SERMON ON THE MOUNT: The Paradox of Freedom    Matthew 5:31-37   

We’re continuing our series in the Sermon on the Mount.  I’ve spent a lot of time in fear, trepidation, and prayer over these last two messages.  Last week we talked about lust and adultery, and that was really easy, so we decided to build on that and now we’re going to talk about divorce, remarriage, and oaths.  Did you come to hear from the Lord today?  I hope you did, because as much as I’ve wrestled with this passage, I feel like there’s freedom that Jesus wants to bring.  As Isaiah (50:4) said, my prayer has been along that I’d have the tongue of one instructed that I might have a word for the wounded today.  That’s my heartbeat.  Jesus, would you help us as we wrestle with your Scripture and your words.  Lord, I pray against the enemy’s voice of condemnation in the hearts and minds of your people here today.  God, may they not confuse condemnation with the conviction that your Spirit wants to bring because of your kindness that leads to repentance and to life.  Lord, let us not confuse the enemy’s condemnation with your conviction.  We want your words over our hearts and our lives that we might walk in your life and in your freedom.  And all God’s people said. . . . Amen.

The year was 1773.  There were boats sitting in the Boston’s harbor, Griffin’s Wharf, just waiting to bring in 342 chests of British tea.  You know the story?  Where roughly a hundred colonists jumped on those boats and they unloaded, over the next three hours, 90,000 pounds of tea into the Boston harbor.  It was the first act of defiance that the American colonists perpetrated against the motherland of Great Britain.  It effectively began the Revolutionary War.  That war commenced a year later, but it was that act of ‘we don’t want any taxation without representation so we’re going to throw your tea into the ocean,’ it was THAT act, that began that war that we celebrated the victory of on the Fourth of July.  We celebrated by blowing stuff up, to the glory of God, didn’t we?  Nothing quite says we love our freedom like lighting stuff on fire and blowing it up.

I started to wrestle with this idea of freedom, this week, because oftentimes we think something will bring freedom and it doesn’t.  Sometimes we’ll think things will bring freedom and they actually bring confinement.  I think of the smartphone we hold in our pockets.  I remember the day I got that.  I thought, “Oh my goodness, this is going to save me so much time!  I’ll be able to work everywhere now.”  You know what happened?  I started working everywhere!  Anybody else wonder where all that time went that we were saving?  Some things that we invite into our life thinking they’ll bring us freedom actually bring confinement.  Some of them are just neutral.  But oftentimes we get that story wrong, and Jesus, in the gospel of John (8:31-32) wants to speak into our lives and here’s what he says about freedom, because he knows that the human soul is longing for freedom, and he also knows that he’s the God that designed us to walk in freedom, and he knows the pathway to it.  Here’s what he says:  To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to {some translations say obey} my teaching, {So not just that you admire it and go, I agree.  I agree that we should love our enemies.  Jesus goes, that’s great, but do you?} you are really my disciples. {My apprentices.  You’re learning to live in my way with my heart.}  Then you will know the truth, {Did you know the truth Jesus talks about, the truth Jesus teaches, is something you only know when you start to live it out?  Is something you only know when you put it into practice?  We can read about it all we want in the Scriptures, we can know it intellectually, but we only KNOW it when we start to live it out.  He says, then you’ll know the truth.  You’ll know that this is the way that I’ve designed life to work.  Life is way better when you forgive people that wrong you than carrying the bitterness.  He goes, that’s true, just try it.  You’ll figure it out.}  …and the truth will set you free.”  

Freedom, according to Jesus, isn’t the ability to do anything we want, whenever we want, with whomever we want.  Right?  Freedom, according to Jesus, is the ability to become his disciple—to learn to live in his way with his heart—and so align ourselves with the way he’s designed the world to function.  We push back against that freedom all the time, almost every day, by thinking, “I think, Jesus, you’re a little bit off your rocker when you’ve talked about this one.  I think I know a better way.”  But what he gently does is he pushes back and says no, no, no, no, no.  True freedom is found in healthy limits rather than infinite options.

