6th Sunday after the Epiphany | Matthew 5:21-37
It was only about 15 degrees outside, and yet sweat was pouring down my back and my brow.
The great snowstorm of last week had deposited 14 inches or so of snow in my driveway.
And, when your wife is 8 ½ months pregnant, that snow can’t be allowed to stay.
So there was lot’s of snow, and lots of work, and I would not be done, and we could not escape, until I had shoveled the last pile.
After a couple hours I was nearing the end.
I looked out with pride over what I’d accomplished, even if I was sort of cheating.
I’d left about eight feet untouched because it was just too much, but what I did shovel was looking good.
So I took a deep, satisfying breath, and went after the bit that remained.
On a cold, quiet night you can hear a cat meow from down the street.
Which means that the sound of your shovel snapping in your hands is deafening.
I stood there exhausted, drenched, cold, and alone with nothing but frozen fingers and broken shovel.
And then, as if things were not bad enough, it happened.
It began to snow. Again. More. All night.
Now, you’re going to need to hold onto that as we meditate on Jesus’ words this morning.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount continues.
Last week we heard about His relationship to God’s Law as the fulfillment of it.
And now, this morning, we know Jesus as fulfillment and also as true Teacher, here to correct the false teachers.
The problem was that we and the Pharisees thought God’s Law stopped where the words stopped. We thought they were tame words – ones that stayed in the bounds of a page where we could interpret them like anything else, and so control them.
Teaching and understanding the Law that way was convenient.
It was still a demand. It was still divine. And it was still good. It went like this:
They had heard it said that whoever murders will be liable to judgment.
You’ve heard the same thing. Not just here, but out there in the world.
Even the godless speak this way.
They had heard it said that they should not commit adultery.
Again, you already know this. And so it is that in every society, that common as they may be, broken marriages are understood to be harmful to individuals and to community – damaging everyone involved, and soon everyone around them.
They had heard it said that if you want a divorce, then fine. Just make sure you follow procedure. You live in the land of “no-fault-divorce.” And with the help of the right lawyers you can get it taken care of before lunch. Clean and legal.
They head heard that you should not use the Lord’s name in vain; and so if they use it they had better make good on what they promised.
This should all be sounding familiar.
The advantage of teaching God’s Law this way is that it seems so very practical, and better yet, possible.
Most of you, I think, can make it your entire lives without gunning down people in your neighborhood, or plunging a knife into their heart.
You can stay married to your spouse your whole life without so much as spending a moment alone with someone to whom you are not married.
For the divorced, you can come up with reason after reason why you had no choice, and it will all check out in the courtroom.
For you promise keepers, you can act as if you are as faithful with God’s name as He is.
You should be thinking: clean driveway.
If sin is the condition, and being stuck where you are is the result,
Then many of you can look at the Law and say, like that rich young ruler we met last summer…”all these things I have done since my youth.”
And then Jesus comes preaching and teaching as they and we would not prefer to hear.
He says that your anger, which you have piously renamed “frustration” makes you worthy of hellfire.
Jesus says that your insults and gossips, the proverbial “knives in the back” are no better than knives made of steel. In a way, they are worse. You can only take a man’s life once. But by murdering his reputation, you can kill him week after week, and day after day.
Jesus says your refusal to be reconciled until you get your way will actually leave you uncreconciled, unforgiven.
He says that your wandering eyes, which if torn out, would not cure your wandering heart and mind.
Jesus says that your endless reasons for why it was justifiable to perform surgery – to amputate, to get a peace of paper that would tear apart flesh that He has joined together, are not actually as virtuous as you suppose.
At the very least, even when divorce is necessary, and it can be necessary, it is still less than Eden. It is still less than Jesus hopes for, less than He created, and less than He Himself desires.
When Jesus speaks that way, then the Law is no longer so doable.
Your shovel is broken. The skies are open. The snow pours down like so many sins.
And you will not get out until it is all clean.
As I stood there sighing in my pitiful driveway, with my best chance of getting out broken in my hands, I looked in jealousy at my neighbor’s house.
A plow was taking care of the driveway. And he doesn’t even live there anymore.
And then, to my surprise. the plow came to me.
He didn’t ask permission, he just came slamming into my driveway, uninvited, but welcome.
I looked on helplessly as he freed us from our snowy prison. Completely, fully. not cutting the corners I did.
When he was done he rolled down the window and asked if I recognized him.
His name is Steve. He grew up in our house, and lived there right up until this last May.
And He still felt responsible for it in a way.
The point is this: If it is as Jesus says, then we will never shovel our way out.
Our rescue must come from outside of us.
He has come, even without our invitation.
When you murdered, it was Jesus who suffered first and most. Killed by you, but also for you.
When you were unfaithful, Jesus was utterly faithful.
When Israel played the harlot, when she chased after other gods, when she asked for a divorce, Jesus remained the faithful Bridegroom, marching to Golgotha on His wedding day.
When you had sworn falsely, He has sworn truly.
Not just with words, but words sealed in His blood.
All this has been poured out on you in your baptism.
You should be thinking: clean driveway.
You should be thinking: freedom, life, and joy.
You are free and forgiven.
And you were not forgiven for nothing.
You were not set free, you were not released so you could stay home with your forgiveness.
Jesus now releases you into a world that is stormy, and cold, full of people with broken shovels trying desperately to free themselves from a prison they cannot even see.
And you now have the joy of showing them their way out.