Sunday, April 06, 2014

Sunday Podcast

Giving Life

This draws to an end a series that we have been preaching about giving: our time, talent and money.  We’ve thought about how our giving needs to be done in thankfulness, in gratitude to God for all that He gives us.  We’ve thought about how our giving may develop over time as our understanding of need grows as does our likeness and love of Christ.  We’ve remembered that what we give offers life - it offers us as church an opportunity, not just to pay the bills but to allow us to follow God and participate fully in what He is doing amongst us.  We have remembered the importance of giving proportionately from our disposable income whether 5% directly to our local church and 5% elsewhere charitably or 10% to the local church, either way we have remembered the importance of giving generously back to God through His church.

This Passion Sunday we get a foretaste of the Easter story, as we hear of the raising to life of Jesus’ friend Lazarus.

Jesus does not accept Lazarus’ death is the final word. We could have an interesting discussion about why Jesus seems to willingly allow Lazarus’ death and how we might feel about that, but it’s clear from what we hear this morning, that He, and Martha and Mary, know that resurrection is on the cards and death is not the end.

The thing is, it seems that both Martha and Mary, whilst both seeming to accept that Jesus is the Messiah, are bound in the understanding that resurrection is something that will happen at some point in God’s future. Jesus seeks to set them, and us free.

Jesus offers Resurrection and life.  Resurrection is not bringing back to life what was dead - that resuscitation and leads to death again. Neither is it about re-creation - having another go like a potter fashioning a pot on the wheel.  Resurrection is about something totally new - and as we look ahead to Easter, the fact that the Risen Jesus is not recognised by His closest friends and is not bound by norms and expectations points to that, but it is something for later.

The fact that Jesus also offers life though is surely something for now.  The life that Jesus offers is surely one therefore orientated by the love of God and His priorities.  As we grow in faith and trust of Jesus, His priorities become our priorities.

One of the things I am sure many of us do is, when the monthly bank statement arrives is open it, and then go back through it, just to make sure that there is nothing untoward on it.  But go back and have another look at yours.  Nothing, I believe, shows in black and white, what our priorities in life actually are. It clearly records where and on what our disposable income goes, and therefore (essentials like heating, lighting, insurance, food and clothing aside) where our priorities as people lie.  As Christian people, our first priority in life for all of our life needs to be God - and if what we spend our disposable income on is not reflected in those terms on that piece of paper, we perhaps need to ask ourselves some hard questions. As Jesus said - the greatest commandment, the values that should be at our heart, that should run through us like a stick of rock, are that we should love God with all that we are first and for most, and our neighbours as ourselves.

This morning’s Gospel contains one of my favourite pieces of scripture and one of, if not the shortest verses - Jesus began to weep. He was so fond of Lazarus; so moved by what he found at the tomb; so distressed by the prospect of his death, that He is moved to tears.  We talk often of how much we are loved by Christ still, and for me, this ably demonstrates that enormous compassion and love.

Our Churches are called to be places full of love and life and there are many ways in which that can be measured - numbers, age profile, activity outside of Sunday worship, opportunities learn about faith and to live it out and so on.  I often wonder though, what does a dead or dying Church look like?  What causes Jesus to weep at the loss of those whom He passionately loves?  I believe how we give our time, our talent and our money can show our spiritual pulse rate and whether we have flat-lined or not.

Jesus calls Lazarus to resurrection and life and His dead friend comes out of the tomb, but it is Lazarus’ friends, the wider community, that unbind him and let him go.  Jesus still calls His world to resurrection and life, but as the wider community of faith, we are called by Jesus to unbind others, and set them free. In other words, the church plays a key part in enabling the resurrection to happen.  How much time we give to the Church outside of worship in community initiatives and activities, how we see our talent used to that end, and how much we give financially are all key to us playing a crucial part of making what Jesus wills for all people a reality in our own local communities.

