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Sunday, February 13, 2011

“It’s A Heart Thing”

Matthew 5:21-37

The 6th Sunday After Epiphany – Series A

Sunday, February 13, 2011
United in Christ Lutheran Church

Flint, Michigan

Rev. David E. Daniel

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.

St. Valentine’s Day is celebrated tomorrow. My daughters are ready. They have filled out all of their valentines for their classmates and teachers.  These valentines are fairly simple and innocuous, as they should be at the age of someone in grade school.  But this year, I did notice that one of my daughters was careful not to pick certain valentines for the boys... you know the ones that actual say that you like them. Rather the message should be one of you “gave this valentine out of obligation since the whole class is passing them out.” It’s an “obligation” thing rather than a “heart” thing. Better to play it safe than deal with any matters of the heart at this tender age... and Dad is relieved.

Relationships and matters of the heart can be complicated things. Our relationship with God is very much a matter of the heart—not the romantic valentine heart, but the spiritual heart that makes you His or not His. In our text today, Jesus is responding to people who felt a right relationship with God was a matter of etiquette or rules, of behavior or outward things... obligations. He teaches us instead that true righteousness is in the heart.

Christ demands that we have pure hearts.  There is no weakening of the Law. We heard this last week as we read more of St. Matthew’s Gospel account of the Sermon on the Mount where Christ tells us that he came not abolish the Law but to fulfill it! In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was addressing a culture that based its view of righteousness on outward actions—much as ours does today.

In Jesus day, the Scribes and Pharisees had expanded the law with many more rules and regulations. In doing so, they reduced the Law to simply a list of do’s and don’ts that could be kept. Their thought was that their keeping of the Law would make them righteous before God. So the more do’s and don’ts the merrier. But Jesus says, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)

Jesus says instead that the heart is where the Commandments are kept. He then proceeds to list a few commandments.

The Fifth Commandment: “You shall not murder.” The Pharisees had reduced this commandment to the obvious law they could keep quite nicely. But Jesus says the heart of the commandment is what’s in the heart.

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:22–24).

Now, most of us have never killed somebody, but how perfectly do we love? Do we become selfishly angry, do we insult, do we hold grudges? These are just as sinful as something done with a gun or knife. It’s a matter of the heart.

Jesus continues in His sermon with the Sixth Commandment, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’” (Matthew 5:27).

Jewish society in Jesus’ day was very lax on the sanctity of marriage. But Jesus says the Sixth Commandment is not simply a matter of outward acts of extramarital sex; it’s a matter of the heart. “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:28, 31–32).

Here Jesus is not just speaking of affairs that can been seen or have taken place, but affairs of the heart that are sinful—wandering eyes or divorce just because we’re not getting along. These are just as sinful as open acts of adultery, because they’re examples of not loving our spouses from the heart.

The next commandment Jesus addresses is the Eighth Commandment, “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”  (Matthew 5:33–37).

The Pharisees had developed an elaborate code determining that some oaths you really had to keep, while others you could let slide. Their purpose was to allow deceit... to leave wiggle room... a solemn outward appearance while lying in the heart. Any lie is sinful, whether it’s given the deceit of an oath or not. Taking an oath can’t make a deceiving heart pure.

We must be more righteous than just an outward keeping of the Law. True righteousness must be in the heart. When the heart is pure, it will never produce selfish anger, insults, grudges, lust, divorce, lies. How well have we done with that?

Lousy!—because our hearts are not pure!

But it doesn’t seem fair! We can keep from killing or having affairs, but we can’t control all those little sins that pop out of the heart. The heart always slips—generates selfish thoughts, lets our tempers snap or words slip out. And, hey, our eyes are open—temptation just jumps in! Surely we can’t be responsible for that.

Jesus says we are responsible! “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”  (Matthew5:29–30)

Jesus isn’t saying we should literally blind or maim ourselves. He’s telling us to stop making excuses! It’s not eyes or hands that make you sin. It’s the heart that causes sin. To be righteous, the heart has to be repaired. You know, even the smallest sin proves our hearts aren’t pure, and Jesus demands a pure heart.

Thanks be to God, that He doesn’t leave us there in despair. Through Christ Jesus, He gives us pure hearts. The blood of Christ purifies every heart.

The physical heart is a most valuable organ—providing that there’s blood in the body to pump. It is the blood of Christ flowing through the spiritual heart that makes it righteous. That blood was shed on the cross. It is the blood that was shed for us and It is the same blood we receive in Holy Communion.

That blood... Christ’s blood... gives us righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees. By it, all of our sins— the big outward ones and the small ones in the heart—are completely washed away.

When Jesus Christ went to the cross and suffered our punishment... our death penalty, His blood paid for every murder and every harsh word, every affair and divorce and every look that was a little too long, every perjury, and every promise we broke.

But you say, “Okay Pastor, but I still sin.  I still have those thoughts. My heart must still be corrupt.” Well, it is true; we still must deal with that old sinful-self... that Old Adam. Our hearts are corrupt, yet even though, our hearts are corrupt, God declares them righteous. He declares our sins forgiven!

Christ’s blood gets our hearts pumping again... spiritually. His blood makes us alive when we were dead. It gives us eternal life.

He also doesn’t leave us in that that old corrupt state, He sends the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts. We sing it every Communion Sunday, from Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

By the Holy Spirit, King David is the author of this beautiful Psalm. sDavid knew his sinfulness and the Spirit’s promise to change him. By his God-given faith, David trusted in that promise that the Lord would change his heart.

By our God-given faith in Christ a radical change occurs in us... the Holy Spirit creates a new heart, a new spirit in us. That Spirit which you receive in your Baptism is the one who is continually at work in you and for you. The new heart really is righteous and pure, even though it’s living alongside what remains of our old sinful one. The Holy Spirit also lives in us, so that our hearts are constantly communing with him.

That same Spirit of God enables our hearts to produce pure actions. The sinful nature continues to sin. But the new God-given heart does love my neighbor, honors my spouse, and treats others with honesty and integrity. This righteousness comes from the heart and everything the new heart produces is from faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit is the One who makes even our simplest acts more righteous than all the external righteousness of the Pharisees.

Our righteousness before God is always a matter of the heart. And by His blood and His Spirit, Christ has resolved that matter—in our hearts.

In Jesus Name, Amen

© 2011 United In Christ Lutheran Church