Keep a Close Watch



“Keep a Close Watch” by Interim Pastor Tim Morphew

According to Luke and Matthew, as soon as Jesus “went public”, as soon as he began preaching and teaching that the Kingdom of God was on its way, he started attracting crowds…

(Mt. 4:24-25) “…his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed [Jesus] from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, & from beyond the Jordan.”

Pretty soon Jesus goes up the mountain and sits down, as rabbi’s do when they’re going to teach a lesson.  His disciples draw near. This summer at Creekside Church, we draw near, with those first century followers to hear Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and to learn what it means to live as citizens of God’s Kingdom – starting now and for the rest of our lives!

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus envisions a whole new world – God’s people living in ways contrary to the conventional wisdom of the day…  Jesus expects his followers to live and act differently. In The Sermon on the Mount, he spells out an ethic, a rule of faith & practice for his followers. 

Robert Bowman, who wrote the study guide we’re using in our Adult Sunday School classes says that Jesus is doing what just about every rabbi did. (p.18) “In Matthew 5:21-48 Jesus gives his interpretation of the law, the Torah. This was a standard practice of rabbis. It did not mean that [Jesus was criticizing or attacking the Law] as he… points out in Matthew 5:7-19. It simply meant that [Jesus was exploring] the inner meaning of the Law…” When Jesus says, “But I say unto you…” it means “this is what I think it really means…”

Last week we heard Jesus sharp warning about anger, insults and abusive words.  In today’s Gospel lesson, Matthew 5:27-32 Jesus goes after lust.  And Jesus treats lust much as he treats anger.  He warns that the thought or fantasy is as bad as the act.  Maybe you’ve heard that old saying, “The thought is father to the deed.”

He warns that, “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)

Is Jesus talking about the physical, sexual attraction that seems to “hard wired” into most of us?  The natural human attraction that wakes up teenage hormones and makes boys and girls do crazy things to impress each other?

Maybe not. Probably not. Have you ever read Song of Solomon? It is rather graphic in its celebration of human sexuality. So graphic that I’ve heard that Jewish rabbis advised young people not to read it till they were 30 years old. (Puritan Commentator Matthew Henry) There are plenty of Christians who have avoided reading it too! No, scripture doesn’t condemn the natural sexual attraction that comes from the way God made us. 

But lust not healthy sexuality. In reality lust is quite contrary to healthy sexuality. If you look up all the (29 or so) times the word “lust” shows up in scripture, I think you’ll notice that lust is never a good thing. Lust is wanting another person, or money, or a foreign god so badly that you make bad decisions, you squander your values, you turn away from God, you sell your soul for cheap thrills.

Sexual lust is wanting to have sexual access to another person simply to indulge my raging hormones, simply to satisfy my sexual appetite. I see and hear plenty of enticement to that kind of attitude/thinking in advertising, in TV dramas & movies, popular music, even in pop-up ads on Facebook…  I’m pretty sure, in our hyper-sexualized culture, that every grown-up here this morning has seen the images and knows about fantasizing intimacy with another person. 

What’s wrong with an innocent fantasy? What’s wrong is that we cultivate and strengthen the neural pathways that we indulge, that we repeat, that we rehearse…

In his book, Wired for Intimacy, William M. Struthers writes, “When I was young, I visited a farm that had an old-fashioned water pump. It was centered on a cement slab and would drip long after you stopped pumping. Over the years the dripping water had cut a trough to the edge of the slab. The trough was nearly two inches

So it is with the ideas, feelings, dreams and fantasies that we cultivate in our own private thoughts. Because of the way the brain is wired, whatever thoughts or feelings we entertain or dwell upon, we cultivate. That deepens the neurological pathways, making a trough. Each time an unhealthy thought pattern is repeated, neurological, emotional & spiritual erosion carves out a channel that will eventually develop into an emotional or spiritual rut from which it is increasingly

But if we can begin to practice different ways of thinking, the corrupted pathway can be avoided, a new pathway can be formed. We can establish healthy patterns where our thoughts and feelings are redirected toward holiness….  That is part of the process of sanctification. – William M. Struthers, Wired for Intimacy (IVP, 2010), pp. 88-89 (TSM edited)

Plant a thought, reap an action,
Plant an action, reap a habit,
Plant a habit, reap a character,
Plant a character, reap a destiny.

By the way, did you notice? Have you ever thought about who Jesus is talking to in today’s Gospel Lesson? 

Not women, right??  No, without a doubt, Jesus is talking to guys like me – to every guy – any guy who wants to follow Jesus… Why?  Because in that day men had most of the power. They held the social, religious and political power in their communities. Literature from those days say things like, “Though the woman is subject to the commandments, she is disqualified from giving evidence.” Or “Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good.” In Jesus’ world, women were easily treated as possession or property, easily abused, then blamed for problems.

