Tag Archives: Sermon on the Mount

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

___________

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. 

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Church & world, RCL, sermon, sexuality

But I say unto you…

 

Epiphany 6A, 12 February 2017

Readings
Matthew 5.21–37

The Uniting Church acknowledges that the Church has received the books of the Old and New Testaments as unique prophetic and apostolic testimony, in which it hears the Word of God and by which its faith and obedience are nourished and regulated.
Basis of Union, para. 5

The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people. ― Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth

____________________

We’ve got unfinished business from last week, and it’s not about cooking with salt.

It is about last week’s reading though. We didn’t look at the whole thing.

After his words that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, Jesus said,

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil… (Matthew 5.17)

What does Jesus mean about not abolishing the law, but fulfilling it?

Some people concentrate on not abolishing the law. Let me tell you about someone I knew at school.

When I was at school, one of the lads in our class was a Seventh-Day Adventist.

Seventh-Day Adventists have a very strong witness of keeping the law as it is written in the Bible. Yet much as I may admire them, I respectfully disagree with them.

My schoolfriend and I had a lot of conversations about which day should we worship, Saturday or Sunday; and whether we should eat bacon. (Now, I’m a bacon fan! Don’t try to convert me to a religion that bans bacon. It won’t work.)

I can’t remember all the details anymore, but my friend would have looked at this verse and said that Jesus had not come to abolish the law; therefore, Christians should obey the Old Testament laws. To the letter.

That meant keeping the Sabbath. On Saturdays only. And no sneaky bacon sandwiches behind the bike sheds.

The Gospel of Matthew presents us with a Jesus who does not abandon the law. Yet Matthew also says Jesus has come to fulfil the law. More than that, he says

unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

What does that mean? How can our righteousness exceed that of people who spent their lives searching how to obey the law?

Was my school friend right? Do we need to follow the Old Testament law to the letter? Not only a life with no bacon, but let me add—no prawns either?

Today’s reading shows us how Jesus fulfils the law; it is by deepening its meaning, by drawing it down into our hearts. But first, let’s just stay with last week’s Gospel just for a moment.

What does Jesus say again?

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

The prophets are in there too. What does Jesus mean by mentioning ‘the prophets’?

In many instances, ‘the prophets’ took the law of Israel and deepened it. They interpreted the law for their day.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under church year, Epiphany Season, RCL, sermon

Jesus and the law (Epiphany 6A, 16 February 2014)

Reading
Matthew 5.17–37

 

What are we meant to do with the Old Testament?

Is it relevant in 2014?

Does the Old Testament still matter now that we have the New?

Has Jesus done away with it? Isn’t it all outdated? I mean Jesus says,

You have heard that it was said by those in ancient times… But I say to you…

And not just once! He says it six times.

Sounds like Jesus is a bit of a radical, turning over the current order, upsetting the status quo, teaching new things.

So does Jesus want to get rid of the Old Testament? Is it ‘old hat’? Has it passed its used-by date?

Christians sometimes speak that way. They talk about the ‘Old Testament God’ as though the ‘New Testament God’ is different. They sometimes assume they are indeed different gods. To them, the Old Testament—and its God—is passé.

So, what do they do with these words of Jesus, which seem to pull in the opposite direction:

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

The ‘law and the prophets’ are the two most important parts of the Old Testament. They teach us how to live in covenant with the God of justice and mercy. Jesus says he’s not on about abolishing them. Sounds like Jesus hadn’t given up on the Old Testament. And he hasn’t given up on the God who the Old Testament witnesses to.

But much more than that, Jesus says

truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

There are 613 commandments in the Old Testament. It’s really easy to break them: anyone here with polyester-cotton clothes is a lawbreaker. Anyone who eats prawns or stroganoff is a lawbreaker. And anyone—like me—who teaches that it’s ok to do such things is a lawbreaker.

Jesus is setting high standards here. Very high standards. So are we hopelessly compromised every time we eat seafood in our best polyester-cotton gear?

