Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

 Last week we discussed anger.

We heard how Jesus reinterpreted the Mosaic Law, saying :
‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times,
“You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.”
But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister,
you will be liable to judgement;

We discussed how anger does not exist on its own.

The Letter of James speaks of anger:
let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;
for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. T
herefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness,
and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
Anger is a feeling, a reaction.
The feeling grows and we put images, ideas, and words to it.
Before we know it, we have created a whole set of narratives and commentary on that feeling.
One of those narratives is bound to be that of retaliation.
One of those narratives is bound to be revenge.

‘You have heard that it was said,
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. 

So there goes the idea of revenge, retaliation, or what we may even think of as justice.

The full text that Jesus is quoted is from Exodus, chapter 21.

life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

This was introduced to stop violence escalating.
It was introduced to keep things even.
It was to stop the endless spiral of violence.

So, initially this was a good law.

But Jesus is saying it is now time to go further. It is time to go deeper.

Do not resist an evildoer. 

Jesus is taking the idea of retaliation and revenge out of the picture.

Think back to those feelings that surround our anger.
Remember the thoughts of revenge.

What do they do to you?
Where does your heart go when you think them?
No good can ever come from there.

Those thoughts allow us to be holier than thou, self righteous, and selfish.
The opposite of what we are to be.

So, if we have those feelings, how are we to rid ourselves of them?
Jesus is recommending a readiness to disarm violence by being prepared to accept double what the perpetrator requires.

But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;
and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well;
and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 

The examples all say to go further than what is expected.
We are to go above and beyond.


How on earth are we to do this in reality?
It all seems so difficult, idealistic and unrealistic.

The only way we can do this is on the basis of knowing ourselves to be so enriched by God’s generosity towards us that acting in such a generous way is not impossible.

Jesus goes on:

‘You have heard that it was said,
“You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.”
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 

By loving our enemies, we change who they are to us from enemy to neighbour.
Love your neighbour as yourself.

Of course, easier said than done.

There are always going to be people who we don’t get on with.
There are people who we just don’t click with.
We can normally accept that.
But when someone seems bent on making our life difficult, doing things to harm us, damage our reputation, causing others to think ill of us, we want to correct that. We want that behaviour to stop.

We have to look inwards at ourselves.
We have to look into the face of another human being and have compassion.
We need to be able to see through all the twisted nonsense.
We need to recognise that this person who is causing us pain is as much made in God’s image as we are.

for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good,
and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

I’m not suggesting this is easy, but it is the call we have.

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

In these two interpretations of the Mosaic Law, Jesus tells us of our responsibilities: to others and ourselves.
We are to keep all our thoughts that are of ill feeling toward another under control. We are to be in such a way where we no longer have them, always reaching for the perfection of God.

We are to see others not as enemies, but as neighbours.
We are to look beyond incidences, the past, behaviours, words, and see a person who is struggling with being as much as we are.
We are to look at all people the same way God looks at all of us: with love, mercy, and compassion.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sermon for Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

‘You are the salt of the earth; 
but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? 
It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

Salt of the earth is so well known that this saying has passed into common language.
How many times have you heard someone being referred to as ‘salt of the earth.’
We instinctively know it to mean a good person.
It has a rustic character to it.
There is no nonsense in this person.
I wonder if it has not been confused with ‘down to earth’ in many cases.

My Grandmother who I spoke of a few weeks back was a heavy smoker.
She smoked all her life.
By the time she got very ill, her doctor told her not to give up as that would cause more trouble for her than if she kept smoking.

But like any smoker, her tastebuds suffered.
The older she got, the more her food became richer, most particularly, salty.
The amount of salt she would put into or onto anything was alarming.
A stew would be nearly inedible, it was that salty.
We wondered what we could do.
There was no point telling her.
She cooked by taste. It was fine for her.
I wondered whether we could get weaker salt.
It seems you can’t.

Salt is salt.
There is no strong salt or weak salt. It is what it is.
Sure, some salt is better than others,
but in the realms of saltiness, there isn’t much difference.
Salt is salt. It is salty.

So when Jesus speaks of salt losing it’s saltiness, he means something else.
We know he is speaking a metaphor.

if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?

It can’t. Salt cannot become less salty.
It can only be mixed with something else to become diluted.
This would have been a common practice in Jesus’ time.
Salt was expensive and taxed highly.
To make more profit, sellers would have mixed salt with other cheaper compounds.

Salt was mainly used for the preservation of food.
I am sure many of you can remember a time before refrigeration where the meat you bought was preserved in salt.
Imagine in Jesus time how important salt would have been.
Imagine how useless and annoying diluted salt would have been.
It would not have done its job.
It would have made meat rot quickly.
It would lead to waste and hunger.

So if we are to be salt of the earth, we are not be diluted.

This kind of talk always worries me.
We have all heard about the dangers of worldliness,
being in the world and not of the world,
and they are quite right.

But there is a tendency to want to separate the church from the world.
This leads to cult like behaviour and self righteous holier than thou behaviour.

Jesus means we are not to let the worlds, or the power’s influence change what it is to be one of his followers.

Remembers salt’s use as a preserver.

If it loses this ability,

It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot

Followers of Jesus are to the element in the world that keeps it wholesome and stop it from decaying.

If a follower of Jesus fails to represent the character and spirit of Christ in the world, they are useless.

So we ask ourselves what is Christlike behaviour and action,
and what is going to water those down?

In our time and place,
I see two major elements that can cause our saltiness to be diluted.
A lack of love for our neighbour, and a lack of peace in our lives.

If we cease to love our neighbour, we cease to be the body of Christ in our world.
Nothing can dilute our Christian behaviour more than a lack of love for those who are suffering.
We don’t need to define who is our neighbour and who isn’t: all are.
An act of selflessness and compassion toward someone we do not know is an act of Christlike behaviour.
What will dilute that is seeing someone as not our neighbour,
as someone we need not care for.

Secondly, our need to be busy and be caught up in the rhythm of the world.
When our minds are filled with ‘to do lists’ so there is no time for peace, we lose our saltiness.
Time spent in stillness and silence, praying, contemplating, meditating help us to keep our saltiness.
Quiet allows us to focus on what God wants of us, not the world.

St Paul tells us:
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.

It is that spirit that makes us the salt of the world. It is that spirit that makes us understand what the salt is and how we are to keep it from dilution.