I read this week a troubling story of “Rabbi Jose whose beautiful daughter was the object of a neighbor’s attention. Upon learning that the neighbor had bored a hole in the fence so he could watch her, the rabbi turned on his daughter and said, ‘You are a trouble to mankind, return to dust so that no man may sin because of you.’ ” (Charme Robarts in Preaching the Sermon on the Mount: The World it Imagines, p. 110.)

Do you hear that? Like it was her fault that the neighbor was ogling her?? And you and I still hear stories of men blaming women for their bad behavior. Jesus won’t have it. He expects people (men in today’s lesson) to be responsible for their own thoughts, impulses and fantasies – and he expects us to do whatever it takes to eliminate any cause of sin – even if it takes radical surgery!

We don’t live in that world. Women in our world – at least in our part of the world are supposed to have equal rights under the law. We know that there are still places where men have unfair advantages over women. A glass ceiling in many corporate structures; men’s athletics better funded than women’s athletics. Limits roles for women in some corners of Christianity. But Jesus treats men and women equally.

And in today’s gospel lesson, Jesus calls us to better. Remember how Jesus treated women: the woman at the well, the Samaritan woman with a demon-possessed daughter, Mary and Martha. As Charme Robarts concludes, “We are not created men and women only for sexual purposes. We are created men and women – each/both in the image of God. Neither [none of us are created as objects to gratify someone else’s appetites] and all believers should attend to our moral and ethical responsibilities to God and our faith communities.”  In the Kingdom of God all of us are supposed to care for the dignity and well-being of every other sister and brother. When we think of another as an object for my pleasure, we fail to see them as whole people, as children of God, precious in God’s sight. (adapted, Fleer & Bland, Preaching the Sermon on the Mount: The World it Imagines, p.111)

Do we really want the God of Moses and Christ to be the Lord of our lives? – or would we rather follow the all-too-easy way of the world?? The challenge that Moses delivered to the children of Israel is a challenge that you, and I, and every believer must answer every day: Will we act like everybody else? – Or will we try to act like Jesus?

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell…”

According to U. S. News & World Report, Americans spend many billions of dollars a year on pornography. U. S. News asserts that Americans spend more on porn than on Hollywood movies or popular music.  A 2003 survey from Internet Filter Review reported that 47% of Christians admit pornography is a major problem in their homes. Focus on the Family reports that one in seven calls to their Pastoral Care Hotline is related to internet pornography.

As you know, a person can hardly watch TV, browse social media or look at any magazine without seeing revealing and suggestive images of pretty young women. Television dramas, movies and popular music encourage some of us to see the opposite gender in sexual terms.

Scripture clearly allows that there’s nothing wrong with noticing and appreciating a person’s natural beauty. After all, God did create us with an appreciation for the opposite gender! But lust is cultivating sexual fantasies about intimacy for self-centered gratification. John Piper’s offers a potent antidote.  He writes:

“We must not give a sexual image or impulse more than 5 seconds before we mount a violent counterattack with the mind. I mean that! 5 seconds. In the first 2 seconds we shout, “No! Get out of my head!” In the next two seconds we cry out: “O God, in the name of Jesus, help me. Save me now. I am yours.”

Good beginning. But then the real battle begins. This is a mind war. The absolute necessity is to get the image and the impulse out of our mind.  How?

Get a counter-image into the mind. Fight. Push. Strike. Don’t ease up. It must be an image that is so powerful that the other image cannot survive….

For example, have you ever in the first five seconds of temptation, demanded of your mind that it look steadfastly at the (crucified form of Jesus Christ?)

This is one with which I have personal experience and my experience is that I can put lustful thoughts away by remembering that every good-looking woman or girl upon whom my eye lingers is someone’s precious daughter and God’s precious daughter, one for whom Christ died on the cross. And when I think about those things, and think about Jesus dying on the cross for us, that changes my thinking and chases away lustful thoughts…

Jesus warns us against lust because lust is quite contrary to healthy sexuality. Lust is wanting intimacy without relationship. It’s wanting that intimacy so badly that you make bad decisions, you squander your values, you turn away from God, you sell your soul for cheap thrills.

Will we let God be Lord of our lives – or will we squander our hearts and souls on the cheap thrills and easy ecstasies peddled by popular advertisers??  