Winston Churchill once said ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’  Death grieves the heart of God and Jesus weeps. We are called to play a part in making the resurrection and life that Jesus calls us all to, a reality by what say, by what we do, by what we give of ourselves.

Over Lent we have heard again hat we give is important to God.  Any response that we make is an inadequate response but we need to respond.  We need to give thanks for all that God has done, and since God’s giving is renewed each day, so should our thanksgiving.

We are encouraged to give regularly, and generously, with money, of our time, with love and with compassion as we engage in mission and are caught up in ministry and seek to enable others to the Resurrection and life that Jesus calls and wills still.

We need to give of ourselves. Our giving cannot just be a cold, financial transaction, but as God’s giving intrinsically involves the giving of himself, so must we.


Isaac Watts puts it so beautifully and powerfully:  ’Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.’

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunday Podcast

Generosity Brings Life

In March 2012, an executive director of an investment bank resigned, saying that ‘… after nearly 12 years at the firm, the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it. His resignation letter went on..

‘… It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off.  Over the past 12 months I have seen 5 different managing directors  refer to their own clients as muppets… I hope that this can be a wake up call to the board of directors [to] weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm…’



Money can have terrible power to corrupt. Even if we have little of it, we easily fall for the devil’s lie that a little more will sort out our life.  If money is the measure of all things then it slips into the driving seat of our life and soon starts to break the speed limit. As Christians, the measure of all things must be the love of God.  Money is morally neutral - neither good nor bad - but Jesus has quite a lot to say about it recognising the powerful hold it can have over us and how the accumulation of it can displace God at the heart of our being. But if we get the relationship between faith and money right - it can be transformative and life giving.

Jesus did talk a lot about money - 11 of 39 parables talks about money.  1 in 7 seven verses in Luke’s Gospel talk about money.  The word for money (used by Jesus or in connection with Him is used 25 times in the Gospels.  Whilst Jesus seems to talk about money more than any other single issue, He never does so in positive terms - money should not be stored up, rather it and possessions should be given away. He teaches we should not be preoccupied with wealth, constantly trying to acquire it, but that instead we should rely on God’s provision for us.

Jesus talks about and demonstrates often the outlandish, extravagant generosity of God more generally.  This morning’s Gospel is one of many great examples of that.

According to the norms of His day, Jesus shouldn’t have been sat near, talking to or receiving anything from this Samaritan woman. Such was the enmity and hatred one group for the other. Yet Jesus’ loving encounter with this woman, which began with asking for something simple, ended in an offer of the extravagant love of God which transformed not only this woman but her whole community.



Friends, generous giving and living like that brings life - not just to those who immediately receive. Just as when you throw a stone in a pool, the ripples spread to the edge, so it is with the love of God.

But it goes deeper still than that. Cast your mind back to the beginnings of Scripture.  In Genesis 2, God makes everything but there is no-one to tend and care for all that is. So God makes a man from the stuff of creation - from the soil, and God breaths into his nostrils the breath of life and he lives.

Just as God’s giving breathes life into his creation, so our giving enables fresh life elsewhere.  In the same way that God’s giving expresses His love for us, so our giving allows us to express love and compassion in turn.

Our giving to the church does two things - it pays the bills (heating lighting, insurance, human resources and so on and it must), but it also allows us to respond to God’s invitation to participate in His work in the world, His mission, and in doing so, lets us be caught up with Him in his giving of new life - God works through us, both as individuals and as churches.

A letter was pushed through the vicarage door : ‘Dear Vicar, I'm sorry I can't put more money on the plate, but my dad hasn’t increased my pocket money for ages. Could you please preach a sermon about that? Love, Claire. Age 10’

We are called to give generously of what we have - not of what we might have - in response to what we have received from God.

