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.

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