A number of years ago, they did a study where they took a pre-school teacher and a number of her students, and they took them to two different playgrounds on two different days.  The first playground had no fences around it.  Do you know what happened?  All those kids started to play, but they only played in proximity to their teacher.  They wanted to stay close.  They wanted to be able to get back to her, in case anything went wrong.  They wanted to be able to touch her.  A fenceless playground led to a confined playing.  The next day, they took them to the same sized playground that had a fence around the outside.  Do you know what happened?  The kids ran all the way up to the fence.  They used the entire playground.  They used the whole thing because they knew. . . now we’re were safe.  We’re protected.  We have some limits. Did you know, that limits actually bring life?  We think they bring confinement.  We THINK they put us in a jail, but actually, what Jesus says is, the right limits actually lead to our life.

If you just open your Bibles and start reading in Genesis 1—and I’d encourage you to do this sometime throughout this week—look at one of the very first acts God does.  He creates and says it’s good, but then what does he do?  He starts to set limits, right?  He separates the darkness from the light.  He says to ocean, to the sea, you can only go this far and then we have land.  What is that?  Those are limits.  Those are limits that lead us to life. Did you know that God has wired us for limits?  He’s put it in our DNA—in the fabric and fiber of our very being.  But we oftentimes push back against that, so I want to explore this paradoxical truth, this ironic truth, that true freedom is found in healthy limits rather than infinite options.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is going to give two back-to-back teachings about healthy limits that lead to freedom and life and good that sort of go against the grain of our humanity.

We’ll be camping out in Matthew 5:31-37 today.  Here’s what Jesus says:  It has been said, “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.”  But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.  Let’s just take a moment and take a deep breath.  I’m well aware that this issue of divorce is one of immense pain.  Every single person in this room has been touched by it in some way, some shape, some form.  It might be first hand where you’ve been divorced.  It might be in your family where your parents got divorced, your grandparents, or somebody in your line, or it’s your friend.  We’ve ALL been touched by this in some way and there’s pain around that.  

I just want you to know that Jesus’s words are not intended to be cold.  They’re not intended to be lifeless.  They’re not intended to be just a law or a rule where we go, okay, I get that.  Jesus is actually (on the Sermon on the Mount) entering into a conversation that’s been going.  The context — It has been said, “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate divorce.”   Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy 24:1.  Here’s why Moses gave that command to Israel.  If you divorce your wife, you’ve got to give her a certificate of divorce.  It was actually really, really gracious.  Back in ancient cultures that surrounded the Israelite people, a man could divorce his wife—basically just say I’m out of here—go to another town, get a different job, start a new family.  If he wanted to, within five years of divorcing her, he could come back and take her back as his wife.  He would have the “right” to do that.  God goes that doesn’t make sense.  If you’re going to divorce your wife, you must give her a certificate of divorce so that she can move on.  It’s not fair to have her sitting around waiting five years—okay, finally now I’m free.  That doesn’t make sense Moses says.  So God gave them the provision of divorce and a divorce certificate.  Here’s what he says in Deuteronomy 24:1 — If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house.   There’s a whole discussion that goes on after that, but this is the main idea of what Jesus is talking about.

So he quotes this passage, but he does it knowing that in the first century and in the century preceding that, there’s been a massive discussion in the culture about divorce.   There was this line of thinking perpetrated by this rabbi named Hillel.  Hillel was a famous, sort of rock-star rabbi and had a large following.  When he talked about Deuteronomy 24:1, he said that displeasing and indecent mean anything that your wife does that you don’t like.  If she burns the toast, you can give her a certificate of divorce.  This happened!  If you didn’t like her looks any, you could give her a certificate of divorce.  You’re outta there, no big deal.  This line of thinking had a massive following during Jesus’s day.

Here’s the problem with that:  A divorced woman had three options, and really, only three.  She could go and live with a wealthy family member or maybe her parents.  She could move back in with her parents.  She could get remarried, and many, many women did in this day and culture.  But it was almost as though they entered into this marriage and it was tainted; it was seen as sort of second-class.  Or she could become a prostitute.  She had to make money somehow.  A lot of commentators say that when Jesus says “You force her to commit adultery,” that’s what he’s talking about.  She’s got to go “work the streets” because she has to make ends meet somehow.  So this was Hillel’s teaching.  He said listen, if there’s any cause for divorce. . . .burn the toast—divorce.  Don’t like her looks anymore—divorce.  It doesn’t matter if she violates the marriage covenant, if you don’t like her anymore, you can divorce her.