And so we are called to give regularly, and to give generously.  Proportionate giving enables us to assess our generosity - it is a ‘yardstick’ or measure, rather than law. As Anne reminded some of us last week - the Church of England suggests that we should give 5% of our disposable income, and as I said - Scripture calls us to tithe - to give a tenth of what we have.  Either way, if our yardstick shows that our giving is just one or two per cent of our income, it is difficult to believe we are being truly generous.  St Paul understood this, and he encouraged the Corinthian Christians, in his second letter, to understand it too: 

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work…. He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God

Our giving brings blessing and life to others, you only have to have watched a few minutes of Sport Relief on Friday night to totally understand that - the transformative power of our giving in the lives of those receiving - we are challenged to give in response to God’s generosity to us, rather than in expectation of what we might receive in return.

Friends, these things seem tough to preach and still tougher to hear, but if we get the balance of what we give wrong, then we are not listening to what Jesus says again and again and again about the money we have. It’s not even just about giving to support overseas work - it is about seeing the hand of God at work wherever - internationally, nationally or even locally - right here - and generously joining in for the flourishing and life of people and God’s church.


But it’s also about praying for a change of mind and a change of heart in us - giving is not about paying our dues, or about fund raising - as both of those imply money given to join a club or financially supporting the stays quo. Rather our giving needs to in response to the love of God so that we can share that love in turn. As Mother Theresa said:  “Let us more and more insist on raising funds of love, of kindness, of understanding, of peace.”

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunday Podcast


A Journey Into Generosity


John Wesley, as in the brother of Charles Wesley the hymn writer and together the founders of what we today know as the Methodist church, grew up in poverty. Their father was a minister in the Church of England, serving in a poor parish, and they regularly struggled to make ends meet.

When John followed his father into the ministry, he found himself surprised not to be serving in a poor parish like his father, but instead teaching at Oxford university and he was eventually elected as fellow of Lincoln college. There he earned the princely sum of £30 a year - more than enough for a single person to live off and he enjoyed relative prosperity.

While at Oxford, an incident changed his perspective on money. He had just finished paying for some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a cold winter day, and he noticed that she had nothing to protect her except a thin linen gown. He reached into his pocket to give her some money to buy a coat but found he had too little left. 

Perhaps as a result of this incident, Wesley began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to give to the poor. He records that one year his income was 30 pounds and his living expenses 28 pounds, so he had 2 pounds to give away. The next year his income doubled, but he still managed to live on 28 pounds, so he had 32 pounds to give to the poor. In the third year, his income jumped to 90 pounds.
Instead of letting his expenses rise with his income, he kept them to 28 pounds and gave away 62 pounds. In the fourth year, he received 120 pounds. As before, his expenses were 28 pounds, so his giving rose to 92 pounds.

Wesley felt that the Christian should not merely tithe but give away all extra income once the family and creditors were taken care of. He believed that with increasing income, what should rise is not the Christian’s standard of living but the standard of giving.

Wesley’s generous giving was a direct response to his growing faith in the God who loves the world so much that He sends His Son to us so we can receive that love in ways we understand. As the great Billy Graham once said - ‘…Being a Christian ( is more than just an instantaneous conversion - it ) is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ…’

This sense of wanting to know more, so as to make an informed decision about Jesus’ ministry, was exactly why Nicodemus came to see Jesus in the first place. Nicodemus had heard much about Him and he recognised God was at work in and through Him, but he wanted to know more for himself. It is something that many of us do over our lives as assess and reassess our priorities, and it’s a journey of discovery that Isabella begins today by virtue of her baptism… Her faith and trust in God will grow through the support and prayer of all of us, but especially her parents and Godparents, but also an experience of the love of God through each of us too.

God sending His Son to the world in love demands a response of love from each of us. That response cannot and must not be so heavenly minded to be of no earthly use as someone once said…

A man bought his wife a beautiful diamond ring for Christmas.  After hearing about this extravagant gift, a friend of his said, "I thought she wanted one of those plush four-wheel-drive vehicles."  "She did," he replied. "But where was I going to find a fake Range Rover?”

Our response to God’s love must be genuine and heartfelt - we cannot fake it.  God know’s where we are on that journey and our growth in love and trust of Him develops over time - transforming us as we go.  Let me give you a personal example of what I mean from one aspect of my own life.

