Living in the Way of God
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
Reflection based upon Deuteronomy 30: 15-20, Psalm 119, and Matthew 5:21-37.
Matthew 5 has been my favorite chapter in the Scriptures with the Sermon on the Mount. This portion of the text follows the beatitudes. Unlike the blessings we get in the beatitudes, this text can make people feel uncomfortable because where before we were given a life through Christ full off blessing, Jesus is reaching into our hearts and reminding us that how we act in the world is how we live into God’s commandments, as given to us in Deuteronomy. I submit to you today that these readings are ways in which we can be living in the way of God.
Like I said, the lectionary lines up Deuteronomy 30 and Psalm 119 with Matthew 5 given similar themes of law, mountains, gardens (as an aspiring gardener I love this) which are life-giving. Deuteronomy starts with, “I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” God gave us abundance and challenges. Deuteronomy goes further and life is given for “loving the LORD your God and holding fast to God; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live.” This is a commandment: “to love God” and “hold fast to God” means to live into our covenant with God. So how do we live into our commandment?
So often I hear people talk about great ideas like “living into our commandment” and then forget to tell us how those ideas might look. It starts with above all “loving the LORD.”
That brings us to this portion of the sermon on the mount, “…that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council…”
Jesus is talking about anger and judgment. These are personal emotions that we have, and these are how people react to life and to that adversity – didn’t we just read Moses say God-given adversity. Peoples’ two favorite subjects adversity and anger. Anger is a response but does it need to be the response to adversity?
One theologian remarked that this is about what is in our hearts. I like this. Thus, I ask, what is in our hearts because saying and doing ought to follow what is in our heart. Otherwise, we are just hypocrites. If our hearts are full of anger, judgment and resentment then our spirits are held back by negative emotion. Really, can you be honest about love? We are not “loving the LORD our God” because we are not letting God into our hearts.
Further, We are not letting God guide our interaction with our neighbors. We should remember that neighbors are not defined by distance and that may be difficult to imagine with a room full of people right here that live together as neighbors. When we talk about neighbors, as Iowans, as Americans, as people of God - our neighborhood envelopes the whole world. Genesis tells us that God created us all in the image of God in this garden of Earth. This is why we are to love our neighbors because they were created in God’s image. You might see God in your neighbor.
Then, we let God be with us in our interaction with our neighbors, and we do not let anger rule our responses.
Passing judgment upon people whether in traffic or just because they upset you is not giving space for God to work. Maybe, you saw someone protesting on television or crying over the systemic injustices and it moved you to anger. When our response is anger and judging, then we are not giving space for people to be where they are - we are not giving space for God.
Instead, we produce negative stereotypes rather than letting the wholeness of people teach us more about God. Casting stereotypes reveals our privilege. Then, we hide behind our privilege and call migrant neighbors illegals. We hide behind our privilege and tell black people to stop protesting. We hide behind privilege and tell people that you have to live life with shame for being queer. We hide behind privilege that tells women they have no right over their own bodies.
Deuteronomy reminds us that adversity has been set before us so that we might learn. In Matthew, Jesus calls out wide injustices in society that is rooted in judgment, patriarchy, and false privilege because God tells us to reconcile and to love – to love with our whole hearts.
The beatitudes tells us that Jesus sees you wherever you are, and Jesus sees those who cause injustice. We are reminded how victimizers today can create the next victimizers of tomorrow. I see you and I see your heart beyond your words and through your revealed faith. Therefore, live with your heart open to your neighbor (whether here in this room, across town, those heading to the polls, those seeking new life in America and those whom may irritate us once in a while). Yes, open your heart to God and your neighbor rather than closed with anger.
The law reveals a portion of God’s heart. Thus, what defines us and our actions? Warren Buffet is quoted as saying that “it takes 20 years to build a reputation but only 5 minutes to ruin it.” We can and ought to live the promise with our neighbors rather than against them.
It is not always easy to see God and not always easy to live the way of God, but when we do, we find the many gifts surrounding us and lifting us. You may see God in them as I see in you. We don’t have to be afraid adversity because we learn to trust God’s love will work for you.
God gives growth and allows us to be mature in that grace rather than dwell in the hurt that divides us. We might be hurting inside, spiritually, physically, and socially, God is there to heal and warm your heart into new life when you let yourself live into that love. Let God guide you and be with you.
Thanks be to God.