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When Jesus' tough sayings don't sound like "good news"


The gospel reading on Sundays always concludes with the reader saying "The Gospel of the Lord" which means "The good news of the Lord." And the congregation always responds "Thanks be to God."  

Well, this Sunday's gospel contains a number of Jesus' "tough sayings," with Jesus zeroing right in on the heart of several matters of human behavior: murder, adultery, divorce, and lying. We'll hear Jesus' teaching that managing to avoid actual physical murder, actual physical adultery, actual literal lying, or managing to divorce for the right legal reasons does not give any of us a leg to stand on. Rather, he sets the bar a lot higher, focusing on the anger, lust, and other intentions we carry with us 24/7.  

In case this image is copyrighted, here's where I found it: http://www.gatheringfaith.com/category/podcast/jesussaidwhat/
When the Gospel sayings are as tough as they are this Sunday ("if you say, 'you fool,' you'll be liable to the hell of fire," and "if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away..." and "anyone who divorces his wife, except on the grounds of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery" just to name three!), it's difficult to know exactly where the "Good News" is and to know any reason we should feel thankful for what we've heard.  

Difficult at first glance, anyway.  

As I'll explore in Sunday'sermon, I believe these sayings can in fact be heard as good news. As liberating news.  

Here are two hints, or previews, of what I want to say on Sunday:

One: As the collect for purity reminds us, one of the things we believe about God is that God is a God unto whom "all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid." There are major implications of that belief, if we only take it to heart on a daily basis.

And two:  As the collect for the day puts it, "in our weakness we can do nothing good without [God, and so we need] the help of God's grace, that in keeping God's commandments we may please God in both will and deed." 

On that point, I'll say again on Sunday: "to the degree we can keep the first commandment, the other nine (three of which are referred to by Jesus in Sunday's Gospel) come easy." And remember, the first commandment does not start out with a prohibition, but with a reminder: that the Lord God is a god of freedom.

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