Monthly Archives: February 2020

‘With eyes that have cried’

Reading
Matthew 17.1–9

While the church today, as always, is challenged to confess in word and deed that Jesus is indeed ‘the Christ’, it is simultaneously warned against using that confession in the service of triumphalist religion. ‘The Christ of faith’, when true, always leads again to the ‘Jesus of history’―that is, to him who ‘was crucified, dead, and buried’, and whose anointing entailed a ‘descent into hell’ before it could sit him down at the right hand of God. ― Douglas John Hall, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol.1

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Trigger warning re domestic violence

Christophe Munzihirwa was a Catholic, a Jesuit, and an archbishop in the African nation of Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was in office for just over a year, until he was assassinated by Rwandan soldiers in 1996. He was a protector of Hutu and Tutsi refugees in the Rwandan civil war and a proponent of democracy and reconciliation. He once said:

There are things that can be seen only with eyes that have cried.

I thought of these words after the dreadful murder-suicide last Wednesday just fifteen minutes from here in which Rowan Baxter cruelly killed his wife Hannah Clarke and their three children Laianah, Aaliyah and Trey before killing himself. How many eyes have cried since then, and what have they seen that they hadn’t seen before? 

There has been a lot of criticism of the reporting of the murder of Hannah Clarke and her children. I would say that much of the reporting avoided tears. 

Initially, it sidestepped the reality of what happened; then, it spoke of what a ‘good bloke’ the murderer was, a footy player and great dad. 

When we try to sidestep the issues, we avoid our tears. Are we afraid of tears?

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Keeping the Law―yes. But…

Reading
Matthew 5.21–37

 

The great Talmudic sage Hillel was born in Babylonia in the first century BCE. As a young man he came to the Holy Land to study Torah at the feet of the sages of Jerusalem. He was initially a very poor, but brilliant student, and became a famous Torah scholar and eventually the Nasi (president) of the Sanhedrin. He is often mentioned together with his colleague, Shammai, with whom he often disagreed on the interpretations of Torah law: Shammai often follows the stricter interpretation, whereas Hillel tended toward a more lenient understanding of the law. In the great majority of cases, his opinion prevailed. Hillel encouraged his disciples to follow the example of Aaron the High Priest to ‘love peace and pursue peace, love all G‑d’s creations and bring them close to the Torah’. Hillel was a very humble and patient man, and there are many stories that illustrate this.

One famous account in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) tells about a gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism. This happened not infrequently, and this individual stated that he would accept Judaism only if a rabbi would teach him the entire Torah while he, the prospective convert, stood on one foot. First he went to Shammai, who, insulted by this ridiculous request, threw him out of the house. The man did not give up and went to Hillel. This gentle sage accepted the challenge, and said:

‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this―go and study it!’ ― https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/689306/jewish/On-One-Foot.htm

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In the Sermon on Mount Jesus says, 

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.

How can Jesus say he is not abolishing the law, but fulfilling it, when he says ‘You have heard that it was said [in the law of Moses] … but I say to you…’ 

In looking at this, I want to spend most of my time this morning talking about sex and sexuality. 

Got your attention? 

Firstly though, a few words about anger. Jesus says, 

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’… But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement … 

I have never murdered anybody. It’s true. Believe it or not! 

But have I been angry? Why, yes I have. Is it wrong to have angry feelings? People often have angry feelings. We’re all subject to feelings of anger, some of us maybe more than others. Is Jesus condemning angry feelings? 

Can’t we be angry about the climate crisis? About a lack of integrity in government? Can’t we get annoyed that the Brisbane Heat came seventh in the Big Bash League? 

Yes, we can. And some of us may. 

Jesus isn’t talking about feelings of anger here. He’s talking about what we do with our anger. It’s possible to be angry for a while, and then calm down. 

Alternatively, we can nurse our anger. We can feed it and let it grow. We can justify it. We can say it’s all someone else’s fault. 

We can decide to get even. 

That’s where the real harm is. Not in getting mad sometimes, but in what we do with it. The Book of James helps here: 

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. [James 4.1–2a]

Anger often comes because we’re anxious or scared, or wanting something that isn’t ours. The Apostle Paul says,

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, [Ephesians 4.26]

I just wanted to spend some time here on anger, because we all get angry sometimes. You know what else we feel? We all have feelings of attraction to other people. We are sexual beings. 

We may be attracted to another person; who that is partly depends of course on our sexuality. People have varying degrees of attraction to people of their own or the ‘opposite’ sex.

Feeling angry is not a sin; what you do with the anger is the issue. Do I let it go, or do I let it build up so that I mistreat someone else? 

It’s similar with sexualised feelings. Do I accept them as part of life? Or do I dwell on them, do I let them grow in my thoughts, until I want to possess another person? Until I want to use another person for my own gratification? That is the issue. 

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Going with God’s flow

Readings
Micah 6.1–8
Matthew 5.1–12

 

Unlike offerings, lifelong habits of kindness, justice, and humility are not transactions to dispense and check off, duty done. Rather, they characterise a stance of leaning toward others: extending grace reflexively, without measure, as God has done, not because others deserve it but because they need it; promoting fairness, especially toward those at risk; and certainly not trying to appease and be done with God, but instead humbly keeping hearts open and pliant. What God sought from the Israelites, what faith says God still seeks from us, is to cultivate capabilities we have seen in our Maker, capabilities we who are made in God’s image already possess: a warm heart for all, a passion for fairness, and the flexibility to learn as we go in this complex matter of seeking grace alongside justice. ― Patricia J Tull, Connections Year A, Vol.1

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Today, we’ve heard one of the great Old Testament scriptures. It’s from the prophet Micah (6.8):

[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

It may surprise you to hear that this is part of a courtroom drama. So come with me to court, and see how it all unfolds. 

Ok, let’s see who the characters are in this courtroom drama. Our drama needs a jury; who is the jury? The mountains and the hills, who have been there for millennia and who have seen the ways of the Lord from everlasting. 

Our drama needs a plaintiff, someone to bring an accusation. Who is the plaintiff? God! 

Micah sets it all up at the beginning of chapter 6:

Hear what the Lord says:

   Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the Lord has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.

God had a controversy with the people of Micah’s time. You know, the religion business was going really well. People were flocking to the Temple of Jerusalem. financial offerings were way up. That’s good, right? 

Yet God has a controversy with the people of Israel, a bone to pick with them.

O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. 

God is gathering evidence here, and calling witnesses. The evidence is Israel’s history: God brought them out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 

And there are those willing to testify for God: Moses, Miriam, Aaron. Unimpeachable witnesses. 

It’s an open and shut case, but God reminds them of other events as well. King Balak of Moab wanted a non-Israelite prophet called Balaam to curse Israel, but—so the story says—a talking donkey stopped him. 

And God reminds them about what happened ‘from Shittim to Gilgal’. What happened? Shittim was where the waters of the Jordan parted to allow Joshua to lead the Israelites across the river, and Gilgal was where they entered the Promised Land. 

God is building a pretty impressive case here as the saviour of Israel. 

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