Lust, divorce and dishonesty

Sermon Feb 16 St Chad’s

Matthew 5:21-37

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

The gospel reading we have heard today was the occasion of one of the most potentially embarrassing moments of my life. It was the week Kevin and I had decided to get married, and we had announced our forthcoming nuptials in the pew news. I was waiting for my divorce to go through. When we got to church, I had forgotten that I was down to do the reading that day, and had not prepared it – it had been a busy week! The person in charge of the roster came up to me, looking embarrassed, and offered to read it for me, if I didn’t feel comfortable doing so. I thought, oh dear, what on earth is in it? You see, it’s always good to prepare if you are doing a reading!

When I looked through the passage about divorce, I could see why it was such an awkward moment. But I felt that if anyone else read the passage in the service, people would feel embarrassed for me, so I decided that the only person who could read it was me.

After the service, people came to congratulate us on our engagement, but there were a few awkward moments about the reading.

What are we going to do with this teaching about divorce?

Many people these days have left marriages for one reason or another, or been left, and many have been remarried in the church. Not many years ago, divorced people were not even allowed to receive communion, let alone remarry in church. As for joining Mothers’ Union! That’s why we have the AAW. We have made progress. But there is the scripture teaching sitting there, challenging us.

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.’

Remember that this is Jesus speaking, not Paul, not another gospel writer. We cannot brush off his words.

But let’s look at the context of the passage. The teaching on divorce comes between two other important teachings – about lust and about being really open and clear in what we say.

If we frame divorce between these two, Jesus’ teaching makes more sense for us.

Two of the hardest things to hit a marriage, now as in Jesus’ time, are lust and dishonesty.

Sure, we can all notice an attractive person, but lust is when we keep looking, keep imagining what might happen if we were together with that lovely person… It’s what drives the pornography industry. Lust is a choice. It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the sight of an attractive person. It does mean that we have to rein in our thoughts. In typical fashion Jesus exaggerated how – if our eye is lusting we are to pluck it out! If our hand causes us to sin we are to cut it off! Imagine if all those who used their hands inappropriately in the workplace had to cut them off! No more sexual harassment!

By exaggerating Jesus got the attention of the hearers, as they imagined what it would be like. They might think, oh dear, that’s me he’s talking about.

The teaching here is to control ourselves. Maybe we see someone attractive, but we are married to someone else. We can note that God made a lovely creature there, and leave it at that. It’s a habit to cultivate. If we find ourselves at the mercy of lustful thoughts, we are becoming enslaved. And we know that in God there is perfect freedom. This is another place where the Holy Spirit can guide us and give us the strength we need to resist temptation.

Let’s look at the other passage that brackets the divorce teaching.

But I say to you, Do not swear 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 swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.’

Whenever people have to swear by something, it’s usually because they are on shaky ground. Let your yes be yes, your no be no. Be honest. Be sincere. If your wife asks you why you were late home, tell her the truth. If your husband asks you why there is less money in the bank account than expected, tell him. Don’t make up lies and excuses. Just be clear in whatever you say to anyone. This is a great way of avoiding trouble generally – once we start making up stories and excuses it can spiral out of control.

Honesty would save a lot of marriages. It means telling each other about the struggle too – don’t hide things that are important. Honesty over money seems to be one of the most important areas for marriage to survive. Don’t keep each other in the dark, but share one another’s joys and burdens.

When taken in the context of avoiding lust and of being open with one another, it seem obvious that divorce might be the result if these things fail.

Isn’t it great then, for those of us that have been divorced, that God is a God of the second chance?

We are all one body, as the church. It doesn’t matter how we came to be here, what our background was, or who brought us to the Lord. In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we hear that people are creating factions depending on who had brought them to the Lord. Instead of being about what we know, that Jesus loves us and died for our sins, they were more concerned about who they knew.

This special evangelist came, and I went up for the altar call. ‘ or ‘It was on a Billy Graham crusade in 1956 that I came to the Lord.’

Many of us were around during the great charismatic renewal of the 1970s, and there were certainly groups of folk claiming their spiritual DNA from who had led them to the Lord. Don’t get me wrong, our mothers and fathers in Christ are an important part of our journey, but they are not the destination. ‘I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase’, St Paul said. Or here in Christchurch, ‘Bishop Allan planted, Mike Hawke watered, but God gave the increase.’

It is still who we know then, but who with a capital W. We know God, and Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. That’s more important than who had taught us along our journey.

If you are discipling someone else along their journey, and I hope you are, because it’s a great way to grow in your faith, be reassured that you don’t have to be responsible for the end results. You can plant, or water, or weed out the difficulties, but it is God who will give the increase. Our duty as Christians is to be faithful where we are planted.

Divorce is never a pleasant topic, but Jesus knew about it. It was present in His day just like here. And by putting it in the context of lust and honesty with our words, Jesus has given us guidance about relationships, and how to keep them healthy.

This can rehabilitate the one who may feel excluded, because the sense of being one body, one church, is more important than what our story may have been along our journey.

Make your journey continue smoothly, growing ever nearer to God, as you let God water you, and those you love.

( with reference to Tom Wright: Matthew for everyone part 1)

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