Here's a short (5 min) homily based on tomorrow morning's Gospel reading from Matthew 5:17-19:
‘...Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one lett not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven...'
I would really value some comments please!
Not many days go by when certain sections of the British press decry the erosion of our legal sovereignty, especially to the European courts. But history shows that the laws of our land have been far from static. Over time, the Law has been applied, reapplied and redefined in differing times, places and situations.
Laws are sometimes introduced to respond to situations that with hindsight might be considered to be heavy handed where, if you like, the letter of the law is very different from it’s spirit; a sort of legal knee jerk.
The Law of Moses of which Jesus speaks in this morning’s Gospel reading, has been a source of light and inspiration to us over the centuries. It is foundation of the British legal system after all, but it was given by God in a particular time and place, to mark out the distinctiveness of His nomadic people - no intermarriage, the dietry laws, no mixed fibres, the avoidance of foreign Gods - are all about an ancient very practical holiness.
It is very tempting to looks at some of the Old Testament laws and dismiss them as being out of date, not fit for 21st century Christian living, but Jesus reminds us this morning, that he came not to do that,
‘...Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished...’
These words of Jesus are part of his Sermon on the Mount, which begins with a topsy turvey vision of God’s kingdom values where the last are first in the Beatitudes, and includes some very practical if not sometimes shocking teaching about faithful and Godly living. What Jesus teaches here does not remove the Law because it has been deemed unfulfilable, rather he reinterprets and reinforces the Law with words like, ‘...You have heard it said and eye for and eye... but I say to you...
History has proved that some laws no longer have relevance (the requirement to practice archery after Sunday worship for example), but Jesus comes to his own time and ours this morning, and reminds us that He comes not to sweep the law away, but to complete it. He calls not for law breaking but for Law keeping. Just as in his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well that we heard about in Sunday’s gospel reading - where Jesus broke every religious and social law - when asked about the nature of right worship, Jesus said it was not so much about the right place as the intent of our hearts. Being faithful to God, says Jesus, is about the spirit not the letter.
How we live as God fearing people still matters says Jesus. He is not advocating a sort of spiritual equivalent of what happened on London’s streets on Saturday, nor is He seeking the continuation of an almost Lybian style tyrannical rule of spiritual law.
Being faithful to God is about walking with Jesus on the Emmaus road of life, listening to him open the scriptures and revealing afresh to us the love of God. He calls us to a very practical holiness when we allow our lives to be viewed through the lens of the Gospel to see whether out living is loving to others, to God and ourselves; whether our living is compassionate and seeks to forgive and be forgiven; whether we live lives as people who long to to heal and to reconcile.
God’s Law of love calls us individually and together to be reconciled to Him and each other. This isn’t just when we break the Law of Moses, but rather when we fail to grasp the call of the Gospel - when we put ourselves before others or place them on the edge of our concern.
In this holy seasons of Lent - as we look to go deeper into God, to make new disciples, and to see Him transform our communities, let us be like the first disciples of Jesus, seeking to be like their Rabbi, and follow in the dust of his shoes. We come to Jesus with questions about how to go deeper, how to make new disciples, how to transform communities. As we walk and as we prayerfully wrestle with these questions Jesus comes alongside us, listens to our questioning and refocuses our searching through the Gospel’s lens and says, “you have fulfilled the law” or you are on the Way. Amen.