Saturday, 15 February 2014

Revealing Wisdom - sermon 16 February

Matthew 5: 21-37

“You have heard it said, but now, I say to you...” we continue our journey through the Sermon on the Mount, and we reach some Very Hard Sayings... Jesus has now reached the discourses on the law.
Known as the "Antitheses" each beings "you have heard it said.... But I tell you...."
And it feels like a tall, tall order. To be better, bolder, stricter, purer - more perfect than Mary Poppins herself!! 

It seems like an impossible task I know, but, really what this is, is an exhortation to pray; prayer and more prayer!
And I’ll explain why!

Each section looks at particular areas of our lives; and every one of them, is likely an area we are not at all comfortable talking about; in fact quite possibly they are areas we don’t even admit to ourselves that we encounter.
Each of these topics: anger, forgiveness, lust, adultery, divorce, swearing.... are subjects we are not comfortable with; they are personal, they stir up strong emotions; they can make us feel very uncomfortable.

None of these are easy or simple; none is a lightweight topic; and Jesus outlines the law in each case, but then goes deeper, seems to make it harder – be proactive!
 If the thought enters your head you’ve as good as done the deed!
Don’t even try to do good things if you’ve still left something else unsaid, undone, unsettled. Get on and sort things out, don’t wait for the other person to act, to respond, settle things as soon as you are able.

Don’t make a promise by God’s name – because then you risk taking God’s name in vain... just keep your word. Your word should be enough.

The context here is also important, all of the elements about divorce and remarriage may sound odd to us; but these laws were written at a time when a woman was property; she was bought for her bride price and transferred from one clan to another; she had no rights of her own; she had no property of her own – so wanting to possess a woman becomes a crime of theft. Very difficult for us to comprehend as our society no longer views any individual as property – woman or slave!

These sayings are not just about our actions; they are about our thoughts, our motives, the way we respond and our deepest feelings.
Jesus seems to be implying to the disciples that it is not only their behaviour which will be judged, but their disposition; their attitude – every thought that enters their heads!
And that feels as impossible now, as it must have done back then.

I am sure you all know people who say they don’t need formal faith or church, because they live right and they are careful and kind and don’t harm anyone else.
To them - and to us when we feel like that - Jesus is saying “Are you sure? You might not have acted on it - but are you sure you have never felt such hatred - or lust - or....?” This should cause anyone to stop and think - and realise that “there but for the grace of God...”

We know people we look up to; people who seem to us at least, to have strong faith lives; who seem to be gracious under pressure, and who manage to live life on an even keel.
And this is where prayer comes in!!

Now, it may well be that these lovely people are genuinely holy - but as anyone who takes prayer and the spiritual life seriously will tell you - one of the first things you encounter when you pray seriously is your own sinfulness and unworthiness.

The reason people feel that they can talk to such pray-ers is because they can sense that they have faced their own particular “demons” and are still struggling to defeat them. They are not complacent or smug - rather they take Jesus’ words seriously and do not fall into the trap of thinking that because they haven’t committed grave sin that they couldn’t.
They dedicate every part of their lives in prayer.
Praying before you make a decision
Praying before a task – easy or hard
Praying for others, praying for yourself
Praying on waking, praying as you go to sleep
Praying without ceasing.

Jesus is not intending to hamper or limit life at all; his encouragement to go deeper, think more, reflect and pray more is to be enhancing, fulfilling, he is encouraging us to know ourselves better, and to walk more closely with God
And all of this is made possible through these hard sayings, this perfect living, because it reveals something else:
God's perfect forgiving love.
God's uncompromising forgiveness
God’s unfailing wisdom

We may feel overwhelmed by the task ahead
But we can know we are never alone 
We pray
We seek God

And we are reassured that, when we fall short, we are forgiven.
When we feel burdened
There is one who will share the yoke
We need not wail and moan
This is not a call to make life complicated
This is a call to this simple, profound wisdom:
Let your “yes” be yes
Let your “no” be no
Keep it simple
Keep it true 


1 comment:

  1. You did in the sermon what you called them to do at the end: "Keep it simple; keep it true." Beautiful! Thank you, Julie.