Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Sermon June 19, 2016 Fourth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel certainly puts it on the line.  Jesus tells us in no uncertain term what we are required to do if we are going to be his disciples and follow him.  Now you might say, “I never signed up to be one of his disciples; I only want to be a Christian.”  Well, unfortunately or rather fortunately for us, it is the same thing.    If Jesus is the one who we claim as our saviour and redeemer; the one who died for our sins, then were are called to follow him and follow him teachings.  That is what a Christian promises to do.

So let’s look at what he is calling us to do and be.  It is quite a list that he lays out: be merciful to others, do not judge others, do not condemn others, forgive others, give to others.  There is more of course but let’s leave it at that—at least for this Sunday.
Jesus is asking a lot of us.  However, perhaps these things are within the realm of possibility.  Let’s look at them more closely as see what is really required. 

Be merciful.  Well that’s not too hard.  I think I can certainly show mercy to others.  I’m a good guy and I like to think that I show mercy when it is necessary.  In fact I give quite a bit of money to charity; I tithe-giving a tenth of my income—more or less.  Isn’t that showing mercy?     Well I’m afraid that doesn’t quite do it.  Do I really show mercy to someone who had wronged me?  If I have the chance to seek revenge—I hope not in really serious ways—do I do it?  A little righteous anger and just deserts is actually good for someone isn’t it.  After all it teaches them a lesson doesn’t it.  Well it may do that but it’s not mercy.

Do not judge others.  Well, that’s some order.  How can I encounter someone and not judge them?  After all, some people act in ways that I don’t approve of.  Realistically there are some people who act in bad ways, in despicable ways like that politician in the United Sates.  Does Jesus really expect me not to judge them?  So what if it say elsewhere ‘judge not lest you be judged’ it is inevitable that we will judge people—isn’t it?

Do not condemn others.  Well to be truthful there are lots of people that deserve condemnation.  It follows from judging those people who don’t meet my standards regarding the way I believe people should live.  They get judged by me and then I, at least figuratively condemn them to the outer darkness of people who are not worthy of my mercy or love.
Forgiveness; well that’s one I have a pretty good handle on.  I forgive people quite easily.  After all I want people to think well of me and probably wouldn’t if I carried a grudge.  But actually if I am honest I can say that I forgive someone but the things they have done to me still annoy and bug me and even make me angry a long time later.  I guess if I have that reaction I haven’t really forgiven them.

Give to others; well as I said already I do really well on that one anyway.  I give generously to charity—I tithe as we are told we should to be a good Christian.  Well, I must admit I give to selected ones.  I give to the deserving charities that help deserving people.  If I am asked on the street for a handout I immediately assess the person.  Is she really in need?    Is he trying to rip me off? Will he just go and spend the money I give him on cheap wine?  I really wish Jesus had said give to those who deserve it.  But he didn’t.

So Jesus does seem to be telling us to do things that are really hard.  It does put us in a bad position if we want to follow him doesn’t it?  Surely this passage must be taken out of context or perhaps it is a mistranslation or perhaps Jesus didn’t mean it the way we understand it.  After all he did say “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”.  Anyway, he didn’t always practice what he is preaching here.  He did throw the money changers out of the temple.  He certainly judged the scribes and the Pharisees and others who were deserved to be judged.  So what can we make of this?
Perhaps he was saying that these are things we should strive to do and how we should attempt to be, knowing that we will not always or even often succeed?  But then he says a bit later, “everyone that is perfect shall be as his master.”  How can Jesus expect us do all these things that he commands and do them perfectly.  Perfection is certainly something that I know I will achieve.  I have tried to be realistic and to acknowledge to myself that I can never be.  Indeed, I don’t believe that Jesus intends us to be perfect—at least the way we understand it.   

There is a different way of looking at perfection than how we usually look at it.  We believe that to be perfect is to be without a flaw and to never make a mistake.  Augustine the great church father and saint stated, that not only that man is properly termed perfect and without blemish who is already perfect, but also he who strives unreservedly after perfection.  So we can be on the road to perfection.  We can be making an effort to be perfect.  This is helpful in others time that Jesus tells us this such as in Matthew chapter 5: 48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” 
That may help but I know that I will never be perfect.  I also believe that it can be harmful for people to strive for perfection. It will often not allow them to acknowledge how they are and that we are all sinner who have been redeemed by Jesus.  If you try to be perfect you are going to fail but you will have even more trouble acknowledging those aspects of yourself that don’t live up to the standard of perfection.  

I noted that the word perfection may have a different meaning than we normally understand.  Another way of understanding the original meaning of what Jesus means by perfection is all-embracing.  This is used in a translation of Aramaic which was the native language of Jesus.    So the translation of Matthew would be “Be all-embracing, as your heavenly Father is all-embracing.” 
This understanding certainly puts Jesus’s commands into a different light.  If we are to embrace God’s world and the people in it with mercy, forgiveness and charity that is something which I can strive for.  It is something which I doubt I will completely succeed in doing.  But I can strive to do it and when I do not succeed I can repent and try again.  We have the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ, thank God. 

I believe Jesus gives us the key to this approach in our passage.  He asks us, “And why beholdest thou the mote in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that in in thine own eye”? 

Let us look at those things in ourselves that are separating us from the love of God through Jesus Christ.  We are not going to be perfect but we can work at being all-embracing.  Thanks be to God . 

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