“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 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 one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one” – Matthew 5:33-37
My childhood church taught me to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. Elders shared with me that our tradition looked to Jesus’ sermon for guidance for our lives.
One example of this tradition that made an impression on me came from Jesus teaching about turning the other cheek. I was in awe as a burly man from my church told me about his experience in the army as a conscientious objector. Because of this verse he trained with a broom stick instead of rifle like those around him. He said he was mocked continuously for this but he felt strongly that he was following the “turn-the-other-cheek” verse.
This emphasis on the sermon on the mount also put a lot of light on Jesus’ teaching about vows and oaths. I remember some church folk shying away from organizations that required taking an oath while others did not see this verse in the same stringent way. Beyond the literal application, I understood this verse to be about integrity and identity.
We belong to God, we are not God. We do not know how a day will unfold. We cannot guarantee tomorrow. But we can be clear about who we will be in this moment, at this time, in this place. And in the here and now we are saved by grace, we are gifted by the Holy Spirit, we are called to love and we are God’s. This is our yes and by this yes we say no to the labels that attempt to diminish, degrade, or devalue us or any part of God’s good creation.
May your yes be spoken in harmony with God’s yes spoken over you this day.