There’s this other rabbi who came after Hillel that said that’s insane; what Moses is talking about in Deuteronomy 24 is adultery.  He’s talking about infidelity within a marriage.  So when Jesus comes on the scene, there’s this massive discussion going on.  Are we with Hillel or are we with Shammai?  Is it Hillel’s way or Shammai’s way?  Jesus goes Shammai nailed this one, you guys.  When Moses talked about divorce, he wasn’t talking about any little reason that a wife displeased her husband.  They were talking about infidelity within a marriage.  So Jesus chimes in and he does what he does throughout the Scriptures.  He comes to the defense of women, because they were the ones getting pushed down by this.  They were the ones getting run over.  They were the ones being wronged.  Jesus comes and he says no, this “Any Cause” divorce, which Hillel talked about, is absolute rubbish.  What Deuteronomy 24:1 is talking about is not “Any Cause,” it’s talking about uniquely adultery.

Take another deep breath.  We all know people that have gotten divorced for reasons other than adultery.  Some of you are sitting in this room.  We’ve heard some teaching around that where we go well, is that really the ONLY time where divorce is an option?  Is that it?  What about abuse?  Should a woman stay in that situation?  It’s not adultery.  Should she just go into an adulterous relationship so that she can get divorced?  Is that the option?  I think we’ve heard some potentially inaccurate teaching on this, and I’ve been a part of that. . . .because we want to stay true to the Scriptures and we haven’t really stepped back to ask the question, “What is Jesus really talking about?”

Before I tell you what he’s talking about, let me tell you what he’s NOT talking about.  He’s NOT saying that adultery is the only time divorce is an option period.  You’re going, Paulson, that’s the way it reads.  I get it.  But what he’s answering in this discussion is what is Moses talking about in Deuteronomy 24:1?  He says well, Moses, right there, is talking about adultery.  That’s what Moses is talking about.  The question is is that the only time in the Old Testament that divorce is discussed?  Here’s the answer. . . .no, it’s not.  So he answers a question that’s a common discussion amongst the rabbis, amongst the Pharisees, and goes this is what Moses is talking about.  You also have Exodus 21:10-11 that talks about divorce as well.  The context is an Israelite who marries a slave and then takes on a second wife in addition to her—that’s for a whole other message.  Here’s what it says:  If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights.  {Some translations say conjugal love.  He can’t stop sleeping with his first wife because he likes his second wife better.}  If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.  She can leave the marriage.  She doesn’t have to pay back any dowry.  She can leave because she was wronged.  So all throughout the Jewish culture during that time, you have Deuteronomy 24, which talks about adultery, and you have Exodus 21, which talks about neglect.

Did you know that in the Jewish marriage vows, they vow these three things to each other.  I vow to clothe you.  So for the husband, it was providing enough money to have clothing; for the wife, it was I’m going to be sewing.  I vow to feed you.  I’m going to provide enough money (traditional household) to put bread on the table, and for the woman, I’m going to prepare that meal. . . .I vow that to you, I promise that to you.  I promise to you. . . .this is in their vows!  Can you imagine them standing, one person in front of the other. . . . I vow to make love to you often.  I always ask people if they want traditional vows or if they want to write their own, and I’m like I’m starting to rethink my traditional vows a little bit.  I promise to clothe you, feed you, and make love to you often.  That was the marriage vows that they took.  Jesus wasn’t talking about these, they weren’t debated.  They were just assumed within the Jewish culture that these are reasons that people exit a covenantal marriage.  What Jesus isn’t saying in this teaching is that adultery is the only reason for divorce, because he’s not discussing Exodus 21.  This is a whole other teaching and a whole other debate that the Scriptures don’t talk about them having much in the New Testament.

