Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sermon - Matthew 5:27-30 - Lent Midweek 3

Matthew 5:27-30
Lent Midweek 3
March 23rd, 2011

One of the benefits of this sermon series on seven deadly sins is we get to talk about things we don't often cover in the lectionary. We get to zero in on particular sins that trouble us, yes, even us Christians – sins that we might not say much about otherwise. We've already heard about pride and coveting. Today another sin of thought – lust.

Jesus makes it crystal clear that lust is a sin. It is a sin of the heart. And yet, it is to be taken seriously. Like all sins, it is deadly. In fact, Jesus speaks very harshly about this sin – likening it to an eye or a hand that causes sin and must be destroyed, lest the whole body be destroyed and thrown into hell. This should grab our attention!

Where we wish to minimize sins like lust, Jesus maximizes them! Or better yet, he unveils their true severity. Take this sin of lust. In our human way of thinking, it's no big deal. A glance. A look. The imagination runs on. To many of us, it's nothing to worry about and it doesn't hurt anyone. In fact, it's often encouraged. Our culture of consumerism uses it to sell countless products from cars and clothes to foods to pharmaceuticals. In a way, everywhere we look it seems lust is creeping, tempting, inviting us in to stay for a while.

But is a sin of thought a big deal? Isn't it better to just look and not touch? What's the harm? For one, we don't need to know the harm of a sin in order to see it as such. Just because something seems to harm no one doesn't make it fine to do. Our standard of law isn't based on the foreseeable damages. We look, instead, to the law. And while sin does have consequences, even if only spiritual consequences, that's not what makes it sin. It's God's command that matters. Thou shalt. Thou shalt not.

The sixth commandment – what does it mean? Here's what our catechism teaches us: We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.

So he says you shall not commit adultery. And of course, we know the damage that sin can do. Tearing apart marriages. Shattering trust. Breaking homes and scarring the children. Divorce often follows. But long before the sins of deed come the sins of word and thought.

Take King David, in his sin with Bathsheba. Sure, he took another man's wife, and then committed murder to cover that sin. But even before it all happened – there was lust. He saw her from his rooftop and sinful thoughts led to sinful actions. Long before he committed adultery, he had committed adultery in his heart. And so it followed with his son Amnon, whose lust for his own sister led to more dark sins.

Not every sin of lust leads immediately to actual adultery, but lust still devalues the gifts God gives us as men and women. When we objectify others, when we see someone only for their sexuality, we treat the very image of God with dishonor. What's in it for me, instead of how can I serve my neighbor? Lust is antithetical to “husband and wife loving and honoring each other”. It seeks only for the self.

So how do we deal with this sin of lust that brings so much deadliness? Simply stop? Be good? Take a cold shower? No. We deal with the sin of lust like all other sins – with repentance and by receiving forgiveness. In this sense there is no distinction. All sins are deadly, and all are destroyed at the cross.

For we could even seek to cut off the hand that causes us to sin, or pluck out the eye – but if our very heart is sinful, how can we live? Instead, Jesus gave his whole self – eyes, hands, feet, pierced side, thorn-crowned head, scourged back – all of himself, for us. He was destroyed so we are not. He was cast away from God so we are not. He suffered hell to save us from hell.

Jesus Christ – the only one ever to lead a sexually pure and decent life – honors his bride the church by dying for her. For you, that is. He is the bridegroom who is preparing, even now, the great marriage feast in his kingdom which has no end. He is the faithful husband to his people Israel of Old, and to the New Israel which His Spirit gathers and sanctifies.

Lay your sins of lust – and all your sins – on him. His desire is to take them away forever. His desire is to make you righteous and holy, pure and decent.

After David had sinned with Bathsheba, a sin which began with lust and grew and grew.... he was confronted by Nathan the prophet. But instead of explaining away his sin, making excuses or minimizing it in any way, he confessed. And God forgave.

It was then that David wrote these familiar words of Psalm 51, words we know well today – words which take on even fuller meaning through Christ.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

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