Do you see what has just happened? We started off saying how Jesus upset the status quo—saying what they’d heard before is not enough—only to turn around and say he supports every bit of the law.

How does that work?

Well, it’s as 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.

Jesus fulfils the law and the prophets. He fills the law full right to the top

  • by keeping it,
  • by showing us what it means to keep it, and
  • by showing us mercy when we fail to keep it. Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under church year, RCL, sermon

Honoured are the poor in spirit (Epiphany 5A, 9 February 2014)

Readings
Isaiah 58.1–12
Matthew 5.13–20 

 

Six years ago, I went to Sicily for a conference on liturgy. It was of course wonderful to see a little of Sicily, especially the capital Palermo on the north coast of the island and the beautiful cathedral in Monreale, in the hills above Palermo.

One of my abiding memories of the ten days or so I spent there were the huge banquets we sat down to.

Conferences usually have a formal dinner that people go to and perhaps get dressed up for. But in Sicily, we had three enormous banquets, and each one was bigger and better and brighter than the one before.

The final one was on the last night and was arranged by the President of Sicily. It was astounding. We never did get to coffee, because around 1am, the waiters decided it was time to down tea towels and go home. We breathed massive sighs of relief and got on the buses to go back to bed and sleep.

The first two banquets were organised by the Archbishop of Palermo and the Bishop of Cefalù, about an hour’s drive east of Palermo. So why was each meal bigger and better than the one before?

We wondered about it, let me tell you. The answer is in this one word: honour. Oh, and the opposite of honour: shame. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under church year, RCL, sermon

When Jesus calls, you follow (Epiphany 3A/Australia Day, 26 January 2014)

Reading
Matthew 4.12–23

Let me tell you about something that happened to me. 

I was fourteen, and painfully shy. Mum and dad arranged for me to go to the local Methodist youth group so I could make more friends, and so I went along one Friday night.

And that’s how I found myself unexpectedly going to the 1968 Billy Graham Crusade at the Brisbane Exhibition grounds. When I got into the bus to go, I had no idea what would happen that evening.

After Billy Graham had finished preaching, there was an ‘altar call’, where people who wanted to give their lives to Jesus were invited to come forward. I’d never before heard of altar calls. In the end, I just had to go out to the front. The thing I still remember was just marvelling how anyone could stay in their seat. I could not resist the pull to come out. I tried hard to remain in my seat, but I just couldn’t.

I’m not sure grace is always ‘irresistible’, but I certainly couldn’t resist it that night. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Church & world, church year, RCL, sermon

Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A: 27 February 2011)

Blessed are…the meek

Reading
Isaiah 49.8-16a
Matthew 6.24-34

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.

Today, we’re attending to a section of the Sermon on the Mount in partnership with the people Jesus calls ‘the meek’.

I expect that many of us have heard of these words by Charles Wesley at some time:

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
look upon a little child;
pity my simplicity,
suffer me to come to thee.

Jesus was meek, they say. And not only ‘they’ say it. Jesus says it too in these well-known words from Matthew 11.28-30:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle [meek] and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

What does ‘meek’ mean to you? The Australian Oxford Dictionary has ‘humble and submissive; suffering injury etc. tamely’. Or, if you prefer, ‘piously gentle in nature’. And it doesn’t help that ‘meek’ rhymes with ‘weak’.

Hmm, not sure I wanna be meek any more…

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under church year, RCL, sermon

Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A, 13 February 2011)

Blessed are…the peacemakers

Reading
Matthew 5.21-37

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

You may be starting to detect a theme in the sermons of late. It’s this: the Sermon on the Mount is addressed to the people of the Beatitudes: the poor in spirit; the mourners; the meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; the merciful; the pure in heart; the peacemakers; the persecuted.

These are the people who have a chance of ‘getting it’.

In the Monty Python film Life of Brian, Brian is standing at the edge of the crowd listening to Jesus proclaiming the Beatitudes. Brian and his companions are too far away to hear properly, so when Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, what they hear is:

‘Blessed are the cheesemakers.’

One of them is confused, and asks,

Aha, what’s so special about the cheesemakers?

