Sermon: Not So Simple

February 5, 2023

Isaiah 58:1-12
Matthew 5:13-20

by Eric Anderson

Last week, looking at Micah 6 and at the Beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount here in Matthew, I tried to make the case that, while living the life and doing the work of Christian discipleship is challenging, the standards for that life are comprehensible and simple. I still think that’s true.

Nevertheless, there is this awkward moment in Matthew 5:19, when Jesus said, “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” Partially that’s awkward because the Law, by which Jesus probably meant the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, Genesis-Exodus-Leviticus-Numbers-Deuteronomy, has a lot in it. Rabbi Simlai counted 613 mitvot or commandments in a sermon in the 200s. That’s a lot of direction. It’s not simple. It’s complex.

And it’s more awkward yet. By the time Matthew composed his gospel, at least forty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Christian church had already made a drastic decision: to stop practicing one of the commandments in the Law. They were no longer going to require males to be circumcised. There was a lot of argument about it, some of which you can find in the letters of Paul, written about twenty years before Matthew’s gospel. The commandment to circumcise predated the Law given to Moses; it’s older than the Ten Commandments. It was given to Abraham.

Not so simple for those first century Christians. Not so simple.

Not so simple for us.

Christianity has always struggled with… consistency. The eagerness of those first Christians to bring good news to the greatest number of people possible conflicted with the ancient commitment to be a holy people, one with a deep and strong connection with God. If you relax the standards to let more people in, didn’t that put God’s favor at risk? The ancient account of Israel’s faith, primarily that long history that runs from Joshua to Second Kings, described serious consequences for failure to keep the covenant with God. Strife. Invasion. Exile. Loss of home and city and nation.

Among those early Christian voices were those who said, “This good news is too powerful and too urgent to keep for ourselves. The power, the love, and the salvation of God needs to be spread widely. That will be our guiding principle.”

Not consistent. Not so simple.

But also… not disconnected from what had gone before. Eric Barreto writes at Working Preacher, “Salt. Cities. Light. These everyday realities become the ground for an important and potentially challenging theological conviction: righteousness before God is bound up in the call of the law and the prophets.

“That is, Jesus is not inventing the shape of such righteousness but tapping into an ancient vein of divine revelation.”

As we’ll hear in next week’s reading from Matthew, Jesus wasn’t content with the standards as they were. In general, he tended to raise them, at least as it related to care and compassion for other human beings. As we’ve noticed for quite some time, he had less patience for acts of purity and piety, at least when they conflicted with people’s welfare.

And as Dr. Barreto observed, Jesus was squarely in the ancient tradition of the prophets. As Cheryl Lindsay writes at, “It seems to be a recurring phenomena that God is less offended by actual sin as much as the failure to confront the truth of it. It’s the pretense of righteousness that causes the most visceral responses from the Holy One. The life and ministry of Jesus was consistent with this pattern. When Jesus encountered a person who had sinned, his response was compassionate and grace-filled. When he encountered those who cloaked themselves in false piety and distorted religious practices, he turned over tables and raised his voice in rebuke.”

Simple. Be honest about yourself. Don’t claim to be what you’re not. Great.

Oh. And also, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Not so simple.

I think the thread that brings these together is a phrase that Larry Wilmore used to use on his Comedy Central program, The Nightly Show. “Keep it 100,” that is, keep it 100% honest. I don’t know if he was early with the phrase, but you’ll find it among emoji collections on computers and mobile phones, so it clearly has resonated. “Keep it 100” about your own needs, aspirations, and motivations. Avoid the hypocrisy of pious activity that isn’t reflected in your daily deeds. Be careful about making sure that everything is done right if that means that it favors your interests. If your shining light put someone else in a shadow, well, move that light. Get yourself someplace that makes someone else shine alongside you.

Keeping it 100% honest is not so simple. But it is clear.

In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, says Karoline Lewis at Working Preacher, Jesus reminds us that knowledge of God requires action. “It is knowledge without action that perpetuates existence of racism in our world. It is knowledge without action that contributes to our silence about sexism. It is knowledge without action that continues to oppress the poor, to ostracize the marginalized, to overlook the hungry.”

Let your action keep it 100 with what you believe. Let your honesty keep it 100 with what you need and hope for. Let your faith keep it 100 with those around you who need your support.

Not so simple, I grant you. Not so simple.

But Jesus led the way.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

The image is The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch (1877). and Carl Bloch, p. 313, ISBN 9788798746591, Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on February 7, 2023

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

Leave a Reply

close window

Service Times & Directions

Sunday School Classes

Sunday 8:45 am

Sunday Worship Service

Sunday 10:00 am

Adult Bible Study

Monday 6:30 pm, Wednesday 9:00 am

(International Young Adults Association)
Bible Study

Wednesday 7:30 pm

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

(The Rev. Tevita) Sunday 1:00 pm Wednesday 7:00 pm (Sanctuary)

The United Church of Christ, Pohnpei - Hilo

(The Rev. Ichiro) Sunday 10:00 am (Bdg. of Faith)

The Samoan Church

(The Rev. Sunia) Sunday 4:00 pm (Sanctuary)

440 W. Lanikaula Street
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-1283