Christ Church + St Ninian’s
Deut 30: 15 – 30; Ps 119: 1- 8; 1 Cor 3: 1 – 9;
Mtt 5: 21 – 37
Sermon by Helen Evans
Several years ago there was a craze among Christians, particularly the younger ones, for wearing wristbands with the initials W.W.J.D. on them – What Would Jesus Do?
They spawned a whole range of other wristbands with different acronyms like F.R.O.G. – Fully Rely On God, or P.U.S.H. – Pray Until Something Happens.
One that I heard a while ago and has recently re-surfaced is C.O.F.F.E.E. – Christ Offers Forgiveness For Everyone Everywhere.
Acronyms are like mini acrostics. Children are sometimes asked to write acrostic poems where they are given a word – like ‘snow’ for example, and told to use each letter of the word to start a new line of a poem that describes it.
All of which leads me to our Bible trivia for today:
I’m sure you know that Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm and chapter in the Bible. It’s also an acrostic poem, it has 22 sections, each section begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet – and each verse in that section begins with that same letter. The reading we heard today features the first letter of the alphabet so in Hebrew each verse begins with that letter which corresponds to our ‘A’. In my Bible each section is headed with the name of the letter. In the days before the printed word this form of poetry was a useful aid to memory because of its repetitive nature.
Psalm 119 is an extended meditation on God’s Word and how it guides us in our daily lives to live the way God intends us to and to grow in our faith.
The refrain that we used for our Psalm today:
Happy are they who walk in the law of the Lord
picks up on the theme of the reading from Deuteronomy where we are offered a choice, if we love God, walk in his ways and obey his laws then we will be blessed. If we don’t do those things then the end result is death. God couldn’t make it much clearer really, he says:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Deut 30: 19
Jesus, however, moves us on from the simplistic do’s and don’ts of the OT. It all seems terribly extreme doesn’t it? Being consigned to the fires of hell for calling someone a fool, plucking out eyes and cutting off hands, Jesus is using quite a bit of hyperbole here, but it feels a long way from meek + mild Jesus and a loving God.
We all know that killing someone is wrong but Jesus isn’t just talking about the physical act, he is talking about the attitudes we hold. It’s a very modern trend to be offended and to demand our rights – actually I don’t think we have a human right to not be offended at all. It’s how we respond to the situation that’s important to Jesus. In his commentary on this passage Tom Wright says:
Every time you decide to let your anger smoulder on inside you, you are becoming a little less than fully human. You are deciding to belittle yourself.
Wright, Tom. Matthew for Everyone Part 1: Pt. 1 (New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 43-44). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
Being human is learning to control our emotions and how we respond to situations. Allowing the anger to smoulder means that it takes very little to spark it into a blaze, maybe that leads to verbal abuse or possibly physical action, it’s an escalating situation.
Jesus suggests that the proper attitude is reconciliation saying that, if his listeners were on their way to make a sacrifice in the Temple when they remembered a grievance they should:
first be reconciled to your brother or sister
Mtt 5 v 24
Our version of this is the friendly chaos we call sharing the Peace. Although we use it as a means of greeting our friends and wishing them God’s peace in much the same way as we might wish them Happy Christmas or Happy New Year, the deeper intention is to reconcile and bestow God’s peace on those with whom we disagree.
Similarly with the teaching on adultery, looking lustfully at a person of the opposite sex – or even the same sex these days – is something that in some way most of us have probably done at some point, but it’s what we do following that first look that is important. Do we put aside those thoughts and focus elsewhere or do we fan the flames, allow the thoughts to become actions?
Many people sort of slide past these verses because of the apparent over-the-top severity in them. I wonder though, using Paul’s analogy in the reading from Corinthians, is Jesus preparing the ground for moving from the milk of the OT commandments to the more solid food of how we carry out those commandments?
The Corinthians are behaving like squabbling children – “My teacher’s better than yours,”.
Paul points them back to God saying:
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 1Cor 3 v 6
Here’s a final acronym for you B.I.B.L.E – Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.
If we want to grow as Christians then we need to “walk in the law of the Lord” as our Psalm said. To know the law of the Lord it helps to read our Bibles regularly and think about what it says to us today. If you don’t already do that then Lent is a good time to start because there is a whole raft of books to help you.
When you came in you will have been given a sheet with some suggestions on, they are a small selection of the books currently on offer. Typically, for each day in Lent, they suggest a Bible passage, give a reflection and invite you to think about how you respond. Some are based around spiritual themes, some use poetry or art as a starting point, some use popular films and draw out spiritual themes from them.
Books can be ordered online from Christian book sellers or a local bookshop may order them for you.
Today’s readings were particularly clear – especially the Deuteronomy one but it’s not always easy to draw out meaning from Bible passages by yourself so using the books or looking at passages with others can be helpful.
I know that some people don’t like to read instructions, they like to make it up as they go along but I urge you to read your Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth because, as our Psalm says
Happy are they who observe his decrees
and seek him with all their hearts! Ps 119 v 2