The Anabaptist, Christocentric Hermeneutic

Matthew 5:21-48

Murder

 21″You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

 23″Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

 25″Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Adultery

 27″You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Divorce

 31″It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

Oaths

 33″Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ 34But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

An Eye for an Eye

 38″You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Love for Enemies

 43″You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

            Today we are looking at the second core conviction of Anabaptism, as laid out by Stuart Murray in his book The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith.  Again, this book isn’t about what we as Anabaptist Mennonites need to give up to be like the rest of the world.  This book is about what we as Anabaptist Mennonites have that the rest of the world needs so badly.  Last Sunday’s core conviction was:

Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer, and Lord.  He is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith and lifestyle, for our understanding of church, and our engagement with society.  We are committed to following Jesus as well as worshipping him.

Today’s core conviction is:

Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation.  We are committed to a Jesus-centered approach to the Bible, and to the community of faith as the primary context in which we read the Bible and discern and apply its implications for discipleship.

            This is the way I expect this sermon to go today.  At first you are going to say, “Oh yes, that is obvious.”  Then you will probably move to saying something like, “Oh no, that can’t be.”  Then hopefully we will all end by saying, “Of course, Jesus is right!”  So we will start with the obvious.

As Christians we believe that Jesus was, is, and always will be God.  Jesus is the second member of the Trinity.  We believe that God took on flesh and came to the earth as Jesus.  The Apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 1:15-16:

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all

things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones

or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.

            Seems simple so far, right?  Jesus is God.  He even said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”  So if Jesus is God, we should listen to him.  The words of Jesus are the words of God.  Therefore, Jesus is the center of how we read the Bible.  We believe that the Old Testament points toward Jesus and the things that have not yet happened in the Bible are things that Jesus will do.

            So this is where my title comes from today.  We have a Christocentric, meaning Christ centered, hermeneutic.  I used the word hermeneutic once in our small group and someone asked, “Herman who?”  To which someone replied, “I think he goes to Springdale.”  Hermeneutics is how you interpret the Bible.  So to have a Christocentric hermeneutic means that you read and interpret all of the Bible through the lens of Jesus.  And I bet that many of you are sitting there thinking, “Of course we interpret the Bible through Jesus.  We must have a Christocentric hermeneutic.”

            Now we come to the “Oh no, how can that be?” section.  Because we believe that all of the Bible is to be read through the lens of Jesus, this means that some of the passages of the Bible are more authoritative for our lives.  Now I want to make sure you know that I believe that all of the scriptures are inspired by God, but not all are equally authoritative, not all are to be applied to our daily life in the same way in the 21st century.

            This is where a lot of people disagree with the Anabaptist approach.  A lot of Christians give equal weight to the Old Testament and the New Testament.  They would have what is often referred to as a flat Bible hermeneutic; both Testaments receive equal authority.  At least they believe this in theory.

            But if we look at this practically, you really can’t deny that most Christians don’t read all of the Bible as equally authoritative.  I would bet that if I went around and checked the tag on your t-shirts, that many of you are wearing poly-cotton blend shirts.  Almost every year my father starts an alfalfa field where he plants a companion crop mixed in, like wheat, so that he can get a crop the first spring.  There is a farm just outside of Sonya’s hometown in Nebraska that raises the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, which is known as a mule.  Do you know what the Bible calls these people?  Sinners.  Leviticus 19:19 says that you should not wear a garment made of two different materials, you should not sow your field with two different seeds, and you should not breed two different kinds of animals.  But we do, don’t we?  So we all read different passages of scripture as more or less authoritative than others.

            So the Anabaptist Christocentric Hermeneutic would say that we read the scriptures about Jesus as more authoritative than others.  This is one reason why I like to go back and read through my old King James Bible every now and then.  I have a Bible that was given to me as a young man that has every word that Jesus said written in red while the rest of the text is written in black.  I believe that the words of Jesus are the most authoritative for our lives as his disciples.  I put more value on the words of Jesus than on other texts.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t put value on other texts.  I would never say that we need to do away with the Old Testament or the letters of Paul.  But what this means is that if there is ever a disagreement between something that I read in the Old Testament and what Jesus said, I am going to take the words of Jesus, God in human flesh, to be the ones that I am supposed to live by.

We didn’t play a lot of card games when I was growing up.  We played games like Sorry!, checkers, Trouble, Candy Land, and my favorite, Uncle Wiggily.  To this day I am not a big fan of playing card games.  This is in large part because I cannot shuffle cards to save my life.  I usually allow my lovely wife to do the shuffling for me.

            But when I was in my late teens and early 20’s, I had some good friends that spent a lot of time playing cards.  And they always played the same game for hours at a time.  They played Euchre.  And if you didn’t grow up in Pennsylvania or Ohio, you might not have even heard of Euchre. 

            Euchre is described as a trick-taking card game.  You are paired up with a partner and a deck of 24 cards is dealt to the four players.  Then you try to lay the highest card of the same suit that was led each time you go around the circle, unless your partner is going to win the trick.  If your partner is going to take the trick, then you save your highest card for the next round and try to win.

