Sunday, February 13, 2011

Spiritual Indigestion

I am not really a fan of sweets, never have been. I like a few varieties and like to eat them very very occasionally, but I guess that’s just me. One day, when I was in my early teens I went out for the day with a friend of mine. We went in to town and then to the cinema. Now he was a big sweet fan, and pretty much from the moment of leaving the house he was tucking into minstrels, sherbert lemons, jelly babies et etc etc. Having trawled around town checking out the local record shops, we got to the cinema for the film we were due to see. Popcorn, fizzy drinks and more sweets and chocolate were purchased with hard earned pocket money and we settled down to watch and to munch.

As the film went on, I began to feel more and more unwell. By the time I got to bed that night I had chronic stomach ache, a racing pulse and I generally felt terrible. My parents were worried, to be honest, so was I. It was only at bed time, as I complained about how I felt, that my mum asked me what I had eaten over the course of the day and out came the al a carte menu of sugary treats. Ah, said my mum, that’ll be it... She disappeared and reappeared with a fizzing glass of liver salts. I discovered I was not dying, but suffering from chronic indigestion and was it any wonder?

In a way, we’re all a bit Woolworths aren’t we? We like our sweets, we like to pick and mix some of the key aspects of our life. We call it individuality, we say that these choices define who we are as people and they help us to stand out from the crowd whether that’s music, fashion, politics or whatever.

The same is true of religion. I wish I had a pound for every time I heard someone say “I believe in God but I don’t come to church” or some such. We like the idea of faith in God, the idea of a relationship with Him, but we don’t want the responsability. We like God but don’t want Him messing with us or our lives. We believe we can believe in God but we can pick and mix if we wish to live His way or not, a sort of a la carte Christianity that fits our lifestyle or the lifestyle of our friendship circle or culture, where the Ten Commandments have become Ten Moral suggestions - like by laws that get changed. Friends, this is not a new way to think. Jesus encounters it in this morning’s Gospel reading and it only leads to spiritual indigestion.

In Jesus day, a good, religious, God fearing person, would do all they could to keep the law of Moses and even the interpretation of those laws by rabbis which were held in high regard. The Pharisees almost made a profession of strict law keeping. They felt that if everyone would strictly observe religious law, the world would be a better place. And as true as that sentiment might be -- it simply didn't work! Jesus, on more than one occasion, as in this morning’s reading, pointed out that the law keepers of his day usually missed the point of God's law.

Last week Jesus began teaching us from the brown muddy plain about a new holiness using salt and light as images - calling us to preserve the good in the world around us, to add flavour and seasoning and to allow that in our lives to shine out and impact the world around us This morning He talks about many different aspects of this new personal holiness, but he begins with three reinterpretations of the the OT Law, four commandments of a new morality, of a new personal holiness that would have left those Pharisees standing speechless! And if we listen closely, they will leave us speechless. Listen:

1. "Call someone a fool and you'll go to hell!"
2. "If you look at a woman with lust in your heart, you've committed adultery... you would be better off to rip out your eye!"
3. "The ancients allowed people to divorce -- I say, NO DIVORCE!"
4. "Don't take any oaths -- you shouldn't have to -- if you love God, your word is good!"

"Is he serious?" No doubt they wondered. I can relate -- can't you? What's your reaction to Jesus' words? I have to confess that I share in some of the "jaw dropping" that must have taken place that day. But, just in case people began to look for "wiggle room", Jesus drove home the last nail. "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." These verses in today's Gospel only make sense to me including a verse left out of today's Gospel reading - verse 48 about the call to perfection.

This is what God wants from us - perfection. Nothing like aiming high eh Lord? And yet what Jesus asks of us is not about taking a bit of this or a bit of that, or watering stuff down, but keeping focussed on a healthy spiritual diet based on the love and forgiveness of God.

Perhaps the words of Paul in the epistle reading can help. Here's a rephrasing of what he said to the Corinthian church. "I couldn't really talk to you in spiritual terms because you are so focussed on the things of Earth. You are so hooked into this world that you don't 'get it' when it comes to spiritual things. We can talk all we want, but only God can really bring about spiritual growth."

In order to aim for Godly perfection, to go for spiritual growth, to avoid spiritual indigestion we will need to be open to the fullness of the love of God in our lives, to know His forgiveness for us and of us.

Wait now! Don't let that slip by too quickly. Are you aware of the depth of God's love for you? Have you allowed the fullness of the love of Christ to penetrate your life? To know His forgiveness through His death and resurrection?

It is only the deep love and grace of God that can give us the power to see the world and the people in our lives with God’s eyes. To know that the keeping of these spiritual imperatives will be hard, But... It is the love of God that, in His timing, brings healing and forgiveness to the mess we so often make of our lives -- and allows us to let the perfect love of God come into and through our lives for others.

To be perfect -- as God is perfect, is not so much a matter of keeping the law of God as it is embracing and being embraced by the love of God. It's about being inspired by Jesus’ forgiveness and love, his Spirit lives inside of us so that we live a righteous and holy life. The generous forgiveness of God lives inside of us; the love of Jesus lives inside of us; therefore we want to live and strive for a lives of righteousness, of right relationships with all people around us. And in those right relationships, we find the personal holiness of God. Jesus aims high and so must we. Once you have embraced the love of God you can let it go -- to others. Amen.


This is a version of what I preached today - 13/02/11

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