Readings: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37
Reading through the responses to the questionnaire on Worshipping Together is both informative and fascinating. I’m about half way through and two things stand out thus far:
First, just how little some of you know about the people and liturgy at the other services
And second, and more importantly, the great desire to heal divisions and build and grow a stronger, richer, deeper sense of community. We can work with that.
Paul had a similar challenge with the church in Corinth which is why he exhorts people to put away quarrelling and claims of superiority, and focus on being God’s servants, working together. For we are God’s field, God’s building and we are here to grow together in God’s way.
Using that energy, that desire to grow together we can build a stronger, deeper, richer more joyful community. And we can learn from each other as we grow. But like everything that Jesus lays before us, it takes willingness and work. It takes practice and humility and it takes commitment.
For the past two weeks. we have been listening to the heart of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon in the Mount.
This morning Jesus speaks to his interpretation of the Law, the Ten Commandments. Last week he made it clear that he is not here to abolish the law. Neither is he here to demand unthinking conformity to tradition. Rather, Jesus advocates for a third way – a more mature way – that requires his followers to creatively seek to fill the highest intentions of the law which is God’s intent for humanity.
Then he gives three examples beginning with You shall not murder.
That’s a good start, says Jesus, but you need to go further. You need to root out the anger that can lead to murder. Now, to be clear, anger in and of itself is not a sin. Even Jesus got angry. Anger is a human emotion that is often an expression of pain and / or fear. Its also an adrenalin rush that some people get addicted to. So, the bigger and more important issue is how we manage our anger –what we do with it.
If step one is we will not murder, step two is resisting the temptation to engage in verbal violence, like name calling and making disparaging comments about people. Such things tend to escalate a volatile situation and ramp up emotions, opening the door to physical violence which in turn can open the door to murder.
Far better, says Jesus, to find a healthy and constructive way to deal with the situation before it ever gets out of hand. Restoring a right relationship is the goal – as long as its safe to do so. And that is a process that can take time.
Its also important to keep in mind that Jesus is living in and speaking to folks in first century Israel, which is under Roman occupation. When it comes to keeping anger in check to avoid escalation, he may also have been thinking of anger that leads to a violent uprising and an even more deadly response.
Next week we will hear how Jesus’ suggests we responds to injustice but for now he turns to the second example on his teaching list: You will not commit adultery.
We all know that married couples vow to forsake all others and be faithful to each other. Once again, Jesus takes it a next step. He says the intent if the law is to strive for fidelity of the heartand mind, as well as of the body.
And then he moves on to the issue of divorce. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus seems to reluctantly accept the practice of divorce on the grounds of adultery. Unfortunately, this has created a bit of problem, leaving people – especially women – feeling trapped in some very bad marriages for a very long time.
But this was never his intent. Jesus’ intent seems to be to protect the women of his day who would be vulnerable if a husband should suddenly decide to divorce his wife. Without a home and the financial support of a husband, and unable to remarry because of the law, a divorced woman often had to resort to prostitution in order to survive. So giving a wife a certificate of divorce may be legally valid, says Jesus, but it is not spiritually valid if it leaves the woman at risk.
All in all, the intent of the law is not to force destructive, abusive relationships to continue but to creatively fill the highest intentions of the law and traditions.
Jesus’ third teaching is around the swearing of oaths. The Law says, You will not swear falsely but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord. That means if you’ve made a vow or sworn an oath in the name of God, you had better carry it out. But Jesus says, better not to swear an oath at all. Do not invoke the name of God or heaven or anything at all. Simply tell the truth at all times and be a person of your word.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is interpreting the Law, which he sees as God’s intent for humanity. He is challenging us to grow into that way of life by striving to achieve the highest intent of the law.
He also knows it requires a willingness to grow and mature in the faith. And that takes practice, hard work and commitment, and community. The choice to take up the challenge is ours.
But if we do, if we choose to work and grow together in the faith, we begin to hear God’s persuasive love calling us forward. That is our strength and our song.
I wan to close today with the words of one of my favourite hymn songs that is an invitation for the Holy Spirit to come and gift us with all we need to make us God’s field, God’s building, God’s community, growing together in the way of Jesus the Christ.
Like the murmur of the dove’s song,
like the challenge of her flight,
like the vigor of the wind’s rush,
like the new flame’s eager might:
come, Holy Spirit, come.
To the members of Christ’s Body,
to the branches of the Vine,
to the Church in faith assembled,
to her midst as gift and sign:
come, Holy Spirit, come.
With the healing of division,
with the ceaseless voice of prayer,
with the power of love and witness,
with the peace beyond compare:
come, Holy Spirit, come.