Here’s my reflection for Sunday 11 October.
The online worship session will start at 11.00. I will be leading worship this week.
If you want to join in just email me – firstname.lastname@example.org – for details. We’d love to see you.
Sunday 11 October 2020 – A Reflection
Our call to worship
O God, send your Spirit upon us and light our path,
that we may travel the road you have prepared for us.
Having heard your scriptures proclaimed,
and your word revealed,
enable our hearts and minds to more fully understand
your goodness and your grace.
Help us break free from ideas that no longer bring life,
that we may embrace the life-giving work of your Spirit.
Challenge us to forsake paths that ask little of us,
and help us resist the evils and temptations of this world,
that we may truly follow the way of kingdom living. Amen
Let us pray
you have reconciled us in Christ Jesus
and have given us the ministry of reconciliation.
We pray for all those from whom we are estranged.
Bring healing to strained or broken relationships.
Forgive us for the times we have wronged others,
whether by ignorance, neglect, or intention.
Grant us the courage and the grace to seek their forgiveness
and opportunity to make amends.
Where others have wronged us,
grant us a gracious spirit,
that we might forgive
even as we have been forgiven in Jesus Christ.
The Lord’s Prayer
We’re still looking at The Sermon on the Mount. I hope you’re finding it interesting and useful and that you are all preparing for the exam we will be holding at the end of November to check that you have been listening. 😊
Last week Martin gave us a most helpful discussion about what Jesus meant when he said he had come to fulfil the law, not to abolish it.
Over the next 3 weeks we are looking at 6 areas where Jesus uses a pattern to actually expand on the law.
Let’s have our readings and you might see what I mean.
You shall not murder.
The Law concerning Violence
Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death. If it was not premeditated, but came about by an act of God, then I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee. But if someone wilfully attacks and kills another by treachery, you shall take the killer from my altar for execution.
Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death.
Whoever kidnaps a person, whether that person has been sold or is still held in possession, shall be put to death.
Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death.
When individuals quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or fist so that the injured party, though not dead, is confined to bed, but recovers and walks around outside with the help of a staff, then the assailant shall be free of liability, except to pay for the loss of time, and to arrange for full recovery.
When a slave-owner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives for a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.
When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
When a slave-owner strikes the eye of a male or female slave, destroying it, the owner shall let the slave go, a free person, to compensate for the eye. If the owner knocks out a tooth of a male or female slave, the slave shall be let go, a free person, to compensate for the tooth
Matthew 5 21-26
‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hellof fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sisterhas something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
So the pattern Jesus uses is this “You have heard that it was said….But I say to you.”
Today’s subject is anger.
I want us to have a look at an extract from a film. This is the Pixar animated film ‘Inside Out.’
The idea of the film is that inside our heads are our emotions. The film recognises 5
And in the film each one of these emotions is a character in its own right – Joy is a pretty young girl, Sadness a small blue character, Anger is red and often has fire coming out of the top of his head.
The story is about a family that relocates to a new city and the young daughter Riley is most unhappy – she didn’t want to move. One evening over dinner with her parents this happens:
If you have access to a copy you could look at the section between 25:40 – 28:52. If not you can skip to the first hymn
There’s a lot of anger going on here – both from Riley and from her Dad.
What happens when Riley gets angry?
Riley’s anger causes even more anger in her Dad.
Let’s stop here for our first hymn. Slow to Anger by Vineyard Worship
Surely goodness, and Your mercy
Will follow me forever
Your loving kindness, sweet forgiveness
Are new with every day
You are slow to anger, rich in love
Your kindness is pursuing us
You won’t condemn us, or discard us
Even when we’ve gone astray
Your loving kindness, sweet forgiveness
Are new with every day
You are slow to anger, rich in love
Your kindness is pursuing us
Hallelujah, You’re pursuing us
That song is based on the text of Psalm 145 about characteristics of God – Slow to anger – rich in love.
Our passage from the Sermon on the Mount today starts with these words ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”.
It’s not difficult to see where Jesus is getting that reference from. Most people in the world I would guess will know that in the Ten Commandments one of them says
‘Thou shalt not kill’, or ‘You shall not murder’ which is a much more accurate translation. That was our first, very brief reading.
In our second reading are some other rules about acts of anger and violence that were also said to ‘those of ancient times’.
For several of these transgressions – for murder, for hitting your mother or father, for kidnap, for cursing your mother or father – the penalty is death. But it’s alright if you hit your slave, so long as they don’t die in the first couple of days. Because – after all – a slave is an owner’s property.
Some of these laws from Exodus sound very strange to us. But that’s what was said to ‘those in ancient times’ – the times of the book of Exodus, maybe around five or six hundred years before Jesus. I dare say that some of the laws in 15th Century England would seem similarly strange to us. We need to be aware of the context of the times when the rules were written. Two things come to mind:
- This was a society in turmoil. A group of thousands of people in exile, on a long journey that must have seemed never-ending. A fractious, troublesome group of people. If you need to control and organise such a group and maintain discipline – well perhaps the rules needed to be harsh for that time in that place;
- Slavery was an accepted fact of life. It’s interesting isn’t it that the Israelites were treated as slaves in Egypt – but it seems were quite happy to have slaves of their own.
Neither of these contexts apply to us in the West today. I’m sure none of us think that the death penalty is appropriate punishment for all the transgressions that are mentioned (I don’t think the death penalty is appropriate for any transgressions but others may differ). And as for slaves being their owner’s property – I know we all realise that is very, very wrong.
Remember too the context of today’s reading from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has just said that he has not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it – to complete it. And in the next few sections of Matthew 5 he gives us some clues as to what that means.
