Scripture for this Sunday:
Sirach 15.15-20; Psalm 119.1-8; 1 Corinthians 3.1-9; Matthew 5.21-37
Apparently, late US President Harry Truman, in frustration at equivocating economists, said: “Give me a one-handed economist. All my economists say, ‘On the one hand … on the other.’” He must have found some warmth in Jesus’ words about being direct and unequivocal, even if the one-handed aspect might have suggested less than honest practice!
The other side of this is that one of the strengths of Anglicanism has been its ability – from its traditional and historical roots – to be inclusive of diverse points of view, a church that finds common ground and lives together united in purpose without necessarily being uniform in belief.
In the last decade we seem to have over-reached Harry Truman’s desire and become a society that is increasingly polarised, whose hallmark is an inability or unwillingness to entertain, let alone understand, alternate, or different points of view. In fact, we seem to have unleashed an ugly, shady side of human nature that is fuelled by anger, hostility and prejudice. These lead inexorably to the stifling of life, to death of the Spirit of truth and grace within humanity. Is this really a healthy way to live together on this planet?
In the sermon on the mount, from which today’s gospel reading is taken, Jesus lays out healthy ways for people to live together. Jesus tells us what it means to be people who choose life for the world. For life to be lived to the fullness to which God invites us, we must recognise and admit those destructive forces that work both within us and externally. Jesus draws our attention away from the narrow focus on the external, obvious sins that stifle or destroy life, and forces us to look both broadly outwards, and disturbingly inwards, to those instincts and traits that work against God’s will for life and wholeness.
Key to much of this is the need for reconciliation and forgiveness. If we are busy holding grudges, we cut off opportunities for us to welcome God. Fortunately, through forgiveness, we are shown a new way, the way of life. But Jesus makes it clear that forgiveness is rather more than skin deep. In what must have seemed like a caricature to anyone listening to him, he prescribes a high threshold for communal worship and communion that ought to be imbedded in the life of the church. Well, actually, if anyone reads the rubric in the Book of Common Prayer, it is at least still written down. Be reconciled to your neighbour before you come to be fed at communion. And don’t ask, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus has already answered that question.
Dissent and division destroy the body of Christ, as the Apostle Paul warned the troubled church in Corinth. Resisting the temptation to take sides, he wrote to tell them that they were all wrong, choosing to point to the core focus of our faith, to God in whose field or garden we grow. This is really what we are meant to be doing, and which should unite us: planting, tending, growing in God’s garden – recognising that our invitations and welcomes (flawed though they may be at times) lead to growth that is God’s business.
For these gardens of faith to grow, individually, and in community, we face choices about living in God’s way, about sinful instincts, about avoiding hollow vows, about forgiving and seeking forgiveness, about letting go of grudges, about inviting and welcoming, about listening to one another to seek understanding, and about working on our own growth in partnership with God. The role of choice is deeply rooted in the scriptures of Judeo-Christian faith: ‘… to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.’
So – how will we choose?