That You May Be Children Of Your Father In Heaven
There are no audio or video file uploads at this time
It’s Eastertide and we’re getting serious. I’m kidding of course – we’re always serious here at Blythwood Road Baptist Church. We have fun too of course, because as I always say if you’re not having fun, why bother?
I hope some fun was had at Easter. I hope Lent and Holy Week and Easter Sunday afforded you the opportunity to turn to God, to reflect. We remember the last words of Jesus to his disciples – “Go to all the world baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, making disciples and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” If we’re going to be able to teach things -whether it be in our actions or in our words, we need to be learning them ourselves. We’re now in the period of the traditional church calendar called Eastertide – 50 days between Easter and Pentecost Sunday where we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit in a special way (we never forget the Holy Spirit I hope). A time to sit with the reality of the risen Christ. A time for us to go back through the Gospel of Matthew and hear what God has to speak to us; to see how God will shape our hearts over these 50 days. Let’s ask for God’s help as we start.
We’ve gone back up the mountain and are sitting at Jesus’ feet. We’ve heard about a Kingdom where things are upside down. In the Kingdom of Heaven, so-called conventional wisdom is turned upside down. We’ve come up the mountain and are sitting at Jesus’ feet because we have answered his call to follow him. He has told us that this following is meant to look like something. The following is to make a difference like salt. It is meant to illuminate truths and shed light, particularly where there is much darkness. We’re in the final part of the first section of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus shows himself to be the antithetical one. He sets up six antitheses. You have heard that it was said…. But I say to you… Jesus speaks of anger, of adultery, of divorce, of speaking the truth plainly. Finally, he speaks of retaliation and enemies. Which is where we are this morning. The Sermon on the Mount is the most famous arguably of Jesus’ teachings, and there have been different ways it’s been interpreted. Some have said that the ethics in the sermon are for priests or religious professionals in general. Some have said that they’re there to show us how impossible it is for us to meet them and so point us to God’s grace. We need God’s grace most definitely! Some may look at them literally and say “Put your eye out? Cut your hand off? Ridiculous!” and so dismiss the whole thing entirely.
I mentioned “literally” there and I want to pause and talk about how we read the Bible for a few moments. I was watching a preacher on TV recently whose view of the Bible has led him and his church to have quite a different reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic (among many many other things including medical care in general and how one should dress) than my own reaction and that of my church. At one point in the interview, this preacher repeated several times “We preach the Word of God.” I preach the Word of God too. Do I take everything in the Word of God literally? I hope it doesn’t shock you when I say I don’t. It depends on what part I’m reading. Is Jesus actually a lamb for example? Is Jesus advocating in our text this morning that people who are being sued walk around without any clothes? Is Jesus advocating that I don’t take any intervention if I see someone being assaulted on the street because I’m not supposed to resist an evildoer? I believe the Word of God, and I endeavour my dear friends to take the Bible seriously. Every word of it. Sometimes I’ve been accused of being overly serious but I’m a fun guy, as one of my basketball heroes once said. What would it mean for us to take the Word of God seriously? What would it mean for us to take the words of Jesus seriously? Would we be serious enough about them to read them every day? Would we be serious enough to spend time with them? Would I be serious enough about them to follow them more closely than I follow NBA trade rumours or whatever else we might follow? The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God indeed.
- To take Jesus’ words here seriously means that we won’t read them in such a way that we turn them into another list of requirements. It means we won’t read them in such a way that leads to fanaticism and/or unworkability. It also means we won’t dismiss them as purely figurative and it really doesn’t matter what I do because I’m saved in any event. It matters very much to God what we do, and one day our King will judge all things. It’s a serious matter. What is the purpose of our Bible reading? What is the purpose of our looking at this passage or any other passage? “Your righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees,” Jesus says. In other words, it was no longer going to be about following a set of rules and requirements. Does this mean anything goes? Goodness no. Goodness knows God knows, it’s not about anything going. It’s rather about stepping into a new reality. The reality of the Kingdom of Heaven which has been inaugurated in Jesus and will be completed when Jesus returns. In the meantime, Jesus is with us until the end of the age and in Jesus, we step into a Kingdom ethic. Here’s what someone has said and this is good: “Those who are to belong to God’s new realm must move beyond literal observance of rules, however good and scriptural, to a new consciousness of what it means to please God, one which penetrates beneath the surface level of rules to be obeyed to a more radical openness to knowing and doing the underlying will of ‘your Father in heaven.’”
We start with retaliation. This is a good one for us these days I think. The question we must always be asking ourselves is “Are my norms based on societal norms or are my norms based on the character of God?” Societal norms may say I need to get my own back, particularly if you’re part of or a descendent of a shame/honour culture (and trust me I know this very well). You have offended my honour, I must get my honour back. Practically speaking, if you cut me off in traffic, I must get ahead of you so I can then cut you off. Seriously it happens. An eye for an eye – that’s the law. That’s the requirement. It was a law designed to limit redress sought for a wrong. By Jesus’ time, it mainly meant limiting monetary compensation in a legal matter. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one toward them. Does this mean I shouldn’t defend myself if I’m physically attacked, or does it mean that if I’m insulted as I would be with a backhanded slap on my right cheek, I don’t need to avenge myself of the insult. I don’t need to try and reclaim my honour.