When I went to church first as a child - I was given a single coin as ‘collection’ to put in the plate.  For many years that was the right thing to do. Like paying my Cubs subs each week.  Many of us get stuck here though.

In my late teens - allowance - £50 - gave £5 a month to the church. This was what I was encouraged to do but it was not my choice but I recognised it was good to do.

Many years as a student and then youth worker I didn’t get that balance right.

Now, we have a yardstick.  I have no problem telling you what we do. My stipend equates to around £1200 a month, so we give just short 10% of that back to God through His church, meaning we give £100 per month. That’s not all we give, because we are members of the National Trust and the Open Air Museum for example, so we give charitably monthly to them too.  For us, our giving is not exclusively done in the church, as I am sure yours isn’t, but God gets first call on our money in thankfulness for all that we receive from Him.

Jesus says to Nicodemus that he must be born again.  It’s a phrase which has had a bad reputation; it’s come to signify perhaps a certain type of Christian, a faith journey with a dramatic conversion moment, a particular sort of theology.

But new birth in Christ is just what happens when we commit to following, commit to changing our direction, to being guided by God and not our selves, committing to our journey continuing on His paths.

New birth is what is happening for Isabella as she is baptised and is on offer to each of us afresh today.  As food sustains the body and helps us grow, so does the love of God. Looking at a photo of a child aged 2 and then 20, you can see the same identity and likeness but they have matured, so it is with God’s love for us - it sustains and matures us - but helps us to grow into His likeness over the years.

God’s love for us is so great that God would have sent His Son if we were the only person left on earth.  Jesus said - God loved the world, loved Claire, Andy, Isabella, Euan, so much that he sent His Son so that we may have eternal life, transformed life, generous life in the now. As that love transforms all of our life, we willingly respond in love in turn. What we give in terms of how we use our time, how we use the talents and skills we have as well as how we use our our money is a measure of our love for God. 

Antiques roadshow illustration & hallmarks - shows authenticity, who lovingly crafted. It validates that what the vase looks like is authentic and can be identified and valued.


How we give is not about extravagance and show, but about how we live and love.  It must be heartfelt and generous visibly showing love of God at work in our lives.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Sunday Podcast


The audio of what I preached this morning, but I have to confess that the words are not entirely mine!

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Labels

Labels on our foods have become very complex. On any given label, you not only have the product name, but the company that made it, along with the a list of ingredients. On top of that you now can get complete information on how many calories there are in each serving, and the amount of fat, and sugar, and on and on it goes. The idea is that as consumers we will spend time assessing this information and use to make informed choices about our own health and well being based on it.  But many of us don’t.  We eat what we want and, in our 24 hour culture, when we want it too, and if we buy too much of it we just throw it away. 

We objectify food.  We don’t think about the range and type we need each meal and each day, we don’t think about where that food has come from and who has produced it.  We just consume it and we do the same with people.

We pass judgement on them based on their height, weight, skin colour, hair style, gender, sexuality and so on and we treat them as disdainful objects if they are not like us.
We objectify our food.  Worse still we objectify people. We use and discard both without a thought, other than when we are satisfied.

Jesus is back in Jerusalem.  He has already been causing a stir. In the previous chapter of John’s Gospel.  Many are displaying an uncertainty as to who He is - is He God’s Messiah - even by his own family members are not exempt from this speculation, let alone the crowd, but at this stage Jesus wants his teaching and miracles to speak for themselves, as the great work of His coming Passion is yet to come.  Yet He has already challenged the Scribes and Pharisees’ authority sufficiently for them to consider sending troops to arrest Him.

So instead of staying out of their way for a bit, Jesus brings the discussion about His identity to them.  He begins teaching at the beating heart of Judaism’s life and worship, the Temple.  The religious authorities seize their chance.

