Sermon preached at Induction service of The Rev Fiona Bottcher on February 16

Matthew 5:21-37

Many of you would have heard a sermon on the gospel this morning but here at Sunshine we saved it up for this afternoon.  For the rest of you – sorry for the warmed up leftovers.

Fiona, it would be a pretty safe bet that given your choice of a gospel reading for your induction service you would not have selected that one from Matthew.

 Not particularly uplifting.

Angry with a brother or sister – liable to judgement

Insult sister or brother – liable to the council

Say, “You fool” – liable to the hell of fire.

This can’t be our ol’ buddy Jesus, warm and fuzzy.  Much loved of moderates and liberals and progressives. Why has he turned on us, just when we wanted to be his followers and join his team?

And a quiet aside to the blokes… whats that stuff about looking on a woman with lust?  Whats he on about?

Anyone in the clear? 

 Anyone my age may think, rightly, this is going to be a Jimmy Carter moment.  For those too young – Jimmy Carter, President of USA went on late night talk show and confessed to much derision among the cynical, hard nosed press of the States that he, “had committed adultery in his heart”.  Jimmy never had an actual Bill Clinton moment but he was and is a faithful, committed serious Christian and he took the words of Jesus today seriously.

So Guys, hands up if you have never, to quote Jesus in today’s gospel looked on a woman with lust.  

And females, I was going to ask you to take a good look at the fellas with their hands up cos they are the liars among us and to steered well away from.

But because the lectionary has thrown up this reading we have to deal with it.  Problems is too often our way of dealing with it it so say, Oh of course we do not take it literally … and…yeah? you do not take it literally and…. well we ignore it….

In fact we are right to not take this passage literally.   In fact we should should not.  I will tell you why should not 

Story of “frank”… Guy I knew from my time at Brunswick and met up with again in the long term mental health ward at Sunshine hospital.  frank was a young, earnest but tortured Christian. He heard oppressive demeaning mocking voices in his head.  Told him to please God, then sneered at him.  Taunted him if he was a real Christian…. prove it.  Yeah the bit about if your right hand leads you into sin chop it…So one day he did prove he was a real Christian and lay down on the railway track near where he lived in Ascot Vale with his wrist on the track.  Fortunately they got to him fairly quickly and were able to preserve the hand, sowed it back on and last time I saw him, a few years ago he had about 5% use of that hand.

Taken literally every bloke and I suspect the women are adulterers.  But what Jesus is getting at is not that if you see a very attractive person and have a sexual thought  you are a goner; but if you seek out, actively pursue for the purpose of objectivfing this person for your own gratification.  Jesus is not saying that if you ever have a flash of rage you are for all eternity a goner – indeed we all know some anger is worthy and even necessary in the face of injustice.  But the storing up in order to feed off it seething rage we cherish and hold onto rigidly…. that will condemn us.

 Well answer is, having decided we will not take them literally, it frees us; now we are ready to take them seriously. Jesus certainly sound like he wants us to take him and his words seriously. Some people talk of “moderates” as opposed to extremists – as if Jesus was a moderate.  Not the Jesus of today – he is an extremist.  An extremist of the Kingdom/Reign of God which means being a fanatic for love.  As if Jesus could ever be the beige vanilla stand for little but being nice option.  As if they nail people to wooden crosses simply for teaching about being nice to each other.

To back up a little.  We are still in the so called Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus  is gathering a crowd, has a following for his declaration, Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is drawing near”.  The crowd is surging, clamouring for more of this epoch breaking proclamation.  Matthew 5:1 Jesus saw the crowds and went up a hill, where he sat down.  His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them…. Followed by beatitudes and then this extended block of teaching for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see.  This is not the teaching for the crowds it seems.  This is not public access – it is for the disciples that gather around.  Those who will take up the cross and follow, those who will walk away from fishing boats and maybe even family. Scorching,  impossible, enraging, exhilarating, tormenting, life giving words.

And a lot of the heat Jesus is copping is over a dispute about how do you live righteously. That is how to live a law abiding life that is pleasing to God.

If we thought Jesus would cut us some slack on the law we need to think again. He seems to be doing just the opposite. Jesus does not reject the law. Far from it; he intensifies it. He does not change the law,  ups the ante and he interiorizes it. That means that life is lived from the inside out and that the quality of our relationships arises from and is determined more by what is going on within us than by what is going on around or outside us.

The problem with the righteousness of the Pharisees and others that Jesus Identifies is that it is a soft option in this discipleship business.  Too easily got around. 

In a narrow legalistic reading of religion you can be righteous, law abiding and self congratulatory simply because you did not kill anyone or have an affair today. You can be a seething cesspool of anger and bitterness but not actually shoot anyone to death and so be righteous.  You can spend all day fixated on a screen displaying lurid porn but not actually have an affair and so be righteous. Hmm, not exactly the sort of response Jesus reckons God is calling us to.  We are never going to crete the new world order with that sort of zealous but lame ethic.  We are never going to bring in the reign of God without changed people.  Changed, transformed from the heart, from the interior passions.  From our motivations and our wills and our minds.  Where grace and forgiveness and love rule supreme.

It was a sobering moment for me when I realised the truth of what Jesus is on about here.  You can be very religious and still not very good.

Or in other words, if you think that religious righteousness is only about avoiding breaking any biblical laws, then your guiding question will be “how bad can I be without breaking any laws?”, whereas Jesus wants you to stop worrying about the wording of the laws and make your guiding question, “how good and loving and just can I possibly be?”

New age, new community, bound in love to the Lord, to each other.  The new ethics of the band of rag tag non-descripts who would shake the foundations and upend the greatest empire the world had seen.

Open Access programs are identified as services “characterised by an “open-door policy where each person is welcomed to access the available services without assessment of need, without obligation to contribute information about themselves or their situation, and generally, without an appointment. Services offered may include meals, showers, clothing, practical advice and support, medical and mental health support, information and advice, all provided in a safe and supportive environment that facilitates connection and support.”   Yarra Yarra – Welcoming Communities Report p. 36.

These sorts of communities while welcoming all are unashamedly faith based and have an awareness that they exist in response to the Good News of the gospel.  While not requiring any religious affiliation people who participate would have an awareness that this the community they belong to is an activity of the church of Jesus Christ and his church.

Fiona your call to be working with people often marginalised, often damaged (aren’t we all), often wracked by feelings of low self esteem or even stronger, self loathing.  People who may never have experienced the healing power of unconditional love and acceptance. Your calling is be in that space as yourself – not with all the answers, not holding up a model of perfection but simply as one who was found and received that life transforming love of God.

Community of hope and reconciliation

Not just words to Fiona but Words any one working with others, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist…. Secular..

“they don’t care what you know until they know that you care”

Martin Luther, 16th century
“This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”