In whom is my honour after all? My honour is in the risen Christ! What might this mean for online communication, comment sections, message boards? Conventional wisdom says protect your own. Protect your assets at all costs and if someone has wronged you, don’t take the law into your own hands, take them to court. We don’t need to try and explain these words of Jesus away – they’re meant to shock us. They’re meant to fire our imaginations in terms of what it might look like for us to live as followers of Christ in the world. Followers of the one who had no need to respond to insults because his honour was from his Father. If you’re living under foreign oppression and the oppressor commands you to carry something for a mile, offer to carry it another mile. In a way, it’s like asserting your own authority over a situation, or rather our Father’s authority. Does this mean we never stand up to regimes or laws that oppress? Look at the church’s non-violent protests in the U.S. civil rights movement (interfaith too). What might this mean for Christians in a pandemic? It might mean wearing two masks where public health guidelines recommend one. It might mean continuing to gather online even when limited numbers of people can be together because we don’t want to put anyone at undue risk when the online option has been such a blessing.
I hope it’s been a blessing. I know it’s been difficult. The question is always “What does love call for here?” “His law is love and his gospel is peace,” as the great carol puts it. I love that line. There could be no end of speaking about this and I hope we have some good conversations around it. Jesus uses open-ended examples (which are also open to interpretation) not to substitute one list of rules with another, but to show that surpassing righteousness has more to do with an inner disposition than ticking off boxes. It’s not about getting my own back or protecting my own in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus is talking about a whole new way of being in the world.
The world which God loved in this way, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have everlasting life.
God, who makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. I came across this verse to help us remember this: The rain it raineth on the just/And also on the unjust fella/But chiefly on the just because/The unjust steals the just’s umbrella.”
Seriously, hear the words of our teacher of God who makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous whether we acknowledge it or not. Who are my enemies? Who are your enemies? People, who disagree with me? People who wish me ill or actively work for my harm? Jesus says stop thinking in terms of us and them. Our world is full of us and them thinking and it’s getting worse and worse. Stop it, says Jesus and we do very well to pray the words of the hymn, “teach me to love as thou dost love.” Teach me to love as you love. “And do as thou wouldst do.” And do as you would do, Lord. Funnily enough, I read an article about the three keywords to improve one’s emotional intelligence. I said, “I have to know what these words are!” Do you know what they were? I love you. Not necessarily to be spoken aloud as that could get awkward as the kids say. In every interaction, to have these words continually on the tip of our hearts and to add to them “God loves this person.” “What does love call for here?” is the question we must always have at the top of hearts, and by hearts, I mean the centre of our volition and will. When we’re talking about love here we’re not talking about warm and fuzzy feelings toward those who actively wish and work for our ill. I mean actively working for their good. “Ah,” some may say, “Very wise! In this way, you turn them and get them to come over to your side or your way of thinking!” This may be the case but this isn’t the reason that Jesus gives. Why is this Jesus’ command?
So that you may be children of your Father in heaven. So that our ways are ever coming to reflect God’s ways. So that, children of the King, we are ever more coming to bear the family resemblance. You know what I’m talking about, how you can look at people and say “Oh you’re definitely Eileen Thomas’ son or George Thomas’ son.”
So that people might look at us and see children of God, whether they realize it or not. One day they might. Who knows what the future will bring, but we do know that God’s word won’t return to God without accomplishing that for which God purposes it, and if Jesus is the Word of Life and we’re ambassadors of Jesus or living letters of Jesus then we’re in some way God’s word to the world.
I’m talking about actively seeking the good of others just as God in Christ has actively sought and actively seeks and will actively seek nothing but good for us. Our Father wills nothing but good for us. Why would we consider doing anything else?
This radical reorientation toward those who don’t us like can apply to many different people in many different ways. Jesus speaks very practically in this way though. “Pray for those who persecute you,” he says. Bring them with us, in other words, into God’s presence. When we see people in the light of God’s love, we can’t help but see them differently.
Don’t get to be thinking too much of ourselves when we love those who love us. “Respect me and I’ll respect you” doesn’t cut it in the Kingdom of God. “Even Gentiles do that!” says Jesus. It reminds me of the Chris Rock line where he talks about men who want credit for things they’re supposed to do, like looking after their kids. “That’s your job!” Rock says. If we greet only our brothers and sisters, what more are we doing than others? Now the good greeting, the good hello, is important and you know I’m always going on about that. Jesus is going beyond merely saying hello here though. Even greeting in those days was a desire for the other person’s good – Peace be with you. Shalom. I wonder how we could bring that back apart from at official greeting time, which we don’t even have right now, so let me say “Peace be with you” sisters and brothers and uncles and aunts and nieces and nephews in the faith.
Because it’s a new kind of family. A family that is called to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. Not in an impossible-to-follow morally sense, but in a “Christ has done it” sense – therefore let us be perfected, completed in Christ. This is going to look like something. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it - “The followers are the visible community of faith; their discipleship is a visible act which separates them from the world—or it is not discipleship. And discipleship is as visible as light in the night, as a mountain in the flatland.” We’ll spend one more week with Jesus on the mountain. In the meantime may God continue to teach us and help us to love as God loves, and do as God does. May this be true for us all. Amen