Yesterday’s message …
- Referenced both Marla Maples and Jimmy Carter within the first three minutes. How’s that for name dropping & president referencing?!
- Used Jesus’ words regarding gouging eyes & amputating hands to prove what most of us know but some of us are scared to admit: no one reads all the bible literally. Especially those parts, like Matthew 5:27-30, that call out NOT to be read literally. We instead read literarily.
- Landed at this bottom line: Sometimes you have to sacrifice what is precious to preserve what is sacred.
READ Matthew 5:27-30 out loud.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[a] 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
Well THAT puts to rest one question people raise from time to time: NONE of us read the whole bible literally. Not a one. Marla Maples, who is an ex-wife of our current president, said one time that “no one can read the bible literally and be happy” and while she’s not really on my go-to list for religious advice (AND I doubt God’s overriding concern for our lives is our happiness), nevertheless she has a point this time. You read it literally and there’s no way you are going to be able to clap on the 2 & the 4, much less the 1 & the 3. You won’t be able to do brain surgery, tie your shoes, or play a guitar. You won’t fly in for the Air Force, pass some driving tests, excel at depth perception. I simply do not look out on the congregation of GS & see a lot of one eyed, one armed men out there. So no, we don’t read all the bible literally. This eye roller settles that.
Yet it’s still an eye roller. Even before the gouging and the amputating (which we will come back to) there’s the whole thing that got Jimmy Carter in trouble a lifetime ago: lusting with your eyes & adultery in your heart. Because with that, I realize in all seriousness that if I misinterpret this section, I can cause some real damage. On the one hand if I say, “Oh, Jesus said these words just to show us that we CAN’T really obey them and that’s supposed the fling us to the cross! The only reason for LAW is so that we’ll see its impossibility and embrace GRACE. The impossibility is the point,” then I do damage to Jesus’ words. I minimize what he DID say and invent what he DIDN’T. I don’t want to cause that kind of damage to the one who bought me & is returning for me.
On the other hand, I can cause real damage if I take these words, weaponize them to young men in particular and say, DO NOT LUST! DON’T DO IT! DON’T NOTICE WOMEN WHO ARE ATTRACTIVE, DON’T THINK ABOUT IT, WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT LUST. Of course that makes as much sense as telling all of you, Do not think of a pink elephant. (AV) What do you do? Pink elephant. Impossible to avoid. This little section has been used & taught in a way to get guys to think every desire, every reflexive thought, every stirring is wicked. Even to the point that some guys think it’s wrong to desire their own wives. Weird & odd but true.
So: this little passage is not literal and I don’t want to tell you that every desire, thought, feeling is wrong. They’re not. Feelings just are. Actually the word for “lust” her is epithumia (AV & repeat) which is NOT a swear word though you are welcome to use it like one. Instead, it is the same word for covet. Jesus is here not making the 10Cs harder; he’s just connecting #7 (adultery) & #10 (covet). That one leads to the other. Jesus is here not talking about who you notice; but what you plan. Not what occurs to but what you come to obsess over. The desire isn’t wrong – thank God you have a pulse! – but what you do with it is. Having a desire will never hurt you … but feeding it will likely kill you. That’s what Jesus is saying. When desiring becomes obsessing, plotting, planning, stealing. So all of you who have two eyes and two hands can relax a bit. Any of you who are plotting & objectifying that which does not belong to you: beware. It’s a bit like the Inuit who would put a knife in the ice, blade up. Then they’d take animal blood and put it on the blade. A wolf would then smell the blood, race over, and begin to lick it. As wolves do, it begins to lick faster and faster, never detecting the sting of its own blood. Ultimately, the wolf bleeds out, killed by the feeding of its own desire. That’s us with sex, with food, with revenge, with substances. The judgment is built in to the disobedience. Having the desire doesn’t hurt; feeding it kills. But even that, even that, isn’t what Jesus is driving at in this maddening lil eye roller. That’s part, but it’s not the whole. And in this case, the whole really is better than the sum of its parts.
Because look again at 5:29-30: READ. Oh my gosh! You take 5:27-28 out of its context (CIE!), and you think this little section is all about lusting and coveting and desiring and knives and wolves. But then you put 5:28-30 back in – remember, the part that proves NOBODY reads all the bible literally – and all of a sudden it’s about giving up the part to keep the whole; it’s about priorities; it’s even about the awful reality is hell is itself not for disembodied souls; it’s for body and soul together.
Because look at what is given up in this exaggerated section – but just because there is exaggeration does not mean we shouldn’t pay attention to it. Right eye. Right hand. Right hand is because most people are right handed; it’s dominant. Right eye because that’s the lens into the world. Both are vital and precious, which some of you know better than others because you are missing one or other or both. And yet for the cause of something greater – in this case the salvation of a soul or in the immediate context, the preservation of sexual purity and the marriage that bounds it – Jesus says we ought to be willing to discard. Give up the part to gain the whole. And my gosh when you work through all that – and for this message and this passage I was emailing an old seminary prof (world’s leading expert on Matthew; counseling friends; all over) – what emerges is breathtaking. Because you stop rolling your eyes Jesus. You stop being shamed by the difficulty of the bible’s command and you started being awed by its brilliance. When the stakes (soul, marriage!) are high, the sacrifice is higher. Here it is: Sometimes you have to sacrifice what’s precious to preserve what is sacred.
