Saturday, 26 February 2011

Never trouble trouble...

Sunday Gospel - Matthew 6: 24-34

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.
  ‘That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it. Surely life means more than food, and the body more than clothing! Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are we not worth much more than they are? Can any of you, for all his worrying, add one single cubit to his span of life? And why worry about clothing? Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin; yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his regalia was robed like one of these. Now if that is how God clothes the grass in the field which is there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, will he not much more look after you, you men of little faith? So do not worry; do not say, “What are we to eat? What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?” It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’

All these weeks of Matthew have been a real challenge - verse after verse of Jesus telling us that things have to be different; life has to be different; we have to be different; that we may live in the world but we are not of the world.

This part of the Gospel seems to be the respite; the reward for all the that Jesus challenges us to do.

 this is a gift but it is not a comfort - hear what Jesus says again - 'do not worry - life is hard enough'. 

Look again, at the natural world - the lilies may grow; the birds of the air may sing and soar but their life is not easy - far from it - when I  look around at the grey bark of the trees that have stood this long winter; the snowdrops that reveal their pearly heads almost overnight and the birds foraging through the ashes of autumn leaves - tiny wrens bouncing through the frozen hedgerows whilst I cower in the warmth of my central heating - the blackbird that finds his voice to welcome a sun hiding behind layers of violet grey February clouds- I am amazed at where they get their stamina from. Having cared for injured birds and wild animals in the past - I often wonder how they persevere. But they do - because they know no other way.

The thought that 'it's not fair', 'it's too hard' or 'I can't' doesn't occur to them.
Where there is life there is - life.

How else should you acknowledge God's gift but to use it?  The life that you are given is not meant to be lived in despair and dissatisfaction; it is not meant to be worn away by ambition, avarice or anxiety. Jesus came so that we could live life to the full; finding purpose, joy and contentment through a life that feeds life in others and ourselves.

Why should we have aspirations to a life of luxury; why do we expect it to be easy? If Jesus is prepared to live as he does; struggle as he and his family does; suffer as he does - why should be be different for us? The example of our Servant King tell us all we need to know. We have people to meet; places to be; deeds to do. This is a place of work - this is not our home.


Saturday, 12 February 2011

Starting small

Gospel Matthew 5:17-37

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved. Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.
‘For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.

‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother “Fool” he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him “Renegade” he will answer for it in hell fire. So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.

‘You have learnt how it was said: You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should cause you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body go to hell.

‘It has also been said: Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a writ of dismissal. But I say this to you: everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of fornication, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

‘Again, you have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord. But I say this to you: do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God’s throne; or by the earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great king. Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black. All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.’

The word that is translated here as 'Law' – actually means something more like ‘instruction’. The Law that is the Ten Commandments, has required much consideration; much translation and much discernment by teachers and prophets over the years; wondering if God really did mean 'this' or 'that' when they were given over. All this  resulting in the development of over 600 rules and guidelines – 600 instructions - about how to follow the Ten.

Unfortunately, it seems that, as each Commandment is broken down into its multiple characteristics; the essence of what is being commanded becomes more and more vague.

The beauty of a vague Commandment is that it is so much easier to work your way around. And as the police would probably make the best burglars; so those that study the Law know best how to find their way around it. Something Matthew struggles with time and time again because the Law was not made to be ‘found a way around’- particularly when much of the way around involves influence or exclusion-  Jesus reminds us of this – driving away that persistent demon ‘But’.

Jesus understands that circumstances run away with us; that we didn’t mean this or that and yet; here we are;  the more choice we get the harder it gets to make a choice; the more twists and turns the easier to get lost.

Jesus challenges us to a simpler, less intellectual but more honest understanding – ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

We may happily say ‘no’ to a major sin like murder or grand theft; of course we would but, then again, we will very rarely be confronted with the circumstance or opportunity to carry them out. And those that do, usually don’t get there in one giant leap.

I remember getting very funny looks some time ago when I told someone that that the way to get well-behaved children was to treat them like animals! At the time I didn't have children but I had had a lot of animals. I had quickly learnt that whatever I didn't want my pets to do when they were big - I didn't let them do when they small. The various supernanny programmes seem to support this now - not so funny after all. 

It is a simplistic view for the complex creature that is a human being but it still works pretty well at the 'child' stage.

That is how we often find ourselves on the slippery slope' the child in us starts small -little things - avoidances, resentments, desires - that aren't particularly bad; quite tame really - but then we get used to them and up them a notch and then a notch more until it's surprising that - what we find acceptable - is simply not acceptable.

After that it is all about pride- the inability to admit that your thoughts; your deeds; your feelings are out of your control and so ask for help.  The pride that, not only won't allow you to apologise but will not accept apology from others. The pride that believes that it is never at fault whilst there is someone else to blame.

 Jesus chooses to reminds us that everything starts somewhere; even sin. His advice is don’t start small; don’t start at all but you if you do, when you do - give it back.