Feb 12, 2017 message based on Matthew 5:21-37 and Deuteronomy 31: 15-20
 "Religion = Following God in Life"
I remember in grade school, they started to teach what they called ‘New Math”.
I’d always done well with regular addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
But now they threw stuff at me with all these strange formulas, like (a + b = c).
The new stuff they taught us was supposed to be helpful, but….

We all like to use formulas to help us remember how to do things properly.
Formulas keep things simple and easy to help us navigate our way through life.
So with a wrench in hand - its “righty, tight; lefty, loosey”.
Or wanting to spell correctly, we have ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’.
Or, making coffee you may have a formula - ‘two cups water & one scoop coffee’. 

Religion can be the same way in that people like to have a formula to follow .
Often, that formula can look like this -  ‘Religion = Following Rules from God’.
For a great many people in all kinds of religions, that is the basic formula.
The formula is for you to know the rules, and to then set about following them.

Christianity sometimes gets boiled down to this idea of a formula of rules.
Few years back, the news was awash with conflict about the 10 Commandments.
People went crazy when efforts were made to remove them from public buildings.
Some judges ruled against keeping them; others insisted that they stay posted.

But whether or not they are on the courthouse wall is not today’s topic.
As important as the Commandments are, they aren’t the formula that Jesus wants us teach us.
In fact, Jesus says that religion is not about any kind of rule following formula.
What he teaches is that the rules are merely a starting point for a way of living.

In Matthew, Jesus may almost sound as if he’s debunking the Commandments.
He keeps saying “You have heard it said….. (then states a Commandment).
Yet, after that he sounds as if he throws it out when he says “But I say to you….”,
But the key is that he isn’t ditching the Commandments, he’s expanding them.

Now, we should note last week’s Gospel had the verses that preceded today’s.
And there, Jesus said “I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill (it)”.
So he clearly says that he doesn’t want to get rid of the Commandments.
He’s simply teaching that we need to understand how to apply them to ourselves.

So with each Commandment he speaks of, Jesus elaborates upon them.
‘You think you’re OK cause you don’t murder’?
You’re just as guilty if you’re angry with someone and not reconciled with them.
‘You think your good cause you haven’t had sex outside marriage in adultery?’
You’re just as guilty if you think about how you’d like to do so.
‘You think you’ve got a good excuse, or legal excuse, for divorce?’
No way that God accepts a weak or lame excuse on that, Jesus says.
‘You think that you’re clear cause you swear to God your telling the truth?’
Anytime you give your word, its supposed to be honest and truthful.

Christians who want to pull out the Commandments as rule book, miss the point.
If we go down the list and start to say we’ve got a pretty good batting avg. - sorry.
When we say we do the best we can with the rules, Jesus says, fagetaboutit !’

You can post the 10 Commandments everywhere,… but they are not the answer.
They are not even the formula for the ‘new teaching’ that Jesus brings.
His new teaching says ‘Religion = Following God in Life’.

Those who want the Commandments to be seen on the walls, might be too fixated on 
the letter of the law’ maybe to justify themselves or to invoke rules upon others.
But Jesus wants us to focus on ‘the spirit of the law’ in our own hearts and minds.
So that our ‘modus operandi’ is not adhering to rules, but to have our hearts adhere to God’s will.

Others may think we’re keeping the rules pretty good, but God knows better. 
The only checklist is the one that only God sees - that is, what’s in your heart.
If our heart and mind are not aligned with God’s, then he wants us to change.
Jesus helps us do that,…by guiding and loving and forgiving us.

The formula is then,….. that there is no formula.
The Commandments are a starting point to help us begin to inspect our hearts.
To help us ive in a way that’s good for God, and good for ourselves and others.
Because when we live in alignment with God’s will,…life for all will be better.

In the Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy God says just that.
“See, I have set before you life and prosperity, death and adversity”.
“If you obey the Commandments of the Lord your God….walking in his ways”,
then you will do very well”.   Therefore, God says “Choose life”.
The key phrase is “walking in the ways” of the Lord to help life to be well.
By walking so that we look at Jesus and not the rules,….we “choose life”.
We choose to follow God and not just a set of rules.

Amen.