Here’s the question—If you’re going, Paulson, I’m not sure I agree with you, because it says clearly I do not permit divorce EXCEPT for adultery.  Okay.  I hear you, but my encouragement to you would be to flip over to 1 Corinthians 7 and read it.  The Apostle Paul says. . . .oh, and abandonment.  Did God change his mind between Matthew 5 and 1 Corinthians 7?  No, he didn’t.  Did Jesus get it wrong?  No.  Did Paul get it wrong?  No, I don’t think he did.  I think they’re talking about two different instances and two different cases.  We need to read the Scriptures intelligently and go how do these things fit together.  Neither Paul nor Jesus {look up at me for a second} intends to give a complete list of where divorce is acceptable.  They don’t.  If we want to figure out why divorce takes place, we need to figure out, first, what the covenant of marriage is about, then we can figure out why divorce is even an “option” when God designed it to be one man, one woman for one life.  That’s what we need to figure out.  I think Scot McKnight, in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, says it well:  “If covenant love is commitment to be ‘with someone and for someone as someone who is working unto divine ends,’ then marriages are destroyed when one partner refuses to be ‘with’ the spouse or who becomes someone who is ‘against’ that spouse.  When a man obviously fails to be the husband that covenant love demands, or when a wife obviously fails to be the wife that covenant love demands, grounds for divorce may be present because the covenant is being destroyed.” 

So you may have heard, what I would humbly submit to you, some potentially bad teaching on this.  So much so that you have women who are being physically abused stay in a marriage because they want to be true to the Scriptures.  You have well-intentioned, typically, men that would counsel them, “Stay in it, stay in it.  Jesus only says divorce is an option when adultery’s the case.”  I just want to humbly submit to you that I don’t think that that’s what the Bible actually teaches.

When Jesus says, “You force her to commit adultery,” what he’s saying is. . . . .you go back and you read it, but I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife. . . . .This “Any Cause” (Hillel), any reason. . . .she burned the toast, divorce and sort of tosses her to the curb. . . .anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her a victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. . . .he’s going, listen, the marriage isn’t really void if you just tossed her aside without any violation of the marriage vow.  You read all throughout the Scriptures that the only one who’s capable of breaking the marriage vow is the one who is wronged, the victim.  Which opens up a whole other line of questions, which is probably for a different sermon.

So what Jesus is NOT saying, number one, is that adultery is the only case or reason for divorce ever.  And he’s NOT saying that anyone who remarries commits adultery.  He’s saying that if someone’s tossed aside and that man decides to go get another wife and potentially do another “Any Cause” divorce, he’s going THAT person is committing adultery because they never really were divorced.  Does that make sense?  I hope it does.  If it doesn’t, let me recommend some reading for you.  I found this book to be THE book I wish I was given in seminary about this issue.  It’s called “Divorce and Remarriage in the Church” by David Instone-Brewer and it’s wonderful.  It’s brilliant!  It’s gracious!  And it actually explains the issues.

What is Jesus saying?  Jesus IS saying that giving your wife a certificate for divorce is a pretty low bar.  That’s what he’s saying.  He’s going let’s talk about this.  Is that really our standard?  That we could just toss a woman to the side and as long as we give her a certificate of divorce because she burned the toast we’re okay in God’s eyes?  He says no, that’s not the case.  In the Sermon on the Mount, the bar is being raised and raised and raised so that we’re forced to go deeper and deeper into our souls and wrestle with what’s on the inside. Jesus wants to address what’s on the inside, and what’s on the inside is that we typically want to get our way.  And what’s on the inside is that we want it our way right now!  Jesus goes that’s not the way that marriage works. 

What is Jesus teaching?  That he did design marriage to last a lifetime—one man, one woman, for life.  But the reality is that doesn’t always happen.  From the get-go, it didn’t always happen.  So in Matthew 19:7-10, which I would say is a companion passage to Matthew 5, Jesus says:  “Why then,” they (disciples) asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”   {The context (in verse 3) is Jesus, are you for “Any Cause” divorce?  Go read it, it’s right there.  It would help if it were capitalized in our Bibles.  It’s a discussion that they’re having.  Here’s Jesus reply.}  Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.   {There’s two way a heart could be hard.  One, it could be hard in the person who is violating the covenant.  Maybe they’re sleeping around.  Maybe they’re neglecting.  Maybe they’ve abandoned and they refuse to repent and they refuse to come home.  That could be one way.  Another way a heart can be hardened is by a spouse that’s been wronged and can forgive but can’t come to the place of reconciliation.  They just can’t get there.  The perpetration has been too long, it’s been too painful, and it’s too much.  Jesus says that’s why we have the “provision” of divorce.} But it was not this way from the beginning.    In verse 10, the disciples said to him, “Oh my goodness, if we can’t have “Any Cause” divorce. . . .this situation between husband and wife, it’s better not to marry at all.   They’re going that standard is really, really high, Jesus.  If we can only divorce our wives if they violate the covenant, we shouldn’t even marry at all.  It gives you an insight into the context that Jesus is speaking into.