            Euchre isn’t the most difficult game in the world to play, but the guys that I played with took it very seriously.  I couldn’t get away with laying the wrong cards because they always seemed to remember what I had previously laid.  If you don’t follow suit, and you have a card of that suit, that’s a violation.  And these guys never let anyone get away with anything.

            So here I am, not really interested in playing cards, hanging out with my friends.  And they say, “Hey KG, want to play Euchre?”  Yeah, I want to play yoo…kerr.  How do you play?  To be honest, I never really took much of an interest in the game, even while I was playing, and I usually was drifting in and out of consciousness as my friends played their hearts out.

But every now and then I tend to get a little competitive.  And even though I wasn’t nearly the Euchre player that these guys were, I would tend to get a little swagger going on.  I remember one hand getting both black Jacks, and we will say that clubs were the suit for the trick.  And I saved both Jacks for the last two tricks because I was going to make a big show about it.  So when my turn comes around, I slap my Jack down on the pile and I prepare myself to take the trick.  But then the next player does something that I wasn’t ready for.  He plays a heart, and a low heart at that.  Maybe a 9 of hearts.  And he takes the trick.

Why did my friend take the trick?  He had played a trump card.  And his nine of hearts took my Jack of clubs, even though my Jack of clubs was the highest card of the suit that had been led.  The trump card always takes the Jack.

Our scripture for this morning is a fairly large chunk of text taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  What we have here is six antithetical statements made by Jesus.  You have heard it said…but I say unto you.  The first antithesis begins in verse 21, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.” 

To use a term from playing cards, Jesus is upping the ante.  He does this with adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and loving your enemies.  He takes the old, accepted rule and he makes it even more challenging.  He is saying, “Yes, that was good enough for a time, but now we are living under a new covenant.  And I am calling you to live by a higher ethic.”

Now many of us might read through these antitheses and say something like, “Jesus is doing away with the Old Testament Law.”  But before Jesus gives his first antithesis he tells those that are there listening to him that he is not abolishing the law or the prophets, but fulfilling them.  That means that all of the prophets and the law have been pointing toward him.  They have been leading up to this point when Jesus will make God’s will, God’s desire, known to everyone.  And only Jesus can do this because he is God.

I think this is what Paul was getting at when he wrote in Hebrews 1:1-3

1In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in

various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed

heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of

God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his

powerful word.

Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God.  And he is the trump card.  Yes, there have been some very powerful things said before Jesus, but he comes in and throws a 9 of hearts on the pile and takes the entire kitty.  Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God revealing God’s ultimate plan for God’s creation.

But then why even give the teachings of the Old Testament if Jesus was going to come along and up the ante later on?  Why, when God revealed himself to Moses, didn’t he just give him the teachings that Jesus gave?  Some people have proposed what has been called a progressive ethic in Christianity.  They say that back in Old Testament days, people were pretty ruthless.  They killed one another for what would seem like nothing to us.  You crushed my geranium.  I’m going to kill you for that.  But God, in his infinite wisdom, meets people where they are.  God knew that these ruthless people that would just as soon kill you as look at you were not going to totally abandon that way of life.  So when God gave the Torah, he helped the people to take a step in the right direction.  Now rather than being able to take someone’s life for stepping on your flower, they were limited to being able to take something of equal worth.  If they stepped on your flower, you could take their flower.  That’s an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

Now Jesus, God in human form, comes to this earth, makes the will of the Father clearly known.  Yes, there was a time when an eye for an eye was acceptable.  But now through Jesus, God is fulfilling the Law.  The Law is now complete.  Now if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to them the left as well.  Don’t pay back evil with evil.  Pay back evil with good.  God meets his people where they are to move them to where he wants them to be.

Now I hope we come to the section where we can all say together, “Of course, Jesus is right.”  Way back when I was in high school, there was a time when a certain kind of bracelet became popular.  These bracelets began showing up on the wrists of some of the kids in my class.  On these bracelets were the simple letters WWJD.

These bracelets grew in popularity and I never have been one to admit that I don’t know what is going on, so I never asked about them.  But one day I finally broke down and asked someone who was sporting one of these bracelets, “Okay, what does WWJD mean?”

He replied by telling me that WWJD stood for “What would Jesus do?”  Every time that he was faced with a difficult decision in his life, he was to look at his wrist and ask himself, What would Jesus do?

That little question was a reminder to keep Jesus central in our every day decisions.  And to know what Jesus would do you have to know what Jesus did do and what Jesus did say.  Those words in red reveal to us, not only how to interpret the rest of the Bible, but how to live our daily lives. 

Yes, there are things in the Bible that don’t seem to make sense to us.  There are times when we see God telling the Israelites to kill every man, woman, and child in a village and to keep their treasure for themselves.  I can’t say for sure why God told the Israelites to do this, but what I do know is that this is not what God has told us to do today.  When we are faced with a difficult decision, we must go back to the red letters.  We must ask, “What would Jesus do?”

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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One Response to The Anabaptist, Christocentric Hermeneutic

  1. Paul Walker says:

    Thanks for the great article! I really apprieciated your insight and examples!

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