Another in the group is obviously very knowledgeable, and adds:

Well, obviously it’s not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.

This bloke thinks he understands, but he doesn’t get it. I think he must have written some of the bible commentaries that I have read.

So who may understand the Beatitudes? Who ‘gets’ what they mean? And who then can ‘get’ what the Sermon on the Mount is about? It’s the meek, the pure in heart and those who seek for justice for others. Oh, and the cheesemakers peacemakers. In this series on the Beatitudes, we’re trying to hear their voices and read the Sermon on the Mount in partnership with them.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under church year, RCL, sermon

Fourth Sunday of Ordinary TIme (Year A, 30 January 2011)

Who gets it?

Readings
Micah 6.1-8
Matthew 5.1-12

Johnny’s mother looked out the window and noticed him ‘playing church’ with their cat. The cat was sitting quietly and he was preaching to it. She smiled and went about her work.

A while later she heard loud meowing and hissing and ran back to the open window to see Johnny baptising the cat in a tub of water.

She called out, ‘Johnny, stop that! The cat’s afraid of water!’

Johnny looked up at her and said, ‘He should have thought about that before he joined my church.’

Welcome S, and as you’ve already found out: the water’s fine!

In an age when fewer people seem to be part of a worshipping community Sunday by Sunday, the churches are tempted to emphasise how fine the water is. The message may be only about positive things: the peace and joy that is found in Christ, the healing of our souls that is possible—and we rightly emphasise those things. But sometimes we do it in a way that distorts the message of Jesus.

Douglas John Hall has said that the message the churches present

is a positiveness that is phony and ridiculous: a bright and happy message that has all the depth of a singing commercial.

We do have a positive message, of course. The peace and hope that our faith gives sustains us through the ups and downs of life.

And we shouldn’t lose confidence. I heard of a synod meeting in which people were bemoaning the state of the church. Someone was saying, ‘What have we got to offer anyway?’

An older minister stood and spoke. ‘What have we got to offer? What have we got to offer? Eternal bloody life, that’s what we’ve got to offer!’ Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under church year, RCL, sermon

Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year A, 19 December 2010)

It’s not easy being Joseph


Readings
Isaiah 7.10-16
Matthew 1.18-25

 

Sometimes, a young couple expecting their first child will say to me, ‘We’re not going to let having a baby change our lives.’ I just smile. Having a child is like a freight train colliding with your life. Nothing is the same ever again. And everyone finds that out sooner rather than later.

Mary and Joseph were no exception to this universal rule. Usually on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we look at how Mary the Mother of our Lord was affected by the coming birth of her first child. We look at Mary’s story two years out of three. But once every three years, we look at the announcement of the birth of Jesus from another perspective. Today, it’s Joseph’s turn.

In Matthew’s story of the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary were ‘betrothed’ to be married. We don’t ‘betroth’ children to each other any more; it meant that they were promised to each other. Joseph and Mary’s families had arranged that one day they would get married. When they were both old enough.

The decision had been made for them; a betrothal was serious stuff. Joseph and Mary were a genuine ‘item’—a celibate item, but an item nonetheless. Only a divorce could separate them. And a divorce could only mean a scandal.

So what could Joseph do when he finds out that Mary is pregnant?

One thing is clear about Joseph: he is ‘a righteous man’. In other words, a good man, an honest man. Desmond Tutu would say he has ubuntu. I wonder if Jesus may have been thinking a little of Joseph when he said to his disciples, ‘You are the salt of the earth’. He had to learn that kind of thing from someone.

Ignatius Loyola was the founder of the Jesuit order of the Catholic Church. He once said,

There are very few people who realise what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into his hands and let themselves be formed by his grace.

I see Joseph as ‘a righteous man’ who abandoned himself into God’s hands, just as Mary did when she said to the angel,

Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.

So as a man abandoning himself into God’s hands, what is Joseph to do about Mary? He may be a righteous man, but he’s not ‘hardline’ righteous. What do I mean by that?

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under church year, RCL, sermon, ubuntu