It’s designed to last a lifetime.  Second, reconciliation is always the goal, until it’s not possible.  It can’t be possible for two reasons—one, you feel like the options have been exhausted, or two, a spouse has moved on and they’ve gotten remarried.  God would say don’t break up that covenant in order to try to restore the first.  Don’t do that.  Reconciliation is always the goal.  Jesus taught against both Hillel and Shammai. . . . they would say that adultery always needs to end in divorce.  Jesus goes no, no, no, no, that’s not the case!  You could choose to forgive.  Unless your heart’s hard, they’re heart’s hard, you can choose to forgive, you can reconcile, you can move forward. . . .even after adultery.  And you can have a grace-filled, healthy marriage.  It was a revolutionary thought in Jesus’s day.  But he’s elevating the value of marriage, because he knows that divorce is painful and he knows that God hates it because it tears apart lives.  He also knows, back to the beginning of our message, he knows that there’s freedom in covenant.  We think there’s confinement, but there’s freedom. 

Admittedly, that was by far the longest point. If you’re looking at your outline going I didn’t bring a snack today….  I really felt like we needed to have that discussion because there’s so much pain and baggage around that.  What Jesus wants to do is hold up covenant and go, think about the freedom in covenant.  Think about the freedom in not having to decide or think about whether or not you’re going love, but you just do.  You’ve already made that commitment.  You decide to love based on the vow that you have made.  What Jesus wants to do. . . .especially in his day, but in our day and time too. . . .he’s moving, men specifically, but I’d say men and women, towards a covenantal view of marriage rather than a consumerism view of marriage.  It’s not hey, does this fit my needs right now?  Is this making me happy in the moment?  Am I pleased, am I satisfied, am I good?  No, no, no!  He wants us to have the freedom of going I’ve decided that I’m committed to this and I’m going to stick with my commitment. . . . .’til death do us part, in sickness and in health.   I will count myself forever blessed, as long as I live, to have watched my father love my mom as she got really sick.  To see him hold to the vow that he made in marriage.  For two years, as she got sick and life slipped through her hands, and he continued to love.  When there was nothing coming in return, I can assure you.  Except the knowledge of knowing that he was living exactly as Jesus had invited him to live.  To have that picture in my marriage. . . .I’m going, when my wife’s healthy, I want to treat her as well as my dad did when my mom was sick.

I just want you to know that I get it.  There’s a ton of pain in the room around this issue.  There’s pain on the side of people who’ve been walked out on, and you went I wanted to fight for that and I didn’t get that option.  I want you to know, Jesus sees you, Jesus hears you, he has compassion for you.  Then there’s people that have made decisions. . . . .maybe some of them you regret or maybe some of them you don’t, but you’ve made decisions that have led to divorce and there’s pain around that too.  I want you to know, go read through the discussion where Jesus meets a woman at the well, who is in her fifth marriage, and see the grace that he gives her.  See the grace he gives the woman in John 8 who’s caught in the act adultery.  He just showers his love down on us.  Grace always meets us exactly where we’re at and move us forward.  So wherever you’re at this morning, know that God, in his grace, wants to meet you and he wants to move you forward.