That’s right! You have to give up something GOOD to keep what is GREAT. Every YES to one area of life of prime importance means a whole lot of NOs to things of lesser importance. You exclude everyone and everything else that can get in the way of your faith or your purity or your marriage and thereby include the one who truly matters. You go through some radical measures to protect what is really important. Not to punish you. To bless you. Sometimes you have to sacrifice what’s precious to preserve what is sacred.
Because when you circle back around to Jesus’ original subject – almost as if he uses lust to grab our attention before he flings us to something bigger – I don’t want what happened a generation ago to happen to anyone I know here. Gosh, UM preacher friend went on an international mission trip with a small group of people. Adults and teens. Spirit all over the place. Testifying, witnessing, helping, and baptizing. Oh, the baptizing. And yet somehow in the middle of all that spirit in that land so far, far away, obsession took over, led to possession of what didn’t belong to UM preacher or this other adult on the trip, and affair happened. On the mission field! Just bleh. And got discovered upon return trip home, as things do in the digital age. Wrecked families, ruined church. All because the initial glance, that early attraction, that tentative coveting turned into obsession. In a sense unleashed the fury of hell. God, I don’t want me or you or any of us to live through THAT when it comes to our purity before we remember Sometimes you have to sacrifice what’s precious to preserve what is sacred.
Some of you guys here, you may have some things that re precious to you. Cable. Satellite. Internet. Travelling alone. All good stuff, morally neutral stuff, you can get Christian entertainment on all of it! And yet you know better than most what else comes with all that. It may present as morally neutral but for you it is laden with temptation. Today, don’t lose it all for the sake of the part. Sometimes you have to sacrifice what’s precious to preserve what is sacred.
Others, men and women, GULP, is the smart phone. Now: how could that be bad? It’s got all the information in the history of the world and then some right at your fingertips. More chip power than got Apollo to the moon! And yet … whether you’re using it to connect with 3D people WHO AREN’T YOURS or 2D images that are rotting you from the inside out, you know this things that seems precious is in fact deadly. You might want to go back to a … flip phone. You will be SO NOT COOL! You’re thinking what’s next, is he gonna tell me to go back to 8 Track tapes?! But you’ll be so at peace. You’ll know that yd theour purity, your marriage, your kids are worth it. REFRAIN What a way to stop objectifying the Other and start adoring the One.
And then … for some of you it will be about giving up that friendship. You know where it’s trending — A LOT OF YOU HAVE BEEN DOWN THE ROAD BEFORE! – you know it’s heating up, you know where it’s headed. It’s headed just like that mission trip, and into a twisted sort of baptismal adultery. And it’s time to end that friendship. No drama. Just back away. Adults inform. Children explain. Give up the flirting; give up all those those ways you try to impress him or impress her. And most of all: give up any ridiculous notion that you need to share about your own marital struggles with a member of the opposite sex. Puh-lease. You know exactly what you’re doing – and so does she. Or he. Because you’re not the first and you likely won’t be the last. Sometimes you have to sacrifice what’s precious to preserve what is sacred.
But do you realize how much broader this is? Remember how I said Jesus uses lust & adultery to grab our attention (check!) but then to teach us something deeper? Man, some of you will need to give up that dream of a new place (it’s precious) so that you can keep at your level of extravagant generosity to God (that’s sacred). You give up your place on that team or that dream of a scholarship (for you kids!) both of which are precious, so that you can be more regular in worship or LifeGroup or both, which are sacred. You give up you’re reading of the latest greatest novel (except 50 Shades, which is not precious) so that you can, for the first time, dig into the Greatest Story Ever Told, which is Jesus’. Which is sacred.
Or you give up that little dabbling you do in your horoscope, in the teachings of the Buddha, in enlightenment from within (some of which is precious to you) so that you can meditate on the One who is first born of all creation, by whom all things were made in heaven and on earth; and all things were made by him and for him and IN HIM all things hold together. Including you. You eliminate the distractions to gaze at the glory. Sometimes you have to sacrifice what’s precious to preserve what is sacred. You do that enough and you might just give up sleeping in on Saturday (precious!) to serve at the Charlotte Rescue Mission (which is sacred). It’s all over, it’s everywhere, there’s no way to escape it. Sometimes you have to sacrifice what’s precious to preserve what is sacred.
And in all this, you will be empowered by the one who is himself the Author of Sacrifice. The commands are not punish you. They are to bless you by drawing you into the power of the one who knows better than anyone else what it means to sacrifice one thing of great value — his only begotten Son! — for other things of more sacred value — your soul and mine. Sometimes you have to sacrifice what’s precious to preserve what is sacred.
Because here’s where it lands us. I mean the kind of day where at the end of it you can do a searching and fearless moral inventory of your waking hours. And you realize: you didn’t lose your temper with your kids or your dog. You have no shame or regrets. You did nothing you’d want to hide from your spouse, your kids, or your Savior. You will sleep well. And then you’ll want to do it all over again the next day. That’s what I’m talking about. That’s actually what we mean by … holiness. That’s the kind of life where not only do we NOT worry about our bodies ending up in hell, we know that we’re living heaven’s glory in the here and in the now.