Every Sunday when it comes to reflecting on scripture, it is a test of integrity.
At the very least it is an open test of my integrity.
I mean our conversations last week about active, creative and non violent justice living
doesn’t work if I then go and act, speak, or revel in violence of one form or another.
My speaking regularly about Jesus’ way of life being against abuses of power
means nothing if in my ministry I seek to gain, hold and wield power.
Our vision and our goals about caring for those in most need
are totally empty if what we do is effectively hold people in that need
so that we can somehow feel good because we can have more pity on them.
But sometimes it is not so much my integrity which is at stake
Or the integrity of this organisation, or even the church as a whole.
Sometimes it is the integrity of scripture itself which needs a good look.
Yesterday, Justine and I attended the funeral of the father of one of her school mates:
a man who was 51, vibrant & loved; and highly respected for his work and his art.
Earlier this week, there was the drowning of a teenager nearby – who was known to the family of one of our staff members here at Kippax.
For most of this week, we have seen and heard of the sudden tragedy in Christchurch
including the deaths of at least 2 infants under 12 months,
and the random destruction of life throughout the city.
We are still hearing and seeing the situation in Libya,
where hundreds of people have been killed for the hopes of freedom
and where Col Gaddafi is promising bloodshed and even his own martyrdom in this fight.
And in the space of 9 verses we read today, we hear time and time again –
no less than six times – “Do not worry”
The implication in the passage is pretty clear it seems
Don’t worry, because God will take care of you.
So, where does that leave Justine’s friend’s family? Or the family of the drowned teenager?
Or the city of Christchurch, or the country of Libya
Or countless other places, circumstances and people?
Does Christianity end up so simplistic at times that it has no integrity?
Or does it ask us that we live in a way that is simply not realistic?
If we don’t treat Jesus’s words seriously,
then we can turn him into a tie-dyed hippy humming “Don’t worry, be happy”
But, just as Jesus wasn’t a serious businessman, nor a Marxist revolutionary
nor a Lord, neither was he a hippy.
And his teachings have integrity when we let him speak in his context
and then work out what to do with it.
And the passage that is there today starts with one little Greek word” Oun
and “Oun” means “Therefore”
And therefore has a particular purpose in the language.
Sometimes it is to flag to a marker that the essay writer has run out of ideas
and is now going to try to close it all off and pretend it really is an essay.
But what it is SUPPOSED to do, is link a conclusion with the earlier argument.
And the Oun, or the Therefore, in this passage does exactly that
at least it does if we let the scriptures retain their integrity.
Remember that the Sermon on the Mount is to his … disciples – his followers
And up until now, in this collections of teachings Jesus has:
- Flipped the classic understanding of God upside down with the beatitudes
- Encouraged us to be salt and light
- Called us to reconciliation and not anger
- Called us to go deep within to see that we are living with personal integrity
- Invoked the way of active creative non violent resistance against persecutors
- Challenged us to love enemies
- Reminded us to be generous to those in need, but not draw attention to ourselves
- Taught us how to prayer, without drawing attention to ourselves
- Reminded us to have a depth of spirituality, but not draw attention to ourselves; and
- Let us know that we can only truly serve God if God is the top priority
It’s in the context of all of that teaching that Jesus then says:
Therefore, do not be anxious.
If you are stressing out, being anxious, about not having broken relationships
is that likely to help you be a better disciple and heal relationships?
If you are stressing out, being anxious, about how much you hate your enemies
is that likely to help you love your enemies better?
Therefore, do not be anxious.
You aren’t going to be a better following of Jesus by getting stressed out, being anxious, about whether you are remembering to do all the things of a follower of Jesus.
And you aren’t going to be a better follower of Jesus by getting stressed our, being anxious about if you’ve got the clothing to go and do these tasks tomorrow,
or enough food or drink to do these tasks tomorrow.
In fact if you are stressed out about keeping all the tasks,
then you are more likely to forget the purpose of it all.
There are enough aspects to being a follower of Jesus,
that if you treat all the separate aspects as things to stress over
then you run the risk of losing the plot altogether
So instead – seek first the movement of God and God’s justice in living.
Make your priority the way of God and God’s values.
And if you do that, the little things follow.
We find a Godly response to the situations of early deaths
and natural disasters, and violent dictators
not in any sense that we just need to chill out and then life will all run smoothly
but in the call to live constantly in the compassion, justice and depth of God’s ways
and to discover the power of God’s gracious responses
in even the most trying of times.