There’s more, but I’m going to, admittedly, fly through this.  Here’s what it says in Matthew 5:33-36 — Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.”    {This is a combination of teachings out of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.  Jesus is sort of clumping these all together.}  But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all:  either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.  Here’s what was going on.  There was a lot of discussion, in Jesus’s day, about taking oaths and what is it that swear on.  In the Ten Commandments it says that we shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.  What the Jewish people did was they interpreted that as we can’t swear on God’s name.  So they’re like, ah, the Bible didn’t say anything about swearing on Jerusalem.  And it didn’t say anything about swearing on heaven, or on earth, or on our own heads. . . . . .so I’ll see your ‘you cannot swear by the name of God,’ but I’ll raise you ‘let’s swear on these other things.’  Jesus goes hey, why do we play this game?  Don’t you think it’s a little silly?  We could address the fact that God wants us to keep our oaths, and that’s what we can see on the surface, but there’s something going on underneath.  He goes let’s go after that.  Let’s go after the heart issue.  What’s going on underneath?  Really, it’s manipulation to try to get our way, that’s what’s going on.  I love the way that Dallas Willard wrote about this passage:  “Jesus goes right to the heart of why people swear oaths.  He knew that they do it to impress others with their sincerity and reliability and thus gain acceptance of what they are saying and what they want.  It is a method of getting their way.

So if you’re part of the group that that whole discussion about divorce didn’t really apply to, welcome back, and I would submit to you that Jesus’s words here apply DEEPLY.  We may not be in an oath-giving and -taking culture in the same way, but which one of us hasn’t added a little something to our words in order to prop up our identity and make people think something about us that may or may not be true?  What Jesus is talking about is reputation management with the words that we use to prop ourselves up and add to our resumé just a little bit.  So he goes, there’s immense freedom in covenant love knowing that you’re loved, without having to decide, just knowing that there’s some hedges around that and you’re loved deeply within that.  And he says, secondly, that there’s freedom in honesty.  They were adding to their words in order to manage and control the way people thought about them.

Here’s a few ways that we do this.  I’ll throw them out and you can chew on them and ask Jesus which one of them you may struggle with, if any.  I think we do this through name-dropping.  Oh, I know so-and-so and that makes me a little bit more important.  We do this through embellishment.  I’ll just be real honest with you. . . .when I have the chance to go and to teach at different conferences and different camps, inevitability, every single person. . . .not EVERY, that’s an exaggeration. . . .a lot of the people there come up to me and ask me, “So how many people are in your church?”  So I have this internal turmoil. . . .do I give them an Easter number or do I give them a July number?  Both could be true based on the day.  So I’ve had to work through, when I’m in these situations, I always go alright, what’s our average, and that’s what I give them.  But what they want to know is how important are you?  What I want to tell them is I’m really important!  Everything in me wants to say that.  It’s just not true.  Jesus is saying instead of trying to manage how people think about you, what if you’re just honest?  What would happen then?

Trying to add words to what you say and maybe even bring God into it and introduce half truths. . . . .in some circles it might sound like, “Well, God told me to do this.  We’re suppose to get married.”  Well, God didn’t tell me that so we sort of have to meet in the middle there.  Or, God told me I’m suppose to have this leadership position.  Or, I have a peace about this because. . . .which very well may be true, but it also just may be that we’re adding words to make it seem like something is the case when it’s actually not.  Jesus is saying what would happen if you’re just honest?  I think what he wants to do is protect community from the incipient sickness of misleading people and eroding the very ground that we stand on with one another.  It’s so easy to do, isn’t it? It’s fear, covered up in words.  If I can make you think something about me, then I’ll be okay.  I think what Jesus might want to say to us this morning is that if you know that you’re loved, that reckless love, then you have nothing to prove.  If you have nothing to prove, then you have nothing to defend.  If you have nothing to defend, {look up at me for a moment} you are finally and fully free to love.  And that’s where he wants to get us.

He ends by saying this — All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’;  {He’s riffing off his previous point.  Just yes or no!  You don’t need to take an oath.  Just let your yes be yes and then let your no be no.  Now, let’s be honest with each other, we live in a state of perpetual FOMO in our culture, don’t we?  Do you know what that is?  It’s Fear of Missing Out.  And it’s rampant.  We will say yes to one engagement, but then we want to keep our options open just in case we get a better offer.  Somebody invites us over for dinner — What are you having?  Spaghetti and meatballs.  Yeah, I’ll be there, but if somebody offers me steak….  See ya, meatballs!  Jesus goes, oh man, you think by keeping all your options open that you’re walking in the way of freedom, but how free would it be to not have to pray about whether or not you’re going to say yes or no to that other one because you just said yes to this one?  Just let your yes be yes and your no be no.  In our day and in our culture with our adventure-seeking, the grass is always greener, the mountain is a little bit higher, I’m going to leave this one in order to go there. . . . AND in our people pleasing, because that’s the other side of this coin, we’ll say yes to everybody because we don’t want anybody to be mad at us, then when it really comes down to it I really want to do this so I’m out!  Jesus goes how about this?  How about instead of trying to manage all that, you just stick with your commitments?  I think what Jesus would say is freedom isn’t found in keeping all of our options open, it’s found in keeping our word.  There’s a lot of freedom there.