They bring to Jesus an adulteress.  Standing her in front of Him, they were expect Jesus to act as one of them and pass judgement on her according to the Law.  According to the Law the appropriate punishment would have been death, but for Jesus to pronounce this sentence would have been to infringe the prerogative of the Roman Governor, as the Jews did not have the right at the time to execute capital punishment - and in not passing sentence on her Jesus would have been seen to be setting Himself us against Moses himself.  Jesus would incur the wrath of the Jews or the Romans whatever He did. A clever trap indeed.


I have often wondered what is is that Jesus wrote on the ground, especially as no one else in the assembled crowd makes reference to it.  Did He do as the Romans did, and write His judgement down over this woman before pronouncing it? Did he quote scripture?  All sorts of suggestions have been made as to potentially what: Exodus 23:1b - ‘You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness’ and Exodus 23:7a - ‘Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or those in the right, for I will not acquit the guilty.’  Another noble tradition says that He wrote the words of the Shema (words bound to the mind and heart and life of a faithful Jew) - ‘Love God with all that you are and love your neighbour as you love yourself.  We’ll never know what Jesus wrote, but this strange act seems key to this woman’s freedom.

All too often we have all sorts of feelings about ‘the other’, another who is not like us and of whom we are ultimately afraid. We objectify them and pass judgement on them from that place of fear.  What was it about the adulteress that frightened and unsettled these religious men? There must have been countless others on that day who broke the Law, why her? It was Jesus they were frightened of, as he so often did, as He saw right into the motives of their hearts. This encounter is about adultery, but not by the adultery of this woman.  It is about the adultery of the Pharisees. It is an adultery we are all guilty of which sees us wedded to one set of moral beliefs whilst using, often bending them, to satisfy our own preferences and prejudices.

Jesus’ ‘Go your way and sin no more’ sits easy with us when said to those whose lives and lifestyle choices are other to us and which make us a little afraid. Out of context Jesus sides with us, and calls ‘them’ to live life our way, the right way.

But we all too easily forget that those oft quoted words are preceded by Jesus’ ’Let anyone among you without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Jesus does pass judgement as the Pharisees ask but not on the woman, but on the motives of her accusers and on the jeering crowd. None of us can throw a stone, not at her at least.

This is a Gospel of grace.  We are to go and sin no more, knowing that we are not condemned by Christ for who and what we are, for we are reminded by Christ in this holy season of Lent and beyond that we stand as one in the company of the sinful, unable to judge because of our own sinfulness


