A new Sermon for Sunday, 12th February 2023
‘I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; 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 hell of fire’. Matthew 5:22
Jesus is uncompromising in his warnings to those who follow him. Christians are meant to be different, meant to be recognized for their difference from those around them.
Christians say they believe in forgiveness, claim that the Christian faith is one of grace, profess that everyone deserves a second chance – but how often are these things to be seen in most churches? How often are Christians remarkable for their forgiveness? And if Christians are not living by what they say, can they be seen to be people of integrity?
Teaching Religious Education in a secondary school, it is fascinating to listen to teenage students express their opinions. There is respect for integrity, there is respect for those who live by their principles, whatever their background may be, but there is little respect for the church.
In a project on people of commitment, the choice of subjects is interesting. The usual high profile figures from the textbook will feature, Martin Luther King, Father Peter McVerry, Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, but they are joined by people who might not have featured in the thinking of most churchgoers. Mohammed Salah, the Liverpool footballer has become a popular choice, for his commitment to his faith and his gifts to charity, Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United player, is chosen because of his campaigning work on behalf of schoolchildren.
Respect is given to people of integrity. Respect is given to those whose words are matched by what they do.
Jesus would have concurred with the opinions of the students. Today’s Gospel reading is an uncompromising demand for integrity.
Of course, the church will seek to wriggle out of the expectations that Jesus sets forth. There will be preachers who might suggest that these are counsels of perfection and that no-one can aspire to fulfil such standards. There will be preachers who will argue that every person is sinful and therefore cannot be expected to match the words of Jesus. But if that is the case, then where is there integrity? Where are there people who will live according to the principles they claim to follow?
Jesus says that those who are angry with others will be liable to judgement. He says so in plain, unmistakable words. He says so in a manner that admits of no qualifications, no caveats, no reservations, no reinterpretations. ‘If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment’: could Jesus have put it in words that were any plainer?
Perhaps integrity cannot be expected of churches concerned with their status, with their traditions, with their influence. Most churches seem more concerned with maintaining themselves and keeping their traditions than with the sort of honesty that Jesus expects.
How many clergy would be brave enough to stand up and say to their congregations that if they are angry with someone else they are in danger of judgement? How many clergy would accept that their own attitudes may fall short of what Jesus expects?
To bear no grudge, to have no anger, to forgive everything, demands a realization on our own part that we have no right to anger, no right to resentment, no right to all the other things that we might feel against people.
Having no anger means recognizing our own need for grace. A man in Ulster once said to me, ‘Ian, there are two sorts of people. There are sinners saved by grace, and there are sinners.’
Being saved by grace means accepting a need for that grace, and accepting a need for that grace means accepting that there is no right to feel anger towards others.
‘If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.’ If we are angry with others, we are not only in danger of judgement, we are also denying our need for God’s grace.
Jesus is blunt in his warning, and straightforward about what he expects of those who say they are his people.
A new Sermon for Sunday, 12th February 2023 — No Comments
HTML tags allowed in your comment: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>