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Sermon: Make Good Choices. February 16, 2020

February 16, 2020

This sermon was preached at Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, IL. The gospel text for the day was Matthew 5:21-37. The sermon also touched on Deuteronomy 30:15-20.

It is important to acknowledge that Jesus would forgive the Astros, but he would also demand a real confession first!


Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace in the name of God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. The past week was a good week. Not only did we get to celebrate Valentine’s Day and Erika’s birthday but, most importantly, pitchers and catchers reported for Spring Training. Baseball is back! For me, this means the self-flagellation that comes with being a fan of the Kansas City Royals is about to begin again. But this season brings with it something else, too: the dark cloud of scandal. In January, a report was issued regarding the sign-stealing scheme used by the Houston Astros over the past few years. While there’s no need to go into the details, here’s a broad summary. The Astros cheated. A lot. They did so brazenly and effectively, winning a World Series along the way and stealing what rightfully belonged to others. This Thursday, the Astros’ owner, Jim Crane, spoke about the scandal to the press for the first time. Listening to the press conference, you could hear old, sinful Adam playing the old game of self-justification. Throughout the whole thing, he repeatedly stated that he wasn’t the one who conducted the investigation, so how could he know anything beyond what the investigation found? He confessed that they cheated a little but then denied that the cheating altered any outcomes. A few seconds later, he denied saying that he had denied that cheating affected whether they won or lost. The best part, however, was when he was asked if he thought he, as the head of the organization, was in any way responsible. His reply: “No, I don’t think I should be held accountable.” I do not know Mr. Crane personally. He may have many redeeming qualities. But listening to him speak I couldn’t hear anything other than a wonderfully awful example of human sinfulness. Lie, deny, blame, obfuscate, and wriggle off the hook as best you can.
  2. Jim Crane should be thankful that Jesus Christ is not the commissioner of Major League Baseball, because Jesus has no time for such nonsense. In response to our protestations about how “it’s not that bad,” or “it wasn’t me, “ or “hey, at least I’m better than that guy over there,” Jesus gets down to brass tacks and cuts through our defenses. In today’s section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus elucidates his comments about the Law, and no one escapes his net. You haven’t actually killed anyone? Great, but I say to you that even if you are angry, you are liable to judgment. Even a casual insult against a sister or brother may lead you into the fires of hell. The command is not simply to not take life, but to work for the sake of life, for the betterment of the lives around you. Moving on, Jesus notes that it’s not enough to simply not commit adultery; anyone who even lusts after another is guilty. It’s worth noting, I think, that when speaking about a man’s lust for a woman, he blames the man, not the woman. Jesus doesn’t say, “Well, she shouldn’t have been wearing that,” or, “she was asking for it.” No, instead of suggesting that the woman change something in her behavior, he says that the man should tear his eyes from his face. Blaming women for the sexual sin of men is just one example of what we all do. We blame others as we try to wriggle off the hook. But Jesus is fishing with a net and it’s a wide one. There is no escape.
  3. Jesus knows that sin infests even our most intimate relationships. I tell couples who are working toward marriage that they are going to sin against each a great deal throughout their marriage, if only due to proximity. Sometimes, however, the sin is too great, the capacity to forgive too frayed and tattered, and divorce is the result. To be sure, divorce in Jesus’ day was not what it is in ours. When a man divorced a woman, socioeconomic ruin would almost certainly be the result for a woman. Today, divorce is usually a more mutual decision. But make no mistake, even when divorce is the right thing to do at the end of a broken marriage, there was sin along the way on someone’s part. As it can be in marriage, so can it be in our other relationships. From hatred and anger to lust and the brokenness between us, there is no avoiding accountability. We are all sinners. This is not a theological platitude. I simply don’t see anyone here whose life looks exactly as God intended, and I don’t see one when I look in the mirror, either.
  4. What then are we to do? Pluck out our eyes and cut off our hands? Despair and await our doom? Try harder and pretend we can wriggle free? Do better and trust in ourselves? I’m reminded of the policeman who came upon a man, down on his hands and knees, digging in the snow under a lamppost. The officer asked him what he was looking for. “My keys,” the man replied. “I dropped them in the snow and can’t find them.” The officer got down in the snow to help but after fifteen minutes was ready to give up. “We’re searched this whole area; are you sure you dropped them here?” “Oh, no,” the man replied. “I dropped them on the other side of the street.” “Why in the world are you looking here?” “Well,” the man answered, “the light’s better over here.”
  5. The old Adam or Eve inside each of us insists upon doing things our way, even though we know, deep down, that we’re looking in the wrong places. We can try to live in the light of our own accomplishment, our own righteousness, but it will never be enough. Life and forgiveness are only to be found where we’d least expect it: on the dark hill of Calvary and in the cross of Jesus Christ. We cannot save ourselves or right our lives. But when it’s time to settle accounts Jesus, instead of demanding our eyes and hands, offers himself. He takes on our lot, our lostness, and the whole world’s sin. Bearing this burden, he – not eye or hand but whole self – he is cut off from God. In his rising, we see the grace of it all. Our sins stay dead, forgiven, and we are given new life. We can spend our life searching but in the grace of God, all we need to do is look to Jesus.
  6. When Moses stood with the people on the threshold of the Promised Land, he presented the people with a choice: on the one hand, life and prosperity, on the other, death and adversity. The people were unable in the long run to choose well and wisely. So God in Christ does a new thing. He brings us to the Promised Land of life, both abundant and eternal. He has chosen you. He forgives your sin and sets you free for life. On the other side of broken relationships, God opens up new possibilities. In the face of anger, God insists on loving us. In the cutoff-ness of his death, Jesus restores you to life. Not in spite of your sin, or because it isn’t that bad, but because God has looked into the abyss of our sin and brokenness and has nevertheless chosen us for the sake of Jesus Christ. We don’t need a Savior who says the problem isn’t that bad; we need a Savior who names our sin for what it is and then deals with it through death and resurrection.
  7. In Christ, we are finally free. Not from the Law, but to fulfill the Law in love. The question of the Christian life is not how will you escape or save yourself; it is, rather, this: Now that you are free what will you do with your freedom? Before you today are set the world’s old ways of sin and death, but also the ways of God’s Kingdom, ways of forgiveness, love, and life. As one chosen by God, what will you choose? Hear this again: In the name of Jesus Christ and for his sake God forgives you all your sin. You are alive. You are free. You have heard it said that you shouldn’t sin, but I say to you even more: Go, live boldly and with courage for the sake of the world around you. Cling to Christ and trust his promise. It is enough. Amen.

And now may the peace that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

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