Lent, is a gift and a time to become aware of who we really are and how we act and react, of who and how we judge, and who ultimately judges us. It is not a season of inward looking self-condemnation, but a pilgrimage of self-discovery where by the grace and life of the Holy Spirit at work in us we sinners are enabled to love God, and in so doing, to love our neighbour, the stranger, the one who is other to us, who maybe frightens us, as we love ourselves.

~~~

And here's the audio!


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Podcast - Abundant Life

Abundant Life


There are there some very real phobias that some suffer from, that to some others seem irrational. For example:

Peladophobia: fear of baldness and bald people.
Aerophobia: fear of drafts.
Porphyrophobia: fear of the colour purple.
Chaetophobia: fear of hairy people.
Auroraphobia: fear of the northern lights.
Calyprophobia: fear of obscure meanings.
Thalassophobia: fear of being seated.
Odontophobia: fear of teeth.
Graphophobia: fear of writing in public.
Phobophobia: fear of being afraid.

Fear and things we worry about don’t have to be irrational - they can be very real. Standing up and being counted, confronting our fears and worries takes guts.  

During his years as premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev denounced many of the policies and atrocities of his predecessor, Joseph Stalin. Once, as he reproached Stalin in a public meeting, Khrushchev was interrupted by a shout from a heckler in the audience. "You were one of Stalin’s colleagues. Why didn’t you stop him?”

"Who said that?" roared Khrushchev. An agonizing silence followed as nobody in the room dared move a muscle. Then Khrushchev replied quietly, "Now you know why.”

We all live with fears. Our waking and sleeping hours are interrupted with worries. For some it will be work related - have I done this, what needs to be achieved, the people, the climate and culture.  But for others it will be far more practical - about food and shelter.

27 of the 43 bishops of the Church of England (including our own) drew us into sharp focus of this worry for many thousands in our own nation this week. In a letter published in the Daily Mirror, in which they remind the Government that since last Easter, half a million people have visited and used a food bank and some 5,500 people were admitted to hospital suffering from malnutrition.  There are people in our own neighbourhoods are not worrying about the rat-race, but what to and how to eat.  These figures and this situation is a scandal - a political and social scandal…

But then Jesus wanders into our consciousness, calling, no, commanding us not to worry and reminding us that this is a spiritual scandal too.

The section of Matthew’s Gospel that we hear as our Gospel reading this morning is preceded by a verse about the power of money - it provides a means to provide for our everyday needs.  But we mustn’t fall foul to the belief that having a Wayne Rooney sized pile of money will be the answer to all life’s problems. Even with that excessive amount - money is fickle and finite.  Once we decide money grants security, then we are ushered immediately into a world of counting, tracking, and stock piling. No wonder we worry - in a world of scarcity, there is simply never enough.

The alternative vision that Jesus offers is to enter into a relationship with God.  It’s not that He doesn’t get the daily struggle of 1st and 21st century living for some - today has enough worries and troubles of it’s own - but in the same way that God provides food for the birds and beauty for the lilies - Jesus infers that the provision of food and clothing are a spiritual matter.  But God is not bound by the finite presence of things, like money.  His love for us in infinite. Love operates in a  different economy that money and possessions.  When we had our Ben and Peter, I didn’t love Matthew any less. In fact my love grew! Love, and especially God’s love, cannot be counted or stockpiled.  When you enter it means that you enter a realm of abundance, the world of possibility, the world of contentment. Suddenly, in this world -- Jesus calls it the "kingdom of God" -- in that context, not worrying actually becomes an option.


It’s hard to believe in this world of abundance that Jesus proclaims, this world that invites us to trust God's faithfulness like a flower does spring or sail upon the currents of God's love like a bird does the air. This is why, in the end, Jesus dies - not to somehow pay for our sins (there we go tracking and counting again), but because those in power were so invested in the world of scarcity that God’s provision of love in abundance becomes down right frightening, even threatening. Scarcity creates fear, and fear creates devotion to those who will protect you. Love in abundance, on the other hand, produces freedom and life.

Friends, God doesn't operate from scarcity; God operates out of an abundance of love. God does not, in fact, keep track of what we do or don’t do, He doesn't look for payment, or hoard power with which to destroy the us; instead, God resurrects - the ultimate act of abundant love: creating something, once again, out of nothing, drawing light from darkness, giving life in us to what is so often dead.


This is the world that Jesus invites us into: a world of abundant love, generosity, and new life. But it is also a world of fragility, trust, and vulnerability. Lilies and birds, after all, can't defend themselves,  but they rely on God's providence and love. And so must we in all things and for all things.  But, if we enter into that relationship of love, we find our capacity for loving expanded to work together with Him to see that provision of abundant love and trust realised politically, spiritually and practically in the lives and homes, cupboards and wardrobes of others.  Beyond that, everything else will take care of itself.  Or, to summarize Jesus, God will deal with the rest.