The freedom of covenant.  The freedom of honesty.  The freedom of commitment.  They go against the grain of what we think will actually lead us to life, and Jesus goes no, no, no, no, no, pause, take a step back.  Don’t let what’s going on on the inside of your soul, the insecurities, the selfish pride, don’t let that stand in the way of the life that I want to bring to you.

So, as we close and Aaron comes back out to lead us in one last song, can I just impress upon you what I feels is the gospel imperative here and it’s this—we step back from our lives for a second and look at our maker of it all.  You do know that he’s a covenantal God, don’t you?  In the person and in the work of Jesus, he said you’re my people, you’re chosen, you are holy, you are loved, and I am for you.  Think about the implications of God being in covenant with us.  He doesn’t have to think about whether or not he’s going to love us.  He just does.  He does, because he’s decided that that’s what he is going to do.  I LOVE that!  ‘I will be your God and you will be my people’ is all throughout the entire Scriptures and it’s God’s anthem.  He is an oath-making God.  {Ryan sings} His oath, his covenant, his blood//Protects me in the whelming flood// When all around my soul gives way//He then is all my hope and stay.  It’s HIS covenant.  It’s HIS oath.  Jesus is the oath of God.  He’s promising to be for us and be good to us and bless us.  Jesus is the word of God.    {Look up at me}  Jesus is the swear word of God!  It’s God swearing!  I love you!  I love you!  I love you!  I’m for you.  I’m for you. I’m for you.  You can’t run too far.  You can’t get too dark.  You can’t get too pain…..   I am coming after you.  Jesus is God’s swear word.  The Limitless One becomes the Limited One that we might become loved ones.  That’s our anthem.

Finally, God is a God of his word.  His “Yes” also has a name.  His Yes’s name is Jesus.  All of the promises of God find their “yes and amen” in Him.  (2 Corinthians 1:20)

Would you stand with me?  Friends, I’m convinced that for you and I to live in and experience the counter-intuitive freedom of Jesus, we must first experience the reckless love of Jesus.  It’s that love that provides the hedges for us.  It’s that love that holds us.  It’s that love that keeps us.  It’s that love that drives out fear.  It’s that love that allows us to follow through on our covenants and our commitments.  It’s that love that frees us to be known when everything in us says hide or run.  So we’re people that know that we’re loved and so we stay.

Maybe this week, if you’re married and you’re in covenant with someone else, maybe you decide to take one step towards saying, “This is something I deeply value.  Something I want to honor.”  Maybe this week you just pay attention to the rhythms of your soul that want to embellish some of the things that are half-true about you.  You catch yourself and you go, Jesus, I just want to say it as it is, as messy as it is, I just want to say it.  Maybe this week you’re thinking about saying no to something you already said yes to and you think, that’s not the freedom of commitment, Jesus.  I don’t need to pray about whether or not I’m going to do that.  I already said I was, so I’m in.

Jesus, I pray for all my friends in this space.  Lord, especially for those who carry a pain of divorce, where things didn’t work out the way that they thought that they would.  Maybe they were wronged or maybe they were the one wrong.  Lord, I pray that they would just know your grace, your love, this morning, that holds them.  Father, that we would be people of our word.  That we would be people of honesty in the dark parts and in the good parts, that we would invite people in in such a way that we could allow ourselves to be known, valued, and loved, instead of hiding and trying to manage the expectations of people around us.  Father, may we be people who do what we say we’re going to do as a reflection of you, the God who says what He’s going to do and does it.  Spirit, come, we pray.  Amen.