Sermon Epiphany 6 February 12, 2017
Sirach 15:15-20 Psalm 119:1-8 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 Matthew 5:21-37
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
Choices; all today’s readings are about choices. Sirach talks about binary choice, either this or that, right or wrong, Good or Evil, Fire or Water, Death or Life. Sirach is very appropriate for our day when computer systems run on the difference between ‘yes’ and ‘no’, or ‘is’ and ‘is not’ which are represented by ones and zeros. If only life were that simple. Computers can make simple choices because they have no innate morality – their only ‘morality’ comes from the operating system or programme they were given by a human operator. The choices we generally face are not so easy as a machine’s. When we have many options to choose from what should guide us then ? The lesser or the least evil ? I guess that’s one way. But if there is no good alternative offered, it is up to us to create one. That’s commonly called, thinking outside the box, and that is a good thing to do, because there is always a better way.
One of the blessings of doing the right thing is a clear conscience and a happy life. And we have been walking around that over the last few weeks talking about God’s Laws, determining that following them brings joy and a clear conscience.
But what if we don’t choose the better way, the right way ? Listen to Jesus. First He says being angry about it is wrong. Our translation of the Bible doesn’t give the subtlety of the Greek original, in that it is anger ‘without a cause’ that He condemns. So if you are being a jerk you will be judged. We always have a choice about controlling our tempers but sometimes righteous anger works.
Jesus condemns being insulting too, we are all valued human beings, children of God, so we are all due respect. We all have a choice about being respectful to each other. And the cure in both cases is not to ask God for forgiveness for your unacceptable behaviour but to settle your differences with the other person. You cannot be good with God if you have enmity towards another or they towards you.
The next thing Jesus addresses is very difficult, because it deals with temptation – it’s lust. Temptation seems to come out of nowhere and just presents itself to us. Hopefully we’ve got the fortitude not to succumb to it but it occurs without provocation and Jesus holds us responsible for it, that’s because it comes from our Fallen Nature not our God-given Nature. It’s like an addiction. Cut off the Fallen Nature, pluck it out, no matter how painful or difficult because temptation can lead to consummation, and that means Game Over, you may end up as toast.
The next thing is very difficult too – divorce. In Biblical times Jewish husbands by law had great license in choosing to divorce their wives, any displeasure with her and she could be sent packing with nothing, on a moment’s notice, and the husbands took advantage of it liberally. Such a law was just reaffirmed in Egypt by Islamic leaders, which is just another reason why we do not want Sharia Law here, Christians respect women’s rights. You remember the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at Jacob’s Well and who had had five husbands (John 4:17-18) she was probably the victim of such a law, thrown from pillar to post at the whim of men. When you read her story again don’t look down on her, but instead sympathise with her. I can only imagine how hard her life must have been. Women were always dependent on one man or another, which is not healthy for either the man or the woman. So Jesus is condemning the way divorce was practiced yet still permitting divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1) under a particular circumstance that being adultery, which is the abuse of the notion of ‘one flesh’ (Genesis 2:24) so I am sure that Jesus would include physical and emotional abuse too as a reason for divorce. Once you have lost trust, you have nothing to build on, the marriage is dead, although there should always be room for repentance and forgiveness.
All of this takes us back to an earlier theme – honesty. Doing what is right by following the Law. There is a saying “your word is as good as your bond”. It would be nice to think that that applied to all people. Just because it doesn’t, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t apply to you, or me, or any other Christian. It is an affront to have to put your hand on the Bible to swear that a statement is true, especially as most of the people who swear by it don’t believe in it anyway ! So Jesus is saying without all these ceremonial trappings, say what is true, say what you mean and mean what you say. Everyone you deal with should expect no less.
We started off talking about choices. Everything about our lives today more than ever involves choice. Choices are difficult but they become easier if we measure them up against a moral code. We can write our own but that takes time and a great deal of thought, and life experience, you would make many mistakes in life before coming to the right choices and finding the exact key to a moral life would take more than one lifetime. You remember in ancient times hermits used to go off into the desert and live in isolation so they could contemplate Life. They contemplated Life but never really got to live it, for it is not right that we should be alone (Genesis 2:18). We are called to be in relationship with God and with each other, so instead of going off and writing our own Moral Code, we can download one already prepared by the Holy Spirit – it’s called the Bible. Like any Code it needs interpreting, and this is where honesty comes in. If we can address each choice with the mindset that one day we will be called to account for our actions then we will make the best choices available. We won’t have to offer excuses, or beg for forgiveness, we will be standing on solid ground having been righteous. If I had been governed all my life by the Good Book, I would have made a lot of better choices, what about you ? It’s never too late to start making the right choices though – and you can make them best with God’s guidance. That is the Good News for today. Amen.