Willingham Holy Communion 16-2-14

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Matthew 5:21-37 Deuteronomy 30:15-end
Holy Communion
(16-2-14)

There's a great programme on BBC1 called ‘Bargain Hunt’ – 2 couples are given £300 to buy antiques to be sold at a profit. The presenter issues a challenge to us afterwards: ‘come & join in if you think you can do better’! Maybe this is not your scene. Yet perhaps you have told your husband/wife something like this over the past few days, ‘our PM is useless in running our country, and these floods are a good example - I could do better.’ ‘Yes, of course dear,’ is the loyal reply! ‘Now just pass the marmalade please.’

Our first reading from the book in Old Testament, Deuteronomy – so hard to find, is the tail end of the account of how Moses faced such a leadership situation – or call it crises. The Jews had recently left Egypt where they had been slaves for years. Moses very unwillingly had been by God put in charge of this unruly rabble. They had no idea how to organise themselves as a nation in the making, so Moses’ first task was to lay down some basic laws through God’s guidance. This was neatly summarised later on in the 10 commandments. (These can be likened to 10 seeds that if we sow in our life amazingly wonderful flowers will begin to grow and bloom.)

Now some of the laws/guidance Moses gave were not well received. Well, if you had never known freedom and now suddenly you were, it is not easy to be restricted once more – ‘I can do what I like, as I am a free person.’ That’s the type of comment Moses was facing – it is the same sort of comment we hear today. ‘Don’t you tell me what to do; or think; or what is right and wrong. I am free to make up my own mind’ – a statement that assumes that we actually can do this! Nothing in the way of basic human nature has changed over the years since the days of Moses. So our reading is the account of the occasion when Moses had finished giving all he could just then, and yet he was still facing some rebellion. So his stark challenge: ‘You Jews claim to be God’s chosen people. These instructions are the way that God expects you to live. I can’t make you conform to them, as that is impossible. But, and it is a big ‘but’, if you don’t want to then you must leave our company. But if you want to be regarded as a true Jew then you must stick firmly to them. And just a little bit more – such compliance, agreement, obedience, conformity – call it what you like, must come willingly from your heart. This is what you sincerely want to do. It is not like a yoke, a burden, or oppression of your freedom, God’s way opens up life as it should be lived. This will open up to you great possibilities’ So those who said ‘Yes, OK, that’s really how I want to live’ went on and after various hiccups on the way eventually came to the Promised Land. Sadly they on several occasions let everything slip and eventually suffered a mass transportation some 700 miles, but a handful finally came back to Israel. They learnt the hard way that obedience is important as God cannot be mocked. But to make sure people strictly kept the laws religious teachers then went about extending and expanding these laws to make sure people were obedient- e.g. original law said give away 10% of your income (that’s tough even today). The teachers, like the Pharisees said, ‘it must include everything, even like the herbs you grow in your garden’. It ceased to be, ‘I am grateful God for all you have given, here is a tenth to help those who have little,’ and became you ‘must give’. Notice just how subtlety the emphasis originally gave was changed.

It was onto this scene that Jesus came. To many it comes as bit of a surprise that our New Testament passage is part of the Sermon on the Mount. As most think it is just those verses that begin with ‘Blessed are the…’. Actually it goes on to the end of chapter 7 of Matthew. In these chapters Jesus is setting out basic principles of this teaching ministry. He is not contradicting anything Moses said in giving the Law, but he is putting right the distortions that the Scribes & Pharisees had made – like as above. What we have heard is just as disliked today as it was then, so it is dismissed out of hand by saying Jesus was just reflecting the thinking of the age he lived in.

Sadly some clergy keep rather quiet over parts such as verses 31-32 – maybe afraid of upsetting some of their loyal members! No wonder some followers of Jesus walked away then on hearing such teaching, likewise today some consider what Jesus says as too demanding and so leave. At least they know what Jesus taught and its implications. Jesus in this section gives us three basic principles that are to govern the way that we, His people, are to live. Then he gives illustrations. Our usual problem is that we get tied up with these and so miss the principles – like putting the cart before the horse. Jesus is not advocating a new ethical code of living, or even putting forward a radical political system that his followers are to adopt. He simply shows us the right actions of individual Christians living within the system that governs them at the time.

The first section is from verses 21 – 26. Here Jesus tells us how we are to regard, think about other people. Not in a vague sense like people in general, but particularly those we brush shoulders with day by day. You know that we fall out with some and find others great; would not trust others but to some we readily hand over our door key to when away. Fine, but what really governs how we react or how we judge/access others? Here Jesus wants us not just to consider this but just how do we appear before God. Also realise that how we do this about another is vastly different to the way God judges will access. He sees our attitudes that we can carefully hide from others, or keep in strict control. In fact we often face an inner battle. This idea is quite different to the one we usually hold. While not dropping our standards we are to appreciate just where others are in their walk with Jesus, or perhaps this is totally foreign to them so these and other factors will tend to govern behaviour. Remember just how the Lord accepted and forgives and helps you day by day. We are prone to so easily take offense and it appears even more so in Church. In fact it is nothing new as St. Pauls’ letters shows. We ought to be careful ourselves for it is one of the easiest ways for the devil to split & so destroy the local church fellowship – do not keep a short fuse! Paul said something about being long-suffering – try to work out what this means in your own life.

The second section is from verses 27 - 32 - the one that at times causes quite a stir. This is about the principles that are to govern our inter-personal relationships. It is not just about the loyalty and trust in the God given gift of marriage. It is about the whole question of relationships within the family; how they are to be guarded and protected, to flourish and to be respected. One thing that is blown away here is the idea of a wide eyed innocent ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’ not really knowing how we so often live. We forget that he moved among people where ever they happened to be, and they did not curb their language or hide their actions in his presence. He knew how our eyes and language betray our thoughts, he knows how often and in what way we face temptation. It is our inner thoughts, emotions, desires, and will that can obstruct our life as a Christian. In what we must take care is the pressure of the standards and arguments of others to undermine this whole teaching – we have recently seen this over the so-called same sex marriage and the attempted remodelling of bible teaching of 1 man & 1 woman by politicians of nearly ever shade. Their whole aim is to win votes and avoid criticism by a very small but very powerful vocal minority who have attempted change the term ‘lust’ into ‘love’.

The third section is from verses 33-37 - and is one that looks at the principles that are to govern our business affairs. It deals with the very basis of daily living in any community: our own personal honesty. This stretches from the honesty in making marriage vows (not, ‘Keep to you to myself until someone better comes along!’) over to handing in money found in the street and being straight in our tax affairs. And so on. St. Francis of Assisi went on a shopping trip with very new monk – he called it a time for preaching sermons for ‘every word we uttered was measured against every action we took, and every action we made they measured against the words we have uttered’. In fact he was preaching without words. It is how, as we were reminded last week we become salt and light to a world in real need of the help and guidance that we can give. It has been remarked to just how refreshing it is to deal with someone who can be trusted. It is as Jesus commented –‘ let your light so shine that men can see your good works and glorify God.’

So in these short few verses Jesus deals with 1. The tricky nature of personal relationships. 2. The all precious family relationship. 3. Then the hard world of business relationships. Then Jesus says how we as Christians are to respond to these. It is not at all easy maintaining these principles, but when did Jesus ever say it will be? In spite of our mistakes and failures, joy comes through seeing just how the Lord is blessing and how others discover the difference Jesus makes to us in the way we deal with them compared to others around them.