pray genuinely for someone without loving him. And, as we pray genuinely for someone, we will discover that our love for that person will bud and blossom. Praying, therefore is the most loving thing we can do for those who harm us. The apostle Paul warns us in Romans 12 not to take revenge. Leave that to God, he writes. Instead, return evil with good. "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:20). Invite someone who has harmed you for dinner, two times. Send him/her a beautiful card. Go a few steps out of your normal cruising space on a Sunday morning and greet him/her.
What is our faith worth if this is not reality in our lives. What is it worth if this is not at least a struggle in our lives. And do not let yourself off the hook by piously admitting you are a sinner, and that this is a ‘growth’ area in your life. Pray! By the power of the Holy Spirit we can.
Proposed Order of Service
We gather for worship
Words of Welcome
Hymn: "Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying" #625
God’s Greeting: All of our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth, who ever keeps faithful to his covenant, and does not forsake the works of his hands. May grace and peace be ours from god our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins according to the will of our God and Father. Amen
Hymn: "Blessed Jesus, at Your Word #280
We are called into new life Prayer of Confession in unison: Awesome and compassionate God, You have loved us with unfailing, self-giving mercy, but we have not loved you. You constantly call us, but we do not listen. You ask us to love, but we walk away from neighbors in need, wrapped in our own concerns. We condone evil, prejudice, warfare, and greed. God of grace, as you come to us in mercy, we repent in spirit and in truth, admit our sin, and gratefully receive your forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.
The assurance of pardon: Jeremiah 29:11
Hymn: "Lord, You Have Searched Me" #184:1, 5
Responsive reading #2 (page 1014, Psalter Hymnal)
Hymn: "Fill Thou My Life" #547
We hear God’s word
Prayer for Understanding Scripture reading: Matthew 5:21-26; Ephesians 4:26,27.
Sermon Text: Lord’s Day 40 (read responsively by question and answer, p. 911)
Sermon: "Anger and You"
Hymn: "Make Me A Channel of Your Peace" #545
We go out to serve
Hymn: "Crown Him With Many Crowns" #410