Well, you will be pleased to know that the Warden didn't call me up in the week to talk about my sermon. But it’s there again, isn't it – in that Leviticus reading. Being a neighbour to those who live around us is not optional, is it?
The question I want to begin with today is “Do you consider yourself to be a radical? To be living a counter-cultural lifestyle? Or maybe in even simpler terms do you sometimes feel that your being a Christian makes you a bit of an odd-bod?”
I know – that was three questions.
It seems that again and again, the descriptions we have in Scripture of how God wants us to behave in relation to each other expect us to do pretty much the opposite of what the rest of the world thinks is the way it stands.
The idea of leaving your gleanings around the field so that the poor and have a share was not good business to the Canaanites – but it save Ruth and Naomi’s life when they were otherwise destitute.
I am guessing that every clause that follows these words in the Leviticus passage is a call to the people of God to do just the opposite of what everyone else would normally do. Now that is pretty radical.
The whole of Psalm 119 is a cycle of 8 line verses carefully crafted so that each line in a verse began with the same letter of the alphabet, and each verse with varying imagery extolling the merits of allowing our lives to be guided by the Law of God. The Statutes of the LORD were the supreme guide for life. Keeping them, rather than doing what felt good, was also pretty radical.
And Paul gets the radical bit, too. He reminds us that as god’s creatures we should have a special regard for our bodies, in which the Spirit of God lives, thus making our own bodies effectively the TEMPLE of God and therefore something to be cared for rather than abused. Now that is very radical in our time and place, isn’t it?
But perhaps the most radical thing for us to consider today comes from the mouth of Jesus in our Gospel reading.
Twice Jesus begins some teaching with the words “You have heard it said:…” He is appealing to the conventional wisdom of the day, and perhaps even the general consensus of the meaning of God’s Law, and then he turns it upside down. As I have said before this is part of Matthew’s clear message to the Hebrew Christians he was writing the Gospel for that Jesus stands in the tradition of Moses, but goes even further.
Jesus says that if we are to become his followers we will have to forgo our “right” to have just recompense – an eye for an eye – from those who would injure us. Rather we show up their bad behaviour by radically inviting them to do it again – in front of everyone who knows they have done something wrong.
Jesus says we have to beyond the ordinary obligation of loving those we have an obligation to love. We are to love the unlovely, and even those who are actively working to hurt us – our enemies. Indeed we are to pray for them.
These things are a call to live differently from everyone else – and we as Christians should live with the tension of this all the time; because it is so easy for us to want to just fit in.
I went to see a film last weekend called “Occupy Love” which was a reflection on the OCCUPY movement of a few years ago that grew out of our dismay over the aftermath of the GFC and the way the banks got away with wrecking the place. This revealed their utter selfishness and determination to win for themselves no matter what the cost to the people was.
If you listened to what the people involved with the Occupy Wall Street were on about, they wanted to move away from a self-centred approach to life that was fundamentally destructive of society and towards a communitarian approach in which love and the well-being of the other was at the heart of the value system.
Their occupation was peaceful, not violent. The violence was created by those who wanted to remove them – city officials or the Police. Their purpose was not to harm others. Rather to call others to work together for the common good.
This sounds pretty close to what Jesus was talking about there in the Sermon on the Mount. There is indeed some deep wisdom there – but living this way makes you as radical as all those OCCUPY people were, perhaps without the dreadies.
Many of you might have been struck by the abruptness of the final sentence in the Gospel: Be PERFECT therefore as your Heavenly Father is PERFECT.
At first glance this seems to be an impossible goal for all Christians because of our contemporary understanding of PERFECT. But in the etymology and cultural context in which Jesus said this, this is not so much about keeping all the rules perfectly, as it is about trying to be consistent in thought and deed, living with integrity of word and action. This word is about wholeness and living in authentic relationships that show these radical ways of living we have been talking about. God really does want us to turn the world upside down in so many ways.
Putting this all together with what Jesus said before, we are called to live in ways that make extravagant moves towards reconciliation, new attitudes towards men and women, simple truth-telling, outrageous expressions of generosity and that totally unexpected care for one’s enemies.
These are to be the essential signs of the rule of God in our lives. It is these that will make the light of Christ within us shine ever more brightly as I said a week or two ago. This is the Perfect will of God for us all.