Sunday Podcast

Here, finally, is last week's sermon based on Matthew 5...


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Anger

We all get angry. When I do it feels like it enters into me from outside - invading my soul - seeking an escape route from every pore and especially my mouth. I wish I could catch myself escalating to that uncontrolled eruption, just so I could try to get myself to look at what is going on from the outside because I am transformed from being me to being someone else that I do not like.

And afterwards, I'm left feeling dazed, exhausted and ashamed - shocked at the way I have reacted. And we all do it from time to time.  I am left needing to make up - with myself, the whoever I’ve got angry with, with the world at large and with God. I need to get myself back into kilter. To restore, to renew.

Anger changes us. We become different people. It dehumanises us from a world of liberal, ethical well-thoughtout reasoned choices, to the boiling hot treacle of gut-wrenching emotion - sticky, dangerous, fight or flight stuff.

When we react from that place something dies.  I don’t necessarily mean what some call righteous anger - borne out of a passion for what is just - I mean where we exercise power and control often accompanied by gun shot words.  In those instances an instinct to survive kills (even for only a few moments) our civility and humanity. Murder in the kitchen, in the bedroom, the car.

This morning we hear Jesus, speak some hard words to us. Getting angry is akin to murder; ‘sticks and stones my break my bones’ but insulting will result in the judgement of God; thinking ‘I’d like a bit of that’ is akin to adultery… and so on. And His suggested preventative measure - to pluck out eyes and to chop off limbs. Really? I mean REALLY??

In these shocking words, Jesus is not speaking about keeping or breaking the letter of the law, but He is reminding us about the centrality and importance of our relationships. But in so doing He also addressing our inward disposition over our outward actions with an ideal standard of the Kingdom of God that no-one meets.

Jesus wants us to be people of integrity, people who are faithful to our promises, people who have no need to swear that they are telling the truth because we are truth-tellers. We should be people who honour our commitments in marriage and who respect the commitments of others. The women in our midst are not people to be used and abandoned at will, but fellow disciples. They are among the ones who are now blessed by God’s reign. For the church to claim Jesus’ message of God’s kingdom come, it must strive to be the kind of place that reflects God’s reign in all places and in all relationships at every level.

Jesus reminds us that God isn’t simply a spiritual guide or the director of divine karma. Rather, our God cares about all our relationships -- cares deeply and passionately - that is, about how we treat each other because God loves each and all of us so much.

But we reduce our shared humanity when we label others as somehow ‘less than human’ because they are black or white or straight or gay or fat or ugly and in so doing we reduce our capacity to build relationships of love.

Before you condemn me as peddling some liberal agenda about all relationships being of equal value to God, I believe that they are because we are all made in the image of God - but to take it a bit further, in the this chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus casts and recasts what relationships in the kingdom should look like in the most surprising ways: where the meek inherit everything, where the poor receive the riches of the Kingdom, where those who demand of us should not be kept account of but when asked we should give and give and give again, and where our enemies and persecutors are loved and prayed for.  It’s a radical kingdom - not just full of people ‘like us.’

But in acknowledging the centrality of our relationships to God (chopping limbs and plucking eyes just magnifies that sense), I don’t hear Jesus doing away with the received Law either, rather He fulfils and broadens it:
It’s not enough just to refrain from murder. We should also treat each other with respect and that means not speaking hateful words.
It is not enough to avoid physically committing adultery. We should also not objectify other people by seeing them as a means to satisfy our physical desires by lusting after them.
It is not enough to follow the letter of the law regarding divorce. We should not treat people as disposable and should make sure that the most vulnerable -- in this culture that often meant women and children -- are provided for.
It is not enough to keep ourselves from swearing falsely or lying to others. We should speak and act truthfully in all of our dealings so that we don’t need to make oaths at all.

Jesus invites us this morning to look at all human relationships in a new way. For behind the prohibition lies a vision of a restored and renewed humanity in the coming kingdom.

Response

Call to mind one of the relationships in your life that is most important to you. One that is healthy and whole and good and sustains them regularly. Think about what makes that a good relationship, about why it’s so important. Give God thanks for that person and the relationship they share.

2. Call to mind another relationship that is important to you but that has suffered some damage. You don’t need to figure out who was to blame for the hurt, but rather hold that person and relationship in prayer. To offer that broken relationship to God as an offering and as an arena of God’s help and healing. Think about what action you can take to move that relationship to greater health. Pray that God would continue to use both God’s law and God’s gospel to heal and restore our relationships.