If we choose wisely, if we choose to live in the Reign of God as envisioned by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, we will find ourselves in fellowship with the One who originally preached that message… Whose name is Immanuel, God-with-us. We will give him our eyes, our hands, our hearts and our imaginations. We will live, not as slaves to our appetites, but in the company, friendship, love and support of like-minded believers, who make us better together than we are on our own… (Charme Robards, adapted, Fleer & Bland, Preaching the Sermon on the Mount: The World it Imagines, p.111. 114)

[Furthermore] Jesus said, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; & whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

It seems that the fantasy about getting married is alive and well – among the unmarried…  Consider the popularity of romance novels or hallmark movies. You know how the fairy-tale ends, “… they got married & lived happily ever after.” – That’s the fantasy. Maybe that’s why a lot of us got married.

But most of us who are married have yet to see that “happily ever after.” Those of us who are, or have been married know that marriage is such hard work that sometimes the only difference between getting divorced and staying together is sheer tenacity… 

I don’t care to “beat up” on folks who have been divorced. Sometimes staying in an abusive or destructive relationships is worse than breaking up. And we all have our issues. All of us have sinned & fallen short of God’s intentions for us. Who of us has not “messed up” at least 1 relationship? This is not about pointing fingers. Nevertheless, let us take seriously the high standard that Jesus sets for us!

He warns against divorce for good reason. We know that in Jesus’ day, a woman’s safety and security was mostly or completely provided by first her father, then her husband, sometimes a brother…  But an unmarried woman or a widow, or one who had been divorced by her husband would need to find herself another man. That’s why the Samaritan woman who Jesus talked to at the well had had 5 husbands. Because she could not survive as a single woman in that culture.

But my experience (before marriage) has been that breaking up is hard to do – whenever you have really cared for someone – and even more agonizing if you have been sexually intimate…  As Margaret Atwood warns in the magazine, Marriage Partnership, “A divorce is like an amputation: You survive, but there’s less of you.” -, V. 7, #. 4. (27)

Actor Patrick Swayze, who died in September 2009 of pancre-atic cancer, wrote a memoir with his wife Lisa Niemi, and said this:

The one thing I realized as Lisa and I retraced the arc of our lives is that no matter what happened, we never, ever gave up – on each other, or on our dreams. I’m far from perfect, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. But that’s one thing we both got right. – Patrick Swayze, The Time of My Life (Atria, 2009); as seen in Craig Wilson, “Swayze shares good times, and bad,” USA Today (9-22-09), D1

In a 2011 Leadership Journal article, Gordon Mac-Donald shares this story about his friends Dr. Paul & Edith Rees. When the Rees’s were in their 90s, MacDonald asked if they still fought after 60-plus years of marriage.

“O, sure we do,” Dr. Rees responded. “Yesterday morning was a case in point. Edith and I were in our car, and she was driving. She failed to stop at a stop sign, and it scared me half to death.”

“So what did you do?” MacDonald asked.

“Well, I’ve loved Edith for all these years, and I have learned how to say hard things to her. But I must be careful because when Edith was a little girl, her father always spoke to her harshly. And today when she hears a manly voice speak in anger – even my voice – she is deeply, deeply hurt.”

“But, Paul,” MacDonald pressed, “Edith is 90-years-old. Are you telling me that she remembers a harsh voice from that long ago?”

“She remembers that voice more than ever,” Rees said.

MacDonald asked, “So how did you handle that driving situation from the other day?”

“Ah,” he said, “I simply said, ‘Edith, darling, after we’ve had our nap this afternoon, I want to discuss a thought I have for you. And when the nap was over I did.  I was calm; she was ready to listen, and we solved our little problem.”

MacDonald concludes: “Wise words from a man who has learned that conflict is necessary, can be productive, but must be managed with wisdom and grace. May we all grow so wise… ” – Gordon MacDonald, “When Bad Things Happen to Good Relationships,” Leadership Journal (Winter, 2011)

Jesus is really serious about marriage. In Matthew 19:9 Jesus repeats the same warning: “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.” 10 His disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ 11But [Jesus] said to them, ‘Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given…. Let anyone accept this who can.’

It isn’t easy, is it? Nope. The best marriages are the union of two good forgivers, two who have learned how to go the second mile again and again and again… How do we do it? Maybe by remembering that our appetites are not the most important thing in life. – That our comfort and feeling good are not the highest good. Maybe by remembering what it is that makes life really good. Like the promise of a Kingdom where all is well for everybody – for all people…  Maybe by remembering that that promise comes to us through the life death and resurrection of Jesus, who lived and died for us! And that these supremely good things are ours only by the grace and mercy of a God Who has forgiven us far more than we can ever forgive any other person. Remember that our eternal hope comes not from having a perfect marriage or a perfect life, but having a perfect God and the promise of an eternity with God secured by the perfect righteousness of Jesus the Christ who lived, died and rose again to welcome us into the Kingdom of God forever and ever, AMEN!