I think it’s really interesting that Jesus refers to the law as coming from ‘ancient times’. He seems to me to be saying – well that was alright for people then – but we’ve moved on haven’t we? We understand things better. I’ve come to explain things better. This is what God really wants.
So he says ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you..
And then he goes on to extend the law. Jesus says it’s not good enough just to not murder people – for most of us – hopefully all of us here this morning – that’s not a very difficult rule to comply with. Jesus goes to another level. What’s underlying the law? Why is it that some people might want to murder someone? And he identifies that it’s all about anger. Being angry with someone is the problem. It might start by just calling someone a rude name – calling someone ‘you fool’ doesn’t sound that serious an issue does it – but it could be the start of a slippery slope of anger that might end up in violence.
Now I’m sure none of us has ever murdered anyone. But I’m equally sure that every single one of us has thought or said something derogatory to or about someone. We probably do it every day. Maybe we’ve even done it today although it’s still not lunchtime. It might be a politician whose views we disagree with. It might be someone driving their car in a way that slightly inconveniences us for a few seconds. We might well use language significantly stronger than ‘You fool’. And Jesus is saying to us that to follow God’s way we need to deal with things. He’s not saying that we shouldn’t feel annoyed. But he is saying that when we become aware that we have an issue with someone we should deal with it. We shouldn’t just let it simmer away, just short of us boiling over, but we should sort it out.
And he points out two reasons. One is that it’s good for us. He says:
Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.
If we can resolve our differences with people we can avoid bad consequences. It might be that we think we are clearly in the right, and that the other party is a complete idiot – and that may well be true. But in the end if we can resolve our differences amicably that will benefit both parties. We can ‘agree to differ’, we can compromise, we can respect each other’s point of view. No need to let anger fester.
The second thing that Jesus points out is that anger can get between us and God. He says:
So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
This is saying that what God wants isn’t an offering or a gift. What God wants is for us to sort out our differences. It’s not ritual that matters, it’s not turning up to church once a week that matters, it’s how we live our lives that matters. Once we’ve sorted that out – then we can come to God and worship and praise.
Now all this is much, much more difficult than not murdering someone. Jesus has considerably raised the stakes. Far from abolishing the law he’s built on it another layer. This is what God wants. Perhaps we ought to try and put it into practice.
Before I close I want to point out something that Jesus doesn’t say about anger.
What Jesus is talking about is being angry with someone. That’s the problem he’s saying we need to sort out. But what he doesn’t say is that it’s wrong to be angry about something. Looking back to the Beatitudes he seems actually to be saying that we need to be angry about some things.
Blessed are those that hunger and thirst after righteousness
he says if you remember from a few weeks ago. So if we think that there’s injustice in the world, that things need to be done to make things better or fairer – well we ought to be angry about that. We need to be angry about that. We need to make every effort to change that.
I think that is summed up very well in this brilliant hymn by John Bell – Inspired by Love and Anger. Both love and anger can be motivators to making the world a better place.
Inspired by love and anger, disturbed by need and pain,
informed of God’s own bias we ask him once again:
“How long must some folk suffer? How long can few folk mind?
How long dare vain self interest turn prayer and pity blind?”
From those forever victims of heartless human greed,
their cruel plight composes a litany of need:
“Where are the fruits of justice? Where are the signs of peace?
When is the day when prisoners and dreams find their release?”
From those forever shackled to what their wealth can buy,
the fear of lost advantage provokes the bitter cry,
“Don’t query our position! Don’t criticise our wealth!
Don’t mention those exploited by politics and stealth!”
To God, who through the prophets proclaimed a different age,
we offer earth’s indifference, its agony and rage:
“When will the wronged be righted? When will the kingdom come?
When will the world be generous to all instead of some?”
God asks, “Who will go for me? Who will extend my reach?
And who, when few will listen, will prophesy and preach?
And who, when few bid welcome, will offer all they know?
And who, when few dare follow, will walk the road I show?”
Amused in someone’s kitchen, asleep in someone’s boat,
attuned to what the ancients exposed, proclaimed and wrote,
a Saviour without safety, a tradesman without tools
has come to tip the balance with fishermen and fools.
Let us pray
we confess that we are often overcome
by the loud and persistent voices of fear and anger.
We do not hear the voice of Jesus, which seems but a whisper.
“Kill those whom you fear may kill you.
The strong shall inherit the earth and the rich shall forever rule the earth.”
Yet Jesus says,
“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
“Those who live by the sword shall not only live, but flourish.
Might makes right.”
But Jesus says,
“Put your sword back in its place,
for all who draw the sword shall die by the sword.”
Fear instructs us,
“Forgive no one.
Those who wrong you are wrong; by forgiving them,
you excuse the wrong and only encourage them.”
Yet Jesus warns us,
“If you do not forgive people their sins,
your Father will not forgive your sins.”
“Hate those who hate you; loving those who hate you
only encourages them to take further advantage of you.”
But Jesus asks,
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?
Even sinners love those who love them.”
Fear shouts out,
“Show everyone how strong we are
so they will be afraid to challenge us.
This is the way to prosper.”
Yet Jesus asks,
“What does it prosper people to gain the whole world
and lose their life?”
The voices of anger and fear seem so strong,
the wisdom so alluring, the way so sensible and safe.
Still Jesus tells us that there is another way—
the way of peace and justice, the way of love and life.
When we lack the courage to seek your way, O God,
when fear and anger overwhelm our faith,
encourage and embolden us.
Open us, O God, that we may follow the Prince of Peace.
In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen
Finally we will close by saying the grace:
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with us all
If anyone has any questions or comments about the above or would like to talk to me about it don’t hesitate to get in touch.