Sermons from St Faith's     


Paula O'Shaughnessy, September 2nd, 2012 

The question which is often asked about the Bible is ‘How is it relevant today - to our modern world?’

What is a simple but often forgotten truth is that it is all part of the continuum of time.  There was not a gap in history and time.  One day did follow another from biblical days until this day.

A sad fact of life is the forces of separation and of difference.  A modern Scottish writer, Alasdair Gray – in his dystopian vision of a world where individuals are isolated from one another – in a land without a society - in his novel 'Lanark: A Life in Four Books', describes this starkly:
Man is the pie that bakes and eats itself and the recipe is separation. We are not so very different from the people of Old and New Testament times.

Jesus is our hope, he offers a new and better way - love and forgiveness. The ways of the pharisees are rejected by Jesus - for they are without comfort and warmth.  The pharisees criticise, and look for what separates them from others.  The ‘us’ and ‘them’ which are at the heart of all hostility and war are presented in the Gospel. ‘Sow kind acts and memory’s garden will smell sweet’

A proverb sewn on an old cross-stitch sampler in a convent.  The convent is gone many years now.  Simple words, but wise ones and should not be forgotten. We look back on our deeds and some we cringe at, others we would rather forget.  Then there are the good deeds, the ones which we remember in all their warmth and kindness, holding us with others in our moments of compassion and insight into the human experience.

The reading today, from James’ letter reminds us of the importance of doing good deeds.  We must hear God’s word, but we must act on it too - helping ‘the orphans and the widows’ in their hardships.

James tells us to turn away from evil - therein lies destruction and death.  Not just for others, but for ourselves too.  When we think ‘us’ and ‘them’, we de-humanise our fellow men, it then becomes easier to hurt others.  We forget that they have feelings just like our own.  The madness of war is the ultimate in hatred for mankind.

The pharisees build a wall between themselves and others - bound in by their rules and regulations.  The early church suffered similar problems - as tribal mentality and grasping for power over others was commonplace.

Jesus was not a king of the earthly and material sort - his way was not the way of men. James tells us to be ‘quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to human anger; God’s saving justice is never served by human anger.’

It sounds so easy doesn’t it?  But in the complexities of life, with so many emotions and competing needs and wants and feelings - it can all just get out of hand.  We get carried away with things that are just not important - in the grand scheme of things. We need to ask ourselves seriously, how important will this be in six months time? Of all the things I have faced in life, where is this on the scale?  

Don’t do things in anger: as the ancient Chinese writer, Lao Tzu said, ‘I only contemplate the return’. Or another way of saying it, how will I feel afterwards, when the whirlwind of my rage has blown itself out - probably not too good!  Why was I so annoyed?  ...And you find yourself scratching your head in puzzlement.

How does this relate to the reading from Deuteronomy though?  It is concerned with the Old Testament Law - abiding by strict observances. The 10 commandments represent a good moral code - to respect one another, to not exploit or humiliate one another.  God will protect and preserve his people in return. But we realise that the Old Testament Book is focused on the people of Israel alone.  A people often involved in war - in a very tribal world.  The realities of life, of survival in a hostile world - where battle for territory and resources were inescapable.  

But to be seen to be a model, an example of moral behaviour to other nations, in obeying God’s laws and keeping his commandments - this is the message in Deuteronomy.

The message of the Gospel however transcends this.  His message of hope and salvation is not just for the people of Israel - the Old Law has new life brought to it in Christ.

Jesus embraces his fate - in his rejection of the ways of the world.  The worldly - the people in power are angry and punish him. We need to see what is really important - those things that are worth worrying about.  If we resist the knee jerk reaction of anger and retaliation, and only contemplate the return, then we have a good chance.

Instead, to work with one another, sharing and seeing what we have in common, rather than what makes us different.  We can then be one in Christ and let the Holy Spirit work within us.

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