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12th February 2017 - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for Proper 2 - Morning Service

Deuteronomy 30. 15 -20
Matthew 5. 21-37

Well, bless my soul.... here we are again
And being given choices this morning! Choose to do good, or do bad. Choose life, or death Choose God - or false gods
Choose to follow Jesus - or ?

The passage set for today covers murder, adultery, divorce and swearing, and it makes every one of us liable to extreme judgement, apparently. Jesus condemns not just the acts themselves but also the attitude that makes the acts possible. Anger leads to murder and lust leads to adultery, and Jesus seems to be suggesting that anger and lust are as guilty, as the offences they lead to. He advocates the extreme measure of cutting out any part of the body that leads to temptation. All in all, this passage sounds like a fanatical rant, and it has been roundly ignored by almost all Christians ever since. Hasn't it?

Have you ever heard it suggested that anger is a sin that should debar people from ordination, for example? (I am awfully glad that wasn't one of the questions I faced at my selection conference.... In fact, come to think of it, they were rather keen that I should have experienced anger in some ways - and learned how to channel it for good!)

Yet in this passage, Jesus says that to be angry with a fellow Christian makes us liable for judgement.

I can still remember starting my senior school at the age of 11 and - being confronted with a formal "RE" lesson - religious education.... in which we were expected to learn by heart the words of the General Confession - BCP variety.

Well at the time I was attending a Methodist church if any on a Sunday - so it all seemed rather peculiar - little did I know that it would come in so handy about thirty years later plus!

But there was one phrase that particularly stuck in my memory -
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us....

It is pretty uncompromising stuff - reminding us that while God may be a God of love and of grace, that does not mean we can do whatever we like... This morning's Gospel decisively contradicts anyone who would like to see Jesus as a kind of well-meaning hippy, preaching an 'all you need is love' kind of gospel. It is terribly easy to assume that Jesus was into kindness and forgiveness and not judging anyone and letting everyone make their own path, and it was only later that the nasty old Church tried to introduce a whole set of rules and regulations. But, in that case, whatever is going on here in Matthew? In every single case, Jesus takes the prohibitions of the law and makes them even harder to obey.

All the Gospels are agreed that there were conflicts between Jesus and the Jewish authorities over the interpretation of the day-to-day regulations of the law. On food laws and sabbath laws, Jesus seems to have been rather lax, but on divorce and remarriage he seems to have been harsher than many of his rabbinic contemporaries.

In fact I think we can see what he is trying to get at here. Jesus is easy-going on anything that governs the relations between a human being and an institution.... but he is absolute mustard when it comes to those laws that affect relationships between people.

In other words we have to keep in mind at all times the consequences not only of our actions, but of our words and thoughts too. And that is much harder.

So I am quite ready to put my hand up and confess that frequently I not only fail to do the things I should do; but I also do those things that I know are not helpful or kind to other people... even when I know full well that relationships will be damaged as a result

Because I am human; and human beings, although made in the image of God; lack his infinite patience. So frustration and anger and all sorts of other emotions tempt me into being less than the person I know God wants and needs me to be.
I wonder how many of you can recognise the same for yourselves?

But I want to choose the right path; I want to choose life over death.
And I must make the choice aware that my words can bless
And I must make the choice aware that my words can curse
And I must make the choice aware that all of my words and acts, by the will of God, will affect our lives, for better or worse.

And when I choose - whatever I choose, God will be waiting, nailed to a cross, taking all the power of every curse, and rising as our Christ who will cut us free from every curse that would stop us from blessing and being blessed in our turn. Putting the health that is lacking, back in us...

So bless my soul! And bless the Lord, my soul. Amen.