A sermon for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Matthew 5:21-37
Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
Let your word mean what you say.
Let your word be free of double speak, of confusion, of mystery, of tricks or workarounds.
Let your word be authentic, and through this authentic word, you yourself are called to live authentically, living into the words that you speak, living into the life you claim to be your own.
When we live authentically, there is no doubt, no question, no pondering about whether we mean what we say. When we live authentically, there isn’t any room for question because our lives speak to the truth that we follow and embrace in our following of Christ.
This isn’t an excuse or reasoning for holding up honesty as a weapon or bludgeon to be used against others.
Who here has heard of the phrase “brutal honesty”?
Who here has ever heard someone say, “people don’t like me because I’m honest” or “I tell it like it is.”?
“It’s not my fault if it’s the truth.”
People who operate from this sphere are not letting their yes be yes and their no be no. I think, sometimes, they think they are doing so, but there is an important distinction that is missed: being “honest” for one’s personal benefit is not the same as being honest because they are authentic.
And, that is what happens when individuals hold up those phrases I mentioned. “Honesty,” or at least their personal brand of “honesty,” is held up as a weapon to tear down others. Their words do not mean what they say because they are designed to take power away from another person. Their words do not achieve what they think they do, because they create imbalances, they put people at odds with one another, you must accept their version of “honesty” and forgo your own truth.
Now, this is not to say that we cannot or should not be challenged in what we hold to be the truth. In fact, it can be life-giving and soul-filling to be challenged and to refocus the truth through lenses we are unaware of, but there needs to be an intention present from all involved in order to create this reality shifting experience. Change cannot be imposed upon another. Change doesn’t happen when it is purely driven from one side and perspective.
Through the lessons today, even in the Psalm, we are connected with this understanding of what it means to live into our call as being followers, and ultimately, how that is informed through our understanding of the law, of living into the commandments that have been with God’s people since their escape from Egypt. Ultimately we are pointed to how these commandments focus on the concepts of honoring, and honoring through loving. That’s where our call to authentic living finds its base, its grounding point.
Truthfulness then must be seen as an expression of love. When we use truthfulness, honesty, authenticity, as an attempt to gain power or authority over another person, when we use it to manipulate someone else to gain their respect, we are not expressing the love of God to that person through the words we use.
It’s really no wonder that Jesus says all else comes from the evil one, because manipulation and false masks and anger driving us to “brutal honesty,” are reflections of hurt that we have received from others and a way of protecting our real selves from being hurt once more. It is a cycle that feeds upon itself, distancing us from one another, fulfilling the goals of the evil one without any work having to be done by him.
Let your word be “yes, yes” or “no, no” and nothing more.
We have to live into this understanding, we have to live into this stripped down and authentic way of being in creation, because we ultimately belong to God, and if we are going to celebrate that relationship, we have to also live into the reality of what we profess in our worship and prayer.
In the written translation of the Psalm appointed for today we have this wonderful set of verses:
Oh, that my ways were made so direct *
that I might keep your statutes!
Then I should not be put to shame, *
when I regard all your commandments.
I will thank you with an unfeigned heart, *
when I have learned your righteous judgments.
I will keep your statutes; *
do not utterly forsake me.
These verses are an acknowledgment of the joy we receive in holding the commandments of God, of living into that call of love that radically shifts the reality of the creation that we move in and through, that call of love which implores us to be authentically faithful by being authentically us.
These verses also hint at the reality that we don’t always live up to that expectation.
But, we try.
We want to live up to that expectation.
We know that is our call, even as we fail to live into it.
And that is why I think this last verse I’ve shared is so powerful and telling: “I will keep your statutes, do not utterly forsake me,” it’s a capitulation, a giving in, and a somewhat begrudging one at that, but it also feels so real and true to our experience of what faith calls us into.
In and through our faith we must give into God. We have to give up what we want to do, how we want to operate, how we want to interact with one another. Because, in and through our faith in God, we are called into a different way of operation and interaction. In and through our faith in God, in Christ, we must walk in the way of love, letting our word be “yes, yes” or “no, no”, letting our actions be exactly what is expected of a Christ follower, of a person that is living into an authentic life that reflects the love of God that is present in our life, every day, every moment.
Sometimes, often even, this is a challenge.
Sometimes, often even, we will not live up to this standard.
But, when we recognize this, we seek forgiveness and we try again.
And, if we are being authentic, we have to acknowledge this. We have to seek forgiveness from those we have harmed. We have to seek forgiveness from those we’ve pushed aside, even in times when we thought we were living honestly, even in times when we thought we were helping others by calling them out for their failings.
Basically, we cannot give into cancel culture, because then we will inevitably be cancelled ourselves.
Rather, we must try to reach and see God reflected back in the other. We must live authentically and speak truthfully, but in a way that reflects God’s love unto another, in a way that illustrates what we believe and draws us closer together.
It is only in this way can our word be “yes, yes” or “no, no.”